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You don’t have to look long and hard to find a charity case these days. Suffering is here and it needs someone to clean it up. So also with Lazarus who sat at the gate of the rich man, the rich man who feasted sumptuously every day! In fact, feasted so sumptuously that he has more than three meals a day. But there was still suffering there and someone needed to clean it up.
TEXT: Luke 16:19-31
Preached by Vicar Roy Askins

So, have you fed a poor man lately? Have you, clothed in the riches and trappings of this world, taken a small sum from your budget and clothed the man down the street suffering from illness? Have you put the man whose sores ooze disgusting fluids into your car and given him a ride to the hospital?

You don’t have to look long and hard to find a charity case these days. Suffering is here and it needs someone to clean it up. So also with Lazarus who sat at the gate of the rich man, the rich man who feasted sumptuously every day! In fact, feasted so sumptuously that he has more than three meals a day. But there was still suffering there and someone needed to clean it up.

Perhaps you have fed a poor man lately. Perhaps you cracked open your wallet for the poor man on the street. If not that, maybe you added the little extra onto your donation this month for Walther Memorial. If so, congratulations, you have done your duty to humanity and now you can sleep in peace. Or can you? Do the riches you’ve given away really matter? Perhaps a better question to ask is this: are these riches even yours?

Do you think of yourself as the generous benefactor? You might wear a robe of purple, but you justify it by giving your fair share to the poor people down the street, maybe even a little more on top of that. Hence, the robe of purple is your right and you're going to wear it proudly. Is this what Jesus is saying about the rich man in this story, that he didn’t use his riches correctly and so went to Hades?

It might be that you fall on the other side of the spectrum. You are, perhaps the poor man sitting at the gate of the rich one. Blisters well up on the skin of your legs from the plastic seats of an outdated car that barely runs. Your mouth salivates whenever you drive by the fancy restaurant down the street but you go home to a frozen pizza instead. You live month to month. God shall surely, you suppose, grant you some remission from suffering because of the suffering you endured here in this life now. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying about Lazarus?

In truth, your place on the financial scales of this world are entirely inconsequential. The scales themselves are even pointless. For if you have wealth, the wealth is not yours. If you live in poverty, the meager portion of things you possess still do not belong to you. They are not yours. Your poverty does not get you one step up on the road to heaven. For we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. (1 Tim. 6:7) The love of riches can snare the rich man of the world and the poor man of this world alike. The rich man ensnared in the loves of riches hordes what he has and does not give in generosity what has been graciously given. The poor man ensnared in the riches of this world pines constantly about the wealth of the rich man, and desires only to follow in the rich man’s footsteps.

Do these gifts, whether in wealth or in poverty, even belong to you? You know the answer. You have nothing to give that has not been given you. All the gifts, whether of house, family, car, steady job or whatever else you have been given are exactly that: given. They belong not to you. They belong rather to the one whose riches surpassed all riches in this world, for this world belongs to Him and everything in it. They belong to Him who could have taken these gifts for His own benefit but instead made Himself like the very beggars who sit at His gate.

For you see, even those who pretend to wear garments of purple are merely masquerading in the tattered dirty garments of their own works. They masquerade before the gates of the only truly wealthy Man in existence throwing alms to their fellow beggars, alms which amount to nothing more than dust. That is where you once were. At one time you belonged there, in the dust, destitute; devoid of any gift. Though you masqueraded in wealth or promulgated your poverty, you amounted to nothing before the man of true wealth.

And this Man, this wealthy Man left his mansion. A mansion fit only for God, He left and took on the festering sores of mankind. In a loving gracious act, He took on the poverty of our humanity. The sickness and diseases of those who lay at the gates of the rich, he carried himself. The tattered garments of those who supposed themselves rich, He tore away from them revealing their true poverty. And in this state, this state of utter humility, He bore our iniquity. He bore the sins which we supposed were our glory. He bore them to the cross and nailed them there. He bore them to the cross and by His gracious blood, atoned for them.

