Blessed Are The Unhappy–First Sunday after Trinity 2015
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 16:19-31
June 7, 2015
“Blessed are the Unhappy”
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are those who mourn.
Jesus says these words in another of His sermons, the one called the Sermon on the Mount. If He were preaching it to Americans in the 21st century, He might phrase it a little differently.
Blessed are the unhappy.
He could hardly preach something with which we Americans would be less likely to agree. Because for us Americans the whole purpose of life on earth is to be happy as much as you possibly can. If you aren’t happy it’s almost better to be dead. That’s what our society thinks.
Jesus doesn’t agree with us. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn.” What does our Lord mean by this? He means there is something worse than being unhappy in this life—to be in torment forever after you die. And there is something far greater than being happy and having good things in this life. That is to have eternal happiness and joy after you die.
That is what Jesus is teaching in His sermon about the rich man and Lazarus. It is a serious warning for those who live their lives running after happiness in this world. It is a serious and urgent warning for our generation, where we live as if there was nothing more important than being happy during this life. But this sermon of Jesus is also full of consolation and joy for those who are unhappy, for those who are physically sick or emotionally, unwell, for those with shattered hopes and troubled consciences. Jesus tells of the comfort that belongs to sufferers who believe in Him, so that our burdens may be lighter and we may encourage ourselves as we wait for the comfort from God He promises the unhappy. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
People in our time believe that there is nothing more important than being happy in this life. That’s the source of much of the world’s rejection of the witness of the Christian Church. It’s not just because Christians say, “This and that is wrong and you shouldn’t do it.” It’s because the Christian Church says, like Jesus says, that you can be unhappy and still be blessed.
If you watch the news at all you will no doubt be aware of the story of the Olympic medalist who had sex-reassignment surgery and got his picture on the front of the magazine Vanity Fair. I really wish that I did not have to speak about this in the sermon, but it is necessary to speak because there is a whole generation of children being raised to think that this is normal and good. Now what do we say, what does the Christian Church say to this? We say that if you are born a man, God created you that way. He called you to be a man. He made you a man. So you should not try to live as a woman or become a woman. In the beginning God created them male and female, so what God has created, let not man try to mutilate or deface. That’s what we have to say to the question of whether a woman or a man should try to change their sex. Even if they go through with the surgery, they have not really changed their sex. They have simply mutilated their bodies.
But our world responds, “He always felt like he was really supposed to be a woman. He was unhappy all his life being a man instead of a woman.” And this is where Jesus’ teaching offends the world. Because Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn.” What if it were really true that Bruce Jenner was suffering his whole life because he felt like he was a woman in a man’s body? Who says that we should never suffer, never be unhappy? Jesus says those who suffer are blessed because God will comfort them. But the world rejects this. It says we should never have to suffer because it’s God’s will.
Another common example. God says in the 6th commandment that sex is reserved for a man and a woman united in the bonds of marriage. But in our time it’s become common to have sex and live together before marriage. Why? In part because there is the fear that marriage is too big a commitment and people can’t be sure they won’t end up being miserable in marriage. Or because one person in the relationship wants to get married but the other doesn’t, and the one who wants to get married is afraid of losing the other person. People have sex outside of marriage because they want happiness and pleasure, and the two other options of marriage or splitting up carry the risk of unhappiness. This is another way the world rejects Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the unhappy.”
One final example. Jesus teaches that divorce is a sin except in the cases of adultery or desertion. But our world wants the right to divorce simply because one spouse or another is unhappy. Because if you’re not happy, our society thinks you have lost everything that makes life worth living. But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It’s possible to live in a less than happy marriage, even an outright unhappy one, because it is God’s will—and Jesus promises that God will comfort those who suffer.
I could give many more examples. Christianity is constantly clashing with our time because our time thinks that the only thing that is important is to be happy in this life.
But Jesus teaches that there is something worse than being unhappy in this life. This is illustrated by the story of the rich man. In this world he seems to have unlimited happiness. He’s rich. He dresses in the finest clothes. He eats well and has parties every day.
Then finally the rich man dies and is buried. With the end of his life comes the end of feasting and parties and dressing like a king. With the end of life comes the end of his happiness, because when he dies he goes to Hades, or hell. There, burning in hell, he can’t even get a drop of water to cool his tongue. And he finds out that while his pleasures in life were only temporary, his torment is eternal . A great chasm has been fixed between heaven and hell that no one can ever cross forever.
