In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus says, “The Law and the Prophets were preached until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it” (Luke 16:16). Thank God that the Law and the Prophets are still preached after John with the effect that whoever hears them and believes will be carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The parable this morning is about the effectiveness of God’s Word for creating and sustaining faith. The richness of the man who fared sumptuously and the poverty of the sore ridden Lazarus are secondary details in this parable. They are important, but they are not the central point. The Bible has examples of faithful rich people like Abraham, Job, Joseph, David, Mordachai, Esther, Daniel, etc. going to “Abraham’s bosom.” The size of your bank account does not have a direct correlation on your salvation. What does have a direct correlation on your Salvation is the mercy offered by our Lord in His death and resurrection, and the faith planted in your hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. It is faith not riches that saves.
It is by God’s word in the Old and New Testaments that He shows and delivers to you Salvation and the mercy that He has won for all people, rich or poor, man or woman, black or white, American or otherwise. God’s mercy is always the central point.
The mercy of our Lord exceeds all of our hopes and imaginations. It never runs dry. It lifts you up from the lowest depths. It rescues you from impossible situations. And most of all, the Lord’s mercy—not just the promise of His mercy, but the mercy our Lord actually and continually gives—allows you to have joy, even when you are in pain; to have hope, even when you are grieving; to look up, even when you are feeling down; to push on, even when you see no way out; to trust, even when you have severe doubts; to do what is right, even when you are deathly afraid; to remain strong, even when you are weak; and to expect great things, even though your eyes behold only sin, sorrow, and death in this world.
It is only God’s mercy that allows us to look beyond our physical senses and confess with David “I have trusted in Thy mercy; My heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, Because He hath dealt bountifully with me.”
God’s mercy was what gave poor Lazarus the strength to live each day. For he certainly received no strength from the few crumbs he was able to scrounge. He certainly did not place his hope in having comforts in this world, or even being released completely from his physical infirmities, being covered with sores. He looked beyond the rich man’s sumptuous table, beyond the rich man’s fine clothes. He hoped only in the words and promises of God. In fact, there is little or nothing he could do to improve his lot—except to rely on the mercy of the Lord, and to live solely from that mercy.
We are much better off than poor Lazarus. Not just better off because we have “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home.” And not better off just because we have doctors and medicine to relieve our aches and pains. We are much better off than poor Lazarus because we are able to look back at the historic death and resurrection of Jesus instead of living in it’s anticipation—waiting for mercy’s fulfillment. We don’t have to live on promises of a coming redemption. It is here, it is real, it is present. Because of Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles, and the Christian church, we don’t even have to look back. We only have to open our ears, open our mouths, open our Bibles. We are much better off because we don’t have to hope for the kingdom of God—we enter it, every time we hear the Gospel read or preached—every time we participate in the Divine Service in this blessed house.
Lazarus looked past the sores on his body, past the rich man’s clothing and table to the bosom of Abraham. He, like Abraham, believed God’s Word, and it was counted to him as righteousness. He, like Abraham, did not judge by what he saw (being a sojourner in a foreign land with no heir), but by what he believed. By God’s grace, you also believe and therefore look past your sores, your sins, the sins of others, past the clothing and tables of this world. By faith you are given medicine that cleanses all your sins. By faith you are clothed with something better than the rich man. You are clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). You have something better than sumptuous fare in this world. You have a banquet set by the Lord, a wedding feast in heaven alongside of Abraham, Lazarus, and your loved ones; and the heavenly bridegroom is your host. (pause)
But what about being rich or poor, healthy or sick? These important details are managed by your heavenly Father. Your Lord doesn’t just care about you when you get to heaven. He cares about every lot in life in this world, too, whether you got there by an accident of birth, by your good or poor decisions, or by the good or poor decisions of others. He cares for you in every situation that you find yourself in. That’s why the words of the Law, the Prophets, and the Evangelists still ring out from pulpits and altars. Your Lord cares for the poor. He looks after the homeless, the infirm, the diseased. He grants success to the rich, to the well-dressed, to the well-fed for the benefit of His Church.
The danger in being poor or sick is to think that somehow you earn more favor from God on account of poverty or sickness. That is why some become smug and foster a sense of entitlement. The other danger in being poor or sick is to become consumed by the ailments and sufferings in this world. That is why some give in to despair and cease believing that God is good, cease believing in God at all. The blessing in poverty and sickness, suffering and pain is that they can, by God’s grace, point you to help beyond this world, to God himself, to relief in Christ.
The danger in being rich is placing confidence in the mammon of this world over trust in God. That is why the rich have a harder time entering the kingdom of heaven. They think that they have all they need when they have clothing and food, as Luther points out. They make their riches their confidence and their god. The blessing in being rich is that in a sense, you become like God in providing for the church and the poor. You become God’s instrument for doing good and are blessed by being generous. That is what David says in Psalm 41, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”
Whether rich or poor, sick or healthy, God cares about you now. If you are poor, from faith look up to God, who provides. If you have abundance, from faith look around to your neighbor who is in need. This is how God provides for the Church and His children in this world. Your enemy, the devil, will not triumph over you.
Your confidence rests in God and His sure Word. It has the exclusive power to save. It works what it says so that His love is perfected in you and you will have confidence in the day of judgment. God lifts you up, sustains you, and keeps you for the day of the resurrection from the dead. You have the Law and the Prophets and by Christ, it is more than enough.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana