St. Luke 16:19-31
June 23, 2019 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This parable is a lesson in humility. The rich man’s gluttony and neglect of his neighbors are driven by his pride. His pride is revealed as he commands from Hell that the beggar Lazarus would serve him and refusing the Word of God commands Abraham to send messengers to his brothers.
Faith and humility are synonyms in the Bible. It is not the suffering of the beggar Lazarus or his poverty that moves God to mercy or earns God’s favor. Rather the humility of Lazarus enables him to see his need for God’s mercy and makes him dependent upon it. That is faith. The rich man can pretend that all is right in the world, He can delude himself and think that he is clever and knows how to get ahead. Lazarus cannot. So Lazarus clings to God’s words and promises. He trusts that God is good despite his circumstances or worthiness. He waits for God to reveal Himself according to His mercy. That is faith and it saves.
The name Lazarus is formed from the Greek work for mercy. Giving a boy the name Lazarus is like naming your daughter Patience or Faith or Joy. Mercy is a virtue. The parents of Lazarus wanted him not only to receive mercy, but also to be a witness to the mercy of the Lord that endures forever and they wanted him to be merciful.
Why is that we seem to think virtue is so feminine that we can only give girls virtues as names? Even if some virtues are thought to be soft or passive, such as hope and charity and faith, we could still name our boys Justice or Courage or Fidelity. This belies something deeply broken in our culture and the perversity that thinks to be good a man must become effeminate.
Trends in the names of babies tell us more about our society than we might want to know. Not that long ago, Christians in America named their girls for virtues and named both their girls and boys for heroes. They hoped the names would inspire their children to conform and to imitate. The names were meant to assist their children in reaching the highest standards and be a credit to their people. Now, like Hollywood stars, we desire names that are unique. A name is meant to set us apart as special. Conformity and imitation are largely seen as weakness. No one wants to be a mere sheep.
Of course, conformity and imitation can flow from weakness. Conforming to the institutional racism of public transportation in 1950’s America was weakness — both on the part of the people who did not have the power to resist, the definition of outward weakness, and of the powerful who ignored it for their own comfort, the epitome of moral or internal weakness. We do not advocate conformity and imitation of the world in its gluttony or injustice or pride. Conforming to the Levite or priest that walks by the man half-dead in the ditch is condemned by Christ.
But within the Church conformity and imitation are good. Christ, Himself, is an example for us. So are the apostles and the beggar Lazarus and the martyrs. To confess the faith according to the Creeds or to submit to the Book of Concord and not insist on your own private interpretation of Scripture, flaunting your creativity, and also honoring tradition is both good and necessary. I fear we’ve often cast Luther as a rebel so that we might be free to dishonor our fathers and do what was convenient while pretended it was courage and the spirit of the Reformation that drove us – much in the way we’ve engaged in all sorts of vice and named it freedom in the Gospel. Novelty and disobedience, let alone irreverence and embracing of that which is forbitten, are not true virtues in either the theological or moral sense.
Often as not we are simply aping our culture – which has no real respect for the dead because they are think they are dead. But we believe those that have preceded us in faith are not dead and that they are, in fact, one with us and have some awareness of us. St. Paul calls them the “great cloud of witnesses” and the liturgy “the whole company of heaven.” We dare not ignore or disrespect them.
If the naming of babies tells us much about our society, the naming of congregations tells us much about our church body. It used to be we named them for Saints, Paul being the most popular, and the Person of Christ, such as Redeemer or Messiah, or a Biblical place, such as Bethany or Zion, and maybe occasionally a Festival or a Doctrine such as Ascension or Trinity. Often as not they were named conventionally because they were imitations of other churches. The saints in Frankenmuth wanted to be identified and conform to St. Lawrence in Neuendettelsau and in St. Louis the same thing happened with the name Trinity. And we always, always, included the title “Lutheran.” But now? It is not so. What this means is painful to consider.
In any case, imitation and conformity are more than flattery or laziness. They are how we learn. Avantgarde artists who do not respect tradition or learn from their fathers are just children scribbling on the page. What is weird is that like a naked emperor or tyrannical party officials of the Soviet Union, they often get away with it – which shows not them to be fools but us.
We couldn’t speak if we didn’t first listen and then imitate the sounds our mothers made. We couldn’t communicate if we didn’t conform our words to the language of the hearer – which again requires listening. But ours is an age of hubris and self-righteousness, of self-indulgence obsessed with comfort and pleasure, which rivals that of Sodom and Babylon and even Babel. When I did a Google search this week for boys’ names based on virtues I found lists that included “Rebel’ and “Rogue” – as though those were virtues! Kyrie Eleison!
The great distinction between the rich man and Lazarus wasn’t in their bank accounts or their different levels of luxury and depravity, but in how they viewed the Word of God. The rich man shows his heart when he asks for someone to return from the dead to warn his brothers and Abraham’s tells him that they already have what they need in Moses and the Prophets. The rich man says that won’t work. Even in Hell, he thinks he is more practical and wise than God. He refuses to submit or humbles himself even though it should be obvious that Abraham knows more than he does about this based on the fact that Abraham is in heaven and the rich man is in Hell.
We often fall prey to the same hubris. We know that the miracles of Jesus didn’t convert the Pharisees. We know that Abraham is right in what he says about the Word of God. But in our fallen flesh we are with the rich man. We long for miracles. We can’t seem to help but think that if God would give us power like He gave the apostles, if he would give us evidence that could convince scientists of the Biblical record of creation and the Flood, and so forth, that it would be a lot easier to evangelize the world. If only someone would rise from the dead, we could convert the world and we could be successful and our churches would grow, and isn’t that what God wants?
It isn’t really what God wants. Repent. Your desires are not the same as God’s and must e ditched. You must conform to God’s Word and let it rule even if it seems utter foolishness to the world and your fallen flesh. God’s will was done by the death and resurrection of Christ wherein He reconciled the whole world to Himself and declared it righteous for His sake. He wills that all the elect will be saved by faith and will be secure in heaven. He sheds no tears over the rich man or Judas but is satisfied in His own goodness and justice.
He is wiser about us than we are about ourselves. His Word is not only sufficient, it is the only thing efficient. It is the only thing that converts and changes the hearts of men. We handle it too lightly. We take it for granted and are prone to disbelieving its power, paying it lip service but then seeking to manipulate it or to manipulate one another with gimmicks and techniques and every trick we can learn from entrepreneurs and kings and capitalists.
But the name Lazarus means mercy. The Lord receives sinners. Lazarus was a failure on earth. He was not attractive or winsome or clever. He wasn’t good at evangelism or apologetics or at planting churches. He was weak and hungry and dying. We are all beggars. The Word of God works and does what it says. It does not return void. We are not its master. God is love. Whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.
He humbles us with His Law and makes us fools that He might make a kingdom out of fools through His Gospel. God is love and has sent His Son for us. Here is the hope of beggars. Rather than Spartacus, perhaps we should all be called Lazarus.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.