First Sunday after Trinity
“The Riches of Christ”
St. Luke 16.19-31; Genesis 15.1-6; 1 John 4.16-21
23 June 2019
Seminarian Simeon Cornwell, Vicar
+ In the Name of Jesus +
There are two rich men in our readings for today. The first is Abram who Moses tells us in Genesis 13 was “very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” (Genesis 13:2)
The second rich man is the one spoken of in the parable from our Lord.
Despite the fact that both these men had great possessions in this life, there was one big difference between them. This difference is found in their view of the riches that they possessed.
Abram knows that these have been given to him as a gift from His Lord. He knows therefore, that his life does not consist in them. That if these were to all of the sudden disappear he had the most important treasure: that of faith in the Lord’s Word. That faith which we are told was counted to Abram as righteousness.
It is clear that Abram understands his life does not consist in these possessions when he asks: “O Lord, God, what will You give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
Abram is concerned with who he will pass the inheritance of his riches to when he dies. He is not set on using these possessions to “live it up”, as we frequently hear and see even with those who do not have great riches. He knows that he will one day die and his riches will not profit him anymore.
On the other hand, the rich man in Jesus’ parable views his riches much differently. We’re told this rich man was clothed in purple. He wore the best clothes. He wanted to look good all the time and for everyone to notice him.
Not only was this rich man clothed in the best, he also feasted sumptuously every day. He went to the best steakhouses and drank the finest wine. Not just once a year or month, but every single day.
Whereas Abram sought to share and pass on his riches, this rich man was so stingy he wouldn’t even spare a single crumb for that poor man Lazarus, who sat daily starving outside his gate. It was all about him and his happiness. His comfort and pleasure. No concern was given to the needs of others who had been given less than he had.
Despite their circumstances, both these men met the same fate. Both died. And those riches which offered so much comfort and pleasure in this life were now useless.
But this fact that both Abram and the other man were rich is important to understand if we are to know the underlying problem in our Lord’s parable. For Jesus is not saying that in order to be saved we must sell all our possessions and become like Lazarus, rummaging for crumbs that fall from other’s tables. Christians at various times in history have taught and practiced this.
It is not only the poor who are saved, which is made clear in Jesus’ parable, since Abraham is also in paradise. Abraham who Moses told us “was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.”
Both Abraham and Lazarus were in heaven, despite their varying circumstances, because both trusted in God’s Word. This is the underlying issue behind the rich man’s refusal to help Lazarus. It is the reason he held so tightly to these riches.
He trusted in them. They were, in fact, his god. Everything in his life was informed by them.
But it is not just the rich who can trust in their possessions. A poor man can just as easily if not more so, put his trust in riches. He may go through his life thinking that if only he had this or if only he won the lottery, then his life would be perfect. All his cares and concerns would go away.
Such a man is no better than the rich man in our Lord’s parable today. And if he does not repent, his fate will be the same.
Neither riches nor a lack thereof make a man righteous. For it was in believing the promise of the Lord that Abram was counted as righteous. Not in selling all his possessions, which we’re never told Abraham did in his lifetime. Abraham understood that these riches could not profit him in the next life.
The rich man also has this realization, but for him it is too late. He is now no longer concerned with earthly riches, for in his agony they can offer no comfort. Rather his concern now turns to the eternal well being of his brothers, who seemed to be an afterthought while he was still living.
All the rich man wants is for Lazarus to appear to his brothers and to warn them so that they don’t experience the same fate that he is now destined to.
Yet he only wants them warned. As if the fear of hell will prevent them from eternal punishment. That they could then simply sell all their possessions, be poor and beg like Lazarus, and be counted righteous.
But Abraham responds that they must hear Moses and the Prophets, or the Old Testament Scriptures. The same promises which he heard and trusted in. The same promises which made him realize that God alone could save him. Not his temporal belongings.
For it is in the words of Scripture where one is not only rebuked for sin and made to understand its consequences, both temporal and eternal, but also and more importantly where one hears of the solution to this problem: the death and Resurrection of the only begotten Son of God. The death which won for all men eternal riches, which neither moss nor rust can destroy.
It is the words of Scripture which tell us that to receive such riches, we must be born again of water and the word. And that all who have been born again in the waters of Baptism have not only been buried with Christ, but also raised with Him.
It is Moses and the Prophets, or Scripture, which tells us that this clean water which has been sprinkled upon us by the hand of a pastor has given us new hearts. Hearts that own eternal riches, so that we can now use all our possessions to the glory of God.
To the glory of God by providing for our families by feeding them and giving them a roof over their heads. To help our brothers and sisters in the faith whenever they have need. To give to the poor when they are in need of the necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter.
You have this new heart. This right understanding of all things. You know that your riches in this life, whether many or few, cannot save you and will one day pass away.
By virtue of your Baptism, you have been given the eyes of faith to see earthly things as they truly are: gifts given from the hand of your Lord. Not things to put your trust in or to form your life around. For you have the greatest treasure of all: the righteousness of Christ which can never fade away.
You have this comfort and assurance right here and now. You do not need to fear that your fate will be like that rich man when you are called before the Judgment Seat of God. For Christ has already stood before that Judgment Seat for you and declared you righteous.
So now when you die, you too, like Lazarus, will be carried to Abraham’s bosom and be made to rejoice forever in the riches of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.