Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 6)

Matthew 5:17-26; Romans 6:1-11; Exodus 20:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
From our perspective, sitting comfortably removed from first century Israel by nearly 2,000 years, it’s easy for us to judge and to condemn the scribes and the Pharisees as unloving, unmerciful, self-righteous, legalists. For, in truth, they were all that, although not for the reasons were often suppose. Surely, they didn’t know it, and most certainly no one else thought of them that way at the time. On the contrary, the scribes and the Pharisees were the most honored and respected of men. They were seen as holy and righteous by nearly all, for they took the Law and the commands of God in the Scriptures exceedingly seriously, and they honestly tried, and in many ways they truly succeeded, to practice them and live them in their own lives. They were visibly and recognizably pious, moral, respectable, and good. When Jesus recounted one Pharisee’s boasting concerning himself in the temple, “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get,” we must understand that he actually did do these things, which most others failed to do. Consequently, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel stating, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” should cause you to pause and reflect upon just what Jesus, and God His Father, truly expect and desire from you. If it is works and obedience under the Law, then the scribes and the Pharisees were the absolute epitome of faithfulness and righteousness. And yet, Jesus regularly lambasted and laid into the scribes and the Pharisees like no others, not even the heterodox Samaritans and the pagan Romans, for their self-righteousness and for their failure to show love, mercy, and compassion to others.
For, love, mercy, and compassion, charity, grace, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, and humility – these are the true piety, the true faithfulness, and the true obedience that the Law requires, even the fulfillment of the Law and its saving fruits. And, these all flow from the heart that has been broken by the Law’s demands and finds no comfort and peace, no righteousness in itself, but only in the love, mercy, compassion, charity, grace, and forgiveness that has been shown and poured out upon it in the selfless, sacrificial suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The scribes and the Pharisees were truly obedient to the letter of the Law, but they were deaf, dumb, blind, and dead to the spirit and fulfillment of the Law, which is love. They believed that so long as they didn’t physically murder someone, have sexual intercourse with someone to whom they were not married, or steal from someone, that they were obeying God’s Law and were righteous, and yet they could muster no love, mercy, compassion, charity, grace, or forgiveness for others. Truly, they could only give to others of what they themselves had received, but because they justified themselves as righteous according to their works under the Law, they could not receive God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness, for they didn’t believe that they needed it! Therefore, they could not truly love others. You see, you can only give of what you yourself have received. You can only love with God’s love. You can only give of God’s good gifts. And, you can only forgive with God’s own forgiveness. If you cannot do these things, that is a sure and certain sign that you do not have them from God. Thus, you are no better than the scribes and the Pharisees. In truth, you are much worse off, for I am certain that you do not obey the external letter of the Law as well as they did either.
However, Jesus says that your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees if you hope to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now, it should be obvious, therefore, that the righteousness of which Jesus speaks is not a righteousness of obedience to the letter of the Law, for the scribes and Pharisees were very pious and obedient in that respect, but it is a righteousness which comes from outside of you and which changes your heart so that it bears the fruits of the Spirit without coercion, without threat of punishment, without a striving for self-justifying righteousness by works. Such righteousness is characteristic of a heart that has been broken by the Law, absolved, soothed, and comforted by the Gospel, is humble and repentant, and thus overflows with the love of God in Jesus Christ in love for God and in love for the neighbor. Such love is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, and only such righteousness saves and receives entrance into the kingdom of heaven. This righteousness comes from outside of you, it is created in you, and it flows through you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God because of Christ Jesus your Lord. This righteousness you must have if you hope to be saved, but you cannot produce it on your own, and neither can you earn it or merit it by your obedience under the Law, but you must receive it in faith as a free gift of God’s grace, and you must not hinder it’s work in and through you, but rather you must work with it, in love towards God and in love towards your neighbor, not in word only, but in deeds flowing from a changed heart, a broken and contrite heart, a humble and repentant heart.
