The First Sunday after Trinity
St. Luke 16:19-31
June 10, 2007 A+D – re-used 2012
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are two ways, one of life and one of death. The difference between the two is more subtle than we would expect. Sometimes those who are thriving, who fare sumptuously everyday and wear fine clothing, are already dead. It does not matter if they are merciful, if they feed the poor, if they recycle, if they are thought well-of in the community or not. All that matters is whether they confess that Jesus is Lord. If not, if they do not believe in the One who has risen from the dead, who has paid for all their sins, who has loved them to the end, the One whom Moses and the Prophets foretold, than nothing, not all their living, not all their works, nor all the works of the saints, can save them. They will go where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
But stranger than the way of death is the way of life. For all of those who would live must first die. The way of life is death. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. At first glance it is hard to see how blessed the beggar Lazarus was, covered with sores, licked by dogs, longing for scraps from the rich man’s table. But the beggar was blessed. It was not simply that he lived a contemptible life. All beggars do that. It was that he hated his life for Jesus’ sake. He hated his lustful and greedy bag of bones that betrayed him again and again. He hated his sin. For even in his poverty and impotence, his fallen flesh longed for things that God had not given. That is the way of death. For what did he long? To live the life of the rich man who went to Hell. Thus did the beggar wait. He did not wait for scraps of food. He waited for relief from his sin. He waited for Jesus, for the consummation of the promise, for freedom from his self-interest and desires. He waited to be complete and to follow in the way of Abraham.
Godly hatred of this life is more than dislike of our hardships. All beggars hate their poverty. Being poor, in itself, is no virtue. Neither is dying. All men die. The rich man died. That did not save him. Indeed, the wages of sin is death. But the death that saves is death to sin. That death is not a setting of the will or giving the heart to Jesus. The death that saves, death to sin, is the death that Jesus died. His death has made full satisfaction of the Law. His death reconciles all men to the Father for He who knew no sin became sin for us. His death saves, rescues us from death and delivers life. The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. It doesn’t matter what the wages were. We don’t pay them. We do not have to die to be saved. Jesus has already died for us.
Nonetheless, the beggar Lazarus did die. God used his death to deliver him into life. He was transferred from sores and hunger to eternal bliss at Abraham’s bosom. Death was the devil’s last shot at Lazarus. After that he could do no more. Death is the devil’s last enemy. Until then he strives with all his might to make us believe that either God is just or that God is unjust. Either abuse will join us to his camp.
Satan tempted the rich man who fared sumptuously every day. He made the rich man believe that God was just and therefore his material wealth and success meant that God favored him, was pleased with him. “Look about you,” says the devil. “Aren’t you blessed? Then everything must be right with you and God.” This is ever the temptation for the rich, the successful, even the moderately happy. Like all of Satan’s ploys there is a grain of truth in this. God is just. Breaking His law has consequences. Most of the people in prison are there because they committed crimes. But God’s Law never justifies the sinner. The pious rich are rich not because they are good but because God is merciful. No matter how hard they worked, how smart they are, how well they’ve treated their neighbors, they have not earned and do not deserve their wealth. But no rich person likes to hear that. It sounds too Marxist. So while we are quick to point the finger at others and sneer that they’ve been handed everything, “spoiled,” “trust-fund brats,” we always consider ourselves to be “self-made” and hard-working, and so forth. Repent. If you live in America, you are rich. You could have easily been born in Cuba and it wouldn’t matter how hard you worked, you’d still be poor.
The other temptation is what Satan used on Lazarus, and which he used before on Job. He tried to get Lazarus to curse God, to complain against his lot, to say that he did not deserve it. Faced with the obvious inequities of the world this is an easy trap. Which of the minimum-wage, no benefit workers at Best Buy doesn’t marvel that the CEO makes 20 million a year plus perks? Who doesn’t know what it feels like to be jealous, to be angry, to be hurt? And who hasn’t railed at the God who causes the rain to fall so unevenly, without regard to the moral character or ability of the farmers? Repent.
There is something true in this temptation. Life is not fair. God does seem unjust. But the greatest injustice of all time is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Father sacrificed the Son to make you His. He handed Him over to the worst tortures Hell could design. That was not fair. He did not deserve it. But it was not about justice. It was mercy. In this way, God restored creation. He made you His. By God’s grace, the attacks on Lazarus and Job both failed. God used their suffering to purify them and bring them home.
By God’s grace, these attacks will also fail on you. God will use your suffering to purify you. He uses it to keep you dependent upon Him, that you would not grow complacent, that you would not dare to think that you belong here or your sins are okay. He keeps you close to Himself that He might have you with Him forever. Thus did Abraham and Lazarus and John and Justin Martyr and all the saints suffer and die before you. You follow them.
Whether we are rich or poor, happy or sad, we must die to this life. We die to this life each time we make the sign of the cross. We mark ourselves as belonging to God, of living by the mercy of God there. We tie ourselves to Holy Baptism. For we have been drowned and raised to life, joined to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, where we have already been given eternal life. For we already have Jesus. We approach Him in prayer. He hears and answers us. He speaks in His Word. He forgives our sins through the holy absolution. And He joins us to Himself, the Flesh born of Mary and to the Eternal Divinity begotten of the Father, in the Holy Communion. It is not a spiritual exercise. It is a real communion. And by it we are released from our sins, prepared for victory to come, and given strength for the day. This is the way of Life.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.