Sunday, June 14, 2020

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.

It’s easy to stand back and to condemn the rich man. That is, it’s easy to condemn the rich man until you are brought to see that the rich man is you. For, your heavenly Father has clothed you in the royal robe of His Son, so that you are a king or a queen with Him over all things, and He has given you to feast sumptuously of His holiness and righteousness in communion with Him, so that all that properly belongs to Him, belongs to you as well. For, through baptism and faith in Christ Jesus, you lack nothing, but all is yours. You are the richest of the rich, by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus.

Why, then, is it often so very difficult for you to give, to serve, and to sacrifice to, and for, the sake of, others? Contrary to what you might think and what others may tell you, selfishness, stinginess, and greed are much less the result of weak faith, or a lack of faith, than they are the result of a lack of love.

St. Paul has taught you in his great treatise on love in First Corinthians, chapter 13, that love is even greater than faith, hope, and a whole multitude of other great and holy works. Likewise, you must not forget that it is love, and not faith, that is said to be the fulfilling of the Law of God. Thus, St. John reminds you in today’s epistle that God, Himself, is love and, that to love others is to love God and to abide in God and God in you. Indeed, St. John instructs you, “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.” It is true that it is faith that saves. But, St. James is also correct in teaching that faith without works is dead. You can have faith in God and yet not love Him. To be sure, the devil has amazing faith in God, yet he does not love Him, but he hates Him, and he hates you whom God loves.

And so, it is not that the rich man in Jesus’ story was a faithless man, for he was not, but he was an heir of Abraham. Indeed, Abraham even addressed him as “Child”. No doubt, he paid his tithe and gave offerings of his abundance. He was likely even charitable towards, and in the sight of, those who could return to him honor and praise. And yet, he had not love, at least not love in the selfless and sacrificial manner of God. Day after day he passed by the poor beggar Lazarus who was intentionally laid at his gate each day to collect alms and offerings of food. He would not even throw him the crumbs and scraps leftover from his daily feasts, which even his dogs enjoyed. And so, the rich man, richly blessed by God in overflowing abundance with all things needful to the body and life, did not even have a thought towards helping the poor man laid at his gate in any way.

The name Lazarus means “one whom God helps”. One way in which God helped the poor, widows, and orphans was by commanding His faithful to tithe. Farmers of crops, fruit, and livestock were commanded to give ten percent of their harvest to the treasury, out of which the poor, widows, and orphans were cared for and the priests, who had no land or means of providing food, clothing, and shelter for themselves, were provided for. The tithe was ten percent of a family’s increase, gain, or profit. However, also commanded were offerings, which were above and beyond the tithe, and were typically given out of a surplus. Ultimately, the purpose of tithes and of offerings was two-fold: To provide for the poor, widows, orphans, and the priests, and to remind the children of Israel that all things belong to God, and that they were stewards and managers of God’s providence.

Understanding Biblical stewardship can help you to see how it is that failure to love your neighbor and brother is failure to love God. The truth be told, as Martin Luther confessed in his last written words, “We are [all] beggars: this is true.” We are all beggars, like Lazarus, who need, and who receivehelp from God. In truth, the rich man was as much a beggar as Lazarus; he was as much in need of God’s daily providence for the things that sustained his body and life, as well as the spiritual things that delivered, sanctified, and kept his eternal life, as was Lazarus, and as are you. Only a man who truly believed that all that he had earned, deserved, and merited by his own works, energies, and efforts, justified him before God, could then justify himself to pass by or refuse a brother or a neighbor who has come to him for help. But, such self righteousness is a delusion and a deception of the enemy. It damages and destroys your love for your brother and your neighbor, because it damages and destroys your love for God.

St. John teaches you, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Faith is absolutely necessary for salvation, for it clings to God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ and therein receives His forgiveness, life, and salvation. But, as St. James teaches, faith without works of love, is dead. Indeed, love, true love, the love that God is, is not an emotion, a feeling, or a sentiment, but it is a work, a selfless work of giving and sacrificing. It is because God is love that He is a creator and a giver of life. It is because God is love that there is something instead of nothing – and, what a marvelous and wonderful something it is! It is because God is love that there is forgiveness, life and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. For, God so loved the world in this way, He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.

Thus, there is no moralism in Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus other than the one command to love: Love God, and love your neighbor. Love others as you have been loved. And, this is much less a command than it is the result of communion with God in Jesus Christ. Through baptism and faith in Jesus you abide in Him and He in you – you abide in His love and His love abides in you. And so, you love your brother and neighbor with God’s love. You give to your brother and neighbor of God’s gifts. And you forgive your brother and neighbor with God’s forgiveness in, through, and in communion with, Jesus Christ. This was, is, and has always been the consistent message of Moses and the Prophets. Yet it is rejected by many, even though Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.

What keeps you from doing the right thing? What keeps you from loving your brother and neighbor with selfless, unconditional love. Is it not fear? Fear of losing? Fear of being taken advantage of? Fear of being swindled? Fear of judgment from your peers who might think you a fool? St. John teaches you 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.” Because God has given you all things in Christ Jesus, there is nothing for you to fear, but all is yours. But, before you can appreciate that, and trust that, and cling to Christ in faith, you have to confess that you have nothing to lose, that all that you have truly belongs to God, and that you, on your own, are a beggar, and the recipient of God’s love, grace, and mercy poured out in Jesus. There is no fear in love, because the one who loves knows that he has nothing to lose. And, as fear has to do with punishment, there is no fear in love, for in God’s love there is no punishment because of His love for you in Jesus.

Thus, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment,” confidence that is the fruit of faith in Jesus Christ. In Christ, you may stand boldly before the Lord without fear. In Christ, you may stand boldly before the assaults of the evil one without fear. And, in Christ, you may boldly, recklessly, and selflessly love your brother and your neighbor without fear – without fear of losing; without fear of being taken advantage of; without fear of being swindled – to the glory of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now, your Lord and God invites you, His kings and queens and sons and daughters, robed in the royal righteousness of His Son, to come and to feast sumptuously on the choicest of meats and the finest of wines, in the feast of His Love in the precious body and holy blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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