Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Proper 21 of Series C (Luke 16:19-31)

“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, is the Bible enough? I mean, is it really sufficient for our lives, and most importantly for our salvation? If you look around at the religious landscape in our world, the answer comes back as ‘no.’ The Mormons and Muslims pay lip service to the Bible, but while they see it as an important book, everything has to be interpreted through the lens of the Book of Mormon or the Koran. The Roman Catholic Church for centuries has held up two authorities as equal to the Word of God- Tradition and the authority of the Church, meaning that only they can tell us what Scripture really means. For the past couple centuries many secular scholars, and even Christian theologians, have claimed that the Bible cannot be interpreted properly apart from science and human reason, eliminating miracles and other parts of the Bible that are simply unbelievable. Finally, many Christians in our world today hold up the winds of culture as the highest authority, and therefore we should only listen to the Bible when it agrees with what our world is saying. All of these groups have in common the belief that sure, the Bible is a good book, but it is definitely not sufficient for our faith and life.

The rich man Jesus tells us about in our text for today certainly didn’t find the word of God sufficient to govern his life. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” He placed his own pleasure over the Word of God, because clearly he had a lot of wealth for the specific purpose of spending it. He didn’t just feast on special occasions, because each and every day was a day to celebrate himself! He wasted his possessions, all the gifts that he had been given by God, on his own wants. His life was his own, and he was going to live it up! This didn’t change when a man in need was placed outside his door. “And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” Lazarus’ friends placed him there so that he could be fed from the overflowing bounty of the rich man’s table, but none was forthcoming. Even though the Word of God has some pretty clear things to say about providing for the needy, the rich man followed just one law- my wealth is only for me!

In striking contrast with the luxury of his life, Jesus describes the death of the rich man very simply: “The rich man also died and was buried.” And that quickly the rich man learned that when you live only for yourself, you are left alone in eternity. All of his wealth, all of his luxury, all of his feasting no longer mattered at all. He now dwelt in hell, separated from God, in torment from the flames, searching for even the touch of a drop of water, but finding no comfort. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot avert our eyes from this picture of hell that Jesus gives us in text! We would rather not think of this place of torment, but here Jesus describes in living color the consequences that this man who lived only for himself faced. Even father Abraham cannot bring him comfort, and says: “between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” The chasm between God and man created by the fall into sin still exists for the rich man.

Therefore, the rich man cannot receive any mercy. His time to repent and turn to God’s Word is past, and so now his concern turns to those who shared in his selfish lifestyle. “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house- for I have five brothers- so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” Abraham points out the obvious: just like the rich man, these five brothers have the Bible as well, and it clearly shows the way of salvation. “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” But these five brothers had lived much like the rich man; they gained wealth only for themselves, and cared little for the poor and needy placed right outside their door. Therefore, the rich man, as he dwells in torment, declares that Bible is clearly not enough to convince these guys.

“And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’” The rich man believes that the Bible is not enough for salvation, it is not enough to convince someone to repent. There needs to be miracles, great miracles of God; only an extraordinary event will convince those living only for themselves to turn to God. Surely if someone rose from the dead, all would believe, right? St. Paul declares in 1 Corinthians chapter fifteen: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Jesus Christ, the very one who tells this parable, rose from the dead Himself, testifying to the entire world His great victory over death. He did exactly what the rich man asked, except that He did not send Lazarus, but Himself, risen from the dead to call all people to Himself. And yet, as Abraham predicted, this greatest of God’s great miracles still did not convince them. The five brothers, and those like them, refused to be convinced by Christ’s resurrection, and throughout the centuries many, many people have refused to be convinced by the testimony of that resurrection in God’s Word. They reject the apostles; they reject the Word they brought; they reject Jesus Himself, and therefore they earn for themselves the same sentence as the rich man.

But yet there are those who are convinced by the Word of God. Lazarus spends his life covered with sores, longing to eat just the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table, but no one gave him anything. No one invited him to the table, no one even gave him the scraps. But at his death, everything was reversed. In stark contrast to the fact that the rich man simply “died and was buried,” Jesus says, “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” The old translation is even more descriptive; it says that the poor man was carried to ‘Abraham’s bosom,’ a place of comfort, a place of security, but more than that, a place at the feast. For in biblical times, being in someone’s bosom meant that you occupied the place of honor at the feast, leaning against the host at a great banquet. This poor man, who could not even get a crumb from the table of the rich man during his life, spends eternity at the feast of heaven, the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom.

He is joined by all others who have been convinced by the Word of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit works through that Word and proclamation of Christ’s victory to create faith within sinful and rebellious hearts, as He has done for you and for me. Throughout the book of Acts, the apostles are bringing that message to people, the message of the death and resurrection of Christ. They are convincing people that Jesus died for them, and the Holy Spirit is working through their testimony to create faith in the hearts of sinful people. They provide the witness that the rich man wanted Lazarus to give his brothers, the witness to the great works of our God on the behalf of humankind. The apostles still testify to you and me through the Holy Scriptures, creating and sustaining faith within us, faith which convinces us that Jesus is the Messiah, our Savior.

For Jesus Christ is the one who rose from the dead for your salvation. He marched triumphant from the open grave so that you will never have to face the horrors and torment that the rich man experienced in hell. Jesus faced death in your place, but more than that, He faced every bit of the punishment that the rich man experienced in hell- He faced hell itself, everything from the fiery wrath of God over sin to the abandonment of the Father. For on that cross, Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, experienced the great chasm that Abraham spoke about, the divide between God and man because of our sin. Jesus Christ faced it so that He could conquer it. He paid the price that we owed with His very own blood, and in that great giving of Himself for us He eliminated that tragic division between us and our creator. Abraham said in our text: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” That was the reality of the broken relationship between God and you, between God and me, between God and all people. No more! Christ’s victory over sin, death, and Satan through His death and resurrection has bridged that chasm, it has brought that separation to an end. Through His shed blood on your behalf, the relationship is restored, and now heaven is yours!

If Jesus gave us a painfully vivid picture of hell, He also gives us a beautifully vibrant picture of heaven. Brothers and sisters in Christ, do not avert your eyes from this picture of heaven, for it is your destination. Through the blood of Christ shed for you, you too will dwell in Abraham’s bosom, at his side in the feast that will have no end. There you will be comforted, there you will be fed, there you will rejoice over the salvation brought by your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is what God’s Word proclaims to you, the story of salvation in Jesus Christ, and through that message God brings you to the feast.

Dear friends in Christ, when Abraham essentially asked the rich man, “Is the Bible enough?” the rich man replied, “No, Father Abraham.” I asked the same question of you today, and listed out many religious groups that say as well, “No, Father Abraham.” Now, I ask again, “Is the Bible enough?” Your joyous answer this day and every day is a resounding yes! The Bible is enough because it proclaims to you Jesus, the One who died and rose again for your sin, the One who died and rose again to bridge the chasm between you and God. The Bible does not only show the way to salvation, it actually delivers salvation, because through it the Holy Spirit convinces us that Jesus is our Savior by working faith in our hearts. Thanks be to God that He has given us all we need in our Word, and has delivered that Word to us once again this day! In the name of the one who truly rose from the dead according to the Scriptures, Amen.

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