26. June 2011
This is not a full manuscript but rather notes I used for preaching. Listen to the audio for the full sermon.
Trusting in earthly appearances does not indicate our heavenly reward. Jesus presents two kinds of men upon the earth. There are the “haves” and the “have-nots”. His dramatic parable paints a wide chasm between the two. The “haves” don’t just “have” but have tremendously. This is the prototypical rich man. The rich man enjoyed his life. On the other side of this great gulley are the “have-nots”. They aren’t just poor but are cursed by hunger and disease. This is Lazarus. Lazarus longed for earthly gifts. He knew full well that the rich man could help him. It is no accident that he lay before the man’s gates. Yet, the rich man did not care for him. Not even the crumbs of the man’s table fell into his mouth. So despised was he that the no man cares for his sores. No family member cared for him in his dying days. Rather only the dogs have mercy upon him, tending his wounds.
Jesus sets a trap and is ready for us to spring it. One of two mistakes occurs. First, we might assume that the presence of earthly gifts of fine clothing, food, and health indicate our earthly fate. Second, we might assume that the rich man’s eternal fate is the direct result of his neglect to care for his neighbor. The conclusion of the parable prevents either error. The great chasm that separates the rich man and Lazarus is not wealth, health, prosperity, or even works of charity. The great chasm is unbelief and belief.
Faith does not come by earthly gifts but by the Word of God. Faithful Abram believed when the Lord spoke. So also Lazarus heard the voice of the Lord by Moses and the Prophets and believed. We too are often burdened by the the miseries of this sinful world. We are often like poor Lazarus. We may pray with the Psalmist “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me?”
Our Lord knows that His Word that dwells in our hearts will overcome these torments. His Word responds with confidence of faith, trusting that our Lord will overcome our doubt and grant the life of faith. No wealth can match the poverty of the heart, when all earthly desires disappear and we are left alone with Jesus and His Word. We should long for nothing more than Christ who makes us spiritually rich.
Accept your suffering with joy. Those who patiently bear Lazarus’ torments are taken up to heaven by angels. Lazarus may been clothed the garments of the wretched on this earth. But his purple robes are Christ’s precious blood. Earthly sores availed him here but he rejoices now in resurrected flesh. He suffered famine in time but now enjoys the heavenly banquet of Christ’s own body.
But what of the Rich Man? His eternal fate is because he did not trust in Moses and the Prophets. The rich man trusted in his wealth as an indicator of God’s love. Receiving purple linen, fine dining, and health are all fine gifts. We dare not trust that God loves us merely on the presence of these gifts. For it rains on the just and the unjust. All receive what they need to support this body and life. They are not the pinnacle of God’s love. What use are purple robes since they pass away? What use is great abundance since all that we see must vanish? What use are sensual thrills when our body itself must go from here?
The rich man was wealthy in the material but poor in the spiritual. His priority was for earthly things over the heavenly things. Ultimately, it was not his neglect for Lazarus that damned him but his lack of faith in God which comes by hearing and trusting in Moses and the Prophets. The judgement of God is final. For the faithful, the angels await to carry us to Abraham’s side. For those outside of the love of God are doomed to the anguish of the flames of Hades. Their tongues are parched from the heat. This is the great chasm between the faithless and the faithful. Nor can the faithful visit them with cool water.
We too, then, ought to be cautious to keep our minds and hearts on the things of God and not the things of this life. What we love is what we trust. Yet, the life of the Christian is not an ascetic life, abandoning the world and especially those in need. Abiding in God’s love, we love our neighbor. We use the gifts of God to benefit our neighbor’s physical needs. The love of Christ which dwells in the hearts of the faithful first cared for the sick, the needy, and the hungry.
Break your bread with the hungry and those who take into your house those in misery. If someone is naked, then clothe him. Lord, when did we see you? When you did to the least of these my brothers, you did it unto me. “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.” (Psalm 14:2) That was the Rich Man’s problem. He didn’t love God and so did not love his neighbor. His faith did not act in love for his neighbor. Before him lay poor Lazarus. He had the resources to care for Lazarus, given to Him in excess. He feasted sumptuously every day. He was dressed in fine and purple linen. Yet he neglected to care for those who lay ill and hungry at his gate.
His wealth is not contrary to faith. God gives us a good conscience so that we Christians can enjoy modest possessions with great delight. Even if the rich man had given all he had to the poor, he still would not have attained heavenly joy. “Without faith it is impossible to please [God].” (Hebrews 11:6) Without faith this work would avail the rich man nothing. Clearl y the rich man’s heart was not with God for then it would have been with his neighbor, poor Lazarus.
Even if we have no material possessions to give to those in need, there is an even better gift for them. The greatest gift we can give our neighbor is to speak to Him Christ’s Word for forgiveness and new life. The love of God is shown maximally showering upon others His heavenly gifts. We love our brother by proclaiming forgiveness, life, and salvation. No earthly miracle will bring them to faith. Our Lord does not resurrect the faithful to come and witness to us.
Instead he sends us the bread of Life, the living water of His Son, the Word incarnate. This sacrificial love that abides in the faithful is the ultimate love we show to our brother. The ultimate love of Christ was his death and resurrection on the cross. Encourage your neighbor to abandon the love of their earthly mansions and splendor and come to the Lord’s house as beggars. Help them recognize the sinful sores that infect their body. Bring them to receive the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. Abide in the love of God so that this love may be perfected in them.
Do not let yourself be frightened since in the end you shall feel delight and sweet consolation like poor Lazarus. In the end, all your sorrows will vanish. What a mystery! The love of the Father yields His own son unto death that we might all be saved. This is the love which is perfected in us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment. We have no fear of punishment and hell for God has loved us. We poor beggars, we poor Lazaruses will be carried safely to Abraham’s bosom, to dwell with God in love into eternity. Poverty and sickness are nothing in the light of the joy of the riches of heaven.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church