1st Sunday after Trinity + Luke 16:19-31 + May 29, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #231 We Now Implore God the Holy Ghost
Hymn #395 O God, Thou Faithful God
Hymn #39 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty


Jeremiah 9:23-24
1 John 4:16b-21
Luke 16:19-31

Collect for the First Sunday after Trinity

O God, the Strength of all them that put their trust in Thee, mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without Thee, grant us the help of Thy grace that in keeping Thy Commandments we may please Thee both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Holy Gospel

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1)         Who would not want to be the rich man? He has everything. He is clothed in purple and fine linen. He is decked in the raiment of royalty. His very garments scream greatness. His clothes confess that he has attained a status of comfort. This wealthy man lacks for nothing, for he “fared sumptuously every day.” He was wealthy enough that he could eat like a king on a daily basis. This man knows no want. This man is not driven by necessity. He has nothing for which he can worry. He has everything. Except for love. He has no love in his heart for his neighbor. His heart is so full of luxury there is no room in it for compassion. While this man feasts, at his gate lays a beggar, Lazarus by name, who is not only poor and destitute, but is “full of sores.” Lazarus is the definition of lowliness. He is physically afflicted with sores so much that he is full of them. He has no possessions or wealth to his name. He only survives from day to day by begging, living off of the mercy of those who pass by. His hunger is so great that he was continually “desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell form the rich man’s table.” So the rich man has it all, especially compared to Lazarus: wealth, great garments, and a fullness of food. The rich man has everything.

2)         In spite of having everything, He does not have love. This utter lack of love is demonstrated in how he treats the poor Lazarus laid at his gate. He does not have love, and this means that he has no faith, for love is one of the many fruits of faith. Jesus says in Matthew 7:17, “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” This rich man bears bad fruit, for how many times does he pass through his gate and ignore poor Lazarus? This rich man bears the rotten, putrid fruit of selfishness. He is seemingly unaware of the dire need of his neighbor. His works are selfish. Therefore one should conclude that He has no faith, since love is the fruit of faith. It is as St. John writes in today’s Epistle, “If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20). So for as much as this rich man has, he has no love, therefore he has no faith, and because he has no faith, he has nothing at all. To the eyes of flesh and human reason, the rich man is a paragon of humanity, an archetype to which we ought to strive. But spiritually the rich man is far worse than even poor, destitute Lazarus, covered in sores. This is demonstrated when he dies and is buried and then must endure the torments of Hell. It was not his lack of good works that sent him to hell. It was his lack of faith. We ought not to think that he was sent to Hell simply for being rich. That sort of idea is alien to the Scriptures. Abraham had great riches, as did David, Solomon, Esther, and many others who were great saints. He did not trust God. He gloried in his own wisdom, he rejoiced in his own might, he took repose in his riches.

3)         Lazarus, on the other hand, had only his faith. He most certainly didn’t have any good works either. But unlike the rich man, Lazarus had no opportunity for good works. No, it was faith which saved dear Lazarus because the Scriptures teach us that faith alone justifies the sinner before God. That Lazarus died “and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” is a sign that during his rather terrible earthly life, he trusted in the Lord for all his needs of body and soul. Whereas the rich man could set his heart on his riches and turned them into his idol, the thing to which his heart looked for all good things, Lazarus had nothing to place his faith in except the promises of God. Unbelief does not expect any good thing from God, but trusts in earthly things. Faith, on the other hand, expects all good things from God and relies solely upon God. This is because faith looks to God as good and gracious. This faith cheers the heart in tribulation, cross, and anxiety. Can you imagine poor Lazarus, covered in sores, who received more mercy from the dogs than this rich man, rejoicing in his misfortune? Can you imagine Lazarus, laying naked at the rich man’s gate in great agony, confidently believing that the Lord would provide him with every good thing? It’s difficult for us to imagine because whenever something wicked comes upon us, whenever something goes wrong, whenever things don’t go the way which we would like, we assume that God is set against us, or that God is trying to teach us something, or that God is angry with us. But faith does accept these assumptions. Faith fights them off and smacks them down from the mind and heart because faith is the sure confidence that whatever God gives us, it is good and gracious. It runs against our reason, our will, our strength, and understanding, which is why it is a gift of God, “lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:9). This faith, this confidence in God’s goodness and graciousness, even in the midst of cross and anxiety and lack, is what saves Lazarus and brings him to the warm embrace of his spiritual father, Abraham, who himself “believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

