Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Trinity 1 (June 14, 2009)
For an audio MP3 of this sermon, CLICK HERE
TITLE: “Inside and Outside”
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.
In our text this morning we have a comparison of the inside and the outside, the hidden faith and revealed works, the hidden church and the revealed works of the world. Christ our Lord makes this comparison in a way that is simple and easy for us to understand, and yet has a profound effect upon how we view the world, the church, and the faith that God gives to us as baptized children of God.
So let’s rehearse our text again. The rich man has everything on the outside; poor Lazarus has nothing on the outside. The rich man appears to be blessed by God and loved by everyone around him; the poor man is cursed, or at least appears so. His life is a mess, his health is a wreck, he is poor and hungry, and even the dogs come and lick his sores. There is no doubt in the eyes of the world who is in the better position.
But look, says our Lord, at what is hidden under the obvious. Poor Lazarus had the one thing needful; He had received faith and trusted in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for the forgiveness of sins. Hidden under the dirt and muck, hidden under the hunger and fear and pain shone a faith in the Messiah that only God Himself could give. The rich man did not have this faith. God doesn’t even know his name. He is simply the rich man. But Lazarus, the angels of God know Lazarus. No matter what the appearance, the reality is that the rich man is poor and the poor man is rich beyond measure.
This hidden reality is not unlike Abraham in our Old Testament reading. God had promised to Abraham that His house would prosper beyond measure, and that all the nations of the world should be blessed through him. But Abraham had no child. The promise was still hidden by God, only to be revealed in due time. Now God’s point to Abraham was that when God promised something according to His Word, it is real, as real as anything else. But sometimes you just can’t see it. It’s hidden.
This is, my dear friends in Christ, is so often what we do when it comes to our views of God. God has revealed Himself to us, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He has given us His Word and bound Himself to us by Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. God has given everything to you in His Son Jesus Christ, just as He had given to Lazarus. God’s gifts to you are all you need, all that you truly need to get to heaven and join the heavenly hosts with Abraham and all the saints.
But these gifts of God, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, are hidden. You cannot bankroll forgiveness of sins. The life that God bestows is not the good life that we Americans strive for so much. And salvation, well, salvation is hard to really grasp at all. These gifts of God are hidden. Indeed, Jesus Himself is hidden, just as His Church is hidden.
Let me give you an example. In our day and age if you were to ask people where the church is or what is the church, they would probably say something like where the people are. Or the church is made up of people. But our church, on the contrary, teaches that The church is the assembly of saints in which the Gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.
In other words, for us as Lutherans, when we go to locate the church, we don’t look finally at the people. People change. Some may be believers; others unbelievers masquerading as believers. You don’t look at the uncertain things. You look where God has promised to be found. And where does God promise to be found? In His Word and in His Sacraments. That is where God promises that He is.
This is what the rich man can’t understand. He can’t understand that faith isn’t created by a show or even by someone rising from the dead. No, faith flows from the Word of the Gospel giving by preaching and the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord’s Supper. That is how God creates faith. That is how God draws many into His eternal kingdom.
Now what does this mean for you today? It means a great deal. Where do you place your trust? If you place your trust in what you see, you will be disappointed. Churches, you see, are made up of sinners. And so it shouldn’t surprise you when sinners sin. That’s what sinners do. So if you place your trust in the people, you will finally be disappointed.
Where does God direct you? Your faith has an object, and that object is Jesus Christ. He comes to you know through preaching and His Word. He comes to you now through His holy baptism and through His Holy Supper. That is where God is found. That is where your sins are forgiven. And that is where the Church is to be found. For wherever God’s Word is rightly preached and His Sacraments are rightly given out, that is where God’s Church will be found. It may be hidden. It may even be wearing rags and look pretty pathetic at times. But underneath those rags, like the rags of Lazarus, lies God’s dearest treasure, His Holy Bride, the Christian Church.
So when you look at this parable of our Lord, the point of the parable is this: God gives you His Word to trust, so that when the winds and the waves of life come, when false doctrine assaults you or other fears afflict you, you may look to His Word of promise, and know that God will bear you home, just as the angels carried Lazarus off to the bosom of Abraham.
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.
[I have used this sermon in a couple forms over the years, but I think it is a good one and worth repeated. -LL]