Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Trinity 1 (May 25, 2008)
For an audio MP3 of this sermon, CLICK HERE
TITLE: “We Understand Us”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is the Gospel lesson just read, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16.
It’s nice to be back to Green, isn’t it? Lutherans, after all, are people of tradition. We get a little nervous when things keep changing all the time, even if it’s just the paraments on Sunday morning. So it’s nice to get back to normal. Now we can have our good, safe, green for the next five months or so. Tradition is good. At least usually. What we pass on from father to son, mother to daughter, well, it shapes us. It defines us for now and for future generations. The fact that we use Green for the season of Trinity is a mark of our ties to the Church of the Ages.
Our text deals with tradition as well. The tradition of sin, of selfishness, and of refusing to see our Lord in our brother at the gate. The rich man in our text was a man of tradition. He didn’t wear green; he wore purple, the color of the royal and the rich. His home was old and beautiful. He had servants, sumptuous meals, and everything he needed. More, in fact. Every day he walked past Lazarus, who longed for mercy, even the crumbs which fell from the master’s table. But Lazarus did not get them. It was not a part of this rich man’s tradition.
The rich man, you see, had forgotten what it meant to be human. He had forgotten that the very nature of our humanity is our connection to the divinity. He had forgotten that no amount of stuff, no riches or servants or wives or money or jobs or anything else could make him right with God. We don’t even know in our text if he recognized God at all! Yet there it is. The rich man, basking in his riches, while Lazarus is dying at his doorway.
Of course, we often do the very same thing. So often we think of our riches as the goal, the point of our existence. We forget that living is not about getting but about being in Christ and in each other. It is that tradition, the one of handing over our lives to each other in Christ, it is that tradition which we avoid like the plague. Even Lutherans. Even us here at Messiah Lutheran Church. How often have you passed by those in need? How often have you chosen to serve yourself rather than your neighbor in love? All too often, I fear. The tradition of the rich man is alive and well.
But it is a tradition with no life, no future. Once you have gained one thing, you long for another. In stepping over the poor and needy in your path, you tread upon God Himself. Repent.
Now there is another rich man who is held up in our text, Abraham. Unlike the rich man with Lazarus, Abraham recognized that his wealth, the gifts that God had given him, were not his to hoard, but were gifts to be shared with all. When the angels came to visit him unawares, Abraham gave them a feast beyond imagination! One commentator observed that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, used 21 quarts of flour to make bread for them. That’s a lot of bread for three people! But Abraham did not want them to be in want, and so he gave of what he had, because he gave of himself.
This is the proper understanding of tradition, and soon we will get to our Lord, Jesus Christ, in this text. Tradition is something that is passed on, not hoarded. Tradition is sacred, because it is a gift given to you as a trust that you are entrusted to give to those whom you meet. In a very proper sense of the term, we could even call the Gospel a tradition. The Gospel has been passed on to us, and we in turn pass it on to those we meet in our lives.
Lazarus, you see, had received the tradition. He was a child of Abraham, just as you are. Lazarus did not receive the material gifts of this world, but the tradition he received was one of life, life in God, life with his fellow man, life at the bosom of Abraham with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Martin Luther put it this way:
All believers are like poor Lazarus; and every believer is a true Lazarus, for he is of the same faith, mind and will, as Lazarus. For we all must, like Lazarus, trust in God, surrender ourselves to him to work in us according to his own good pleasure, and be ready to serve all men. And although we all do not suffer from such sores and poverty, yet the same mind and will must be in us that were in Lazarus—cheerfully to bear such things, wherever God wills it. Abraham had the mind and will to bear what Lazarus did. Therefore he recognized Lazarus as one of his own and received him into his bosom. (Blessed Martin Luther)
Now this brings us to Jesus. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the son of Abraham. He received what Abraham had to give, namely, life itself. He gave of Himself. No, more than that, our Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself, even His very life, so those whom He serves. Where we fail, where we are cruel and forgetful and selfish, He gives and gives and gives. He gives up His very life for you. Why does He do this? He does it so that you can receive that gift of Abraham, that gift of life which only He can give to you.
Come, then, to our Lord’s holy temple. Come with Abraham, Lazarus and all the saints of old to receive the gift of life which only He can give. Come and rest in Him, for He cares for you like no other. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.