Why did the rich man end up in this torment? It was not simply because he was rich. Many people in the Bible were rich, and yet they were saved and went to heaven, such as Abraham, David, and others. He went to hell because he sought his good things in this life. It’s not wrong to eat well and dress well and enjoy the gifts of God in this life, but it is a sin to set your heart on earthly pleasures and make them your highest good, to live as if the purpose of life is happiness in this world. The reason living for happiness in this world is such a great sin is that it is idolatry. When we live as if the most important thing is happiness in this world, we worship another god besides the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And this is just the way our world lives. It lives as if having pleasure for yourself in this life is the only thing that matters. It forgets about God, hearing His Word, giving Him thanks. In fact, most people in our world act like the Word of God is a bunch of fairy tales designed to scare stupid people. Just look around and you can see that our world believes that you are blessed not if you have God but if you have money, power, pleasure, and good things in this world. Sadly, tragically, so many of our church members have been seduced by the lie that if they have enough earthly things to content them, they don’t really need God’s Word. Yes, our world would be content if there were no God at all as long as they have enough to keep them happy in this life.
But what is true of the world is also true of us in our sinful nature. We too often live and operate as though the only thing that matters is the comforts that this life affords. We weep and mourn when we lose our health, wealth, and loved ones, as though we knew of no other comfort. We often don’t regard Moses and the Prophets—the Word of God—as our greatest treasure, which calls us to repentance and promises us a better happiness than this world can give. We place our hopes for happiness on things in this world—our children and family, our wealth, our success and reputation—and then we are crushed when these things are taken away. God’s promise to provide comfort and eternal happiness we often regard as a phantom. We want something we can see and touch now. Of course no matter how many consolations God gives us on earth we are never satisfied, because our souls can’t be satisfied with anything less than God alone.
We too have sought our good things in this world. So God calls us to repent so that we don’t end up like the rich man in the eternal fire, the eternal torment, the eternal unhappiness.
But Jesus teaches that there is something better than having the happiness this world can offer. That is the consolation that God gives in the life to come, which is solemnly promised by God to all who are baptized into Jesus Christ and believe in Him. This eternal happiness is illustrated in the person of poor Lazarus.
Lazarus, as far as the world judges, was the most miserable of men. As far as our reason can see it would have been better for Lazarus to die so his pain would cease. But God did not let Lazarus die quickly. For years it seems he was bedridden, unable to get up and work, confined to a mat that was laid at the gate of the rich man’s house. He was not dressed in linen and purple but with rags. He did not part every day but mourned. His body was covered with open sores which the dogs came and licked, and he was powerless to stop them. To our human reason and understanding it appears that God had abandoned poor Lazarus, cursed him, and blessed the rich man instead.
The church is no stranger to poor Lazarus because we have him in our midst. The poor. The sick. Those who are in agonizing pain for years and their pain never seems to get better. Those who are in and out of the hospital constantly with ill health. Those who mourned for lost loved ones not for months but for years, for decades. Those whose mental illness condemns them to a life of suffering, and no miracle relieves them. Those who are continually struggling with sin or who have a plagued conscience that continually doubts their salvation.
So what hope does Jesus hold out for the sufferers, for the poor Lazaruses? “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted by God.”
You see that Jesus does not promise that things will get better for poor Lazaruses in this life. Often when we suffer in this world, God does relieve us when we reach the point that we feel we can’t go on. But usually some other sorrow eventually follows. And there are some crosses that are never alleviated in this life. Lazarus never got up from his bed in this life. He was hungry till the day he died, and the dogs never stopped licking his sores.
And yet Lazarus was the one in this story who was blessed by God, not the rich man. Why was Lazarus blessed? Not simply because he suffered. Lazarus’ suffering was not enough to atone for his sins. But Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. Abraham is the spiritual father of all the blessed, all the saints, as it is written in Romans chapter 4: “Abraham…is the father of us all.” (v. 16) He is our father in God’s sight not because he is our physical ancestor, but our spiritual ancestor. Abraham was given a promise by God: “So shall your seed or offspring be”—as the stars in the heavens. And the Old Testament reading today tells us that “Abraham believed God, and God counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6) Abraham believed that one of his offspring would redeem the world from sin and bring many sons to glory. That offspring was Jesus. And Lazarus was a son of Abraham and was carried to Abraham’s bosom because he also trusted that Jesus, the seed of Abraham, would come and take away his sins. And we have this same faith. We believe that Jesus, the offspring of Abraham, has come, suffered for our sins, rose on the 3rd day, and reconciled us to God. God no longer regards us as sinners because of Jesus. He regards us, reckons us, righteous, just as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
Because Lazarus trusted that this promised seed of Abraham would take away all his sins, Lazarus was blessed even in his suffering. Even though he was sick and the dogs licked his sores and he stayed hungry, he was blessed because he had peace with God. And because he had peace with God, he knew that God would surely comfort him and give him eternal life.
