May 29, 2016 A+D
St. Luke 16:19-31
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Abraham believed the Lord and the Lord counted that faith to Abraham as righteousness. Apart from that faith Abraham was not righteous. He had his sins and his guilt. But God said that He forgave Abraham’s sins and that He would be Abraham’s God and Abraham would come into the promised land. Abraham believed Him.
It is not that Abraham created his own reality by what he believed. It was not an exercise in building self-esteem and learning to forgive himself.
There is a certain power to faith – even false faith. It is the power to make us behave in certain ways. A person who believes himself to be the center of the universe, more important than other people, will not make it so by beleiving it, but he will hurt himself and others because of it. Much of many mental illnesses is an delusional view of the world that is hard to shake. Some people suffer from the false believe that they have no value or are unappreciated and it will never get better and so they feel sad and they can’t shake it. The cause of their sadness is not reality but a skewed view of reality. It is usually treatable through education and discipline where the person learns, painfully and slowly, to think differently about the world. Statiscally, that sort of therapy works better than medication. We would not serve the person suffering from depression any service to tell him that God made him that way and he should just stay sad. Instead, with sympathy and compassion, we strive to help him see the world as it really is. At least, that is what we used to do and should still do, but these days mental illness is often not being treated but instead being embraced. And the false believes that people have – men who think they are women, men who think they are dogs, women who think they have no worth unless they can be men – is causing a great deal of pain for those who are suffering and for society.
Their false beliefs don’t make things so, but they do cause them to behave in certain ways – often with terrible consequences.
Abraham’s faith also drives his behavior. But his faith is based in reality. It is true faith.
It was as though the sun had not shined in a long time and humanity had forgotten how to open its eyes. While his eyes were still closed, God told Abraham that the sun was shining and that He would teach Abraham to open his eyes and see. And before Abraham could open his eyes, he believed that the sun was shining. His faith did not make it so but his faith enable him to receive the benefit of the sun and eventually to open his eyes.
When we meet him in Genesis 15 his eyes are not yet open. He was afraid to trust God’s promises because what God promised seemed impossible. The Lord said that He was Abraham’s shield. Abraham’s reward would be great. Abraham was not so sure so he asked how it could be since Sarah was barren and his inheritance was set to flow to Eliezer of Damascus. The Lord assured him that Eliezer would not be his heir but his own son, not yet born would be. Then He took him outside and showed him the stars and said: “So shall your offspring be.”
That is what Abraham believes. He believes the Word of God. Thus he believes that these evil days will pass. He believes that God will be good to him, merciful, and that God will keep his promises. He believes that among his many offspring will be the Messiah. It is the Messiah, the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity in our Flesh who will save Abraham. He will take Isaac’s place on the woodpile and no angel will stop the knife. He will die for sins He did not commit in order to satisfy justice and end the Law’s demands.
It is the same with the beggar Lazarus. He is also saved by faith. We do not know what circumstances brought Lazarus to that terrible place. Jesus does not say that he was disabled. So it is possible that he had serious moral failures, that he was a drunk or he was lazy or he had burned all his bridges with his family by stealing. Whatever the cause, whether it was the choices he made or not, he ended up alone at the rich man’s step, covered with sores, too weak to beat off the dogs. He was a failure and he was hungry and he was alone and he was in pain.
Death delivered him to the promised land. He was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. He got what God had promised: forgiveness, healing, restoration, peace. Lazarus heard and believed what was written in Moses and the Prophets. They testify about Christ. So like Abraham before him, he believed in Christ.
I pray that our gracious Lord will deprive us of every earthly thing that stands between us and Him, that we too might learn to treasure His Word and sacraments, His forgiveness, His mercy above all else.