Sunday, June 22, 2014
Homily for The First Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 1)
Luke 16:19-31; 1 John 4:16-21; Genesis 15:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the late 1990s, a strange little song hit the pop radio airwaves having the provocative, but catchy, name “Hell.” It was a jangly Hot-House Jazz stomp by a one-hit-wonder from Chapel Hill, North Carolina named after a type of southern moonshine – The Squirrel Nut Zippers. While the song is a Dante-esque description of the place prepared by God for Satan and his fallen angels, the opening lines of “Hell” make it clear that those who fair sumptuously in this life may well suffer in the next: “In the afterlife you could be headed for some serious strife. Now you make the scene all day, but tomorrow there’ll be hell to pay.”
Indeed, this is precisely what our Lord Jesus teaches in His story about The Rich Man and Lazarus: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” The rich man in Jesus’ story showed no love, mercy, compassion, or pity to a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who was laid daily at his gate. It was common practice in first century Judaism that the less fortunate would gather or would be brought to those more fortunate so that they might show mercy to them. Culturally, this practice was of mutual benefit to the rich and the poor alike: the poor needed help, and the rich, according to Jewish law, needed to help the poor and the needy. However, this rich man did not give help. He did not show compassion and mercy to his neighbor in need. He was not a good Jew according to the law. You see, Jesus is not condemning wealth in this story, but rather lack of love, mercy, and compassion. It was not because the rich man was rich that he found himself in hell, but it was because he merciless and pitiless; he did not love.
As it turns out, both men died. The rich man was tormented in Hades (or, hell) while Lazarus was comforted at “Abraham’s bosom.” Sadly, even in torment in hell, the rich man failed to have compassion or pity. Seeing Lazarus at Abraham’s bosom, he asked Father Abraham that he might send Lazarus to serve and to comfort him in hell by dipping his finger in water to cool his tongue. Then, when Father Abraham explained that that was not possible, the rich man asked that Lazarus might be sent to his brothers so that they could avoid the torment he suffered. Perhaps Jesus has the rich man subsist in his poor opinion and treatment of Lazarus in order to confirm that punishment in hell is not intended to provide a second chance for repentance and that those sentenced to damnation are justly so.
Still, there is something more to our Lord’s story: The poor man who reclines at Abraham’s bosom has a name, Lazarus. He is known by Father Abraham, and by Jesus, and his name is provided to us hearers as well. In contrast, the rich man is known only as the “rich man.” Whatever his true name might have been, in the afterlife he is known only by what he truly loved, his wealth and riches. In this regard, I will share with you a bit more of that raucous song I mentioned earlier. The chorus of the song goes like this: “Lose your face, lose your name, then get fitted for a suit of flame.” The Great Commandment of the Holy Scriptures is “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” However, if your love in this life is misdirected, you may well end up named by the object of your misdirected love. Maybe you are the rich man, or the proud man, or the gluttonous man, or the lustful man, or whatever. These names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. However, the humble man, the contrite man, the repentant man, his name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life: “I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God,” says the Lord. “Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the Name of My God, and the Name of the City of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and My own New Name.”
You were fitted, you were marked with that Name when you were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, just as was little Jonathan this morning. The Name you were given is God’s Name, the Name the Father bestowed upon His Son whom He loves and whom has done all things well. You were sealed in that Name by the Holy Spirit with the promise that the Father will never leave you or forsake you and that nothing can separate you from His love that is in Jesus Christ. You are not named, you are not identified by, you do not love riches, reputation, power, food, sex, possessions, or anything else more than or above the LORD. Therefore, you belong to Him, and He belongs to you: He will be and He is your God, and you will be and you are His people.
Still the rich man pleaded with Father Abraham, “If someone goes to [my brothers] from the dead, they will repent.” Well, finally he’s really thinking about someone other than himself. That he didn’t love others is the reason he was named “rich man” and it is the reason he went to hell. For, the reason that the second half of the Great Commandment is “Love your neighbor” is that you will be able to do the first half, “Love God.” As Jesus taught Nicodemus in last week’s Gospel reading: “If I have told you earthly things – like, “Love your neighbor” – and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things – like, “Love God” – ?” Since the rich man failed to love his neighbor in his earthly life, he did not learn to love God. This is why Father Abraham replied to him saying, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” Father Abraham directed the rich man to the Word of God. However, since this is Jesus’ story, He is also directing you to the Word of God.
Your Lord knows that you want more than that, or something other than that, just like our First Parents in the Garden. God’s Word is great and all, but it’s not enough, you think. It needs to be supported and defended. And some of the really weird stuff it says, and, let’s face it, some of the really embarrassing stuff it says, not to mention some of the really backward and offensive stuff that it says, that needs to be omitted altogether. Your Lord knows this about you. This is why He teaches you in this way – in stories and in parables. The Word is all there is. It alone has the power to change your heart and mind. That power is the Holy Spirit of God who works through the Word of God to bring life out of death and speak light into darkness. Jesus directs you to the Word. And, He says to you through the mouth of Father Abraham in His story: If you will not hear Moses and the Prophets, [that is, the Word of God], neither will you be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.
And so, the question comes back to love: What do you love? Who do you love? The First Commandment of God is that you have no other gods before Him. Luther explains this commandment saying: We should fear, love, and trust in God before all things. So, what do you love? Who do you love? Whatever or whoever your answer is – do you love that thing or person more than or above God? If so, then that thing or person is your god – a false god, an idol. Perhaps the thing that you love more than god is yourself. The idol of self-love and self-worship is at the root of all idolatry.
Your God and Lord lovingly gives you people to love – wife, husband, children, friends, neighbors, strangers, enemies – so that you might have opportunity to love someone other than yourself. God gives you people to love to break you out of idolatry that leads to death and damnation. God gives you Lazarus, the poor man, that you may love him, have mercy upon him, and show him compassion, that in so doing you will see how your God loves you and will come to love Him in return. And, last but not least, God gives you His Son, Jesus, so that you may see what true love looks like – sacrifice – and learn, and grow, and be inspired to love others as you have been loved. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” Greater love than this is not possible, that a man would lay down His life for His friends.
This teaching John the Evangelists sums up well in his first epistle; permit me to read it again: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
You are not a nameless soul, receiving your identity from the false gods and idols you love, but you are God’s own child, bearing His Divine Name upon your brows. Therefore, you are emissaries of His love; you are the hands, heart, and voice of His love in Jesus Christ to your brother, your neighbor, and the Lazarus God lays before you. And, you are never alone, but your God and Lord is with you to feed you and to keep you, to lead you and to protect you, to nurture you and to discipline you when you go astray. This is how the Father loves His children. This is how your God loves you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.