Many Christians like to believe that Jesus relaxed and softened the Law of God, or even abolished it for believers today. They deceive themselves, for nothing could be farther from the truth! What does Jesus say? “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Then Jesus explained what the spirit of the Law truly teaches: “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Now, anger, insults, and curses are not actions of the will and the hands so much as they are passions, thoughts, and desires of the heart. Jesus is not speaking of works and obedience under the letter of the Law, but of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, which are the fruit of the spirit of the Law, which flow from a changed heart crushed and broken by the Law, but absolved and healed by the Gospel. Similarly does Jesus speak concerning adultery, referring not to physical intercourse, but rather to lust in the heart, once again referring to a condition of the heart and not obedience under the letter of the Law. Quoting the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus says of such people, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
No, true righteousness, the righteousness of which Jesus speaks, the righteousness which inherits the kingdom of heaven, is the love of a heart that has been broken and crushed by the Law so that it is humble and repentant, full of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for all, even those who hurt you, who hate you, and who wish to kill you. Such surely seems a high bar and an impossible task for one who seeks to justify himself by obedience to the Law, but for one who has died with Jesus in Holy Baptism and has been raised with Jesus to new and everlasting life, that one has died to sin and now lives with, to, and for Christ. You have died with Christ, and you now live with Him, therefore you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
It has become popular today for Christians to say they are spiritual, but not religious. They are well meaning, I suppose, if wrong-minded. Religion is simply a rule or an order. What such Christians are most often doing when they say they are spiritual, but not religious, is rebelling against and rejecting any sort of order or rule for their life and worship. This is extremely popular in the West and in the United States in particular, where freedom, independence, and equality are most highly valued even above truth and morality, which are sadly derided and considered old fashioned or simply non-existent and false. The fallen flesh and the Old Adam hate rules and order, and thus they hate religion too. However, listen to this exhortation from St. James concerning the true religion: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” You cannot be merely a hearer and not a doer and consider yourself a Christian or hold any hope that you are saved; you cannot be merely spiritual, but not religious. True Christians no longer strive to obey the Law of God out of fear and coercion, seeking to justify themselves by their works, but they bask in the freedom of the Law fulfilled in Christ, and they freely do it out of humility and repentance, bearing the fruits of love for God, and love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for the neighbor, to the glory of God. Thus we prayed in today’s Collect, “graft into our hearts the love of Your Name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of Your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord.”
All of our Christian life is defined by death and resurrection. When you were baptized, you died in Christ and were raised in Him to new life, His life lived in and through you. You should reflect on that truth and remember it whenever you participate in the Divine Service, for the Invocation, Confession, and Absolution are nothing less than a renewal of your Holy Baptism as you wash your robes clean once again in Jesus’ cleansing blood. And, as you are a new creation, born again of water, blood, and spirit, you are nourished, sustained, and equipped through the Word of God and the Word made flesh as you commune with God by eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood. And then, you are sent back into the world, forgiven, refreshed, strengthened, and equipped, to love and forgive, to share with and to comfort others, with the love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness you yourself have received from God in Christ Jesus. Literally, you love with Jesus’ love, you give of Jesus’ gifts, and you forgive with Jesus’ forgiveness. This is the true religion, and this is the righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, the righteousness by which you will enter the kingdom of heaven. You are what you eat. You give of what you have received. Come, eat and drink and live. Go, sharing and caring with Jesus’ love that others may know Christ and live. In this way God’s kingdom will be filled, and His Name is glorified.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 5)

Luke 5:1-11; 1 Kings 19:11-21; 1 Peter 3:8-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
God’s ways are not our ways. You, and I, all of us know that to be unequivocally true. But why? Are our ways always so wrong? Do we never do the right thing, the righteous thing, the virtuous thing? Of course we do. We build hospitals to heal the sick. We give food, clothing, and money to provide for the poor. Our young men and women lay down their lives to defend our freedoms and to secure freedoms for others. Of course, we also destroy infant lives, we better ourselves at the expense of others, and we tend to think more of ourselves than of anyone else. But why must God’s ways always be so very different from our ways? Why must God’s thoughts be so completely the opposite of our thoughts?
There is an answer to that question, and I think that you will agree that it is every bit as true as the fact that God’s ways are not our ways, even if you don’t find it very satisfying. The answer to the question “Why?” is, “Because He is God, and you are not.” That’s why.
We so want God to act in the ways in which we think that He should act. We so want God to be like us. It’s only human after all. But God is not like us; God is not a human creature. God created humanity in His image, not the other way around. So, whose ways must be conformed to whom? Whose thoughts must submit to whom?
