First Sunday after Trinity
June 22, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a kid, I believed that everyone had one sister (like I did), two parents (like I did), two grandmas and one grandpa (like I did; I never knew my mother’s father). I first learned that it was possible to have more than one brother or sister, and they could be all boys and all girls. I remember discovering that some people had two grandpas, and I remember that even one of my friends had their grandma living in their own house—imagine that! My own personal experience colored what I believed to be true about everyone else.
The same is true for religion. If you grew up Lutheran, didn’t you think at one time that everyone in the world went to a Lutheran Church? Then you found out that not everyone in the world was even Christ—in fact most people in the world aren’t Christian. And not all Christians are Lutheran—in fact, most Christians in the world aren’t Lutheran. And then you find out that not even all Lutherans believe the same thing! ELCA, NALC, LCMC, WELS, ELS, ELDoNA, and us, the LCMS. And that’s only a few compared to a century and a half ago, when there was something like 150 separate Lutheran church bodies in America alone.
The more you experience outside yourself, the more you realize that there are a lot of religions and variations on religion out there. In American culture, religion is served up cafeteria style. My grandma used to take me to Grone’s cafeteria when I was young, and you could pick and choose your main, your sides, your dessert, your beverage. Hundreds if not thousands of variations to suit your taste at any given time. And so it is with religion—if you don’t like one of the traditional options, you can pick and choose elements of several and combine them into your own unique blend of spirituality. Hundreds if not thousands of variations to suit your taste at any given time.
With all of the religious options competing for a slice of your soul, there is a temptation to experiment with other spiritualities, to dabble in competing confessions. Teenagers, you guys especially will be faced with this reality in high school, in college. You’ll discover that not everyone is like you. You’ll discover that not every Christian is like you. You’ll discover that not every Lutheran is like you. The options presented to you may seem endless.
But when you are presented with presented with the cafeteria of religions and spiritualities, know that there are truly only two religions that exist—two religions that are fundamentally opposed to each other. Even atheists or “none of the above” have chosen one of these two religions. There is the religion of the Law and the religion of the Gospel. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man shows these two fundamentally opposed religions and their fruits.
How does the rich man show his belief in the religion of the Law? Jesus introduces him straight off as a man who was rich, and he customarily clothed himself in purple and fine linen, rejoicing splendidly in himself every day (v 19). It wasn’t just that he was rich, but it’s what he thought about his riches.
First of all, the text reveals that this man regularly clothed himself this way—in purple and fine linen—for his own benefit. He wanted to put on a fine outward show so that the passersby would note his outfit and compliment his impeccable taste in upscale clothing.
Secondly, this rich man “rejoiced splendidly in himself every day.” Most English translations give you something like: “He feasted sumptuously,” or, “He fared sumptuously,” or, “He lived in luxury.” The word means that this rich man rejoiced at his abundant and excessive lifestyle. But it’s not the kind of rejoicing someone does in reply to God’s gifts. It’s a more secular kind of rejoicing—self important and pompous.
These qualities of the rich man show us something about his faith, what kind of religion he believed in. His was the religion of the Law, and that’s evident by the next scene after the rich man dies and finds himself in Hades. His debate with Abraham shows that his religion is still only about works, even as he’s in torment. He asks for mercy from Abraham, and relief from Lazarus. And Abraham said, “Child, remember that you took your good in your life, and Lazarus likewise the bad; but now here he is comforted, and you are in anguish” (v 25).
Abraham is not talking about karma, or divine retribution. He’s talking about faith. The rich man took his good things in life as evidence of his own righteousness. I wore nice clothes, thought the rich man—God must be pleased with me. I had sumptuous fair—God must be pleased with me. I had power and honor and respect—God must be pleased with me.
The parable of the rich man is preceded by Jesus’ speaking with the Pharisees. The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Lk 16:14-15). The love of money, the love of worldly things, is a symptom of the spiritual disease of self-justification. The rich man in the parable presents to us what the religion of the Law believes: my righteousness depends on my wealth, my status, my heritage, my works. The religion of the Law is the belief that your works create your righteousness. It doesn’t matter what god you choose, or even if you choose no god at all. The religion of the Law is the natural, default position for all people.
The religion of the Law is even found within Christendom. This religion takes the Words of Christ in Holy Scripture and twists them into a divinely-inspired self-help book. This religion reduces the life-giving words of Christ to instructions for dressing yourself with the spiritual equivalent of fine, purple line, for rejoicing splendidly in your own spiritual achievements.
The rich man wasn’t particularly cruel. He didn’t steal all of Lazarus’ money to make him poor; He didn’t kick the poor man as he walked by. He was probably very well thought of. But his complete disregard for his neighbor showed where his faith lie.
Lazarus demonstrates the religion that is fundamentally opposed to the religion of the Law. Not only is it fundamentally opposed, but, as Abraham tells the rich man, “And in all these things, between us and you a great chasm has been established, so that those who desire to pass from here to you are not able, neither may he cross over from there to us” (v 26). Not only are the two religions diametrically opposed, but there is an impassable gulf between the two.
Larazus’ religion isn’t much to behold. Jesus describes him thusly: “And a poor man whose name was Lazarus had been placed toward his gate, being covered in sores, and longing to be filled from what fell from the table of the rich man, moreover, even the dogs came licking his wounds” (vv 20-21). Poor Lazarus. Dirty Lazarus. Sore Lazarus. Hungry Lazarus.
Lazarus demonstrates a religion that the world doesn’t know. His is a passive religion—he is carried, he is place, he desires to be fed. Even dogs serve his needs. Lazarus has nothing to claim—no fine clothes on his back, no food on his table, not food, not status, not heritage. Lazarus is a man who needs help, and he finds none from the rich man. The rich man doesn’t care for this kind of religion.
Lazarus. That name comes from the Hebrew name, “Eliezar.” The rich man doesn’t get a name; he’s anonymous. But Jesus gives the poor man a name. Lazarus. Eliezar. It means, “God is my help.” Some people say that God helps those who help themselves. Lazarus would say differently. Even in death, he is carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.
The religion of the Gospel—the religion of Lazarus—is to receive help from God, and thus to be righteous. It is a religion that’s not really a religion at all. It’s a righteousness that comes by faith, apart from wealth, status, heritage, and works. It’s a righteousness that comes from Christ.
Jesus is an even greater Lazarus. He who is heir to the riches of heaven made Himself poor for our sake. He was driven outside the gates of Jerusalem by rich men, covered in stripes and wounds. Dogs encompassed Him on the cross. Even though He is the almighty God of all creation, He did not help Himself but waited on God’s help. Into You hands I commit My spirit.
What’s more, Jesus’ helplessness becomes the one and only work and sacrifice that is acceptable to God. He alone perfectly keeps the religion of the Law. And after He dies, He descends into Hades—not in torment, but to preach victory to the prisoners.
And He is now risen and ascended to His Father’s right hand. He has become the one bridge that spans the chasm between the religion of the Law and the religion of the Gospel. Through Christ, you have access to God’s help.
Trust His atoning sacrifice, the blood He shed for your forgiveness. You have Moses and the Prophets. And you also have the Apostles and Evangelists. They preach to you the One who is risen from the dead. Their words are Christ’s own words. They are sure and certain and worthy of faith.
The True Religion of the Gospel Is to Receive the Righteousness of Christ by Faith in the Word of God
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard