SERMON FOR THE 1ST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 6-3-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
There are two paths in this life. A way life and a way of death. One leads to eternal life and blessedness the other to eternal ruin and torment. This morning we see both ways in two men – the rich man and Lazarus. The first only eats the best foods. Enjoys the very best entertainment. He is dedicated to his own pleasure. In a way, he counts his own blessings. He is happy with his lot. He is secure, comfortable, and self-confident. He is aware of his own success. He has a prosperous home and family. He lives large, and spares no expense. His reputation is impeccable in town. He is loved by all, admired by the whole world who considers him fortunate above all.
The second man’s lot is different. He is poor, covered with sores, hungry, living in poverty. He is forgotten, scorned, and hated. Lying at the gate of the rich man he hoped to be fed the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. But he received nothing and even the dogs that wandered the streets were kinder to this poor man Lazarus then everyone in the whole village.
This poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side in the blessedness of heaven. The rich man also died and was taken down to hell to be tormented by the demons and scorching fires. When the rich man saw that his cause was helpless he demanded that Abraham warn his brothers so that they would escape this place of torment. To which Abraham replies “Your brothers have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them. If they do not listen to them neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Here we see two men. One man goes to hell and the others goes to heaven. There are two paths. One is the path of life. The other is the way to destruction and eternal death. The difference in these men, however is not that one has some money and the other does not. Money is not evil. It is their hearts, which were different. One man trusted in God. The other man trusted in himself. One man’s God was true the others was false.
What is the first commandment? You shall have no other Gods. What does this mean? The Small Catechism tells us. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. This is not so much a question about the content of their wallets as it is about the content of their hearts. Because even the rich can be most generous and the poor can be frighteningly greedy and stingy.
The Scriptures say that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This is why Lazarus was wise unto salvation. Lazarus recognizes that he has nothing to offer. He recognizes his own sinfulness. He is aware of his own poverty. When he says I a poor miserable sinner, he actually means it. He is unworthy, he is unclean, and he doesn’t deny that his treatment in this life is undeserved. But more importantly, Lazarus looks to God and believes that God is good to him, despite all evidence to the contrary. Lazarus looks to Christ, the promised Messiah.
Even though this whole world has written him off, he knows that God is merciful. He closes his eyes and believes in his heart that the Lord is kind and will help him. In fact, that is what the name Lazarus, means in Hebrew – “God helps.” Lazarus actually believes that God will raise him from the dead, and deliver him from this valley of tears to Himself in heaven.
But the rich man takes the easy path – and they say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And the rich man intended to live the best life he could and in the process forgot about his poor neighbor. Forgot about God. And seeking to be rich became the poorest of all men when he died a miserable death and was separated from God in eternity.
But Lazarus who trusted in God is delivered and saved by the Gospel. Because he had a friend who could identify with him. A rich man, who left his throne in heaven, to be become poor, so that Lazarus, through his poverty, mighty become eternally blessed. Yes, there is another poor man who identifies with Lazarus – who suffers from painful wounds. He came to his own and his own knew him not. A man of sorrows acquainted with grief. A man from whom men hid their faces. A poor man with nowhere to lay his head. Like Lazarus, living in poverty. A man treated harshly by the rich and powerful and left to die outside of the city gate. A poor man starved and thirsty, covered with sores, hanging upon Calvary’s hill. Forgotten, left for dead upon the cross. Lazarus’s only friend was Jesus.
St. Paul says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
He who loves his life will lose it and he who hates it in this life will keep it in eternal life. That is what Jesus says.
The most important lesson we learn this morning is that the good things we enjoy, our health, our money, as fine as they are, are not in themselves proof of God’s love. God giveth and He taketh away.
It’s easy to love God when things are good. But what if you were struck down like Job and lived like Lazarus, a beggar on the street? Would you still worship God and thank Him? Do you trust in him when God seems to be against you? Lazarus teaches us to live by faith even when God’s love seems contrary to the evidence.
Dear Christians, how many Lazarus’s has God placed at your door, which you ignored, scorned, and neglected? How many opportunities have you had to love your neighbor and bring him relief? Face the facts, you are much like those five brothers of the rich man, who live like him, and are in danger of dying like him. And it would be so, were it not for the preaching of Moses and the prophets – a Gospel preached to you – which saves you from utter destruction. There would be no hope, were is not for the forgiveness of Christ and his blood can deliver us from hell and bridge the divide between us rebels and the God of love. That bridge is the cross and the body and blood of Christ in which we have pardon and forgiveness of sins.
There is a way of life and a way of death. In Christ, you have been saved and set free. Free not to self-gratification and hedonistic living, that is slavery to sin, and its end is destruction. No, you are saved from that! Rather, you are free to love sacrificially, as you yourself have been loved by God – free so that you can extend that same refreshment, that same peace and help to one another that you yourself have received, until you are carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
Almighty and eternal God, worthy to be held in reverence by all people everywhere, we give You humble and sincere thanks for the innumerable blessings that You have bestowed on us without any merit or worthiness on our part. We praise You especially for preserving for us Your saving Word and Holy Sacraments. Grant and preserve for Your Holy Church throughout the world purity of doctrine, and provide faithful pastors to preach Your Word with power. Help all who hear the Word rightly to understand and truly to believe it. Send laborers into Your harvest, and open the door of faith to those who do not know You. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
You have graciously given us, Your children adopted by grace, the gift of faith. Remove from us all wayward boasting and any inclination toward self-righteousness. Increase our faith in, and fidelity to, the Holy Gospel, which is Your power unto the salvation of all who believe. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
We love because You first loved us. Where we have failed to love as we ought, grant us repentance and the desire to amend our ways. Increase in us the desire to show forth our love to one another in acts of charity and kindness, and fill our hearts with generosity and compassion toward all, Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Bestow Your grace on all nations of the earth. Bless especially our country, its inhabitants and all who are in authority. Let Your glory dwell in our land, that mercy and truth, righteousness and peace may abound in all places. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Graciously defend us from all calamity by fire and water, from war and pestilence, from scarcity and famine, and from every other evil. Be the God and Father of the lonely and the forsaken, the Helper of the sick and needy, the Comforter of the distressed and those who sorrow. Comfort our friends who are homebound, especially Carol, Dorothea, Betty, Doris, Clif and Carol, Teresa, Ethel, Paul, Maude, and Lou. Be with those recovering from surgery, including Marcia Genthe - that they may ever cling to Jesus as their sure and certain hope. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Grant Your Holy Spirit to those who come to the Lord’s table this day, that they may receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ in sincere repentance and firm faith and to their abundant blessing. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.
Father, as we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, help us by true faith and a godly life to prepare for the world to come, doing the work You have given us to do while it is day, before the night comes when no one can work. And when our last hour comes, support us by Your power and receive us into Your heavenly Kingdom, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.