Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
What Will Convince You? - September 29, 2013 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21) - Text: Luke 16:19-31
This week Jesus continues His message to the people. Unfortunately, for us, that message is divided up into many “sound bytes” of which we hear only one each Sunday. The people who were listening to Jesus were able to hear the message in its entirety, all at once. Perhaps that in itself is a message to us to be in the Word, to go home and read the message for ourselves in its entirety. Anyway, to get us up to speed, Jesus has laid out the facts and these are the facts. Two weeks ago we were reminded through the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin that it is not we who go looking for the Lord, rather it is the Lord who comes looking for us. God sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to seek and to save the lost. Jesus came to find us, to redeem us, to forgive us, to call us to faith and to a purpose. Last week we were reminded through the parable of the Shrewd Manager that our purpose is to live our lives as lives of faith. Our purpose is, as Matthew tells us in His Gospel, that as we are going, as we are living our lives, we have God’s authority and promise to be with us as we share the Gospel message, the good news of salvation, the story of Jesus Christ and His love for us to others. And we are to do this sharing using our influence and using all the resources of this world which are available to us.
Last week we ended with Jesus’ words of warning that we cannot serve two masters, but we must serve only one, either God or money. And we had His word of warning to not be like the Pharisees who attempted to hide their love for money by justifying their lack of charity. This week Jesus gives us the extremes of what a person is like who serves money and what a person is like who serves God. Keep in mind that these two characters are the extremes and most of us are probably somewhere in the middle, not that this is any better, because we still must serve either one or the other, not both.
This morning we hear Jesus tell the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus begins, “19There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” (v. 19-21). You may have noticed right away that the rich man has no name. His name is not written in the book of heaven, so he needed no name. You may have also noticed his pompous attitude. He was not concerned about tomorrow, especially not about his eternal life, rather he was living for himself, he was living for the moment, he was living for today. The other character in our account is Lazarus. He does have a name, because his name, as we will see when he dies, is written in the book of heaven. He was covered with sores. He was hungry. The dogs were his companions. Also, understand that this Lazarus is not the Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead. This Lazarus is a character in Jesus’ parable.
The parable continues, “22The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried” (v. 22). First, we are told that the beggar died, but there is more to his death, he died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. This designation of Abraham’s side was a familiar Jewish way of speaking about the fact that he went to heaven. We are also told that the rich man also died and was buried (period). Notice that there is no fanfare for this rich man. Nothing more needs to be said about him. We do not need to know his name and all we need to know is that he died and was buried, that is it. Jesus could stop here and give us quite a bit of commentary on life and death. You see, it is our faith which sustains us while we are here on this earth and it is our faith in Jesus Christ which gains our access to eternal life. And yet, the story continues.
Jesus says, “23and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and l saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’” (v. 23-24). First, again, we hear from the rich man. We are told that he looks up and sees Abraham and finally he notices Lazarus. The whole while he was on earth Lazarus was sitting right under his nose (so to speak) begging at his gate and he did not notice him, but here, now that he was in torment in hell, he notices and he asks for Abraham to send Lazarus to comfort him.
Our text continues, “25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us’” (v. 25-26). Abraham explains the situation, not meaning that either earned their place, simply that each was receiving the reverse of what he had on earth. And besides there is a chasm fixed so that they cannot cross between the two places. Here Jesus assures us that not only is there a heaven, but that this place where we live is not hell and He assures us of the fact that there is a hell. Also, here we have an indication of the eternity of heaven and the eternity of hell.
Jesus continues, “27And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—28for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’” (v. 27-28). Here it looks like the rich man finally thinks of someone besides himself and yet, in so doing he subtly accuses God for his being in hell, after all, if only he had known about heaven and hell things would have been different. In his revelation, John tells us the same thing, that on the last day all people will bow before Jesus and acknowledge Him as the Son of God and those who are doomed to eternal death will also try to blame their eternal death on God. But that does not work with God.
