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The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. Trinity 1, 2017. Gen. 15:6, St. Luke 16:19-31 Confirmation of D. Roots, Father’s Day

abraham's bosom bible of souvignyTrinity 1 (Confirmation of Delainey Roots, Father’s Day)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31 (Gen. 15:6)

June 18, 2017

The Eternal Weight of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Beloved in Christ:

Delainey, with whom we rejoice on the day of your confirmation,

Delainey’s parents, Mike, Amanda, and her family,

You, her congregation, praying for and watching over those who are being taught the faith and those who are confirmed,

 

As well as those listening on the radio and visiting today:

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Today the text to which we give our attention is the Gospel reading.  However, I want to draw your attention also to a verse from the Old Testament reading, which is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It is this, Genesis 15:6–

 

Abram believed the Lord; and He counted it to him as righteousness. 

 

That verse is necessary to understand the Gospel reading.  It teaches the doctrine without which nothing in the Bible can be understood, the doctrine without which the Christian faith collapses, the teaching that touches every other article of the Christian faith, the teaching that caused and drove the Reformation that began 500 years ago.

 

I am referring to the teaching of justification.

 

Prior to the Reformation, people generally didn’t talk much about justification, but if they did, they would have said that a person is justified, that is, he becomes righteous before God, by actually being righteous.  They would have said: when God justifies a person, first of all at baptism, He makes that person totally righteous.  He takes away original sin, creates the person anew.  A baptized, justified person has no sin.  He only has an ongoing weakness that makes him inclined to sin.  But that weakness itself is not sin.

 

After being justified in baptism, they taught, the Christian receives God’s grace in the sacraments—Holy Communion, etc.  And cooperating with the Holy Spirit, they would do good works that pleased God.  And on the last day God would pronounce a person like this righteous on the basis of those righteous deeds.

 

But the doctrine of justification taught in the Reformation, which they drew from the Scriptures, was different.  They taught, along with this verse from Genesis, which St. Paul quotes again in Romans 4, that when God justifies a person, He counts or reckons or imputes the righteousness of Christ to the person.  Abram believed God, and God counted it to him for righteousness, says the verse.  That means:  Abram was not righteous in himself.  God counted him righteous, declared him to be righteous.  Abram was righteous not because of what he was in himself, or what he did.  If God judged him on that basis, Abram would be unrighteous, lawless, guilty before God.  But Abram believed God, and God counted or reckoned him righteous by faith.

 

That is how Abram became righteous before God.  That is how people today become righteous before God.  That was the teaching of the Reformation.  We are righteous without our works, through faith alone in Jesus, who atoned for our sins with His suffering and death.

 

Now why did that teaching rock the world?  Why must it continue to be our church’s treasure, our message to the world, instead of some other message or way of gaining followers?  Why am I telling it to you again, Lainey, on your confirmation day, when I no doubt want to preach something that will mean something to you years from now when you look back on this day?

 

Because eternity depends on this teaching.  Whether people are interested in it or not, whether it fills the pews or not, whether our flesh tells us this teaching is worth the attention we place on it, when we are 13 or when we are 70, the teaching of justification by the imputation of righteousness is the teaching that makes a person righteous and blessed for eternity.  If this teaching is not taught, or if it is minimized, and as a result it is not believed, people are damned for eternity.

 

This is what we see in the Gospel reading: The eternal weight of the right teaching of the doctrine of justification.

 

Jesus tells a story.  There is a certain rich man who has a party every day.  He dresses like a king.  He lives like a king.  Everyone wants to come to his parties.

 

Then there is a poor man named Lazarus.  He is covered with sores, like Job.  And someone takes and lays him outside the gate of the rich man, which means—because of his sickness, Lazarus has to depend on charity to go on living his tormented life.  Lazarus longs to eat the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, and while he lies there, outside the gate, dogs come and lick his sores.

 

One day Lazarus dies and the angels come and take him to Abraham’s bosom.  That means, he goes to be with Abraham, the righteous man, in heaven.  To recline on someone’s bosom in Jesus’ day meant you were a close friend or you were loved by them.  Jesus is telling us that Lazarus is a son of Abraham.  He is one of the stars in the sky that God showed Abraham.  So Lazarus will inherit the blessing of Abraham; he will share in the new heavens and the new earth where God will dwell with people again like He did in the Garden of Eden.

 

Also, Jesus says, the rich man died and was buried.  He goes to hell, and in torment, he looks up and sees Lazarus lying on Abraham’s bosom, and he cries out to Abraham, 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.  But Abraham says, Child, remember that you received your good things in life and Lazarus bad; now he is comforted, and you have torment.  Besides, there is a great chasm fixed between us and you, so that no one can come from hell up to us, nor can anyone in heaven come to where you are.

