Sermon for September 26, 2010

Luke 16:19-31 (18th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 26, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 16:

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to 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.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

             They were lovers of money, Luke tells us.  They had heard the parable of the dishonest manager, the one we heard last Sunday.  They heard Jesus say, “You cannot serve God and money.”  But they ridiculed Him and made fun of Him.  They were the Pharisees. 

Earthly wealth is not necessarily a sign of righteousness.  Exhibit A: the Pharisees.  They had earthly wealth and loved it.  The Pharisees pretended to be the authoritative opinion on righteousness and the law.  They were convincing: fervently loyal to God, zealous for knowledge of Scripture, respected as the authority even by those who disagreed with them.  Outwardly they appeared righteous, but God looks on the heart.  And what God saw in the Pharisees’ hearts turned His stomach.  Their outward appearance of righteousness was earned by the use of their possessions, as the unrighteous manager appeared before his friends when he used his master’s wealth for his own advantage (as we heard in our Gospel last Sunday.)  But unlike the unrighteous manager, whose heart was dependent on the mercy of his master, the Pharisees’ hearts were dedicated toward money.  Jesus said it best in Luke 11:39, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”

Hypocrisy and the misuse of possessions represent for the Pharisees an alternate way into God’s kingdom.  It is the way of self-righteousness.  It stands outside of God’s way of righteousness, which is taught in the Old Testament and culminates in Jesus Christ, and is the only way into God’s kingdom.  To the world, the Pharisees’ way of doing things looks quite grand and glorious, especially if one’s possessions can be used as a means of setting up this “kingdom.”  That’s why the Pharisees make fun of Jesus.  He is not in touch with what they would call the reality of the world. 

Loving money and using it to justify yourself may seem a lofty activity in the eyes of other people.  But before God, it is a detestable thing.  The love of money and self-justification are the way to death.  Hypocrisy and possessions work hand in hand to create a form of idolatry that is revolting to God.  So we should have no problem seeing that the rich man in our text corresponds to the Pharisees who are lovers of money.  We should have no problem seeing in the person of the rich man those non-Christians who are lovers of money who claim that they have everything they need here and now so concern about eternity can wait.  It’s the cry of the rich fool, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:19)

Perhaps we have the most trouble seeing ourselves in the person of the rich man.  Surely we are not like the Pharisees.  Certainly we are not like non-believers who take great pride in their possessions and put great trust in their money and finances.  Christians would never have an attitude of, “Well, since I have been given many earthly blessings, I must be all set for eternity.  And if I am all set here and there, I might as well enjoy things here to the max.”  Don’t we Christians often succumb to the temptation of money and possessions and their misuse?  Don’t we tend to rely on what we have as if it is the most important thing of all?  In our greed, don’t we fail to always help those in need? 

Who are the “Lazaruses” laid at our doorsteps?  Who are those people that we can regularly show love to with our possessions and we do not?  The Fifth Commandment says, “You shall not  murder.”  So you reply, “I’ve never killed anyone.”  But have you ever failed to help and support your neighbor in his or her physical need?  If so, you have broken this commandment.  The Seventh Commandment says, “You shall not steal.”  Again, you claim, “I’ve never taken anything without paying for it.”  But have you ever failed to help your neighbor improve and protect her or his possessions and income?  If so, you have broken the commandment.  The Ninth Commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”  You say, “I’ve never schemed to get something that belongs to someone else.”  But have you ever failed to help and be our service to your neighbor in keeping his or her inheritance or house?  If so, you have sinned against the commandment. 

Repeatedly, by being caught up with what is “mine,” by being more concerned about what belongs to “me,” we have neglected the help of others.  We have failed to serve the “Lazarus” at our gates by sharing what the Lord has given us.  We have claimed Christianity, but have not followed through on the life of discipleship.  We have claimed that we are of God, but have acted only in the interest of ourselves.  We are more like the Pharisees then we care to admit. 

And like the Pharisees, we will not enter the heavenly kingdom based on our self-righteousness.  We can make all the excuses in the book—I didn’t know she needed help; I just didn’t have time to serve; I needed to save up for myself and my family; I can’t worry about other people; I have to take care of me before anyone else.  But not one of those statements is true.  Not one of those words will save us.  Before the holy and righteous God we are without excuse.  We, like the Pharisees, have “Moses and the Prophets.” We have God’s Word.  We have God’s reality in print right in front of our eyes. 

“Moses and the Prophets” is a New Testament way of saying the “Old Testament.”  The Books of Moses—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—are the first five books of the Bible.  They are the Torah—God’s instruction of Law and Gospel.  “The Prophets” refers to all the other books of the Old Testament.  So the phrase, “Moses and the Prophets” means God’s Word—His inspired, without error, all-powerful Word.  It is this divine Word—both Old and New Testaments—which convicts us of our sin.  It is this divine Word that shows us how we have acted like the Pharisees, at times being hypocrites, at times being lovers of money, at times failing to use our possessions in ways that are God-pleasing and that show mercy. 

But “Moses and the Prophets” contains more that God’s divine law.  His Word contains His divine promises, the heavenly Gospel which provides and gives us release from sin and saves us from hell, bringing us to everlasting life in God’s holy presence.  To rightly hear “Moses and the Prophets” is to hear law and gospel through the greater Moses, Jesus Christ.  The Pharisees were called by Jesus to listen to the Scriptures that testify about Jesus.  You and I are also called to hear this Good News about Jesus, God’s Son, our Savior.  It is God’s Word of Gospel through Jesus Christ that is His means of salvation for us.  Having been wounded by the conviction of our sinfulness, the Lord heals our wounds through the forgiveness of His wounds sustained on the cross.  Jesus’ shed blood is the healing ointment for our sins.  Jesus’ blood cleanses us from our love of money, from our lack of showing mercy and help to others through the use of money and possessions, and from our double standards. 

Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you and I stand forgiven for our failures to help and support our neighbors in every physical need.  We are cleansed from all the times we have allowed our possessions to get in the way of helping our neighbors improve and protect what is theirs.  And we are equipped and empowered to rightly use money and possessions for the glory of God and for the benefit of our neighbors.  Yes, the Gospel not only forgives us for the sake of Christ, but through the Holy Spirit gives us to power to do the will of Christ in our lives. 

We can rightly use our money and possessions to give freely to the poor “Lazaruses” in our lives, showing mercy to them.  When money and possessions are viewed as of secondary importance in our lives and helping others and serving others above serving ourselves as first importance, we demonstrate the mind of Christ and the heart of God.  In the power of the Gospel, we realize that God has not given us material blessings for ourselves alone, but to use them to show mercy and compassion on others in the name of Jesus. 

It is as our Lord says in Matthew 25, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)  Amen.