Jesus continues, 29But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” (v. 29). Abraham explains that it is the means of grace, especially the Word of God, the Law and the prophets which have power to convert. Yes, Abraham is talking to us, today. It is God who converts, it is God who gives faith and He does so through the means He has given us, the Word and the Sacraments. Abraham’s not so subtle message to us today is that we need to be in the Word and that we need to be sharing that word with others, so they too might have a share in the kingdom of God. And yet, the rich man persisted, “30And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (v. 30-31). The rich man does not stop, but persists and finally Abraham explains why the rich man is wrong and why we are wrong today to think the same way, that our seeing something with our eyes will make us believe. Did you listen carefully to Abraham’s words, they are rather prophetic words. The person about whom he is speaking, the person rising from the dead is Jesus. You see, Jesus did die. Jesus was born and lived perfectly. He took all our sins upon Himself. He suffered and died for the sins of the rich man in the parable. He suffered and died for the sins of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who were listening to Him. He suffered and He died for your sins and for mine. Jesus died. He was buried. And He rose from the dead, yet, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law still would not believe Him. So, too, today, too many people still do not believe and consequently are condemned.
So, I ask the question, “Who will you serve?” and “What will convince you?” How often it is that we put more stock in this world and the things of this world, the business of this world and the things of this world and we forget that this world is merely a temporary place. Too often we invest too much of our time, talents and treasures in this world instead of, as Jesus reminded us last week, being shrewd and using our influence and the resources which our Lord has given us in this world for the purpose of extending God’s Kingdom. Here I am reminded how, each year millions of people watch the Super Bowl. I am one who particularly likes to watch, not so much for who is playing, but to see what new commercial ads are being shown. These ads costs the companies over a million dollars just for a minute or a half a minute and each year the cost is higher, yet their ad is seen by millions of people. So, millions of people are introduced to a new beer commercial, a new Coke or Pepsi commercial, a new e-service commercial and the like. I always sit and wonder, as I watch these millions of dollars being shown before my eyes, what would happen, what could happen if we would take those millions of dollars and use them to spread the message of salvation to the world. How many people could be saved? Because I am sure that a great number of those millions who are watching do not know Jesus.
Perhaps our problem is our weakness of faith. Oh, we have faith sure enough, but our faith is un-stretched, our faith is untested, our faith is still being fed with milk instead of the meat and potatoes of the Word of God. Perhaps there are times that we think that seeing a miracle would cause us to believe, or to be strengthened in our faith. Do not be fooled. I am here to encourage you and to tell you, be in the Word, read your Bible, remember your Baptism, make regular and diligent use of the Lord’s Supper, because in so doing the Lord will strengthen and keep you in faith until He comes again.
Remember God’s great love for us is show in this, that while we were sinners, Christ died for us so that we might have salvation. The Father created us, the Son redeemed (bought us back) us, and the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, brings us to faith and keeps us in faith. How precious we are to Him and His Word and Sacraments are to us.
Here again today, the three lessons work well together. The Old Testament Lesson reminds us of the complacency of the children of Israel and their neglect in carrying out their God given mission of sharing the Word of God to the world. Paul, writing young pastor Timothy in the Epistle lesson reminds us of our need to be content with the gifts that God gives us, and the need to use those gifts for the extending of His kingdom, not just for our own pleasure. And here in our text we are reminded that we are responsible for our making use of the gifts and blessings our Lord gives, so that we are to use them for the extending of His kingdom and to the praise and glory of His Holy Name.
What will convince us? The events of fairly recent history, September 11, the devastation of hurricanes, the terrorist attacks around the world, the events of our present history, people dying and being killed, all remind us that our lives in this world are temporary and that there are many people who do not know Jesus Christ and who are and who will be condemned to eternal death. September 11, 2001 brought a temporary change in the behavior of many people. People were nice, for a while. Perhaps you have noticed how things and people in our world quickly “got back to normal.” People went back to being rude. Road rage returned. People flying on air planes went back to being rude. Yes, things have “gotten back to normal.” Why? Because only God can change our hearts. The events of this world can cause our attitudes and even our behavior to change for a while, but only God can change our hearts and only if our hearts are changed will life be different. Jesus came and lived perfectly for us in our place, because we are not able to live so. Jesus gave His life for ours so that we might have forgiveness and so that we might start over every day and with His help try to live God pleasing lives. And yet, it is only God who can change our hearts and He does that through means, the Word and the Sacraments, thus there is work to do and God has called us to do His work. So, what will we do? By the grace of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we will live our lives in such a way that they show forth the faith that is in our hearts; we will share the good news of salvation to all who do not know Him; we will give comfort and strength, inviting people to our church to hear the message of salvation; we will make regular and diligent use of the means of grace so that we are strengthened and kept in faith and we will work to extend the kingdom of God in this place. We will be given the gifts of the Lord, so that we might say, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.