 

Jesus leaves us to imagine the torment of the damned.  He talks about flames.  Being burned alive is probably one of the most painful ways to die. But the rich man doesn’t die.  He longs even for a slight relief from his pain—just a drop of water on his tongue, but he can’t have one.

 

Sometimes people say, “Well, at least in hell I’ll be with all my friends.”  But you notice that if the rich man has friends around, he doesn’t notice them.  He is alone.  But yet he can look up and see heaven, and the saints in heaven.  He can see heaven, which he rejected in life, but he can only look at the joy that he will never have.

 

Jesus tells us this story and pictures the reward of the righteous and the unrighteous.  It is eternal in both cases.  The righteous will be comforted forever, but the unrighteous, will be tormented unceasingly, in both body and soul.

 

The obvious question we want to ask is: what made the rich man unrighteous, and Lazarus righteous?  Does being rich make you evil, and being poor and suffering make you good in God’s sight?  No; Abraham himself was wealthy, but he didn’t end up in hell.

 

Delainey, you have already learned the yardstick by which we are able to evaluate whether actions, thoughts, or the people who do them are righteous or unrighteous.  The measure of righteousness is the Law of God, the ten commandments.  And the summary of God’s Law is one word: Love.  “Love is the fulfillment of the Law”, St. Paul writes in Romans.

 

The rich man was unrighteous because he lacked love.  That is clear enough.  His life was a celebration.  Meanwhile, a sick man laid outside his gates naked, longing every day for someone to pick up the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.  A righteous person doesn’t look on the suffering of his neighbor and feel nothing.  He has compassion, and he acts out of compassion.

 

Today is Father’s day, and it got me thinking about what it is that defines a father who is faithful to his calling.  To be called “Father” is a high honor, because that is what the first person of the Trinity is called.

 

Fathers, of course, beget children.  They don’t give birth to them, but they beget them upon their mothers.  But it’s obvious that a man who simply creates a child has not really deserved the name “Father.”  A Father creates life, but he also cares for and nurtures his children.  He provides for them; teaches them; disiciplines them; plays with them; loves them.  That is how God the Father deals with human beings.  He created us, but He continues to nurture and sustain the lives He created.  He does this not only for those who love and obey Him but those who don’t.  All throughout this life He seeks to teach us.  He sends us pain in order to discipline us.  He does all this out of “fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness” in us.

 

God is love, says the Epistle reading.  And so fathers love.

 

On the other hand, what marks a father who is not doing his job, or what marks a bad father?  A bad father is selfish.  A bad father drinks up his paycheck, and his kids go hungry.  A bad father beats his wife or abandons his children.  A bad father doesn’t teach his children what they need to know to live life well.  A bad father cares about himself instead of his kids.

 

Bad fathers are selfish—which means, they act contrary to the nature of God the Father, who is love.

 

The unrighteous will suffer eternal torment in hell; and the unrighteous are those who, like the rich man, and like bad fathers, are selfish and do not love.

 

And what every hearer this morning should be asking themselves is, “Do I love?  Am I selfish?”  That question should burn within us, lest we burn with the answer to the question in eternity, like the rich man.

 

The answer to this question, the honest answer, is what?  Am I selfish?

 

Every father here probably remembers times, many times, when they selfishly ignored their children because they had other things they wanted to do.

 

Even more, most fathers are selfish in a way that they do not realize.  Most fathers shirk the responsibility of teaching and modeling the most important thing to their children—the word of God.  Just like Adam kept quiet in Eden when his wife was deceived by the serpent.  We see this everywhere in the church.  We simply do not have men today who lead spiritually, either in their families or in the church.  Come to bible class and you will see that 95 percent of the class is women.  Where are the men in the church setting the example for the congregation in hearing and learning God’s Word?  Beyond their own need for it, they forget the need of the young for examples of godly men.  They do not think of the people in their lives who do not hear God’s Word from them because they are not growing in the knowledge of it.

 

But of course, it isn’t just men.  This lack of self-giving love, this focus on ourselves and our own well-being and happiness, our ignoring the needs of others, is the way of the sinful flesh.  It operates in every one of us.  God is love; self-giving love.  Love does not think of itself, it thinks of others.  But we think of ourselves in nearly everything.  Even godly Christians who fight against it still do so.  Even Abraham, the man of God did, when he, for instance, asked his wife to tell Pharaoh that she was his sister, and Pharaoh married her.  He did this not out of love for Sarah, but out of love for himself, fearing for his life.

