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Faith and Love Go Together (Luke 16.19-31; 1 John 4.16-21)

First Sunday after Trinity

“Faith and Love Go Together”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus   

Luke 16.19-31; 1 John 4.16-21

19 June 2022


Soli Deo Gloria!

I, a poor sinner, plead guilty before God of all sins. 

I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. My Lord’s name I have not honored as I should; my worship and prayers have faltered. 

I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed. 

There are those whom I have hurt, and those whom I failed to help. 

My thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin.

In this confession the penitent casts aside all pretenses of holiness and ego. He confesses, literally, he agrees with God about his spiritual condition. To confess means “to say the same thing” as God says about our sin, that we have not kept any of the Commandments in thought, word, or deed. Because we have sinned against God we have also sinned against our neighbor because God has commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Yet, often times we are blind to our own sins so God elaborates in his Law about the particulars. To this Law we must give serious and detailed attention lest we lie to ourselves. About this the Apostle John warns in those familiar words of the entry rite of the Divine Services I and II:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, ESV) 

Without the truth there can be no forgiveness and no life. It is vital that we know and confess our sin. God knows what is in your heart.

We shouldn’t look at this rich man’s way of life. He’s not accused of coarse sins. He’s a respectable Pharisee. Don’t look at outward appearances because he has on sheep’s clothing, said Luther [AE 78.55]. Yet the rich man’s sin is easy to see. He has broken the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” His god was his belly [Phil. 3.19]. This man’s whole purpose in life was to indulge his appetites for extravagant living. The finest clothes topped off by the finest food and wines. He was addicted to self-indulgence. Appeasing his baser instincts was the whole aim of his life. He did this every day. I doubt that many people see his activities as being wrong. He could afford whatever he wanted and never denied himself anything. He was a fat cat.

All of this self-indulgence happened in a time when common people were fortunate to eat meat once a week. They worked six days a week. Some of that is reflected in the history of our nation where the laboring classes worked twelve or more hours a day six days a week and were paid a substandard wage. The robber barons paid them no attention. 

You and I have done that. We want to avoid those people who make us feel uncomfortable because we feel guilty about what we want to enjoy, and we need to silence our accusing consciences. High inflation and shortages have perhaps awakened us to the fact that we cannot take our prosperity for granted. We have left God out of the equation of a happy life with the result that we have little love for others.

One really can’t cut this rich man any slack because Lazarus was not in sight. He had to know that his wasted food would have helped some hungry person, but he simply didn’t care. Food in those days was eaten with the hands. No utensils, kind of like a toddler eating. We know how messy that is! The rich man would have cleaned his hands by wiping them on hunks of bread which were then thrown away. That was the bread Lazarus was waiting for, yet he was invisible to the rich man.

Earlier Jesus had accused the Pharisees of self-absorption by observing how they kept silly details of their law, tithing even their garden herbs but they neglected the weightier matters of justice and the love of God [Luke 11.42]. They scrambled over each other to get the best seats at the synagogue and loved to be greeted in public places. They imposed burdens on people that were hard to bear, yet they themselves would never lift a finger to help such a burdened person. At the end of this particular accusation Jesus warned them that God would hold them accountable for the evil they had done. He called on them to repent.

Do we think that we can fool God with our behavior, as if we were dealing with a young child who simply doesn’t know any better? You see, that’s the real razor in this account. This rich man is blind to the reality of the Law’s accusation to love God and love the neighbor. He simply doesn’t get it, or if he does, he shuts his conscience away in a sound proof room. God sees and knows what is in our hearts, and he calls us to repent of our self-absorption. Outward appearances are pointless because God sees through them all. You can’t fool God even if you and I can fool everybody else. Our Epistle sums up:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. [1 John 4.20]

Meanwhile, there is Lazarus. His name tells us everything we need to know because Lazarus means “the one whom God helps.” Lazarus has a name but this rich man is simply known by his status and actions. He whom God helps lives forever while the rich man is dead forever.