The greatest obstacle to faith, and the greatest contributor to suffering, is pride. Pride is your idol, your god. An idol is anything that you put your fear, love, and trust in before God; an idol is anything that gets in between you and God. It’s a First Commandment thing: You shall have no other gods before me – not even yourself. It’s an Original Sin thing – man is not content to be created in the image of God, but man wants to be God himself. We want to determine what is wisdom and what is foolishness, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. But it is pride. It is arrogance. It is self-righteousness and self-centeredness and self-ISH-ness. And it is sin. And it brings death. And it is utterly, and truly foolishness.
Each of our lessons today speak to us of foolishness. For it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that God would speak to Elijah, not in a mighty wind, not in a jarring earthquake, and not in a blazing fire, but in a still, small voice – even a whisper.
Likewise, it is foolishness in the eyes of the world that you do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling but rather do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, even love your enemies.
And so also was it foolishness in the eyes of the world, indeed foolishness in the weary eyes of Simon, James, and John, when Jesus told them to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.”
Foolishness. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts, neither are man’s ways His ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than man’s ways and His thoughts than man’s thoughts.
Man’s pride separates him from God. The man who trusts in himself does not seek God – he is a fool. But God is merciful and just, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. He calls the fool to repentance and afflicts man’s pride to break it. Elijah feared for his life because he trusted only in himself and knew that he had not the strength in himself to survive. But in his self-despair, Elijah was receptive to God’s Word. God demonstrated to Elijah that He would act, not in ways that men find impressive – winds, earthquakes, and fire – but in His way, the way of His Word.
Simon, James, and John despaired at the failure of their own efforts to catch fish. But in their broken and weary desperation they were receptive to Jesus’ Word “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” By that Word alone they put to their boats and let down their nets, not expecting anything, but catching instead a great catch of fish.
Why are God’s ways and thoughts so different from ours? Because He is God and we are not – thanks be to God. In His grace and mercy, God loves us enough to crush us; God loves you enough to crush your pride, to beak your self-reliance, to destroy your self-righteousness. It is a good thing to be broken by the Lord – for He is powerful and willing to put you back together again, not as you were before, but as a new creation, restoring you once again to His image.
God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. He does the unthinkable. He does what men would never do. He saves the best wine for last. He eats and drinks with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He touches the unclean with no concern for Himself. And He lays down His own life for men who hate Him. Foolishness.
And so, thanks be to God, His ways and thoughts are not your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your ways and thoughts. He afflicts your pride, your reason, and your assumed wisdom. He breaks you, so that He can re-create you in the image of His Son.
Through the foolishness of the Gospel – the preaching of Christ crucified – a great catch of fish – you – is still brought into the boat – the Church. The message of the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to the world; but to you, that cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Second Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 2)

Luke 14:15-24; 1 John 3:13-18; Proverbs 9:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke is often called The Parable of the Great Banquet. In context, in Luke’s Gospel, however, today’s pericope is one of four teachings of Jesus that occur during a single meal at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. Throughout that meal, Jesus had occasion to teach about how love is the fulfilling of the Sabbath Law, how humility is a virtue as opposed to the vice of pride, and about the virtue of charity and grace, selfless giving without thought of recognition or compensation.
But, what occasioned our Lord’s teaching in The Parable of the Great Banquet was the exclamation of one of those who sat with Him at the meal: “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” The man was most likely thinking of the type of banquet that would typically be held by the Jews following a great victory in battle. Many Jews of Jesus’ day held the false belief that the Messiah would be a great king like David who would free Israel from bondage and captivity to the Romans. Even if the man were thinking about a spiritual victory, feast, and kingdom, he was sighing for something he believed to be far off, while the Bread of Heaven Himself sat there before him.
Parables are funny things, they seem so simple on the surface, and yet their meaning eludes and confounds so many, so that seeing, they do not see, and hearing, they do not hear. Often this frustration is expressed “Why doesn’t Jesus just speak plainly? Doesn’t He want people to understand and believe?” Well, of course He wants people to understand and to believe. Nevertheless, He will not force Himself on anyone. Jesus preaches to the Law inscribed on all men’s hearts even while He extends to them the Gospel invitation. Only those who feel the conviction of the Law and drop their facades of pride and self-righteousness will turn in repentance and receive forgiveness and life. Ironically, how often a pastor is told by his parishioners, “You should just preach like Jesus, you know, simple stories, and parables. He was always so clear, a child could understand Him.” Such a comment, however, brings to my mind something one of my seminary professors is still known to regularly say: “You know not the Scriptures or the power therein.” God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the parables were constructed by the Wisdom of God incarnate, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. It is Wisdom that speaks when Jesus speaks, and the truly wise among men bring nothing to the table but humility and repentance.