 

Yet God counted Abraham righteous, because God pointed at the stars and said, “So shall your offspring be,” and Abraham believed him.

 

And so God counts righteousness to all of us who, in the midst of seeing our selfishness, and our worthiness of the rich man’s fate, believe that God justifies us for the sake of Jesus who loved us and gave Himself for us.

 

Jesus is the star to which God points us.  He shines with the glory of God, even in the agony of the cross, where he was covered with wounds like Lazarus, and the spit of his enemies, like Lazarus’ wounds were covered with the spit of dogs.  He shines like a star there, because we see a man who loved and fulfilled God’s law.  God points us to Him and says, He is your righteousness.  He points us to His agony and death on the cross, where He endured the torment of God’s wrath and says, “Your hellfire is quenched.  Your sins are removed.”

 

And whoever dares to believe this, even while the fire of sin and selfishness still burns inside of him, God counts righteous.  God justifies him.

 

If we want to be better fathers, better daughters and sons, better Christians, the solution is not found in exercising your will.  It is found in Jesus, who is perfect in love.  To hear God’s word and believe His promise that you are righteous for Jesus’ sake.  Then the love of God who is love lives in us and flows from us.

 

Even more importantly, even more important than growing in sanctification, is God’s certain assurance in this teaching that we are sons of Abraham and sons of God.  How can I be saved from the torment of the rich man?  Only through Jesus who fulfilled the law.  Only believing that He did this for me.

 

Delainey, you have many years ahead of you to live in faithfulness to the pledges you made at Baptism and which you will make again today.  And it is so easy for the selfish, loveless nature of the flesh to overcome us and lead us into sin, to take us captive.  How can you be faithful?

 

Only through this star to which God points you, this river of water quenching your thirst, Jesus Christ the righteous, through whom God declares you again and again to be righteous and justified.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Love as a State of Being. Trinity 1, 2016. 1 John 4:16-21

jesus and the adulteress brueghelFirst Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

1 John 4:16-21

May 29, 2016

“Love as a State of Being”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

There is a story that has stuck with me my whole life. It wasn’t one I read in college when I was supposed to be reading “great literature”. I think it must have been in grade school. It was called “The Gift of the Magi” by a writer named O. Henry.

 

It starts out with a young married woman who is holding a dollar and eighty-seven cents in her hand in small change. She is crying because this is all she has been able to save for months. Now it’s Christmas Eve and she wants to buy her husband a present, but she can’t get anything decent for one dollar and eighty-seven cents.

 

She and her husband are poor, and they have two things to their name that are valuable. One is her husband’s gold watch, an heirloom that has been passed down from his grandfather. The other is her long brown hair.

 

Suddenly she has an idea. She goes out and sells her hair. The lady who cuts it gives her twenty dollars. With that twenty dollars she goes out and buys a platinum watch chain for her husband’s heirloom watch.

 

She goes home, curls her now short hair, and starts making dinner. Her husband comes home and stands by the door staring at her, not able to say anything. When she finally gets him to talk again, he hands her a package. She opens it up to find a set of beautiful tortoise-shell combs that she had admired in a shop window.

 

She tells him that her hair will grow back and then is excited to give him her present. She pulls the watch-chain out of her pocket and says, “Now you’ll have to check the time every ten minutes, don’t you think?” And her husband sits down on the couch, laughs, and tells her that he sold his watch so that he could buy her the combs.

 

The story loses something when I tell it again. But you see its point. The husband and wife love each other so much that they each sell their most precious possession to buy a gift for each other. Of course the gifts are useless, because they are meant to go with the other person’s prized possession—the combs for the wife’s now shorn hair, the chain for the husband’s hocked watch. But the point is that they have something worth more than those possessions. They have their love—a love that is willing to give up everything to give the other person joy.

 

Many of us who are older probably have a hard time hearing this story without closing our hearts. The longer you live, the more you realize how rare this kind of love is and how, even when you have it, it passes away. People change. Love often dies. Promises are broken. And even when it doesn’t, we lose those who have loved us and whom we have loved. So many of us close up our hearts to love. We become very skeptical about love. While it is wise to be careful to whom you open your heart, it is also dangerous to shut it too tightly.

 

Why? Because love and life itself are connected. Self-giving love is not a fairy tale for Christians. For us, it’s everything. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

 

But have you heard the criticism that people frequently bring against Christians? It goes something like this: “Jesus taught that we should love one another. But Christians love so little. They are some of the most judgmental, unloving people in the world.”

