Preached June 26, 2011
1 St. John 4:7–21
St. Luke 16:19–31
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Last week, on Trinity Sunday, we considered the mystery of the Triune nature of our God, being comprised of three Persons while still being one God. This is a mystery beyond our full understanding, and yet a very important part of our limited understanding of God. This week, we move on to consider the Divine Character, the way in which God has made Himself manifest to mankind throughout the ages. What we find, just as Moses found following the initial vision of the Divine Glory, is that this great mystery we cannot understand, in fact understands us and calls us into holy fellowship with Him. The Love of God is the source of love to God, and the motive of a life of service.
Our two lessons for the day are each focused on the love of God, the Epistle lesson taking a positive approach of attempting to describe what the love of God is, while the Gospel lesson presents one of our Lord’s parables in which He tells of lack of love of God as evidenced by lack of love for neighbor. St. John lays out a rather full statement about God’s love, but the kernel of it is this: 1 John 4:19 We love, because he first loved us. But there is much more, as you heard a few minutes ago when the Epistle lesson was read. I call your attention again to the closing words of the Epistle lesson: 1 John 4:20-21 20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. 21 And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also. It is most emphatically clear from these two verses that love of God and love of neighbor are intimately bound up together and may not be separated. We cannot love God without loving our neighbor, nor can we truly love our neighbor without loving God.
Our Gospel lesson for today deals with the rather well known story of the rich man, often called Dives, and the poor beggar at his gate, Lazarus by name. Our Savior Jesus Christ tells this parable while sparring with a group of Pharisees. This presents a real puzzle since it does not quite seem to fit. There is no question but that the Pharisees were often greedy, but they were not given to lavish living at all. In fact, they were quite the opposite, tending to be ascetics. Thus the character of Dives in the parable clearly is not a Pharisee which makes us puzzle as to why Jesus chooses this parable as His means to rebuke the Pharisees.
Both covetousness, the sin of the Pharisees, and squandering, the sin of Dives, come from placing confidence in the creature rather than the Creator, trusting in man rather than in God and His Word. Thus both are serving mammon, even though they appear in different forms, and in this case, when Jesus wants to rebuke the sin, He has simply chosen an example from the other side of the coin but arising from the same evil condition of the heart. Thus a Pharisee in the crowd, hearing this parable, if he were perceptive, would realize that it applied to him, but the key phrase here is if he were perceptive.
The primary intention of this parable is to teach the consequences of unbelief, of a heart set on the things of this world, and a failure to give credence to those parts of life that are known only by faith. Only secondarily is it intended to address the abuse of wealth and the hard–hearted contempt of the poor. To our modern eyes, this may not be evident, but that is definitely Jesus’ intention here. The callous way in which Dives ignores Lazarus and spends lavishly on himself are simply the external symptoms of his unbelief; it could have taken many other forms as well. Since he does not believe in the unseen spiritual world, he puts his trust in those things that are seen and acts accordingly, to his own damnation.
Ultimately, it makes no difference if one hoards like the Pharisees or squanders like Dives, it shows a failure to believe in the unseen things of God, His Kingdom of Righteousness, of Love, Joy, Peace, Mercy, and eternal Blessedness, and rather manifest a confidence in material things that can be seen and held in this world. This will invariably cause the person to disregard the needs of his neighbor, either in order to add to his own store of wealth or to simply have more to spend on himself; in either case, he looks just like Dives.
We are not told very much about the poor beggar beyond his impoverished state. One may wonder about his spiritual condition, and for that we can only say as names are realities in Christ’s kingdom of truth, he who received the name Lazarus, or “God is my help,” from Jesus Christ must have had faith in God; and it was this faith, and not his poverty, which brought him into Abraham’s bosom. Luke 16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. The question arises as to where is the beggar Lazarus when the ensuing dialog is carried on. We should understand it in terms of Jewish theology as represented by the Book of Wisdom 3:1–3 1 But the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them. 2 In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die, their going looked like a disaster, 3 their leaving us, like annihilation; but they are at peace. Thus Jesus is describing Abraham and Lazarus in Paradise, the Intermediate State following death, the place of the Church Expectant.
