SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 6-23-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
Introit: Psalm 13
Old Testament: Genesis 15:1-6
Epistle: 1 John 4:16-21
Holy Gospel: Luke 16:19-31
The account of the rich man and Lazarus provides a clear catechesis – an instruction – in the First Commandment. That you shall have no other gods. This is first and foremost a gracious invitation from the Triune God of love to trust in Him above all things. So that you might seek comfort, good, and delight from God alone. So that you may trust in him for financial security, for physical safety, and support, never worrying when afflicted with cross and calamity.
You have been invited by the God of love to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, that you may fear His wrath, be obedient to Him, and therefore avoid every sin, all the while expecting only good from God in every situation, never complaining, but trusting Him in every circumstance, that your love for God would be evident in your daily life, to all.
Let us pray: Lord God, we have sinned. You have invited us to love you with all our heart, with all of our soul, all our strength, all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourself. But we have despised your word, trusted in ourselves, and gone after idols. By Your Word, O Lord, and your preaching, crush and kill in us all self-righteousness that would turn us away from you, keep us from all arrogance and excess. Call us again to faith in the Gospel, to repentance, and a holy life through the blood of your Son, that we may truly please you in all things. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Dear Christians. There is a way of life and there is a way of death. The faith that saves from sin and death and hell trusts in Christ alone. The faith that damns and curses and brings to hell is a trust in self.
Lazarus and the rich man are both sinners. It is not that one goes to heaven because he’s poor and one to hell because he is rich. Abraham, after all, faithful Abraham was very rich. It is not the content of their wallets that saves and damns but rather the content of their hearts. One trusted in God. One trusted in self.
You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. But what does it mean then to have a god anyways? Luther teaches us in the Large Catechism what it means to have a god. He writes, “A god is the term for which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in every need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one (god) with all your heart…Therefore, anything on which your heart relies and depends, that is truly your god.”
You see there’s really no such thing as a non-religious person. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself, whether an atheist or agnostic. Everyone has a religion, and a god or gods, if you just get to know them well enough. Everyone worships. Everyone bows down to someone or something. Everyone hopes, and trusts, and relies on someone or something. Every creature clings to a god or gods.
So the only question here is, Do you have the true God? Do you know, believe, and confess the triune God of love? Do you believe and confess the Father who created all things in love, who redeemed us through His only begotten Son, and sanctifies us through the gracious gift of His Holy Spirit? Is this your God – the one in which you have placed all your trust and hope? Or have you exchanged the truth for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, as Paul lays out in Romans, chapter 1.
So praying the First Commandment is a very serious business! Because God, our creator, calls our hearts out of clinging to what is created and demands that heart of yours all for Himself, in an exclusive and undivided way. When we meditate seriously on the First Commandment, we are involved in a great battle between the one Lord and the many lords. To pray from the First Commandment is to let God be God and to believe and trust in Him alone. And therefore, to our sinful flesh, to this world that rages against God, and to the devil, this is nothing less than a total declaration of war! Because the First Commandment demands an undivided heart, a heart that clings to God alone.
In this commandment we see and hear a preaching of the law and the gospel. The law prohibits every rival deity, every idol and false god. And when we look within, we see that our hearts have become a factory of idols really – that manufacture fake and counterfeit comforts and hopes galore. But we also see under this prohibition, “You shall have no other gods,” the good news that to have Jesus Christ as Lord means that you need no other God! And that in Him, you have all things! You have wealth, security, honor, a glorious name and a kingdom beyond compare!
So this morning, just direct your eyes to Lazarus and the rich man, because there we see how the First Commandment is both lived out or despised in the hearts of two men.
When the beggar Lazarus died, he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side, to the splendor of God in paradise. The name Lazarus means the “one whom God helps.” And help He did! Just like Abraham, Lazarus believed in the Lord and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness. And what is righteousness? What do we mean by that? Righteousness is nothing else than believing God when He makes a promise! First and foremost, the glorious promise made to Abraham in the Old Testament this morning, the promise of Christ, the promised seed, to redeem us by his death and resurrection.
Lazarus trusted in this promise. He actually trusted that God would raise him from the dead! He trusted in God’s promises and kindness against all experience to the contrary. How much we in our sinfulness look to earthly wealth, position, and good health as indications that all is well! How wrong we are to look to these as signs of God’s approval.
But look at Lazarus: patient, living by faith. The prayer of Job upon his lips: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord…For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself.”
Hear Lazarus pray: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3).
The unnamed rich man, on the other hand, did not love and trust in God. For he evidently cared little for the beggar at his gate. And in our epistle today we heard this: “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” He who loved and trusted in possessions and prestige died and was in torment in Hades.
When that rich man orders around Lazarus, like a servant, to cool his tongue, and warn his five brothers to escape this punishment, he is still motivated only by self-interest. But Abraham gives us these words: “They have Moses; let them hear them…If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Repentance and faith are worked only through Moses and the prophets—that is, by the Word of God, for it points us to Christ. Christ, the only one who trusted perfectly in God and loved his neighbor. Only through His death and resurrection are we brought the comfort of life everlasting.
So dear Christians, what has Christ done for you that you trust in Him? Say this, “He died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.” What motivated Christ to die and make full payment for your sins? Say this: “His great love for His Father and for me and other sinners!”
In whom then do you trust, dear Christian? Look to the true rich man, who for your sake became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich! Look to Christ, who came in the likeness of Lazarus in order to save you. Just look how much Lazarus looks like Jesus. Suffering silently and not vengeful, despite the inhumane treatment. Patient and enduring, despite receiving all those bad things like God’s wrath, God’s punishment, and hell itself for sins he didn’t commit. Look at him, loving and cherishing God’s promises even in the midst of all his pain. All these bad things he endured for you, so that good things from above, the best things, might be yours!
What is it that gives you hope that you will be comforted at Abraham’s side? It is only what comes out of Jesus’ side – the best things like blood and water – a gusher of mercy and help that splashes you with forgiveness and divine approval. Consider those good things like his sores that poured out mercy for you. Consider those good things like crumbs that fall from yours master’s table. Truly a feast of forgiveness and a lavish feast of love! Good things like his Word and holy absolution. Good things like the promise of your bodily resurrection, a mansion prepared for you, and a holy life even now through the faith that has been given to you.
Dear friends of God, we may live in this future life even now. You too are a Lazarus, one whom God has helped, and we love because He first loved us. And this is the commandment we have from him: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” So let all our tables at home reflect the heavenly Father’s table. Be done with token charity. Instead open wide your hearts, your lives, and your homes to one another. We’ve embarked now in the season of Pentecost, a time when we remember that the Spirit came upon those disciples, and we learn that “day by day…they were together breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” Let it be so also among us! In the name of Jesus. Amen.