Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sermon -- 19th Sunday after Pentecost (October 4, 2015)

LUKE 16:19-31

In the name + of Jesus. 

     Be honest.  Who would you rather be—the rich man or the beggar?  There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores...  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. (Luke 16:19-21)  When Jesus mentions the dogs which came to lick Lazarus' sores, that is not a Disney moment like the mice and the birds who stitched together Cinderella's dress.  These dogs were not expressing their pity on Lazarus.  These dogs were scavengers.  If they came to lick Lazarus' sores, they were checking to see if he was still alive.  If not, they would pick at him and consume his carcass.  This is not, “Awwwww.”  It is “Ewwww!”  While Lazarus languished, festered and famished, at the front door of the rich man, the rich man lived the high life—enjoying fine clothes, fine food, and a fine time.  Be honest.  Who would you rather be?
     In time, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. (Luke 16:22)  We don't even hear of a burial.  The rich man also died and was buried (Luke 16:22)—probably with a funeral and a grave site as lavish as his lifestyle had been.  But the rich man was banished to hell where he suffered the torments of the damned.  He longed for even a drop of relief, but he was refused any.  Abraham explained it to him: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” (Luke 16:25)  
     But this is not some sort of spiritual Robin Hood where the evil rich person has to pay the price for being rich.  The rich man did not go to hell as a punishment for being rich and Lazarus did not go to heaven as a reward for being poor.  God chose to bless the rich man with much; God chose to bless Lazarus with little.  But for the rich man, his riches were his good things.  That's what mattered to him.  He savored his wealth and did not deny himself anything.  And even though the Law commanded him to give alms to the poor, the rich man did not even bother to walk out his front door and give him scraps.  He was rich, and he loved his riches.  He had enjoyed the good life, but his goods did him no good at his death, just as his goods had done no good for Lazarus throughout his life.  The rich man lived as he had believed—he had no love for his fellow man, only himself.  He believed his goods things were devoted only to his own good.  Only when he died did he learn that those things had done him no good.  And then he was damned.
     The only good thing is to believe God's word.  And if you believe God's word, then you will live like you believe God's word.  You will love your neighbor as yourself, not just in theory, but in practice.   Boasting that you would have given Lazarus a sandwich does not mean much because you weren't there.  There are many today, however, who are enduring hardship, poverty, and disaster whom you can help.  You and I live in the most prosperous country on earth.  And despite our prosperity, charities like the Red Cross practically have to beg for people to contribute to them.  And while it is true that some scam artists pose as the needy, we dare not let our skepticism be our excuse for refusing to be charitable and generous.  To say “I believe in helping the needy” but never actually helping the needy ought to make you wonder if you really believe it.
     The only good thing is to believe God's word—even when it exposes your sins and condemns you.  For, if you believe that you are a sinner, then you will also believe that you need to repent.  And if you believe that you cannot save yourself, you will flee continually to the Savior whom God sent for you.
     The only good thing is to believe God's word.  The rich man did not believe God's word.  Even when he was in hell, he did not believe God's word.  He did not believe he should have to suffer the agony he was enduring.  He believed that he was still worthy of mercy, even if it was only scraps or drops.  Jesus often referred to hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  People will gnash their teeth in anger because they are still unbelievers.  They do not believe that God has judged them fairly.
     It is still a sign of unbelief that God will not send people to hell.  Even some Christian churches have jettisoned the teaching of eternal damnation because it sounds so cruel and unloving.  But to reject hell is to disbelieve the Scriptures.  In an effort to make God seem more loving, people lie and suggest that God will never condemn anyone.  This not only corrupts the Scriptures, but it also confirms the corrupt to continue in their sins.  If you won't be damned for your sins, why would you ever repent of them?  That is why the only good thing is to believe God's word.
     Once he was in torment, the rich man yearned for his brothers who were also unbelievers.  He did not want them to receive the same judgment he had received.  So, he begged Abraham, “If Lazarus will not grant me relief in hell, then send him back to earth so that he would grant relief to my brothers and warn them of this place.”  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (Luke 16:29)  They have God's word, and there are preachers who proclaim it.
     That is what all sinners need.  That is where God reveals the Savior who delivers us from death and hell.  That is where Jesus is proclaimed as the one who has loved his neighbor perfectly, particularly by taking up all our sins—being charged for sins he did not commit and dying a cursed death he did not deserve.  But Jesus did it for us.  Though we may have been stingy with mercy, Jesus' mercy has been abundant and has forgiven us of all our sins.  Though we have been slow to sacrifice our goods for the benefit of the needy, Jesus sacrificed himself completely because we needed him to deliver us from hell and the grave.  Jesus' rose from the grave to assure us that our sins are pardoned and that our graves are powerless.  God has revealed this good news in his word; and that is why the only good is to believe God's word.
     The rich man persisted in his unbelief.  He said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:30-31)  If people will not believe God's word, there is no gimmick on earth which will make them believe it—not even if someone rises from the dead.  After all, if you will not believe God, no gimmick will help.  But in fact, we know that one did rise from the dead.  Jesus Christ died and rose again—his death to pay for our sins, his resurrection to assure us that the payment is sufficient and satisfies our Father in heaven.  The risen Savior has given us his word so that we will believe it and be saved by it.
     And now, by faith, Jesus Christ who has worked for us also works in us and through us.  He who sacrificed himself and gave everything fills us so that we are willing to give something to others who have little or nothing.  It is good for us to dedicate our goods for the good of others.  For, the greatest good thing we have is the gospel which God has implanted in us.  The only good thing is to believe God's word.  It is that word which has done for us the greatest good.  It guarantees our eternal good.

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