Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
“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.’ ” (Luke 16:19-31, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Who wants to be a millionaire?”
Just try to imagine this scene; the room is dark except for the bright lights shining on the game show host, the electronic video terminal, and the empty “hot seat.” Then there is a sudden roll of sound and flashing lights… The room is filled with sound and light as a voice shouts, “It’s time to play, ‘who wants to be a millionaire?'” But much to the host’s surprise there is an un-characteristic silence from the audience. So he asks the question again. “Who wants to be a millionaire?” but the silence holds. There are no volunteers. No one, it seems, wants the money… no one it seems wants the responsibility that comes with it… Is it a bad dream… or have people just been reading the bible? After all doesn’t this parable of Jesus say that if you have it rich in this life you’ll be going to hell, and if you have it rough in this life you’ll be at Abraham’s side? Remember Abraham’s words, “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.” These words of Abraham are difficult to hear.
When we think of money, we think of what it brings. If I had $1 million I'd quit working. If I had $1 million I buy a yacht and sail around the world. If I had $1 million I could do whatever I wanted to do, wear whatever I wanted to wear, and live wherever I wanted to live. Oh, and of course, pastor, if I had $1 million, I'd write a big check to the church. And then of course the church would spend it exactly how I want it spent, do exactly what I want it to do, and say exactly what I want it to say. For us, in American culture, money is security, independence, and control. If we have money we don't depend on anyone else. And we can control other people.
And here we can listen to the warning that St. Paul writes to pastor Timothy:
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10, ESV)
We think about what money brings, but we often forget the warning that Scripture gives. Money brings self-reliance, but it also brings responsibility. The rich man had a responsibility to take care of Lazarus who was put at his door by God for him to care. He ignored him day after day. There was not even any way for him to come and go from his house without seeing Lazarus. He was without excuse. God had given him riches and given him Lazarus. But he fell into the temptation, the snare, the harmful desires. He partied every day. He had more than enough to eat. He could afford it. And yet Lazarus lay at is door, starving to death.
Dear Ann Landers: The letter from the woman married to the tightwad -- she couldn't get an extra quarter out of him -- reminded me of my wonderful aunt who was beautifully warmhearted and had a great sense of humor. Aunt "Emma" was married to a tightwad who was also a little strange. He made a good salary, but they lived frugally because he insisted on putting 20 percent of his paycheck under the mattress. (The man didn't trust banks.) The money, he said, was going to come in handy in their old age. When "Uncle Ollie" was 60, he was stricken with cancer. Toward the end, he made Aunt Em promise, in the presence of his brothers, that she would put the money he had stashed away in his coffin so he could buy his way into heaven if he had to. They all knew he was a little odd, but this was clearly a crazy request. Aunt Em did promise, however, and assured Uncle Ollie's brothers that she was a woman of her word and would do as he asked. The following morning she took the money (about $26,000) to the bank and deposited it. She then wrote a check and put it in the casket four days later. This is a true story and our family has laughed about it ever since.
Can't take it with you. Even if you could, it wouldn't do you any good anyway. The rich man who ignored Lazarus died and end up in hell. It wasn't only the money. He ignored what God would have him do. He confirmed his relationship with God is broken, because he didn't care for his nearest neighbor who is in great need. He did not love his neighbor as himself, because he did not love God with his whole heart soul and mind. The text makes it very clear that it wasn't just a one time deal with Lazarus. He made a regular habit of living the way he lived. And even in hell he doesn't change. He expects that Lazarus will serve him. "Send Lazarus…" He still can only see Lazarus as someone who is less deserving than him. But even all his money couldn't reach across the chasm to bring the smallest drop of water to cool his tongue. The rich man had money. He trusted his money. He ignored God and did not trust in God to save him.
Let's make this very clear. You are rich. I know, it goes against the old German virtue of being poor. And at the very least not admitting to having what is needed. But, you have enough to eat. You have a place to live. In fact, you have more than your need. You may have heard it said that if you have more than one pair of shoes you are rich. The vast majority of people in the world have one or fewer pair of shoes. Many people in the world go hungry on a daily basis and do not know where the next meal is coming from. And the law is very clear. We have a responsibility to feed them, clothe them, and care for them. God has given them to us to care for them. For you and me we work very hard at keeping those in need away from our doorstep. Out of sight and out of mind. And so, we stand condemned by God's perfect law, of not loving our neighbors as ourselves. We live in a broken relationship with God and deserve only hell where we would desire a tiny drop of water to wet our tongue.
It does seem that there's very little gospel in this text. The rich die and go to hell. And yet look at what happens next. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so they won't end in his fate. "If someone rises from the dead they will believe!" "But no," Abraham says, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’
The context for this parable is everything. Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. A few verses before this it says, "The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him." And then Jesus speaks this parable to them. The Pharisees were lovers of money. They should have been lovers of God. It gets at the heart of their sin. And so Jesus pushes the law before them, law that they well know. The Word of God is standing before them in the flesh. He is telling them who he is and why he has come. God the Father's voice came from the cloud at Jesus baptism and told them to listen to him. Every day he taught in the synagogue. But they love money. Their love of money is standing in their way of loving their Savior. Their love of money is about to pierce them with many pangs. They demand that Jesus give them a sign of who he is. When he stands before their court when they are about to turn him over to the Romans to be crucified they asked him plainly who he is. When he tells them they do not believe. Willingly, but sadly, Jesus Christ goes to the cross for their sins. Willingly and cheerfully the Pharisees send him so as not to lose their place in society and their money. And they stand at the cross and mock him, "if you are the son of God…" And Jesus hangs between heaven and earth nailed to the wood, suffering the whole world's punishment for rejection of God. He suffers and dies for the forgiveness of sins, even the sins of those who will not listen. And then remember the parable, "neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."
Indeed, Jesus has risen from the dead. And his word is clearly spoken here to you today. And his word is this: Repent! Repent and believe the good news! The good news is that you have a Savior from sin. When you love money more than your neighbor. When you care for yourself more than you care for the ones that God has placed at your doorstep. When you make a habit of not caring. Jesus' word pierces your heart. The law shows you your sin. The good news is that Jesus did go to the cross for your sin. He suffered and died for you. And he rose from the dead. You have the word on which to base your hope. The word of promise from the one who rose from the dead. It is the word that the Pharisees rejected. It is the word that you receive, in faith. It is the word that is connected to water in Holy Baptism. Where God's promises were poured over you. It is the word that is connected to bread and wine and Holy Communion. Where God's promises are poured into you. It is the word made flesh, Jesus Christ, crucified dead and buried, and raised again to new life on the third day. It is the word that promises forgiveness of all of your sin. Repent, your sin is great. You love yourself more than your neighbor. You do not love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. But your Savior is greater. He suffers and dies for you on the cross. Repent and believe. Believe the word. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.