The Scripture makes it clear that Dives is already in Hades, awaiting his eventual transfer to eternal punishment in hell, at the time of the dialog. No doubt he had an elaborate funeral appropriate to a man of his wealth and status. We may assume that he was laid to rest in an beautiful mausoleum, with much loud mourning and all the expected rites. But all of that did exactly nothing for him when he reached Hades and received his initial reward there. It is at this point that he is finally awakened to the spiritual world, to all of the things that he had denied in life. It must have been a terrible shock!
When Dives finally recognizes where he is, what his situation is, he sees Abraham at a great distance and remembers his own status as a man of importance among the Jews, so he calls out, Luke 16:24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. Its sort of like, “Hey, Abraham, you remember me, Dives, I used to live at …. and I prayed in the Temple frequently. We are both men of importance among the Jews.. Please send your boy, Lazarus, there, to help me out here.” But Abraham tells him that cannot be done and that he is stuck in his situation.
In telling Dives that he is now cut off from all good, Abraham has just announced to him a new terror of immense magnitude. Up to that point, Dives had held out hope that he might still recover some contact with good things, at the very least by having Lazarus come to cool the tip of his tongue with water. Now he is told that he is forever cut off from all good things by a great chasm that prevents all good thing from passing toward him. This has to be a devastating loss to come to this realization.
Then we come to Dives’ request to warn his brothers, Luke 16:27-31 27 And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house; 28 for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.
At first glance it seems as though Dives is finally thinking of someone other than himself; he is showing concern for his five brothers. We might think that he is benefitting from the punishment that he is receiving and that his heart is being softened. But then we hear the response from Abraham, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. Abraham essentially tells Dives that his brothers should respond to Moses and the prophets, just as Dives himself should have also responded to Moses and the prophets. The writings of Moses and the prophets gave God’s laws for living in community, and they also foretold the coming of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees had turned their religion away from Moses and the prophets to the scrupulous observance of the 613 points of the Pharisaic Law, away from the spirit of the Law and toward the letter of the Law.
Why did Abraham respond that way to Dives “good” request? Wasn’t Dives showing concern for others? The answer is “No, Dives was still, at heart, looking out for himself.” This is actually aimed at eventually justifying himself. Imagine that Dives is able to secure an extra warning for his brothers. Then he can accuse God, saying, “If only I have been adequately warned, as they were, but I was treated unfairly.” All mankind has been given the same warning, the same opportunity to respond to God, throughout the ages. God plays no favorites.
In the final words spoken by Abraham, we hear a prophecy regarding the response of the Jewish nation to Jesus Christ. We know that Jesus did in fact fulfill the Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah, and yet the greater portion of Jewish society turned away from Him. They failed to see how Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies given by Moses and the prophets. This failure was clearly due to a hardness of heart rather than a lack of knowledge when it comes to the Pharisees who knew the Old Testament Scriptures intimately, and yet, for all that knowledge, they failed to make the connection. They did not have the love of God in their hearts, but rather had a strong sense of legalism instead. These two can never coexist.
In loving our neighbor, we must always want that which is best for their eternal souls, not necessarily their temporal convenience or what they say they want. Thus this does not mean that we always accede to the demands of our neighbor when what they want is not to their eternal benefit. Thus we have a responsibility to oppose all things that harm our community, even when others say, “everyone wants it, and there is no harm” such as is often said of gambling, dog racing, prostitution, Planned Parenthood, legalized marijuana, school sports on Sundays, removal of Sunday “blue laws” and similar social ills that are often promoted to be made acceptable.
Each of us is loved by God. It is up to us as to how we respond to that love, how we love God in return. Our most active response is in how we love our neighbors.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.