4)         So while it appears, from an earthly and temporal points of view, that the rich man has everything, he has nothing because He has no faith, which is why he had no good works of love. On the other hand, Lazarus, who appeared as the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40), was the one who was truly blessed by God. Take note of this, dear baptized children of God, that God does not look at things the way man looks at things, nor does the Lord judge as man judges. And here is what I mean. The world sees the rich man and thinks, “That’s the life. I want to be like that! I want to have everything! I want to be on ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ or these days they would want to be on television with the Kardashians. The world assumes that worldly wealth is a sign of divine favor. The sinful flesh imagines that if you have prosperity, then you must have a God who loves you. This is why prosperity preachers like Joel Osteen are so popular. They appeal to what everyone already believes by nature. But let’s take it to another level, one without yachts and caviar and private jets. Everyone is tempted to believe that if life goes well, then we know that we have a God who is for us and not against us. You and I are tempted daily to believe that if life goes smoothly so that have no problems or easily-manageable problems then God must be smiling upon us and raining down blessing. The flesh views suffering as a sign that God has forsaken someone. It’s the root of the age old question that no one likes the answer to: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Underneath the question lies the assumption that “bad things” are signs of divine wrath, punishment, and disfavor. So the world looks at Lazarus as the rich man did, and imagines that God is punishing poor Lazarus, or at best, the Lord has abandoned him.

5)         But this parable teaches us that the Lord does not look at the outward life, nor is the Lord concerned with externals. You cannot judge God’s favor and grace by the material blessings bestowed on you. You should recognize them as gifts of God, given out of pure, fatherly divine goodness and mercy. You should give thanks to the Lord for such material blessings, no matter to what degree or amount you have them, for they are truly gifts from God. But you must set your heart on them so that you trust in them, that they are signs of divine favor, “for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). David teaches us in Psalm 62:10, “If riches increase, Do not set your heart on them,” meaning, “Do not imagine that by your riches you can tell that you have a good and gracious God.” The only way to tell that you have a God who is good and gracious is through the promise of the gospel. Faith believes the gospel, regardless of worldly wealth and possessions, and frankly, faith could care less about weal or woe, plenty or scarcity. Faith looks to God as good and gracious no matter what because faith believes the promises of God given in Christ Jesus. We know that Christ gave Himself into death for us. We know that God the Father send His Only-Begotten Son into the world for us and our salvation. St. Paul asks you in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” If God didn’t hold back His Son for you, why would he deprive you of anything else, which is nothing compared to the gift of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ?

6)         Faith believes that God is pleased with us even when we have nothing. Faith is confidence that God is pleased with us even when we are struck with disease, disfigurement, and our lives are filled with disorder. Faith trusts that God is pleased with us solely because of Christ Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins upon the cross. Faith softens our hearts, so that we are able to bear whatever burden it is that God has placed on us, because faith believes God’s promises and takes God at His Word. This is why Lazarus was able to bear up under such great pain and anxiety. This faith made Lazarus able to give thanks for the dogs which “came and licked his sores.” This faith made Lazarus endure the hardship and hunger than came from being ignore by those around him who could have come to his aid and given him help. Lazarus’ sores were pleasing to God in this way, as was his suffering, as well as his death, for “Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). Faith make Lazarus acceptable and precious to God, and is that that faith which made his sufferings and death precious in the sight of the Lord as well.

7)         In this way, we find comfort in the wounds of Lazarus. That sounds strange because usually we speak of finding comfort in the wounds of Jesus. But the comfort we find in Lazarus’ wounds is this: our external circumstances are not signs of divine disfavor, because we have the promise of God than all who believe are justified by faith and that “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1), and “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No matter what your affliction, no matter your cross, your matter your situation, it is not a sign of divine disfavor, for by faith all your sins are forgiven and you possess all Christ’s blessings. Faith looks to the promises of God, and God has promised to be good and gracious to all who repent of their sins and trust in His mercy. Amen.

May the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in  Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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