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.

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