As the title says, this morning’s post a sermon. This is the first sermon that I’m putting out into the interwebs. I’m doing this to receive feedback from others in hopes of improving my sermon writing abilities. Please read and if you want to offer constructive criticism I’m a big boy, so please do.
Rev. Ed Maanum
Bethany Lutheran Church
18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 26, 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For the last couple of weeks there’s been a common theme in our Gospel lessons. Jesus has been talking to His disciples, those following Him and the Pharisees about wastefulness. In the first parable the shepherd potentially wastes the lives of 99 sheep out in the wilderness, this barren desolate place of death and destruction for all that enter, to find one lost sheep. The second parable is about a woman who waste’s oil to find a single coin which she spends in celebration. The third parable was about the prodigal son, the wasteful son. This son wanted his Father dead and his inheritance now, only to end up squandering it on a lifestyle filled with drug, sex and rock ‘n roll until he had to live with pigs. Last week was about the shrewd steward, who, after being fired from his job for wasting his boss’s income, found a way to make other’s owe debts to him instead of his master.
As I said there is a common theme that is present in all of these parables that Jesus tells. It’s a theme that describes us when we waste and squander the gifts that God has given us… even for the shrewd steward. That parable is primarily for condemning the Pharisees and their love for money in contrast with us. For the Pharisees were just like the children of the world, they were unrighteous, but as saved Christians, we are the children of the light and are to use the gifts that God has given us for the benefit of others. In the end it all comes down to where your faith is… is it in God, who gave you the gifts, or is it in yourself and the gifts that were given you?
Now we’re at this parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Truth be told, I’m not even sure if it is a parable. Jesus and Luke don’t say that it’s a parable. If it is, then it’s the first parable to use someone’s real name. I think that it’s more of an illustrative story which in the end will be treated in about the same way as a parable. I say ‘in about’ because a parable is always an illustrative story about the Kingdom of God in some way. This doesn’t have a Kingdom of God aspect to it, even though it mentions that Abraham and Lazarus are in heaven… but more on that later.
In this story there is a rich man who has no name. His name isn’t important because it’s not a name that is written in heaven… which can only mean one thing: when this man dies, he’s going to hell, where there’s weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I find it interesting that the man’s name isn’t mentioned, for reasons already stated, but Jesus mentions that the man wore fine purple linen and ate sumptuously every day. Only the very rich… and I mean very rich could afford purple and this man was wearing it everyday. As if that’s not enough the man was feasting “sumptuously” in the ESV. We’re talking big, expensive and elaborate meals every day. These are the meals that are reserved for weddings and very important and special guests and he’s eating them every day. So yeah this dude is loaded like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.
Contrasting this rich man who has no name because it isn’t written in heaven, is Lazarus. Is this the same Lazarus whom Jesus mourned then raised from the dead? The same Lazarus who was the brother of Mary and Martha? My guess is probably not. Instead I think that the name is acting symbolically, for Lazarus means ‘God a help.” It shows that this man put all of his trust and faith in God for help.
In Luke 6:20 Jesus say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” This Lazarus was poor, yet despite his being poor, he has more noble character than the rich man could have ever dreamed of having while on this earth.
Lazarus was beyond poor, he was also deathly sick and had ulcers on his skin, they were festering, painful sores all over his body, which is different than leprosy in case you were wondering. He found a place to stay, a place that would appear to be ideal for a beggar, right outside the rich man’s house. After all this man had feasts every day, maybe Lazarus could get some of those scraps for himself that the rich man was going to throw away anyways. Unfortunately, Lazarus got none.
His only friends were dogs. They weren’t the dogs of the rich man rather they were dogs from the neighborhood that had no homes either. They were scavenger dogs. They lived on their own because no one would take care of them or help them… they sound just like Lazarus. These dogs must have loved Lazarus an awful lot as well because they would lick Lazarus’ wounds, just like they would lick their own, to try to make them feel better. They knew they couldn’t provide food or shelter, but they could help ease his pain… or at least tried to.
Despite all that these dogs tried to do to help ease Lazarus’ pain, Lazarus still died. Maybe he died from starvation; maybe the ulcers got the best of him. We don’t know, but what we do know is that the man died. There’s no mention of anyone mourning, no burial, no weeping. Lazarus was all alone in life and no one in this life cared for him besides the dogs and God. After Lazarus dies he’s taken up into heaven by angels of God.
Then the rich man died. Maybe he died because of his extravagant and indulgent lifestyle, but just like Lazarus Jesus doesn’t say why or how this man died. This death is a contrast to Lazarus’ death, for the rich man most likely had many friends who would join him for his feasts. I’m sure there would have been great mourning and weeping for a man of his earthly stature with a giant, overdone and moving burial remembering the man’s life and all that he did and not his faith, for the man had no faith to speak of. If he did, his name would have been known. After the rich man dies he goes to the fires and eternal torments of hell.
So far what’s been said by Jesus are things that we can understand and can experience here for ourselves. Asking for help and not getting any… being asked for help and not giving any. So far we can relate with both Lazarus and the rich man, but what happens next will change how we think and which one of the two we relate with more.
Jesus says that Lazarus is on Abraham’s bosom in heaven. Now of course this isn’t literally true, for Abraham and Lazarus are dead. Just like the rich man seeing Abraham and Lazarus or wanting a drop of water to cool down his mouth. The rich man no longer had eyes or a mouth like we do on earth. Here Jesus is explaining unexplainable things in a way that we can understand. It’s like a parent trying to explain something complex in the world and using words and ideas that the child knows. When talking to Ephraim about fire, instead of explaining why not to touch fire because of the laws for conservation of energy. conservation of mass and thermodynamics. I explain fire hot… fire hurt… fire give you owwie. We don’t know anything about what it’s like being a spirit and dead, so Jesus uses examples of things that we do know; bosom, sight, heat and water.
