+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 16:29
Theme: On Good Authority
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is gripping and challenging. In His preaching Christ had a profound way of tackling the human condition. He allowed no escape from considering the full consequences of our beliefs and behaviors. The story involves a decadent and faithless glutton and a miserable, but trusting beggar. Both die. Lazarus goes to heaven while the glutton finds himself in hell. A conversation ensues through which Jesus teaches about the kingdom.
The conclusion here is inescapable. Jesus warns of the punishment of hell for those who persistently and willfully show disregard for the well-being of others. Such hard-heartedness is a sign of unbelief. For the Pharisees who were known as ‘lovers of money’ Jesus’ warning especially relates to their hypocritical and uncharitable practices and their idolatry of financial gain. Conversely, the beggar, Lazarus, receives eternal riches. The last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Reflection on mortality is not easily procrastinated indefinitely. Every person will die. Then what will happen? The anxiety that might be caused by the deliberation of such weighty issues is a chief reason for avoiding or skimming lightly over the subject. But assurance of what happens to us beyond this life is what every human longs for at the deepest level. Amid ceaseless participation in life’s mundane activities such sacred concerns are always poised to suspend our existence. Christ has the answers.
Other unmistakable conclusions about biblical teaching are clear. Firstly, there is no interchange between heaven and hell. Eternity is sealed when one arrives at either location. There are no second chances, no opportunities or possibilities of leaving hell. In the same way, residents in heaven will not have to worry about losing their place.
Secondly, the evidence for salvation is already sufficient. No extraordinary measures are necessary. When the rich man pleads with Abraham about warning his brothers Abraham directs him to Moses and the Prophets; that is, the Holy Scriptures- the word of God. God has already said all that needs to be said about the matter. The rich man thought that if Lazarus was allowed to come back to warn his brothers they would repent. But Abraham’s answer implies that the witnesses they already have- all the words and promises of the Bible- are just as reliable, in fact, more so, than a personal experience. His answer suggests the man’s brothers might have been initially astounded, but still remained hard-hearted and unrepentant.
The rich man then presses his point about the influence of someone coming from the dead. “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’”1 Abraham responds with a re-enforcing reflection. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead?”2 Here the listener is intentionally invited to contemplate Jesus’ own ministry. The reference is to His resurrection. Even after He is risen from the dead many would not believe. How many throughout history witnessed God’s miracles publicly or privately; from Noah’s flood, through the Israelites crossing of the Red Sea, right up through Jesus’ feeding the five thousand, rising from the dead and Pentecost- and still did not believe.
The Holy Spirit’s power in the word of God is the Almighty’s chosen and regular way of bringing sinners to repentance and faith. Though the Holy Spirit could use other more ‘spectacular’ or private measures as He sees fit, nowhere are we promised that these are superior, more effective, or even to be expected. The Lutheran Confessions teach “We should not and cannot always judge from feeling about the presence, work, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as to how and when they are experienced in the heart…we should be certain about and agree with the promise that God’s Word preached and heard is truly an office and work of the Holy Spirit. He is certainly effective and works in our hearts by them.”3
Dear friends, Christianity involves a journey. You cannot reach salvation apart from it. You cannot take shortcuts. From the moment of baptism we exist in overlapping dimensions. The old age is marked by darkness, decay, and death. The new is marked by light, renewal, and life. This old aeon is apprehended by all our senses. The new is grasped only by faith. But the one is as real as the other. Yet only the new will endure. The Spirit says it this way in Corinthians, “For the world in its present form is passing away.”4 And this way in Hebrews, “For here we do not have and enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”5 And Christ says it like this, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”6
But we must travel through the old even though we have already been initiated into the new. We cannot opt out of bearing the cross for now and opt back in later at a time of our choosing. We are always in the fray. We are in constant need of renewal, restoration, and guidance. That is why we are here. Are you so righteous that you can go on indefinitely without forgiveness? Is your soul so Spartan you can carry on at length without sacred food? Is your learning so profound you have no need of God’s wisdom? Left to ourselves we quickly stray from the path. But the destination is never in doubt. Jesus Christ is “the way and the truth and the life,”7 and He has prepared an eternal inheritance for believers in heaven.
The rich man did not value the greater heavenly treasures. He did not believe and therefore showed no generosity. He could not see beyond his earthy riches. From 1945-1985 a woman by the name of Eunice Pike worked with the Mazatec natives in south-western Mexico. During this time she discovered some interesting things about these beautiful people. For instance, the people seldom wish someone well. Not only that, they are hesitant to teach one another or to share the gospel with each other. If asked, "Who taught you to bake bread?" the village baker answers, "I just know," meaning he has acquired the knowledge without anyone's help. Eunice says this odd behavior stems from their concept of "limited good." They believe there is only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around. To teach another means you might drain yourself of knowledge. To love a second child means you have to love the first child less. To wish someone well--"Have a good day"--means you have just given away some of your own happiness, which cannot be reacquired.
Imagine living with the horrible conviction that there is ‘limited good’! How privileged we are to be benefactors of the Living God who gives without measure. Jesus Christ gave His own invaluable life that we might have limitless sacred and eternal treasures. He suffered, died, rose, and ascended to give us access to the unlimited ‘good’ of the triune God. Cherish the freedom you have to be generous with your finite earthly resources knowing that heavenly riches are yours beyond measure. There is no attempt at generosity that could ever be matched by the shedding of Christ’s blood.
A man by the name of Henderson once said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Let us be bold to plant trees for the well-being of others. For we not only look forward to the eternal luxury of the new Eden, but we are forever sustained by Him who is the very tree of life- Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
26 September 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 16:30
2 Luke 16:31
3 SD II, 56
4 1 Corinthians 7:31
5 Hebrews 13:14
6 Luke 21:33
7 John 14:6