Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sermon -- 19th Sunday after Pentecost (September 25, 2016)

LUKE 16:19-31


In the name + of Jesus.

      The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich.  He did not go to hell because he was generous to himself with food and clothing, but was stingy to others.  He did not even go to hell because he ignored Lazarus at his front gate.  If the rich man did go to hell for being self-centered and failing to help a man in need, then we are all damned.  When we drive past people stranded by the side of the road, when we hang up the phone on charities so that we can get back to our supper, and when what we spend on our vacations is exponentially greater than what we give for disaster relief, then we are just as guilty as the rich man.  And we are.  We are sinners.  We are selfish.  We dress well.  We eat well.  And we are able to do it while we are oblivious to our neighbor in need.  Repent.
     The rich man did not go to hell because he sinned in these ways.  Likewise, Lazarus was not rewarded with eternal life because he was poor or neglected or diseased.  The rich man went to hell because he was an unbeliever.  He did not love God.  He did not fear God.  He did not take God's commandments seriously.  It is even possible that the rich man, like so many in our land today, did not believe that hell is real.  He had fine food.  He had nice clothes.  He had a caring family—five brothers, anyway.  Life was good.  So who cares about anything else?
     Even if the rich man did believe that hell is real, he clearly was not concerned that he might go there.  Only when he was there did the rich man recognize that God was serious.  Of course, by then, it was not a matter of faith.  Faith is being sure of what you do not see.  People in hell see and know God is serious.  Only then, it is too late.
     Even in hell, the rich man remained an unbeliever.  He was resigned to the fact that his place in eternal torment was fixed, but he had five brothers.  He did not want his brothers to suffer the same fate as him.  So he pleaded with Abraham, “I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27-28)  Abraham's response was short: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” (Luke 16:29)  They have God's word.  God's word is enough to warn them and to save them.
     But the rich man was an unbeliever.  He did not believe that God's word would be convincing enough.  The rich man believed God's word needs a gimmick, a hook, a door prize—something—to make it more important, more convincing, more believable.  So he offered this: “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” (Luke 16:30)  Again, Abraham's response was terse: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)  God's promise is enough.  If God saying so is not important enough, convincing enough, or believable enough, nothing will help it.  God's promise is enough.
     The Psalms teach us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10)  If you fear the Lord, it means that you take him seriously.  When you hear God's Commandments and recognize that you do not live as they command—that you have withheld your love for your neighbor because you have loved yourself generously—and then you fear that God will hold you accountable for that sin, good.  Then you are taking God seriously.  You recognize that his threats are not empty.  And repent; for God is revealing a heart that does not believe that selfishness is bad or that generosity is worth the effort.
     But “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10, emphasis added)  Such fear means that you take God seriously, but such fear does not save you.  It only shows you know that God holds you accountable for your sins.  True wisdom is revealed in Jesus Christ.  Jesus has come to do for sinners what we have not done: He loved his neighbor and helped us all in our greatest need.  He took our sins and put himself in the cross hairs of God's wrath and judgment.  Jesus suffered for our sins, and endured our judgment.  Since Jesus has taken your sins from you, God cannot be angry with you.  And he is not.  He forgives all your sins for Jesus' sake.  The blood of Jesus has paid for your sins, and that holy blood has cleansed you from all your guilt.  Jesus not only went into death for your sins, he also conquered death for you.  No longer can hell have you.  No longer does the grave claim you.  Jesus has overcome death for you.  Since you have been purchased and won by Jesus, he makes you partakers of the resurrection to eternal life.
     God has made you wise for salvation.  He has revealed his salvation to you through his words and promises in the Bible.  You are not saved because you think you should be.  You are not saved because you don't like the idea of eternal torment in fiery hell.  You are saved by faith in Jesus.  By God's gracious work, he has made you believers in his word.  By faith, you are credited with Jesus' holy life and perfect love.  By faith, you are cleansed of all sin and delivered from all wrath.  By faith, you believe that God's word is true—not only that you are forgiven of sins against God's Commandments, but also that you are now order your life according to those Commandments because they are good and right.  By faith, you recognize that God's love is to be reflected in the way you live, showing love to others, even if they cannot repay you and even if they do not like you.  That is the same love God has for sinners.  For us.
     God's word reveals this saving love.  It does not need any gimmick or glitz or hook to make it more important, more convincing, or more believable.  You have Moses and the Prophets.  You have the apostles and evangelists.  God's promise is enough.  God's word reveals his salvation, and it imparts saving faith to you.  That faith will reveal itself in love.  That love will show itself in serving your fellow man in his need.  You will not be saved because you loved enough or because you served well enough.  You are not saved by how much you get done.  You are saved by Jesus Christ who has done all things for your salvation.  Faith trusts in Jesus for all righteousness, mercy, and grace.  That is enough.

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