Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Octave of the Holy Trinity, Sunday 6/14/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 9am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity1 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Octave of the Holy Trinity, click here.
Just last week, on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, we marked how the depth of that mystery shows us that love requires humility. But I think I could have used a different word than humility.
Modesty would have been a better fit, because it is the virtue which keeps us from claiming how smart we are. But, in hindsight, that is quite a different from humility. Modesty was a positive trait for the Greeks, but humility had only negative connotations.
But God does not think this way. Though there are 1,000 years worth of sermons packed into this text, one of them is a lesson in humility – what it means, what it involves, and how God uses it.
The rich man’s gluttony and neglect of his neighbors are driven by his pride. This pride is revealed as he commands from Hell that the beggar Lazarus would serve him, and when he refuses Word of God by telling Abraham to send that same Lazarus as a messenger to his brothers.
Faith and humility are synonyms in the Bible. Lazarus’ suffering and poverty are not what moves God to mercy, nor do they earn God’s favor. Rather, the humility of Lazarus enables him to see his need for God’s mercy and makes him dependent upon it.
That is faith. The rich man can pretend that all is right in the world; he can delude himself and think that he is clever and knows how to get ahead. Lazarus cannot. So Lazarus clings to God’s words and promises. He trusts that God is good despite his circumstances or worthiness. He waits for God to reveal Himself according to His mercy. That is faith and it saves.
The name Lazarus is formed from the Greek word for mercy. Giving a boy the name Lazarus is like naming your daughter Patience or Faith or Joy. Mercy is a virtue. The parents of Lazarus wanted him not only to receive mercy, but also to be a witness to the mercy of the Lord that endures forever, and, of course, they wanted him to be merciful.
Why do we think virtue is so feminine that we can only give girls virtues as names? Even if some virtues are thought to be soft or passive, such as hope and charity and faith, could we not name our boys Justice or Courage or Fidelity? This belies something deeply broken in our culture, and the perversity that thinks a man must become effeminate to be good.
Not that long ago, Christians in America named their girls for virtues, and named both their girls and boys for heroes. They hoped the names would inspire their children to a positive type of conformity. Yes, I know that’s a scary word, so I’ll talk about it in a second.
The names were meant to assist their children in reaching the highest standards, and be a credit to their people. But now we tend to want names that are unique. Now a name is meant to set us apart as special. Conformity and imitation are largely seen as weaknesses. No one wants to be a mere sheep.
There is some truth to this. Of course, conformity and imitation can flow from weakness. Conforming to the institutional racism of public transportation in 1950’s America was weakness — both on the part of the people who did not have the power to resist, the definition of outward weakness, which is largely circumstantial, and of the powerful who ignored it for their own comfort, the epitome of moral or internal weakness, which is shameful.
We don’t advocate conformity and imitation of the world’s gluttony, injustice, and pride. Conforming to the Levite or priest that walks by the man half-dead in the ditch is condemned by Christ. But within the Church conformity and imitation take on a different character.
Christ, Himself, is an example for us. So are the apostles and the beggar Lazarus and the martyrs. To confess the faith according to the Creeds is to not insist on your own private interpretation of Scripture, flaunting your creativity and ingenuity.
It may be that we’ve labeled Luther as a rebel, not out of a zeal for historical integrity, but so we might be free to dishonor our fathers and do what is convenient while pretending it is courage and the spirit of the Reformation that drive us – much in the way we’ve engaged in all sorts of vice and called it freedom in the Gospel.
Often as not we are simply aping our culture – which has no real respect for the dead; mostly because they are think they are dead. But we know that those that have preceded us in faith are not dead and that they are, in fact, one with us and have some awareness of us. St. Paul calls them the “great cloud of witnesses” and the liturgy “the whole company of heaven.” And so we do not disrespect them or ignore them.
In any case, imitation and conformity are more than flattery or laziness. They are how we learn. Avant garde artists who do not respect their tradition or learn from their fathers are just children scribbling on the page. What’s weird is that like a naked emperor or tyrannical politicians, they often get away with it – which shows not them to be fools but us.
We couldn’t speak if we didn’t first listen and then imitate the sounds our mothers made. We couldn’t communicate if we didn’t conform our words to the language of the hearer – which again requires listening. But ours is an age of hubris and self-righteousness, of self-indulgence obsessed with comfort and pleasure, far greater than anything the rich man would have enjoyed.
But the great distinction between the rich man and Lazarus wasn’t in their bank accounts or their different levels of luxury and depravity, but in how they viewed the Word of God.
The rich man shows his heart when he asks for someone to return from the dead to warn his brothers, and Abraham tells him that they already have what they need in Moses and the Prophets. The rich man says flat out that won’t work. Even in Hell, he thinks he is more practical and wise than God. He refuses to submit or humble himself even though it should be obvious that Abraham knows more than he does about this based on the fact that Abraham is in heaven and the rich man is in Hell.
We often fall prey to the same hubris. We know that the miracles of Jesus didn’t convert the Pharisees. We know that Abraham is right in what he says about the Word of God. But in our fallen flesh we are with the rich man. We long for miracles more than we long for the Word.
We can’t seem to help but think that if God would give us power like He gave the apostles, if he would give us evidence that could convince scientists of the Biblical record of creation and the Flood, and so forth, that it would be a lot easier to evangelize the world. If only someone would rise from the dead, we could convert the world and we could be successful and our churches would grow, and isn’t that what God wants?
But it isn’t. Your desires are not the same as God’s and so they must be ditched. We conform to God’s Word and let it rule even if it seems utter foolishness to the world and our fallen flesh.
God’s will was done by the death and resurrection of Christ wherein He reconciled the whole world to Himself and declared it righteous for His sake. He is wiser about us than we are about ourselves. His Word is not only sufficient, it is the only thing sufficient. It is the only thing that converts and changes the hearts of men.
We handle it too lightly. We take it for granted and are prone to disbelieving its power, paying it lip service but then seeking to manipulate it or to manipulate one another with gimmicks and techniques and every trick we can learn from entrepreneurs and kings and capitalists.
But the name Lazarus means mercy. The Lord receives sinners. Lazarus was a failure on earth. He was not attractive or winsome or clever. He wasn’t good at evangelism or apologetics or at planting churches. He was weak and hungry and dying.
Luther said it best in that place where men often say things best; namely the deathbed. “We are all beggars.” The Word of God works and does what it says. It does not return void. We are not its master. God is love. Whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.
He humbles us with His Law and makes us fools that He might make a kingdom out of fools through His Gospel. God is love and has sent His Son for us. Here is the hope of beggars.