Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Octave of the Holy Trinity 6/6/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, 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 moments before our Gospel text begins in verse 19, Luke comments that the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard Jesus’ teaching and ridiculed Him.
Obviously, what has them out of sorts is that they love money, and they think it is the chief sign of God’s favor. But Jesus condemns this attitude. He bluntly tells them that they’re trying to justify themselves before men.
Of course, that involves the typical self-righteousness of the Pharisees; but it also means that they have everything backward. Jesus told them that what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. What are they exalting? They are exalting, raising up in praise, their riches, popularity ratings, and piety. They are exalting these things above the Word of God. That’s the setup for this story about the rich man and Lazarus.
It starts as a typical parable. The rich man isn’t upper middle class. He’s obscenely rich. And Lazarus isn’t working a terrible job and going home to a deteriorating house. He’s in abject squalor and sickness and is utterly humiliated.
And since Lazarus and the rich man are such polar opposites, we have this huge sense of reversal and vindication, typical of Luke’s Gospel. Lazarus goes to heaven. The rich man goes to hell. And since we know that Jesus is telling this story against the Pharisees, there’s a chance that we miss the point.
You might get the idea that this is just karma. Everybody has a fixed amount of good things, and you can have them now or you can have them later.
But this is nowhere near the message. Abraham was rich beyond belief. Rich people go to heaven every day. Likewise, poor people go to hell every day. And vice versa. So, everyone ought to be paying attention to this fact: things are not as they appear, because so much of what matters is not visible.
What’s not visible in this story? Faith. At least, it isn’t visible to men while Lazarus and the rich man are on earth.
The rich man may have appeared to be pious. Nowhere in the story is he a womanizer or a deviant, a thief or a scoundrel. He’s an upstanding citizen like the Pharisees. A man who calls Abraham, “Father;” who knows the Bible and goes to church.
And Lazarus we know nothing about except his lowliness. Everything just sort of happens to him. He’s laid at the rich man’s gate by someone else. The dogs lick his sores. And whether that is mercy or insult, he can’t seem to do anything about it. Finally, the angels carry him to Abraham’s bosom. And in the story, he just sort of sits there and waits on God as he always did.
But as the story unravels, it is clear that the rich man didn’t believe. Even though it couldn’t be more obvious; even though he’s in hell and Lazarus is in heaven; even though Abraham, a prophet, is preaching to him from heaven; even though he is in torment, the rich man thinks that he’s got everything right.
He tells Abraham to send Lazarus as an errand boy to his brothers, and this is an accusation! He’s saying, “Nobody told me!” The rich man is claiming that he didn’t know about the danger of trusting in riches. He didn’t know about God’s will for him to live in mercy. He didn’t know that money wasn’t the sign of God’s approval. He didn’t know that Abraham and everyone was saved by faith.
But he was told. He had Moses and the Prophets. That means he had the Bible. He had the Word of God, which alone creates and sustains faith. And he rejected it.
What he wanted was miracles. If someone rises from the dead, that’s what will do the job. That will make people believe. That will make his brothers believe. That’s what will make Boston believe. That’s what will convert your unbelieving friends and family. That’s what will make people write a check for a new roof and a new campus minister.
Abraham said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
And, of course, he’s right. In his ministry, Jesus raised a different Lazarus from the dead. Everyone saw it and knew it, and it was beyond dispute that Jesus had done this. And they tried to kill him. No sooner was Lazarus out of the grave than the Pharisees tried to kill him and Jesus. Likewise, Jesus’ resurrection was quite public, and many didn’t believe.
So, ultimately, this isn’t all about money – though it is at least partly about money. Moreover, this is about the Word of God. People won’t believe because the miracle of your intellect can convince them. People won’t believe because we find indisputable proof for the six-day creation. People won’t believe if God raises your loved ones from the dead tomorrow. And that seems like utter nonsense to us.
There is nothing weaker in the eyes of the world than the proclamation of the Gospel; nothing more feeble than the Sacrament, or Holy Baptism. In the font you are all made to be like Lazarus. You poor and made rich; you sick and made whole; you dead and made alive; and while you toil, you pray: Lord, let at last thine angels come.