Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sermon: Trinity 1 – 2022

19 June 2022

Text: Luke 16:19-31

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

If I were to ask many people what the moral of the story is to the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, they might tell me: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” or maybe, “You cannot serve God and money.”  And while both of these are indeed sayings of Jesus, they are not found in today’s readings.

Our Lord Himself sums up the lesson that we are supposed to learn from this story as: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

The rich man’s real problem isn’t that he is rich, but rather that he doesn’t believe, he lacks faith.  And why is that, dear friends?  Jesus says: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets.”  Did you catch that?  If they do not hear.”

The rich man did not hear the Word of God.  And it may well be because he was distracted by his riches: his being “clothed in purple and fine linen” and because he “feasted sumptuously every day.”  Our Lord does warn us in many other passages of Scripture that riches can be a distraction from the kingdom.  And indeed, riches can be a distraction to the poor as well: as they may think that what they need is wealth rather than faith.  But no doubt, it is easy for a rich person to place his trust in his money, which can certainly become his god.

Our Lord told another parable, the Parable of the Sower, in which he warns us in plan speech about one who “hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful,” like a plant being choked out by thorns.

But the rich man in this parable doesn’t even get to that point.  For he is not even hearing the Word.  He wants Abraham to warn his brothers so that they will avoid his fate.  But Abraham says: “If they do not hear.”

Dear friends, in my eighteen years as a pastor, I have seen it again and again.  I have seen “the cares and riches and pleasures of this life” choke out people’s faith, and they drift away – all the while convinced that they are Christians.  The Word becomes less important and more distant.  And Satan tells them the lie that it doesn’t matter.

Jesus says that it does, dear friends.  “If they do not hear” the Scriptures, people will not have faith – even in the face of the resurrection of Jesus. 

We have been warned.  We need to hear the Word of God: Moses and the Prophets from the Old Testament, and the Gospels and the Epistles from the New Testament.  For this is where faith comes from, as St. Paul teaches us in Romans: “Faith comes from hearing,” dear friends.  “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

We hear the Word of God here, in the Divine Service.  It is read here from the lectern, and here in your midst from the Gospel book.  And you also hear God’s Word, the Gospel, proclaimed and taught, preached and explained, from the pulpit.  And when you commune on the Lord’s body and blood, what is it that consecrates these elements, dear friends?  It is the Word, or as St. Paul calls it: “the Word of Christ.”  You hear it, you receive it, it changes you, and you believe it. 

Lazarus was not saved and brought to “Abraham’s side” in paradise because he was poor, nor even because he suffered.  Rather, faith comes from hearing.  Lazarus, even in his bearing of the crosses of poverty and poor health, was not saved by his own crosses, but by the cross of Jesus that atoned for his sins.  And we are saved by the faith that wells up in us when we hear Jesus teaching us in this very parable. 

Dear friends, I’m not reading and proclaiming Aesop’s Fables, or running through a book of science.  I’m not reciting ancient history or even reading a compelling novel to you.  What you hear from this pulpit is not a lecture on Economics or American History or Literature that I teach my high school students (though I also do teach them the Scriptures).  What you hear from this pulpit, from that lectern, and from the liturgy that we hear and speak and sing together is the Word: the Word of Christ!

If you want to avoid the fate of the rich man, suffering the flames of hell and begging for someone to come and “dip the end of his finger in water and cool [your] tongue” in eternity, you don’t need some kind of a vision or a ghost to come and warn you.  It wouldn’t work anyway.

You already know what you need.  You need Jesus.  You need His Word.  You need to hear Moses and the Prophets and the Gospels and the Epistles.  You need to hear the Psalms.  You need to participate in the Divine Service.  Your family members need to be here.  For when people are in here, when they hear the Word of God with an “honest and good heart,” faith is supernaturally generated, and they are indeed “convinced” by the very one who does “go to [us] from the dead.”  For Jesus died, and is risen.  He died to destroy death.  He suffered the fate that we deserve, so that we enjoy the blessings that He earned with His righteousness, which are given to us as a free gift through the Word and the Sacraments.

But if you are not here, dear friends, if your family is not here, this is what leads to the rich man’s fate.  For whether one is rich or poor, or neither – the thorns of this world will spread like vines and will choke out the plant that God has sown in the seed of your heart.  If you continue to hear the voices of the world instead of the voices of Moses and the Prophets and of our Lord and the Apostles, you will start to believe those voices instead of that which is true.  You will drift away, like a swimmer caught in the undertow, until one day, you realize that you are a long way from the shore.

Jesus is warning us, while we are still alive, not to fall into disbelief by pushing away the Word in pursuit of the things of this world, such as riches that we either have, or that we lust after.  For if you are spending more time with TV and movies than with the Word of God, the world’s perverted and Luciferian message will choke out the Word of God like thorns in a briar patch. 

But the good news is this, dear friends: The Holy Spirit has drawn you here.  He has made sure that you are baptized into Christ’s atoning death.  He called you and gathered you here, on this day, to hear our Lord’s warning from the Holy Scriptures.  And this Word kindles and feeds the fire of your faith: “so faith comes through hearing.”

We do not come to church because God will reward us.  We do not come to church because it is an intellectual exercise.  We come to hear the Word, we come to eat and drink the body and blood, we come to have our sins forgiven by Christ’s authority, and our faith is strengthened because indeed someone rose from the dead.  And that someone is Christ Jesus.

The apostles bore witness, and they heard the Word of Christ from His mouth.  The apostles and evangelists wrote this Word of Christ into the Scriptures, joining these sacred and powerful words to Moses and the Prophets. 

We hear not only Jesus warn us about the fate of the rich man, but we also hear of the blessedness of Lazarus, because we have first heard of another man of sorrows who was covered in sores at His death, who shunned the riches offered to Him by the devil, but by whose blood we are redeemed, and by whose Word we have faith.

Let us hear, dear friends.  Let us hear the Word.  Let us continue to faithfully come to this holy house to hear and eat and drink and rejoice.  Let us hear Jesus!  And let us believe, let us repent, let us receive the gifts, and let us live forever, being “carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” for the sake of Him who did indeed “rise from the dead.”


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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