The Church’s lectionary has wisely paired the wisdom of Proverbs this day with the wisdom of The Parable of the Great Banquet. Recorded nearly a millennium before the advent of Jesus, our pericope from Proverbs is The Parable of the Great Banquet told in the high form of wisdom literature: Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars. She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her young women to call from the highest places in the town, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” To him who lacks sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” In both Proverbs and in the Parable, the great feast is fully prepared and many are invited simply to come, eat, and drink. Yet, how so very many refuse! In the Parable, those who refuse offer worldly and fleshly excuses or justifications. These betray their pride and self-righteousness and expose their false religions and idolatries. In Proverbs, those who refuse are scoffers and wicked men. It is the humble and selfless man who accepts reproving and instruction that is wise and righteous. In accepting reproving and instruction, the wise man becomes wiser still, for, to the one that has, more will be given, and to the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away; for, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Let us now turn directly to the Parable. The “man” is God the Father and the “great banquet” He has prepared is the fulfillment of the Passover Feast in the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. All was fully prepared and “many” were invited to the feast, so God “sent His [Suffering] servant to say to those invited ‘Come, for everything is now ready’. But they all began to make excuses.” One has purchased a field and must attend to it. Another has bought five yoke of oxen and must examine them. And another has married a wife and cannot come. All three excuses sound reasonable enough to fleshly ears and worldly wisdom. In fact, at least two of the excuses were counted as reasonable exceptions to military service in the Old Testament (Deut. 20:6-7). However, this story being a parable, and parables being what they are, there is at the same time a literal and true meaning and a deeper, spiritual meaning. Spiritually, the excuses offered by the three invitees had to do with their preoccupation and love of worldly, physical, and fleshly things over and against the spiritual gifts of God. Here, the Fathers of the Church, especially Augustine and Gregory, offer us insight as to how the early Church understood this parable.
Augustine writes: In the purchase of the farm, the pride of dominion is signified. For to have a farm, to hold it as their possession, to occupy it, to have it subject to them, to rule it, delights men. The first man wished to rule, and wished no one to have dominion over him. And what does having dominion mean but taking delight in one’s own power?
Augustine and Gregory both understand the five yoke of oxen as a symbol for the five senses of man, which also are yoked in pairs: two eyes with which to see, two ears with which to hear, two nostrils with which to smell, a tongue and palate which work together to taste, and a sense of touch, paired in a concealed manner, being both internal and external. The five senses are creaturely and of the earth; they can only perceive what has been made by God and according to God’s own design. Yet, men trust in these creaturely senses and not in their Creator. They will not believe anything unless what they can discover by the fivefold perception of the body. They regard these five senses as the sole norm of their decisions. Such a man was the Apostle Thomas who famously insisted “Unless I see with my eyes and touch with my hands, I will never believe.” Such a man also was the guest at the meal who exclaimed “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Again, this man was sighing for what he believed was far off, while the Bread of Heaven Himself sat there before him. For, it is not what is seen that feeds us, but what is believed. Indeed, what faithlessness and idolatry that our God-created and God-given senses should be loved and trusted more than our Creator and Giver God!
Augustine and Gregory alike also see the man who has taken a wife as a symbol for the desires of the fleshly over and against the spiritual. Augustine summarizes all of the excuses of the invitees, saying “Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.”
But, are not these the excuses that serve all men who decline to come to the Lord’s Banquet? The invited guests offered these excuses to justify their absence, to justify their refusal to come to the feast that the Lord had prepared for them. And, their excuses demonstrated their belief in their own self-sufficiency, that they had no need of handouts from the Lord. The owner of the farm viewed himself as the owner of his own life, dependent only upon himself and his own works and labor. The owner of the five yoke of oxen, likewise, has made himself the judge of what is real and what is true; but the reality is that man is slave to his senses, created by God, perceiving only what God has created them and allowed them to perceive. It is the Lord who is Truth, not what can be perceived by our God-created and given senses. The man who has married a wife and cannot come is one who is completely enslaved to fleshly desires and passions. For him, the sensations of the flesh have become all important and above the One who created the flesh and its sensations that He might be worshiped and glorified as the Lord and giver of all things.