The same rules apply to the distance issue of someone in hell being able to see and speak to people who are in heaven. Is Jesus saying that there are levels of purgatory before the Day of Judgment like some have said? That would utterly ridiculous. Despite the medieval thought, there are no levels in heaven or hell, and purgatory doesn’t exist. Jesus is using something that we know, distance and space, to explain something that we can’t, the chasm that is between heaven and hell that cannot be crossed.
This brings me to ask, why is Lazarus on Abraham’s bosom? Abraham is the recipient of the first covenant promise. He is the father of all in the faith. Every Christian that is saved is a son or daughter of Abraham. It’s also figurative of what heaven is like, being with others in the faith and being intimately close to them in communion.
Now the rich man, the man who claimed to be a son of Abraham, but had no faith is in hell and ‘sees’ Abraham and Lazarus and is wants them to do him a favor. For simply being a “son of Abraham” doesn’t save anyone like being in a garage doesn’t make one a really awesome motorcycle or how eating in a nice Italian restaurant makes you Italian. The rich man knows Lazarus and didn’t help him while he had the chance but wants Lazarus to sacrifice himself to bring water to him. Here the Lord does an amazing reversal of what the story was like on earth. The rich man who knew no mercy on earth wants mercy shown to him as he is now the beggar. Even in hell the man has no idea why he’s there. The man loved his possessions more than helping others and more than the Lord.
You do the same. You end up loving the money in your bank accounts and say, “It’s mine. You can’t have it. I’ve worked to hard for this to just give it away to some stupid charity.” You love your house and say “Look at what I own because of my hard work, because of my sacrifice for my family.” You love your furniture, car or van… the list is endless. The point being that you love the things given to you more than the one that gives them to you.
You, me, we don’t use all of these gifts given to us for the benefit of others, only for ourselves. We don’t use the unrighteous mammon mentioned last week to help others. We as fallen, broken and deprived sinners want nothing more than to use our gifts for our own advantages and for our own pleasures. We don’t want to show mercy. Why should we want to help someone less fortunate than ourselves, we tell ourselves that it’s their fault they’re in the condition that they’re in.
When we act like this, it’s only a matter of time before we convince ourselves that we’re more important… that Jesus Christ and His gifts given to us in His death and resurrection, in Baptism and in the Sacrament of the Altar don’t matter. We say things like, “Why worry about eternity when I have all the time in the world to do what I want to do?”
The rich man thought that way. Why show mercy to Lazarus… he’s just a poor beggar. He’s not important to need the rich man’s help. He’s just a poor beggar with sores. I’m going to throw another feast and not give him anything. This is what ended up landing the rich man in hell. Loving his possessions more than God and what God calls us to do, which is to love our neighbors and to love God with all our heart, soul and being.
Before I go any further I feel that I need to make this point clear. Jesus is not saying that because the rich man was rich and had good things in life he deserved to be in hell and anguish for all eternity. Conversely, He’s also not saying that because Lazarus was poor that he deserved to be in paradise for eternity. The point is that the rich man held up his earthly possessions instead of spiritual ones and demonstrated this throughout is life by not showing mercy to Lazarus. Lazarus also wasn’t saved because he was poor but because his trust was in God for all that he needs to sustain this body and life.
Back to the point at hand. Why did the rich man, not realizing what he did to get to hell, want Abraham to warn his brothers? Why do we warn people when we do something stupid and don’t want to see them make the same mistake? Maybe the rich man loved his brothers; maybe he didn’t want to see them suffer like he was suffering. Then again, maybe not.
For can the rich man want Abraham to send Lazarus back to tell his family about hell, if the rich man doesn’t know what he did to deserve it. The rich man is in hell because of unbelief. The man had no faith except for things of this world. This rich man is the same as the shrewd steward, only caring about mammon and the nobility that it provides in the eyes of others. In short, this rich man was acting just a Pharisee who loved their laws and possessions over the Word of God that was made flesh in their presence.
The man is basically saying that God didn’t do His job as the man sees it. For if God did do His ‘job’ then the rich man wouldn’t be in hell, he’d instead be where he thinks he should be, either heaven or more likely, still living it up on earth with his buddies. The man wants a new means of salvation. He suggests that God could have saved him if He wanted to by only sending a dead man to tell him what hell was about. The rich man still doesn’t get it though. Even if God did send Lazarus back to earth then neither the brothers, nor the man himself, would have believed. Their external actions would have changed, but their hearts would have stayed the same. Focused on themselves and what they have to do to get saved.
That is exactly how we all were before we were brought to faith in Jesus Christ alone by hearing the Scripture alone spoken into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We wanted nothing else than to be left to our devises. Even if you were baptized before you can remember, you still wanted nothing to do with God. You only wanted to do your own baby thing.
But Christ changed that. His death and resurrection make it possible for us to have faith in Him and also for that faith to manifest itself into action. We’ve gone from being the man who was rich in the eyes of the world that became a beggar in hell to being the poor sinner begging for God’s mercy on earth and living richer than one can every imagine in the feast that is to come, the same feast that we will receive a foretaste of in a few minutes.
We were the rich man, but through Christ we are now Lazarus. Unlike the rich man we don’t only have Moses and the Prophets, we also the Apostle’s writings and the Gospel accounts. These Gospel accounts are about the Gospel made flesh in Jesus Christ. We hear Him and read Him in the Word, we physically see Him and touch Him in the Sacrament. We partake of the forgiveness of sins that He alone gives and it is only through Him that we can show mercy to others and go from being the rich man in hell to being Lazarus in heaven. Amen