 

Do the critics of Christianity have a point when they say that Christians are unloving? I think they do.

 

We often forget that the ten commandments can be summarized in a single word—love. What does God demand of the world in the ten commandments? He demands love. He commands that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. So it is not simply that God commands that you worship no false gods; He commands that you love Him above all things.

 

In a way it seems like a strange thing for God to do—to command that you love. Does anyone ever love because he is commanded to do so?

 

Yet that is what God says in the ten commandments. He commands us to love Him and our neighbor—not just a little bit, but Him with our whole hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. And to these commandments He adds a threat—whoever breaks these commandments He will punish in this life, in death and in eternal damnation.

 

The commandment to love can be the most terrifying thing on earth. Anyone who seriously tries to love God and his neighbor will quickly experience how unloving he is. How much self-love and selfishness is in his heart. And if he believes he has to eradicate that selfishness to be saved, he will easily become what all the critics of Christianity say Christians are like. He will become fearful. He will do a lot of deeds that appear loving and spiritual not out of love for his neighbor but to prove to himself and others that he has love in his heart and is saved. He may convince himself and become self-righteous. Or he may inwardly struggle with despair. But either way peace—and real love—will elude him.

 

In the Epistle for this Sunday St. John is describing a different reality than the commandment to love. He is talking about the love of God for us.

 

  1. Henry’s story described the love of a married couple in which both people freely gave up their treasures to give joy to the other one. When they did this, were they forced into it? Did they do it because they were scared the other one would leave if they didn’t? Were they sad and grieving over what they lost for the other person?

 

No, the only crying in the story was the wife’s when she thought she didn’t have anything to give to her husband. Both sacrificed their treasures freely and confidently. They didn’t do it to make the other person stay or manipulate each other, but simply to give the other person joy. That’s the way real love works.

 

St. John says this kind of love is not a fairy tale. It is the very reality of our lives as Christians. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” (1 John 4:16)

 

God loves us. That is the foundation of our lives as Christians. We know His love; we believe in it; we trust it.

 

How do we come to know and believe in that love? We come to know and believe that God loves us personally through the Gospel that is preached to us. When He proclaims that He so loved us—each one, individually—that His Son became flesh and lived among us. That His Son fulfilled the commandments to love in our place, so that His obedience to the law is counted to us. When He proclaims that His Son took our sins and their guilt as His own and was condemned for them on the cross by God.

 

We come to know and trust God’s love for us by hearing Him proclaim His love to us. Then we come to His table to eat and drink His body and blood as the pledge of His love and our redemption.

 

Believing that God has this kind of love for us, we are free. We have a different relationship to God. We no longer have to live in fear that if we don’t do what He wants He won’t love us anymore. We rely on His love for us, and it makes us bold and confident.

 

The love of God drives out our fear. Fear, John says, has to do with punishment. Are we afraid of God’s judgment, of His punishment? Then we are not yet perfect and complete in His love. We are still thinking, in some way, that His love depends on our performance, that He loves us in response to our love of Him and our neighbor. But the Gospel doesn’t say that. It tells us that His love came first. As one of the confirmands’ confirmation verse puts it: While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8) He died for the ungodly—for us, while we were still weak and powerless to do anything good. He shows His love for us by dying for us while we were still in our sins. As our faith in this fact of God’s love for us grows, our fear of God’s wrath decreases. And the way that our faith grows is not that we try harder to believe it. Rather we listen to His Word; we hear it preached, we read it, we meditate on its promises.

 

The result of knowing and believing in God’s love for us is that the Law of God begins to be fulfilled in us. That is to say—we love. “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

 

We don’t come to God with the capacity to love other people or Him. When the law throws us to our knees, we don’t love Him or other people. Even as Christians, the law exposes our criminal lack of love toward God and others.

 

Then, when we are on our knees, God proclaims the Gospel. Without any love in us that could please Him, He tells us, “I love you. In place of your lovelessness, I give you the passion of my Son, hanging on the cross out of perfect love for me and the whole world. I give you His righteousness as a robe to put on over your sins. I love you and I don’t count any of your sins as your own.”

 

When we receive this love and realize that this kind of self-giving love is no fairy tale, but that it is the kind of love that God has for us, it changes us. Now we have the door of our hearts open to God’s love. And if the door is open to God, it is open to other people as well.

 

“There is no fear in love.” The couple in O. Henry’s story was not afraid. They took risks with each other. They didn’t worry about losing their treasured possessions because they knew when those were gone they had something worth more that they relied on to sustain them. They were confident of each other’s love and it made them bold and fearless.