Peace with God lightens every other suffering. No suffering is worse than fearing that God is displeased with you and you will spend eternity in hell. If you are already suffering and you are uncertain whether your sins are forgiven and you don’t know whether or not you will end up in hell, it makes the suffering that much heavier.
But God does not will that we live in that kind of uncertainty. He has promised unconditionally that our sins are forgiven through the suffering and death of Jesus in our place. He continually assures us of this pledge He made to us. He gives us our Baptism, which is His lifelong promise to blot out our sins for Jesus’ sake. He continually makes His salvation known in the Gospel. He absolves us individually and He seals His pledge of forgiveness by giving us Jesus’ body to eat and His blood to drink.
Through the word and Sacraments we have peace with God. They assure us that Christ died for us and removed our sins. And that lightens our burdens, because in the midst of suffering we have the promise that we will be comforted by God, forever. It is true that we are suffering now, but God loves us and has not forgotten us. Do you notice how in Jesus’ sermon the rich man does not have a name, but Lazarus is called by his name? That’s because God knows the people who believe in Christ by name. He knows you by name. He is far from the ungodly and does not know them. They are estranged from Him. They do not know Him and He does not know them either. But being baptized into Christ, you can be certain that God knows you by name and looks upon you as His dead child in your suffering. The world and our reason assume that God is smiling on us when we are dressed in purple and fine linen and feasting sumptuously every day. But in actual fact God did not even speak the name of the rich man. When he died and had a splendid funeral God had no regard for him but cast him into the eternal fire. But Lazarus God knew by name while he lay on the mat and the dogs were licking his sores. And when Lazarus died no doubt he had no splendid funeral on earth. But unseen the angels of God carried his soul to Abraham’s bosom where he was consoled and comforted.
So you who are Christians who are suffering: God knows your name and is well-pleased with you. And you can comfort yourself with this and boast in it in the midst of your cross, whatever it may be. “I am pleasing to God. I am His child and heir. If God is for me, who can be against me? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8)
Not only this, but we Christians can and should comfort ourselves in suffering with the hope of eternal life. We can and should say to ourselves, “I may be suffering like poor Lazarus now, but soon the angels will carry me to Abraham’s bosom and I will be consoled by all the saints who have won the victory. Even more than that—Jesus Himself will comfort me, and God the Father will wipe away every tear from my eyes.” We can and should comfort ourselves this way, because compared to the eternity of joy we will have in heaven, the sufferings of this present time are really small and light in comparison. It’s true that when we are suffering our burdens don’t seem small or light at all. But compared to an eternity of happiness, of joy, of reigning with Christ, they will seem small.
But the problem for us is that we are very weak in our faith that we have eternal life. WE doubt when we suffer and when we struggle with sin that we are really forgiven and that the promise of eternal life applies to us. That is why we have to learn to hold fast to the word of the apostles and prophets and not to our feelings or the way things appear. The Scriptures of the Apostles and Prophets teach that Jesus, the seed of Abraham, has atoned for our sins. They are really forgiven, not because of anything we do or have not done but solely on the basis of what He did. He was the one who was covered with wounds and bruises and surrounded by dogs—that is, wicked men—who condemned Him to death. He was the One who bore all the accusations against us before God. He was truly, and not in appearance only, cast off by God for our sins. He is the reason why we are not cast off by God, even when we suffer, but indeed are embraced by God, counted righteous, received as holy children of God. And the one who believes this is reckoned righteous, just as Abraham was.
So blessed are the unhappy. Blessed are those who mourn and yet believe in Christ, for they will be comforted by God. Blessed are you for no other reason that that you believe Christ died for you, because God regards that faith as righteousness. And if you are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, God will surely comfort you. It will not be the temporary comforts of this world, but the eternal, almighty comfort of the living God. He will comfort you as He comforted His Son after His suffering. He will take you to Himself in paradise. Then He will raise you from the dead on the last day and declare you righteous before all the universe. Since this will surely happen for you who are baptized into Christ, comfort yourself now when you have tribulation. Refresh yourself with the promise of eternal life when you suffer. It is yours is Christ Jesus. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. Say, “It is mine through the blood of Jesus.” Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria