Dear Baptized, you are rich, in more ways than you imagine. You have money to spend on luxuries you don't need. You can afford servants to clean your house and servants to raise your children while you pursue more wealth. You hire servants to tend your yards and change your oil and teach and coach your kids. You have servants you don't even know by name, who bring you food. No, the ones that come on Friday night are not named Domino and Caesar! And there are many others whom you have on hand, as I do, to entertain you - to bring you music, movies, art and literature. Yes, we are a wealthy people.
What then are we to hear today from our Lord, who speaks the way He does about a rich man? Believe me when I say the Lord speaks about several rich men in this text. He speaks of the man who is rich in this life but poor in faith, poor in compassion, poor in any sensibility toward his own sins - greed, selfishness, indifference not only to his fellow man but, more importantly, to Moses and the prophets.
And our Lord speaks also of the man named Lazarus, who possesses nothing but sorrow in this life, sores and a few dumb animals to lick his wounds. But he also has a name. The rich man doesn't, at least no name that GOD will ever mention. But Lazarus? His name means, "the one whom God helps!" That makes him rich, rich in the ways of heaven; rich in the Lord's forgiveness and salvation; rich because his only hope is that the Lord has mercy in Christ Jesus.
While Lazarus had nothing in this life, nothing to impress either God or men, he receives what all men need. With nothing to boast in, He has only God's help to sustain him, and this one is gathered into the riches of heaven. While the rich man dies and goes to hell, Lazarus, whose help is in the Name of the Lord, is gathered into Abraham's bosom; gathered into closest communion with the saints, even rich men, like Abraham. Abraham, as you remember, had wealth in this life, which he possessed in faith, though his greatest wealth was in the promises of God for Jesus' sake. Our Lord today is not preaching that being rich is the fast track to hell. Nor is He preaching that poverty - that is, lacking earthly wealth or health or kindness - is the fast track to heaven. Rather, as Luther put it on his death bed, "We are beggars. That is true."
Abraham was wealthy in this life. Read a bit of Moses this week. Search in Genesis how God poured earthly blessings out on Abraham. That patriarch was rich. But he possessed his wealth in faith, which means, in view of God's Promise. In view of God's Promise of a Son, a Savior, Abraham did not consider even his son Isaac of such value that he would not trust even more in what God said. As Scripture tells us, Abraham trusted that God could even raise up Isaac from the dead if He wanted. And so, when told to lay his son upon the fire heap, that rich man did - in faith - confessing that His help was in the Name of the Lord. He put it this way, "The Lord will provide a lamb for sacrifice."
God did. A ram caught in the thicket. So Isaac went free. A picture of all poor beggars who have no hope but that God shows mercy, sending us His Son, to die in our place. In such faith, Abraham, a rich man, taught his son to trust in God's faithfulness and mercy for Christ's sake, while even on the fire heap. And in such faith, Abraham, a rich man, had mercy on the likes of Sodom and Gomorrah. After the Lord had visited him beneath the oaks of Mamre, Abraham petitioned God to spare those wicked cities, who could only use their wealth for evil.
Abraham is enough to show that wealth is not the evil, not the reason that the nameless man this morning goes to hell. The nameless man's help was not in the Name of the Lord, not in God's Promise. It was, rather, in his wealth. He had no thought for any but himself and ignored the poor man at his gate. The dogs show mercy. This man does not. Yet, he begs for mercy from the one he could not spare a few poor crumbs to ease his pain. From Lazarus, whom he left to rot, he wants a single drop of water to ease his agony in hell. And Abraham, who boldly pleaded for those two godless cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, says, not even that small mercy can be allowed the rich man now.
What will we learn from this today, dear Baptized? I hope we learn how close to the flames we really are! So easily do men find comfort in this life, in wealth, in health, in their possessions - in their being different or having different circumstances than another. We rush past the poor all day. They may not be sitting by our driveways, licked by dogs. I dare say, most of us would likely not ignore a person in that kind of plight. Such things are just too rare for us, while long ago - before ER's admitted anyone who walked in off the street, before Social Security, Red Cross, and whatever other helping agencies there are today - before the network that we have in our country, it was not uncommon for the genuinely needy to be lying at a rich man's gate, hoping, praying.
Today, we are never sure when helping someone out if we aren't
helping him to drink a little more, smoke a little more, work a little less and just go on demanding others do for out, while he does nothing for himself or others. I suppose that was maybe in the mind of that rich man, too. And I'm sure Abraham knew well enough the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Do you think that Jesus knew the laziness and vice of men for whom He lived and died and rose again? What vices have WE got, which we pretend are virtues? Does anybody even know what selfishness, indifference, callousness and greed are anymore? On occasion, even this world can't stomach rank abuse of God's good gifts, and those we call celebrities get hauled to jail or rehab. Such shame! But, how we all continue to pursue the lifestyles of the rich and famous!
Who is Lazarus today, dear people? Well, take comfort in this: YOU ARE - because CHRIST is! That's the Gospel. Of all the poor, none emptied Himself out more than Our Lord. None took a deeper Poverty, a greater Shame. Not even His own disciples, who boasted so in themselves, their courage, their fortitude and faithfulness, would show Him any comfort, mercy or aid. Only a few women attended His wounds when Jesus died a beggar's death.
In Christ, we are only beggars before God, longing to be satisfied with crumbs from the Master's Table; licked by dogs in this life, that is, the poor, miserable Ministry and means which God provides us for our comfort, which most men just despise. We have Holy Baptism. The vast majority of men are far too rich to think that's worth receiving. If a poor dog of a pastor wants to lick the wounds of dying sinners with God's Name in Word and Water, most will whisk themselves away, disgusted, taking little children with them. This world is far too wealthy to subject itself to such a lowly kind of Medicine. Most are far too rich to need a pastor's absolution! They can dress themselves up well enough in purple and Armani and don't need any pastor saying, "I forgive you all your sins." Most are not impressed with Moses and the Prophets. They won't be moved by the preaching of Him Who rose again and now is working in His Holy Office. So, no surprise that most are fat enough that they don't need to beg for what the Master places on His Table - the Body and the Blood of Him Who died to save us.
Lazarus, whose only hope was in the Lord, received the closest communion of all, in Abraham's bosom. That is where St. John resided - in the bosom of Jesus - on the Night When Jesus instituted His Communion. Most simply do not need such comfort in this life. But having, ourselves, such comfort, such a Blessed Communion, such Everlasting Wealth, do we ignore the beggars at our gate?
Dear Baptized, you are both beggars who have NOTHING but God's help and mercy in Christ Jesus, and you are also God's highly favored children, upon Whom He has lavished all the luxuries of heaven. Don't now make the same mistake the rich man made - as if you could just rush in and out, enjoying all you have, remaining heedless of the poverty and need of those around you. Does that mean to use your earthly wealth for good and not for selfish gain? Of course it does. Don't think, for a moment, that you have no sin. You make sure you have the things you need, while others go without. Repent. Give alms. That means, let go a bit of the god you love the most - money - and help out others! There ARE poor people in this world. There ARE those whom the Lord has given you to help in times of need, so help them.
The Lord is certainly not providing you the things He does - earthly blessings or the eternal blessings of His Word and Sacraments - so you may live now only for yourselves! Do you receive your paycheck as if it's just for you? Do you come here Sunday mornings as if all this is just so YOU can go to heaven? That's selfish. It's sin.
If you're coming to church just to do your good deed, just to hear that all is well with you: "Your name's in heaven, so, relax!" - you're only being like that nameless rich man. God's forgiveness means to move you out in works of love, in living for your neighbor, in forgiving as you have been forgiven, in handing out the riches of God's grace to all the beggars at your feet!
I know you get tired of me saying it, but I'm not quitting: "There's a world of poverty around you!" Yes, people don't have enough in life. Help them. But there's a world of people who don't have enough to lift them up in angels' hands and rest them in communion with the saints. Children, all around us, are left in poverty, with no one telling them the Gospel, no one carrying them to the healing font of Holy Baptism. Our own children are left lying at the gate, because we parents are too lazy, too self-absorbed, too busy with this life to bring them - not just here to Services and Sunday School - but too busy ogling this world to bring them consolation of the Gospel in our homes.
If we only give them what we waste, our crumbs, a few minutes a day, which we would otherwise spend catching up on Paris Hilton, that would be more than they are getting! And what about our friends and family and neighbors? Open up your mouths and give them crumbs, at least. You are RICH, dear people. God has sent His Son and He has died for you. Risen again, He has washed you, clothed you - and that is better than wearing purple or Armani. It guarantees your names are known by God in heaven. In fact, they're written in His Book of Life. In view of that, I forgive you all your sins. And He Who gave His Life for you, FEASTS you with His Body and His Blood in bread and wine. That makes you rich. Rich enough that no one in your life need go without the sound of treasure being cast their way, of comfort being given - not from the tongues of dogs - but from the mouths of God's own Beggars saying, "We are close to the fire ourselves! We worship what will burn and ignore the Beggar in our Midst - both the One Who died and rose for us and those He's given us to help. We should be nameless, but we aren't. We have Baptism and Absolution and this Supper and the preaching of Christ by Moses, the Prophets, the Holy Evangelists and Apostles. Because of that, we have a Name to trust in, above all other names. Indeed, our help is in the Name of the Lord!" In Jesus' Name, Amen