Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

Luke 16.19-31

Jesus presents this story of two men, the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man has what the world would consider the perfect life. Lazarus has what the world would consider a wretched, awful life. One might say Lazarus pulled the short straw, that chance worked against him. The rich man lucked out, won the lottery of life. Or maybe the rich man deserved it because he was such a great guy, and no one really liked Lazarus’ personality. Or Lazarus was the victim or an oppressive system that the rich man benefited from. Call it chance or karma or systemic oppression, the world seeks a reason to explain such differences in life between men. In our hearts we know there must be some kind of just reason why one person suffers and the other does not. For we all agree that the rich man had the better life.

So you could ask – isn’t Jesus’ story just another example of that? Does Jesus reward in the next life just to make this life not seem so bad? If this life is terrible, is Jesus merely consoling us that we will have a better life later?

It is true this story is meant to console the poor and wretched in this world. The Lazarus who has faith in Christ will be comforted in the life to come, no matter how awful his life is now. Yet this isn’t the main point of the story. If you look at all the worldly interpretations of this story, of the difference between the rich man and Lazarus, you get one common thread – the rich man had a good life and Lazarus and bad one. The rich man’s life was something to be aspired to, something Lazarus deserved, something that anyone deserves, and therefore we need to explain why some do not attain it.

Is this true of your motives and desires? Examine what you do, your priorities and actions. Do you work primarily to have the good life? Do you act in a way to live like the rich man? There is truly no worldly downside to the rich man’s life. He has fine clothes, plenty of food, health, friends with him every day, a large family he cares about, and ultimately had no responsibilities of an office or toil to work for it. It sounds like the perfect retirement: the one they sell on financial planning commercials. Are these things ultimately your goals? Are they what you are looking for? Do you constantly watch the news, worry about your health, or monitor your finances so you can be ready to protect your progress toward this goal? Often these things may get in the way of and overshadow our spiritual needs.

It is not sinful to be rich. It is not sinful to have good things in this life – food and drink, house and home, clothing, family, and health. We see the rich man was more than just rich. He loved his wealth. He feasted sumptuously every day. There was no limit to the amount of pleasure he sought. You probably will never attain this level of wealth, yet if this is where your motivations, your goals and dreams lie, you are in danger of sharing the rich man’s fate. Rather than looking at wealth as only a good, recognize the danger that is there, recognize what can pull your heart away from Christ.

For poor Lazarus, to believe Christ was all he had. Maybe the dogs would not give him comfort that day and lick his wounds, and he could say with Job ““Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Like Abraham, Lazarus believed in the promise of Abraham’s offspring, Jesus Christ. So Lazarus on his death was brought to Abraham’s side. Lazarus’s life was a living hell, but in this life had the most important thing, the one thing needful, the peace of conscience that comes from trusting in Christ. While the rich man worked for his own heaven on earth, Lazarus held to the hope of the eternal heaven to come by the mercy of God.

Jesus warns us against what our sinful flesh and the world want us to believe. The good life is not good without Christ. To seek only the best for yourself, to be constantly troubled and motivated by keeping your own ease and happiness is not a way that truly leads to life. A life of wretchedness and suffering is not a punishment or a way that leads to death. All true life is in Christ. We receive good things in this life by our Father’s mercy for the sake of Christ, as we pray for our daily bread. The suffering we bear is in Christ, who also suffered for us and is constantly with us in suffering. Both the good and the evil should turn us to repent and seek Jesus, but the evil is a much more potent reminder. We pray that we may hold to Christ without needing such reminders.

Our eternal fate is final and divided. Wherever one arrives, in heaven or hell, there he must remain. As Abraham said to the rich man, no one is coming back from either to warn you. You have Moses and the prophets – the words of Holy Scripture. Listen to them! Better to repent now before the time when there will be no repentance. Focus on the words of the scriptures, seek in them your good, not in politics or finances. For they reveal Christ, Abraham’s true Son and also the God in whom he trusted. In Christ, God cares for you and provides for you. He has shown you His compassion by sending His Son to die for you. He has shown you your eternal inheritance with Him by raising Jesus from the dead. Hold to him, trust Him, first. The fruit will follow.

That fruit of faith is a life the opposite of the rich man’s. Not one that is wretched, though it may be, but one that seeks the good of the neighbor. While the rich man feasted and worried about himself, a poor man suffered at his doorstep. Who can you serve on your doorstep? Your family, co-workers and boss, literal neighbors, fellow members of St. Paul’s. When you trust Christ to provide you can seek their good over yours. Use what you have been given, for God has given it to you to help your neighbor. The rich should give to the poor. The poor should pray for the rich. Wherever you are there is someone you can serve.

Christ became poor to save you. He did not have heaven in this life. He never sought his own pleasure. The good life exists not in pleasure and ease, but a life lived in Christ, trusting in Him and serving the neighbor. The man who has heaven here will have hell hereafter. By God’s mercy, Christians have heaven of a good conscience here and heaven fully in eternity. Christ does not make up for suffering with rewards in the next life. He gives us life, and life abundantly, now partially and fully in the life to come. Amen.
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