How different is the life of Lazarus. That he had open sores tells us that he suffered physically and could not ward off the street dogs which came and licked his sores. He was a beggar who depended upon others to survive. The rich man did not help him even though he lay at his gate. The rich man did not give Lazarus even the smallest coins which could have helped his hunger even though the Law called for almsgiving to the poor. No one helped him, but God did. That help came at his end, when he died. Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s bosom, which means that he entered heaven with all the saints. There he is ultimately comforted with eternal life.

But the end of the rich man is quite the opposite. He is separated from God forever because he had not repented of his breaking of the Law to love God above all and to love his neighbor like himself. Outwardly, the rich man seemed to have it all, but in reality he had nothing but sin and death. He is like the self-indulgent widow of which Paul writes to Timothy that she 

“is dead even while she lives.” [1 Timothy 5:6] 

I would be safe in saying that the rich man also received the best funeral his money could buy. He likely had paid mourners, people whose job it was to wail loudly to convince others that he was well-loved. No doubt the funeral procession was lengthy, the way they are for prominent people. There would have been endless eulogies about what a wonderful man he was, but they would all be lies known to everyone there. He surely had a magnificent mausoleum with his name carved in large letters. Perhaps it was the biggest one in the cemetery. Not one word was said about any faith in God for that would have been a lie. 

The rich man has two sins: 1] the failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, that is, faith—because he trusted his wealth, and 2] his failure to love poor Lazarus. The rich man was really quite poor. All his wealth perished with him. He had not listened to God’s Word.

By contrast, Jesus describes Lazarus’ end quite humbly. 

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.”

Abraham is the father of those who believe. Few mourners, if any, attended any funeral rites Lazarus might have had. Far more likely was that he was simply carried out to the potter’s field and his body buried without any ritual or fanfare. Nothing more is said about him. Having nothing on earth he had everything in God’s eternal presence.

Consider how Mary’s Magnificat seems to sum up this chasm between the rich man and Lazarus:

53he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

Poverty and suffering do not make one acceptable to God for that would also be outside of faith. God’s mercy was upon Lazarus but not so the rich man. Lazarus enters the eternal feast of salvation and is “filled with good things,” while the rich man has been sent “away empty” into the everlasting suffering of hell. The rich man pleads for relief but there can be none. What’s done is done and there is no “undo” button on the computer of this man’s life. He did not repent, and as a result, he has forfeited eternal life with God and all the saints. 

The man seems to get a heart in hell, pleading with Father Abraham to send someone to warn his five brothers to repent while they can, but the answer he receives is abrupt. “They have Moses and the Prophets.” They should listen to what God has said. But this man obviously has treated God’s Word with malignant neglect, so he wants a miracle to convince them. Send someone back from the dead to warn them and then they will repent and be spared eternal suffering. Jesus ends it by restating the truth of God’s Word:

“He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

This text is not a parable but an illustrative story. The dead don’t preach to the living, but living men do deliver God’s Word every Sunday in a place like this. That message is one of repentance first of all and then Absolution by Word and Sacrament. Yet, there are those who do not hear this Word, either because they are physically absent from the preaching or they are spiritually absent, hearing with their ears but not with their hearts. This preaching calls upon us to repent of our failures to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Lazarus could be said to be “in Christ” by faith because he waited for God to help him, even if it was eschatologically, that is, at his death. And God did truly help him. By grace he received eternal blessing through faith while the rich man reaped the reward of his unfaithful, selfish, self-indulgent life. 

The Word of God still calls us to repentance. Yet, there is One who has risen from the dead, the One who was crucified for our sin and who paid our penalty, the One who suffered the pains of hell for us, the One who still speaks to us in this Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. He has sent his Holy Spirit to open our blind eyes in Baptism so that we see this life properly and to bring us to repentance and faith. This is still the day of grace. May God the Holy Spirit make us true hearers of his Word so that we may join Lazarus and all the saints at the great banquet of salvation!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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