Christ impoverished Himself so that by this impoverishment, you might not be found on the opposite side of the chasm, the chasm separating Lazarus and the rich man. He impoverished Himself so that you might have a place in His mansion in the bosom of Abraham, by the side of Abraham. As Lazarus who was at the side of Abraham knew, you also know that you are a son, adopted by the Father through the impoverishment of His Son, Jesus Christ. You know you are a son because you also belong by the side of Abraham, a place that has been promised to you. The rich man in Hades repeatedly called Abraham his father, but Abraham did not call him son, but rather child. The one who is at the side of Abraham is Abraham’s son, and this is the place prepared for you. Prepared for you by the Man of wealth who became the most destitute of all.

This impoverishment cost Him His life. And if He had remained dead, then our faith would have been in vain, but He did not. He is the one who rises from the dead at the end of Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man. Not a mere apparition as the rich man wanted his brothers to see, hoping that they might come to believe. No, instead Christ rose bodily from the grave that you and I also might be raised with Him. This impoverished man is Christ who died and rose again that we might be united unto Him forever.

From the very beginning, God intended this humiliation, the sacrificial suffering and death of Christ. How can this be? Note what Abraham says to the rich man in regard to the rich man’s brothers. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus so that his brothers would believe. But Abraham responds, they have Moses and the prophets, if they will not believe in Moses and the prophets, then neither will they believe if someone rises from the dead. (Luke 16:29-31) Moses and the prophets speak of the same saving faith to be found in the New Testament. The Law, spoken in its terrifying severity crushed the unbelieving hearts of the Israelites, while the Gospel of the promised Messiah who would conquer the devil, the world and their sinful natures, bathed the crushed hearts of stone so that they became a living hearts, placed in the breasts of the Old Testament believers by the hand of Christ. The same God of the Old Testament also has mercy on those in the New Testament and today.

He has had mercy on us. The rich man in Hades called out to Abraham, ‘Have mercy on me!’ Or in the Greek, ‘eleison.’ Every Sunday you cry out to God with those same words. At the beginning of the service, we sing the Kyrie, the full name of which is the Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy. We cry out to Christ who sits on the throne at the right hand of the Father, Lord have mercy. But instead of hearing about the chasm that divides us from Him, He rather bridges the gap between us and God. He bridges the gap in a tangible way. He bridges the gap with Himself. This bridge does not exist in some spiritual dimension to be touched only with mind and spirit, though certainly this bridge affects the mind and spirit. Rather, you can also touch this bridge, this wonderful food from the table of the richest man in the world. Not merely a crumb which cascades from the counter of the rich man, not merely a tidbit from the tall table of the wealthy for which you must contend with the dogs. No, this bridge is the full meal itself, the touchable tangible gift of the body and blood of Christ. With this bridge He brings us back to the Father; He sets us by the side of Abraham.

And now we see our riches in a different light. No longer do we need to be concerned with appearing to have riches. We do not have to walk about in tattered rags pretending we have something to give. For first of all, of what value can the material riches of this world possess compared to the priceless gifts given to us by the wealthiest Man, Jesus Christ? Christ has freed us from the ensnaring riches of the world to freely give to those in need. To freely give not only the wealth we have been given by Him, but also to freely give out the wealth we are given in the Word of God preached. How can we who have been given such gifts not also go out and proclaim them from the rooftops? Our wealth is not our wealth, but Christ’s wealth. Our salvation is not our salvation, but Christ’s salvation, His redeeming act.

The rich man did not spend eternity in Hades because he possessed great wealth. Lazarus did not spend eternity in the bosom of Abraham because he possessed nothing. This is not Jesus’ point. The rich man spent eternity in Hades because his wealth was his god. Lazarus on the other hand spent eternity in heaven because his God was the God who became man, the God who impoverished Himself in order to give the manifold riches of His grace to sinful human beings. This God, this gracious God-Man, Christ Jesus, now forms the focus of our relationships with each other and those outside this church.

With our eyes on Christ, whether in life here on earth or in life eternal, our status of wealth is rendered inconsequential. “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we have brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it,” St. Paul writes. (1 Tim. 6:6-7) Rejoice now that you can share your wealth with those in need, sharing always in addition to the gifts you give of earthly wealth, the wealth given to you in this Divine Service of Word and Sacrament. To the Rich Man become poor, to the God who became man, to Christ Jesus our Lord, be all glory now and forevermore. Amen.