Luke 16:19-31 (Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 21—Series C)
“Hearing Moses and the Prophets”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 25, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel appointed for the day, recorded in Luke 16:
19Now there was a certain rich man and he clothed himself in purple and fine linen. He enjoyed himself splendidly every day. 20Now a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21and he longed to be filled from what fell from the rich man’s table. Yet the dogs came and licked his sores. 22And it happened that the poor man died and he was carried by angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus at his side. 24And he called out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus so that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you received your good things in your life, and Lazarus likewise bad things. Now he is comforted here, but you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who wish to go through from here to you are not able, nor should they cross over from that place to us.” 27Then he said, “I beg you, Father, that you should send him to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers, so that he might bear witness to them so that they also should not come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them.” 30But he said, “No Father Abraham, but if someone from the dead should go to them, they will repent.” 31And he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Within the next several weeks, members of Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer will receive their annual stewardship letter and pledge card. I’m not always sure what produces more audible groans, the word “stewardship” or “pledge card.” Neither one really should, but we have this strange aversion in the church to these things. This distaste has to do, more often than not, with a misunderstanding of who we are as Christians and what our God-given responsibilities are. And much of that misunderstanding has to do with ownership.
The opening verse of Psalm 24 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1 ESV). We read in Haggai, chapter 2, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:8). The Word of God teaches us that God is the owner of everything. All of creation and everything in creation belongs to Him. That means what we each call “mine” really isn’t “mine.” “Stewardship” means managing something on behalf of the actual owner. Christian stewardship is managing all that belongs to God on His behalf and using it as God wants it to be used.
You and I, then, are to use everything in creation according to God’s wishes because it all belongs to Him. But how do we know what those wishes are? We hear “Moses and the Prophets.” “Moses and the Prophets” means the Scriptures. Jesus used this phrase as a reference to what we call the Old Testament, God’s Word to His people written down by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through Moses and the other writers, predominantly the Prophets. Now, you and I are blessed to live on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection so we have the New Testament as well. The Holy Bible—both Old and New Testaments—is God’s full and complete revelation to us about our salvation from sin and death through the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. It is in these Holy Scriptures that God also reveals to us how we are to go about caring for His creation and using His possessions. The Bible tells us how God desires that we use money, possessions, time, abilities, and even our very lives.
We learn from the Bible what the use of God’s things should look like. Isaiah 58, “Share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, . . . cover him” (Isa. 58:7 ESV). The prophet Micah wrote, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8 ESV). In Jesus’ End Times discourse in Matthew we read, “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’” (Matt. 25:34-36 ESV). James the brother of our Lord shares this, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jas. 1:27 ESV).
Of course, these are just a few examples of how we are to manage the things of God on His behalf. Failure to do these things which show love and mercy to others would be a failure to use the things of God the way He wants them to be used. This would also demonstrate a failure to listen to “Moses and the Prophets,” a failure to be both hearers and doers of God’s Word (James 1:22). And we know what this failure looks like from Jesus’ parable today. There’s a rich man who is really, really rich. How rich is he? He’s so rich, that he can afford very costly purple garments and the finest of linens. How rich is he? He’s so rich that he enjoys himself splendidly every day—every day is a humungous feast! Now, what does this son of Abraham do with the things of God that have been entrusted to his care? Takes care of himself. Thinks only of himself. He doesn’t show love for God or for his neighbor who is the poor beggar Lazarus, the one who was at the front gate of his expensive mansion-like-compound every day. The rich man’s failure to be a hearer and doer of the Word is so bad that when he dies and goes to hell he continues only to think of himself, asking if Lazarus might cool his tongue with some water.
Jesus’ target audience, the Pharisees, like us, had “Moses and the Prophets.” It was the very Word of God that showed them His heartfelt desire that people show love and mercy to others by using the things over which the Lord made them managers according to His Word. Jesus’ parable was a big message to the Pharisees, who we are told, were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). The Scriptures told them that God desired them to use money and possession to love others and show mercy to others. They did not. The only conclusion for the Pharisees was this: if they didn’t stop scoffing at Jesus’ preaching about hypocrisy and the proper use of the things God had entrusted to them, they would find themselves with the rich man in eternal torment.
That’s an important message for you and me as well. Misuse of God’s possessions—money, talent, time, things—indicates that we have not always heard Moses and the Prophets. And we have not always been faithful hearers and doers of God’s Word. We have failed to always love God and do what He desires us to do . . . love our neighbors with mercy using His possessions to help and support them in every need.
So what is God to do? He should punish us with death and eternal torment in the fires of hell. But He chose to have mercy on us. He sent His One-of-a-Kind Son, true God, to become a man. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9 ESV). Jesus, the owner of everything, gave up His throne in heaven and took on our human flesh. He lived in poverty. His earthly life was dependent on the care of others. In His earthly life, Jesus demonstrated the love and mercy which He desires His people to have in the use of time, talents, treasures, and possessions as He served the poor, the widow, the tax-collector, and the sinners. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus confirmed His Word recorded in “Moses and the Prophets” as to how believers are to be stewards and managers of the Lord’s possessions. Jesus’ the Word-Made-Flesh lived His Word with His words and actions.
But it wasn’t enough for Jesus simply to model or to be an example. He came to be the Savior of those who fail to always hear and do the Scriptures. He came to be the Savior of those who have failed to always use what belongs to Godin accordance with His desires—to show love and mercy to others. For that sinful failure and for all our other sins, Jesus was nailed to a cross. He suffered God’s punishment of death and hell for us on the cross so that we would not have to face the torment and the fires of eternal damnation. Jesus shed His blood to purchase our complete forgiveness and eternal life.
As forgiven “new creations” in Christ Jesus, we now have the power of the Gospel at work in us through God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s Supper, empowers Christian stewardship which is really just Christian living. The Spirit enkindles and increases the hearing and the doing of God’s Word in our lives as we live as managers of God’s things. We really are able, then, to regularly go to God’s Word, to hear His desires for how we are to use the Lord’s things, and then actually use them that way. We use His money, possessions, time, abilities, all His gifts in showing love and mercy to our neighbors as they have need.
In our life of faith and love that God has given us in Jesus Christ, you and I search out opportunities to use what belongs to God in acts of mercy on behalf of our neighbors. We give monetary gifts in Jesus’ name to our congregation to support the ministry of the Word and the outreach and human care opportunities that we have in our community. There are volunteer opportunities within the congregation and in our town. There are opportunities to share food and drink, clothes, and personal care items. There are chances to mow someone’s lawn, rake leaves, and shovel snow. There are moments to read a book to someone whose eyesight has dimmed or who is blind. As we consider our congregation as a group of managers of God’s gifts, especially the gift of the Gospel, how will we, in accordance with His Word and will, use the Lord’s things in the year to come, in the next five years? Likely, there won’t be something as obvious as a “Lazarus” laid at our doorstep, but with much prayer and time spent hearing “Moses and the Prophets,” we will discern God’s will for us in matters of both congregational and individual stewardship.
May God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit grant us His blessing as we, His people, with faith in Christ, seek to grow and become ever more faithful stewards who show love and mercy to those in need. Amen.