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LSB Proper 21C Sermon – Luke 16:19-31

September 29, 2016

September 25, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.”

Recall what you heard last Sunday from Jesus’ mouth. Jesus taught about worldly goods and their proper use according to Divine Wisdom. He gave the exhortation: “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” That was followed by His warning: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus was teaching people the way of righteousness concerning money and how it cannot be an object of devotion without disastrous consequence.

Yet, how was Jesus’ teaching received? If you recall the end of last week’s Gospel Reading, you heard the response from the Pharisees: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him.” Yet, Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees set forth the reality of the situation, a truth that the Pharisees were missing: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” That truth exposes the foolishness of their ridicule.

Yet, the Pharisees were not the only people who were thinking about money and earthly goods in an unwise way. So to drive home the point, Jesus speaks further about the subject. That further speaking is what you heard in today’s Gospel Reading. The Rich Man that Jesus mentions is the epitome of all who had made money their object of devotion instead of the LORD’s way of life.

Note how Jesus describes the Rich Man: “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” The details reveal the complete security that he has in his worldly goods. Wealth, fine clothing, enough food to have daily banquets: all these were in his possession. He is missing nothing for this life. And that stands in stark contrast to the other person whom Jesus mentions: “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.” 

This Lazarus fellow is the exact opposite: he has no wealth, nothing to cover himself with, no food to eat. And yet, Jesus indicates that Lazarus receives a blessed fate despite his lack: “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” But the same cannot be said for the Rich Man: “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.” The one who had money, home, and provisions on earth now had nothing good for eternity.

But what causes these two opposite fates in the afterlife? It isn’t that Lazarus is rewarded for being poor and the Rich Man is being punished for being wealthy. Yes, Jesus puts a statement in Abraham’s mouth: “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.” But this is a commentary about the state of things, not a judgment for how that fate was determined. No, the statement about how that fate was determined is seen in what Abraham says to the Rich Man: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them…. If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

So what was to be heard in Moses and the Prophets? There was the statement made by Amos, similar to the declaration that you heard from him last week: “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” The lack of concern for the plight of others is seen such actions. They are like the Rich Man who had poor Lazarus placed right at his doorstep, yet did nothing for him.

Yet, the lack of concern for the plight of others reveals the even greater problem. It exposes the lack of keeping the two great commands that the LORD gave: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Instead of being devoted to the LORD and neighbor, the Rich Man had joined the number of those who had become lovers of world goods. That incorrect devotion had brought him the doomed fate of torment and anguish. There was no heeding the instruction that Jesus gave: “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The Rich Man had no such welcome from Lazarus.

So the warning is passed down through the generations to you. Jesus’ words remain true, centuries after they were spoken. They are repeated for you to hear and believe. Same with the words of Moses and the Prophets. Amos’ warning about those devoted to money is appropriate for this day: “Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.” What that looks like is Jesus’ description about the Rich Man’s fate.

But you also have more than the warning that Jesus gives or that Moses and the Prophets spoke. You also have the way of righteousness revealed through them. That’s more than a warning about terrible fates. No, it is the promise of salvation and the instructions about following the LORD’s will. They are the words of life that Jesus speaks and fulfills.

Think on the Psalm that you prayed this morning. You heard the negative warning: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” Once again, that is a statement about having an incorrect object of devotion or trust. But the Psalm also declared where trust should be placed: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.” Devotion and trust in the LORD will bring about the blessed fate of being delivered for all eternity. That’s what you are called to. For you have the testimony about Jesus who died and rose from the dead, the One who fulfilled all that Moses and the Prophets spoke.

So you are pulled away from the false trust in money and other worldly goods. Instead, you are drawn to the true life that Jesus brings. When you know that His work has established an everlasting life for you, then having hope in what is less-than-eternal is shown to be not as attractive. Instead, you begin to understand the wisdom behind Jesus’ words: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” So you will be led to devotion to Him and His way.

You also see the wisdom in what Jesus’ apostles taught: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 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.” That is made clear by what Jesus says about the Rich Man.

Instead, the instructions are given to all of you: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” That confession is the creed that declares your trust in the work that Jesus has performed for your salvation. And that belief is shown by your actions, including what you do with worldly goods: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”

When that is the case among you, then we won’t be subject to the fate of the Rich Man that Jesus describes. Instead, both rich and poor, wealthy and indigent can be like Lazarus. Placing trust in Jesus and removing love of money will mean having a spot at Abraham’s side when this life ends. For you are placed at Jesus’ doorstep. But He doesn’t not leave you uncared for. No, He covers you with His righteousness, cleanses all your sores of sin, and feeds you with the bread that leads to eternal life. That’s what He offers to you again this day. It’s what He makes your object of trust, hope, and devotion. It foreshadows the eternal blessing that He will give you at the Last Day. And it empowers you in this life to love God and neighbor instead of money.

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

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