And, the Master was angry with the invited guests and their excuses. He ordered his servant to bring in those people who were unable to provide for themselves, people like the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. These are set in contrast to the invited guests who made excuses. For, the truth is that the invited guests should have seen that all the material and worldly things that they valued and loved were gifts from God; they should have gone to the Master’s feast out of love, reverence, and thanksgiving. But they refused. For, they did not truly love the master. They believed that their fields, oxen, and marriage were the fruits of their own labors. They did not respect, love, or thank the master for his kindness, grace, and mercy. And, none of those invited, offering their own excuses and justifications, will taste of the Master’s banquet, but even today the invitation is extended to all those pilgrims on the highways and the byways of this world who will receive and not refuse the Lord’s gracious invitation.
For, God the Father’s Suffering Servant has called you by His Word to the Master’s Banquet where He is both Host and Meal. His invitation will not be rescinded, it can only be rejected. All is prepared for you, the finest of meats and the choicest of wines, that you may eat His flesh and drink His blood and live. There is no need to covet dominion, power, and control, for the Lord knows what you need and He willingly and lovingly gives you all things. Must you see and touch, taste, hear, and feel to believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. Nevertheless, the Lord graciously meets you where you are in Word, Bread, Wine, and Water that He might dwell in you, flesh, blood, and Spirit, and you in Him. Have you a spouse to love you and to give you physical comfort and security? They are a gift of God to you that you might have a glimpse of the love and comfort you will find in the Lord. And this feast, at which we recline this day and every Lord’s Day, is but a foretaste of the Feast that is to come, the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end. For, blessed is everyone who eats bread in the kingdom of God. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

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.
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Trinity, which you may think of as “that long green season.” Green is the color of life and growth. As the first half the Church Year focused upon the life, deeds, death, and resurrection of Jesus, so the second half of the Church Year focuses upon the life of Jesus lived in and through His body, the Church. It is no coincidence, then, that the lesson of today’s Gospel is that the life of the Church, and your lives, its members, have their origin in, and are sustained by, God’s Word.
Jesus’ story about the Rich Man and Lazarus is a story about life and fruitful growth borne in and through believers by God’s Word. Though not specifically called a parable, this story is set in the midst of a string of Jesus’ parables and must be interpreted in that context. Indeed, apart from this greater context, there is precious little reason given why the rich man is in torment in Hades while Lazarus is being comforted in the bosom of Abraham. Beginning with the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the (Lost) Prodigal Son, continuing through the parable of the Dishonest Steward, and ending with Jesus’ teaching against the love of money and divorce, it would be accurate to say that all of these parables are about hearing and trusting in the Word of God and, consequently, bearing its fruit of selfless, sacrificial love. Thus, the only reason we can surmise that the rich man is suffering torment in Hades is that he did not hear “Moses and the Prophets,” the Word of God, and, consequently, He did not bear the fruit of God’s Word – He did not love.
It was not the rich man’s riches that affected his fate anymore than it was Lazarus’ poverty that affected his. Indeed, biblical heroes of the faith Abraham, David, and numerous others were unquestionably wealthy and, likewise, are unquestionably a part of the company of saints with Jesus in heaven. Neither should it be supposed that the rich man was a bad man or even an unbeliever. He called Abraham father, and Abraham, in turn, called the rich man son. Likewise, Jesus provides nothing in his telling of the story that would cause us to suppose that Lazarus was an especially good or faithful man. All that we are told is the straightforward fact of each man’s condition: The rich man, in his lifetime, received good things, and Lazarus, in like manner, bad things. Now, Lazarus is comforted, and the rich man is in anguish.
