Sunday, June 23, 2019

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.
The Pharisee Nicodemus did not understand Jesus’ meaning when He said, “You must be born again of water and the Spirit.” Our Lord gently rebuked him saying, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Our God, who is a righteous, just, and holy spirit, is utterly unapproachable and unknowable by us sinful and mortal men, therefore He approaches us and makes Himself known to us through material, fleshly, and worldly things: In a bush that burns yet is not consumed; in illumining and guiding pillars of cloud and fire; between the cherubim upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant; behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies; in the flesh and blood body of a man born of a virgin mother; in bread and wine and water, and in the preaching of men called and set apart for His purposes. Indeed, because of the Incarnation of the Word and Son of God, and because of His Ascension, and because of the Pentecost miracle of His outpoured grace, our God also makes Himself to be known through our brothers and sisters and neighbors as Jesus taught, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
We are given to know our heavenly God in the earthly things He has made. This is what the rich man in Jesus’ story failed to do; he failed to recognize God in the poor man Lazarus lying on his front porch. Now, this is not a story about the evils of riches and the blessedness of poverty. Neither is this a story that should be used to promote social welfare programs and guilt the faithful into action and service, which all too easily becomes works righteousness when we trust that we are justified because we are “good people” who do “good things” for needy people. No, Jesus’ story illumines for us where God can be found and approached and how He is rightly worshipped, served, and glorified. We find and approach God in those brothers, sisters, and neighbors He places before us in our lives that we may extend the good things He has blessed us with to them and glorify Him by showing forth His goodness, love, grace, mercy, charity, and kindness. We rightly worship, serve, and glorify our God when we help, serve, and love our neighbor with His love.
St. John picks up Jesus’ teaching in the Epistle, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” The rich man saw the poor man lying on his porch every day. He saw his need, he even knew his name, he had the means to help him, but he did nothing. You see, some are want to make this story a mandate to the Church as an institution to social ministry, and to Christians to vote for social welfare and social justice legislation. However, Jesus’ story is not about institutions or governments or even the Church; it’s much more personal than that! The poor man was the rich man’s poor man. God caused their paths to cross. Because of the Incarnation, because of the Ascension, because of Pentecost, the poor man was Jesus. The rich man had an opportunity to feed and clothe Jesus, to give him drink and to care for him, in the person of poor Lazarus lying right before him. By loving the poor man whom he could see, the rich man had an opportunity to show His love for God whom He could not see. But, he did not love his brother whom he could see, because he did not love his God whom he could not see.
However, the rich man did have love. He had love for his clothing, the finest linens and costliest purple gowns. He had love for his food, feasting sumptuously every single day. He had love for his dogs who received the rich tidbits and scraps from his own table. He had love for himself, that he might be relieved of his torment. And, he even had love for his brothers that they might be spared what he was suffering. Yet, in all this, the rich man did not truly love God, whom he could not see, because he did not love those who did not meet his estimation of what was loveable. Even in death, in torment in Hades, the most concern he could eek out for Lazarus was to treat him as a servant, as a slave. “Send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” “Send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” “They have Moses and the Prophets,” Abraham answered, “let them hear them.” The rich man refused saying, “No.” Then Abraham replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Now, “Moses and the Prophets” are the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. It is the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that creates faith in cold, dead hearts like ours and the rich man’s, and kindles in them the fire of His holy love. Not only did the rich man fail to love the poor man whom he could see, but he failed to love God whom he could not see. God has revealed Himself in His Word, and in the poor man set before him, to both of which the rich man said firmly, “No.”
Abraham himself once said “No” to God, after first saying “Yes.” Abraham was a rich man having huge flocks and herds along with his father’s wealth and possessions. When the LORD promised him a son from his own flesh through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed, Abraham believed the LORD, and the LORD counted Abraham’s belief, His trust in His Word, to him as righteousness. But, then, when some time had passed and the LORD’s promise had not been fulfilled, Abraham began to doubt and he became fearful – of what? Of losing his wealth and possessions. Abraham said, “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household [a servant, a slave] will be my heir.” Then Abraham took matters into his own hand and conceived a son by his wife’s handmaiden Hagar. This was not an act of love, love for God, love for God’s Word, love for Sarah, love for Hagar, love for any potential offspring Hagar might bear him, but this was an adulterous act of fear. What is the connection between fear and love? St. John explains in his epistle saying, “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 know that later, after this first fear and failing of Abraham to love and trust in the LORD and His Word, the LORD put Abraham’s fear, love, and trust in Him to the test by demanding him to sacrifice his son, his only son whom he loved, the son of promise, Isaac. This time Abraham did not fear, nor did he hesitate to obey the LORD, but he loved Him and trusted Him completely believing that the LORD would still keep His Word of promise, even if his son had to die. Thus, now, from heaven, Abraham is able to counsel the rich man, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
In a very real sense, Abraham’s son Isaac was raised from death. Nonetheless, Abraham loved and trusted in the LORD and His Word before and apart from this miraculous sign. And, of course, the true sign of resurrection would be granted, not in the son of Abraham, but in the only-begotten Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, whom God gave over unto death because of His love for the world. Because God is love, God so loved the world in this way: He gave His only Son into death, that all who believe in Him may not perish, but have everlasting life. In the same way, the LORD commands us to love others, without fear, as He has loved us, sacrificing of ourselves for those whom God has given us to love. In this way, Jesus says, all will know that you are His disciples, when you sacrifice yourselves in love for each other and for all.
And, you do not have to go far to find those whom God has given you to show selfless and sacrificial love. They say charity begins at home, and truly the sacrificial love of God you are given to share begins at home. You have been given your husband or wife, you have been given your children first and foremost. Beyond them lie your extended family, your neighbors, co-workers, and fellow members of the body of Christ, the Church. And, beyond that, the people of your community. Perhaps much farther down the list and outside of your immediate context and vocation lie the poor in other communities, states, and nations. It is always a good and God pleasing thing to love all that you can, but not when it is at the cost and sacrifice of those He has put right before you like poor Lazarus on the rich man’s porch. “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.”
This may seem like a tall order. It is not, however, when you remain filled with the Father’s love. That is why you are here today – to receive from Him anew: love, mercy, grace, compassion, charity, and more. Here in His Church, the Father’s love is literally poured into you so that you are filled to the brim, and then He keeps on pouring so that you overflow with His love, love plenteous to fill the lives of those He gives you to love. Come and drink from the ever-flowing fountain of His blood. Come and eat of His lifegiving body. Receive from Him these earthly things that you may receive from Him also the heavenly things, and having these, that you may have something to give to your brother.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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