 

God’s love does this in us. When we receive it, we no longer live in fear that God will stop loving us. So we become free not only to love Him but to love the people around us. We can risk loving others and not having them love us in return.

 

We do this because love for other people is the way we show our love for God. You can’t buy God combs or a watch-chain. He doesn’t need those things. We have nothing to give to God that He didn’t give to us first.

 

But our brother does need what we have. He needs a kind word. He needs someone to listen to him. He needs our forgiveness and he needs to know that he is valued even though he does things wrong. Above all he needs to know that God loves him. He needs to hear that from us not just because it is our duty to tell him. He also needs to see that the love of God that we talk about is also mirrored in us—that we love the people whom God loves.

 

That’s why John tells us “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) If we close our hearts against our brother who needs our love, even when he doesn’t want it or doesn’t deserve it, we also are closing our hearts against God’s love for us.

When we consider how much love requires of us, we are liable to be overwhelmed. You see what a powerful thing love is in the story I told. Because of love the husband and wife gave up the best things they had. Love made them find their joy in the other’s happiness. And because of love they did not find this to be a burden. They sacrificed gladly. They considered it a joy.

 

When we look at what love requires of us from the outside, it seems like an impossible burden. It’s one thing to love your children like this, or your parents, or your spouse. But the person in the church who injures you? Or the person outside the church who is attacking everything we consider good and right? How can we love them like this, especially when we know that they will view this love as weakness and use it as an opportunity to harm us?

 

No, that won’t work. It is too much for us, because love is not native to our hearts. How can we love them?

 

John tells us. “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16) We don’t try to love these people on our own. We abide, we remain, in the love God has for us. God’s love for us comes to us in the Gospel and the sacraments. We receive His love by listening to the Gospel and not shutting our hearts against it.

 

We listen to Him tell us the story of Jesus who hung pierced and cursed on the cross, bearing the threats God makes against the loveless, making us whole. We remember and believe His promise in Baptism, where He claimed us and snatched us from the death of sin into life with Him. He trust His declaration of forgiveness in the absolution. We eat His body and drink His blood believing God’s pledge that by it our sins are forgiven.

 

Abiding in His Word and Sacraments by faith, we abide in God’s love. It is sincere. It doesn’t seek itself. It has no other goal than our joy and salvation. It transforms us so that we become like God, who is love.

 

O grant that nothing in my soul

May dwell, but Thy pure love alone;

Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,

My joy, my treasure, and my crown!

All coldness from my heart remove;

My every act, word, thought be love. LSB 683 stanza 2

 

The peace of God which passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Blessed Are The Unhappy–First Sunday after Trinity 2015

poor lazarus1st Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31

June 7, 2015

“Blessed are the Unhappy”

Iesu Iuva

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

The Great Chasm. Trinity 1, 2014.

rich man and lazarusFirst Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 16:19-31

June 22, 2014

“The Great Chasm”

 

Iesu Iuva!

 

Lord, let at last thine angels come

To Abram’s bosom bear me home

That I may die unfearing.

 

I was at the hospital, visiting a lady who had been a member of St. Peter at one time.  She was busy with the doctor, so I was packing up my books and getting ready to leave when the doctor turned to me and said, “What denomination are you?”  I told him, “Lutheran.”  He asked me, “Do you believe in my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?”  I said, “Yes.”  Then he asked me if I would like to lead them in prayer.  So we prayed: the doctor, me, the lady, and her family, holding hands in a circle.  Before I left, the doctor said something about being saved three years ago.  I said, “That would be an interesting story I would like to hear sometime.”

 

So he proceeded to tell me the story right then.

 

The story was that he had a co-worker who had been trying to convert him to Christ for twenty-five years.  But he was an atheist.  He said that three years ago they were discussing death in reference to a patient.  He said, “Well, we’re all going to the same place, after all.”  The “same place” he meant was the dirt and then—nothingness.  His colleague looked at him and said quietly, “No, we’re not going to the same place.”  “What do you mean?” he asked her.  She said, “Doctor, you’re going to hell.”

 

He said the statement was like an arrow through his heart.  He began to be terrified at the thought of spending an eternity in anguish without a loving God.  He began to read the bible.  Soon after he told his girlfriend he had to go to church, at which he made a public confession of faith in Christ and was baptized.

 

What is striking about this doctor’s story is the same thing that is striking about Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus.  Jesus paints a very clear picture of what happens after death.  We are not all going to the same place after we die.  There is a great chasm fixed between people after death.

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