The inescapable conclusion we must draw from Jesus’ telling is that, it’s not what we have or do not have that matters, or even a particular quantity or quality of observable works, but it is where we place our fear, love, and trust. These must be placed in God’s Word, despite the conditions of our life, and they must affect a change in us, a change in our hearts, causing us to love. Truly, love is the fruit and the only good work produced in and through us by trust in the Word of God. Indeed, love, and only love, is the fulfilling of the Law of God. However, love is the necessary fruit of faith. That is what James is getting at when he says, “I will show you my faith by my works” and, “faith without works is dead.” Or, as we make our sung confession with Paul Speratus in “Salvation unto Us Has Come, “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone and rests in Him unceasing; and by its fruits true faith is known, with love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; works serve our neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.” Likewise, St. John summarizes in today’s Epistle, “This commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
Jesus tells us that the poor man Lazarus laid everyday outside the gates of the rich man’s house desiring to be fed with scraps from the rich man’s table. Jesus means for us to surmise that his desire went unfulfilled though the rich man feasted sumptuously every day. Now, I know that we immediately think of all the homeless beggars we willfully walk by when we stroll the streets and avenues of New York City, some of whom are undoubtedly shysters, and we wonder, does the Lord really expect me to give to all of these? While we should never be calloused and cold-hearted to those in need, I believe that the message is directed more towards those we have some sort of relationship with, in our own communities, neighborhoods, church, and family. The fact is that the rich man knew Lazarus, walked past him everyday, and didn’t love him so as to feed him from the scraps that fell from his table. Again, it’s not the work, or lack thereof, that is truly the problem, but rather it is the lack of love, which is evidence of the lack of fear, love, and trust in the Word of God. Jesus hints at this lack of love by declining to provide the rich man’s name, while He named Lazarus; The Good Shepherd knows His sheep, but to those who are not His sheep He will proclaim, “I never knew you. Depart from Me you workers of lawlessness.”
Both men died, and Lazarus was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom, a place of comfort, while the rich man was buried and in anguish in Hades. Why? The only reason given is that the rich man received his good things in his lifetime and Lazarus received his in the afterlife. Again, however, this parable is not about wealth and possessions in contrast to poverty and need, but it is about faith and its fruit, love. The rich man had love, but his love was for his possessions and wealth and not for God or neighbor. However, there is nothing given that would indicate that Lazarus had love either; rather, Lazarus seemingly had only want and need. And yet, Lazarus’ faith and love are displayed in his want and need. Lazarus could not help himself, but he was a beggar; he begged before his neighbor and he begged before God. To be a beggar is to be completely empty and selfless. Martin Luther famously uttered these words as he was dying, “Surely, we are all beggars.” Lazarus’ faith and love was not in himself but in God. Indeed, his very name means “God is my help.” The LORD has mercy on the helpless. Those who have not He blesses and fills with good things. And, He does this, primarily, through those who have, through the likes of the rich man, through you, and through me.
When the rich man, in anguish in Hades, appealed to Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, thinking that they would believe if someone rose from the dead, Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Moses and the Prophets are the Word of God. More specifically, they represent the Law of God, the Law which is fulfilled in love for God and for the neighbor. Jesus was rich, and yet He forsook all that He had to save us. He who had riches and power and glory willingly, selflessly, and sacrificially became poor that He might raise us up from the poverty of sin and death to the riches of fear, love, and trust in God and its fruit of love for the neighbor. The Law and the Prophets were fulfilled in Jesus and, ironically, He did rise from the dead, and a terrible many remain unconvinced and do not believe.
The greatest work that you can do is to love – love God with all heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. And, this work is much less a work that you do than it is a work God the Holy Spirit does in and though you through faith and trust in His Word made flesh Jesus Christ. Whatever you fear, love, and trust in above and before God is an idol that you must cast away. Created things are not bad in and of themselves, but it is what you make them to be in your heart that makes them idolatrous and evil. And, whatever serves to quell your love for God and man you must pluck it out and throw it away, lest you forfeit your life and the Lord give you what you desire – a life away from His love and gracious presence forever. However, you need not be afraid, for “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. The rich man Jesus Christ became poor for you, therefore God has made Him the richest in His kingdom. And, He is present now, for you, to feed you, not with scraps, but with the choicest meat of His body and the finest wine of His blood, that you may be forgiven, nourished, strengthened, protected, equipped, and sent to love others with His love. In loving others you are loved and remain in His love. Therefore, in love, you need not fear life or death or anything at all.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.