Sunday, May 29, 2016
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 his Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” saying, “[You shall] fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Now, fear, love, and trust are common and unexceptional words used nearly every day, by nearly all people, regardless of their nationality or language. This means, of course, that the true meaning of these words has most likely become clichéd, changed, or even lost. Therefore, it is useful for your understanding of what Luther means when he teaches you to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things” that you reconsider what the words fear, love, and trust mean in relation to God and to your neighbors according to God’s intention and meaning in His use of these words.
Let us begin with the word fear. Everyone knows what it means to fear in terms of being afraid or worried. But, is that the meaning that the LORD desires for you to connote from His use of the word fear? Well, yes, and no. Fear, anxiety, and terror are natural human responses when you become aware of your sin and guilt in the face of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness. However, you can see already that there is more to fear than just discomfort, anxiety, and terror, for you would not fear the LORD’s righteousness and holiness if you did not believe in the LORD in the first place, and did not believe that He is righteous and holy and that you are not. Therefore, there is a strong element of trust, and faith, and belief, in your fear of the LORD as well.
Understanding the fear of the LORD as trust is precisely what King Solomon had in mind when he wrote in Proverbs, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” The fear of the LORD is a commixture of awe and reverence and profound faith and trust. Whenever one of the LORD’s holy angels appeared before men in the Scriptures they were sore afraid for their lives. Isaiah feared for his life because of his sinful uncleanness when he beheld a vision of the Almighty upon His throne. Likewise Zechariah, Mary, and the shepherds were all sore afraid when Gabriel and the LORD’s holy angels appeared to them. So also Abram was fearful when the Word of the LORD came to Him in a vision. Abram feared the LORD because he knew his own sinful and fruitless situation. He did not have a son, thus a servant from his household would be his heir. However, Abram also feared the goodness and the love of the LORD and he trusted in the LORD, and the LORD counted Abram’s trust, his faith, to him as righteousness. The LORD promised Abram that his offspring would be as countless as the stars in the heavens. And, truly those who fear the LORD like Abram and trust in Him, in His goodness, faithfulness, word, and promise, are as countless as the stars in the heavens and as the grains of sand upon the seashore.
Abram’s fear of the LORD was at once the result of his own humility and repentance, a confession of the LORD’s holiness and righteousness, and faith in trust in the goodness, mercy, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness of the LORD. This kind of fear of the LORD is truly the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom. It is the foundation of the Christian faith and obedience to the First Commandment. St. John links these elements together beautifully and profoundly in his first epistle saying, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. […] 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.” Fear, love, and trust in God above all things are all bound up together. When you trust in the LORD that He is good and faithful and keeps His promises, then you will have fear before Him, not terror, but an awesome and reverential fear that loves the LORD because He first loved you. This kind of love casts out fear. For the Christian, there is no longer worry, anxiety, and terror before the LORD because of His holiness and righteousness, but there is great awe and reverence and love for Him, for He is love and He is good and He keeps His promises. Therefore, you can truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things and keep His Commandments, not out of fear of punishment, but out of love for the God who is love and who has loved you unto the end. Love is king. Love abides and is the greatest of virtues. Love is the fulfilling of the Law. You were created to Love God and to love your neighbor as God has loved you. You love God and you love your neighbor with God’s love, for God is love. “Whoever loves God must also love his brother,” for “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, that brings us to today’s Gospel reading, Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which He told to the loveless Pharisees that they might be turned in repentance.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” Jesus does not condemn wealth and fine clothing per se, but, as in the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, which immediately precedes this story, it is the love of mammon (worldly wealth and riches) before and above God and neighbor that is condemned. Not only did the rich man love his costly purple robes, but he even wore the finest linen underwear. Moreover, he feasted sumptuously every day, even on the Sabbath, demonstrating that he neither feared, loved, and trusted in God above all things nor kept the Sabbath Day holy. In this simple introduction, Jesus culturally communicated to the Pharisees that the rich man did not love God. And, because he did not love God, he did not, he could not love his brother and his neighbor.
The rich man passed by his neighbor, his brother, Lazarus, laid at his gates, every day, and he did not help him in anyway. He didn’t even give him the scraps from his bountiful feasts, but he fed them, instead, to the dogs. The rich man saw Lazarus, his brother, every day, but he had no love for him. In fact, the dogs showed more love for Lazarus, licking his sores clean, than did the man whom God had blessed with abundant wealth and riches. Jesus says that both men died, and the rich man found himself in Hades while Lazarus was comforted at “Abraham’s side.” Do not conclude, however, that the rich man found himself in torment after death because of his riches, and the poor man comfort because of his poverty. Neither poverty nor riches bless nor condemn in and of themselves, but it is only faithlessness, mistrust, and unbelief that condemn. Truly, men can place their faith and trust in their poverty as much as in their riches. The rich man placed his fear, love, and trust in his riches, which he, undoubtedly, attributed to his own providence, whereas the poor man, Lazarus, whose symbolic name means “God is my help,” placed his fear, love, and trust in the LORD and in His means of providing for the lily and the sparrow and for His children whom He loves more than these.
Even in the afterlife, in torment in Hades, the rich man failed to love. He viewed Lazarus, still, as beneath him, a mere servant to be commanded to serve him. Though, he did begin to show some love for his brothers and for their eternal welfare, his love did not flow from fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but from his fear and terror of lost riches and eternal torment. As in life, so in death, the rich man feared, despised, and hated God and His Commandments, and so he feared, despised, and hated his neighbor and his brother. He could only see the LORD as a cruel and demanding master. He knew not the love of God nor the freedom, peace, and contentment that flow from it. “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
However, there was a rich man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who feared, loved, and trusted His Father so that he willingly became poor, even a beggar, having no place to lay His head. Yet, He was at peace and content, having all that He required to sustain His body and soul. Moreover, because He received and returned love from His Father, He could freely love His neighbor and His brother without any resentment, holding back, or sense of loss. This Rich Man also suffered and died and went to Hades, not to suffer, but to proclaim the victory of God over sin, death, and Satan. Then He returned to His Father, the firstborn of those who will rise from the dead. Ironically, the final request of the rich man in Jesus’ story was that Abraham might send Lazarus back from the dead to his brothers so that they might believe and repent. However, Abraham told him, “They have Moses and the Prophets; 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.”
“[You shall] fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” To love God is to trust in Him and to fear Him. To love God is to love your neighbor and your brother as God has loved you. “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment [… for] there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Because God has loved you in Jesus Christ, you need not fear His wrath and punishment; these have been sated and taken away. Now you fear the LORD in awesome reverence at His amazing love, mercy, grace, and goodness. And, as you have been loved by the LORD, so do you love all. Love with His love. Give of His gifts. Forgive with His forgiveness, to the glory of His holy Name in Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.