In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s an anxious time for many of us. Some wonder if things will ever get better. It’s an angry time for some of us. Some wonder why stuff keeps happening to them. Some know who’s to blame, and some wonder who’s really to blame, and most wonder if anybody can do anything to make things better. It’s a dark time for some of us. Some wonder if the sun will ever come out again. Some wonder if they will ever feel like laughing or loving or living again. Some just wonder why get up at all!
What do Jesus’ words today have to do with any of us if we’re anxious or angry or depressed? Can He make things better or, at least, make us feel better for a little while? Or would it be a whole lot more effective to just go to a sports bar or the beach or just lay around in our pajamas drinking coffee?
Take for instance this Gospel lesson, and how it begins. Very few of us would describe ourselves as rich. Perhaps none of us even thinks of ourselves as rich. Rich is Bill Gates or Warren Buffett or some superstar athlete or actor. Not me, and probably not you!
On the other hand, very few of us would describe ourselves as poor. Perhaps none of us thinks of her or himself that way. Very few people that worship here or that can read these words on a computer screen will go to bed homeless, without supper, without a change of clothes, and without a sense of where to turn if things really get bad.
So if you’re anxious or angry or depressed, no matter where you go or what you do or who you’re with, that stuff is going to keep coming up, because it’s what’s troubling you!
That’s why it can be a gorgeous day outside; we can be at the beach or listening to a song that puts a smile on our face, but then we start fighting with a family member or friend. We remember how worried or mad or sad we are, and we’re right back where we started!
So, then, Jesus what’s your story got to do with me?
IT’S OFTEN TOUGH TO LISTEN TO JESUS
Let’s be very upfront about a few things. It can be tough to listen to one of Jesus’ stories if you’re sure you already know the ending and what it’s supposed to mean. For instance the story of the prodigal son, typically, one can say, “Yes, yes, I already know that story. The father forgives the son, and the older brother doesn’t. Be like the father and not like the brother. End of story.
Or it can be hard to listen to today’s Gospel lesson. Because as soon as one hears the beginning, “There was this rich guy,” immediately one can say, “Well, that’s certainly not me!” Or, perhaps, “Oh, good, I’m not rich, but I sure do love it when Jesus kicks those that are!” Or perhaps, heavy sigh, “I suppose I’m supposed to feel guilty, because I’m pretty comfortable. Note to self. Stay home the next time this story gets told!”
So, then, whether we’re sure we know it all already, or we’re certain Jesus really wants to reinforce our preconceived opinions. Or we’re certain we really don’t want to listen to what Jesus has to say, because, well, we don’t like how we feel when he talks that way. Or, even, we’re certain that Jesus doesn’t mean what he says. Then, we are neither taking Jesus seriously as God’s Son nor thinking that there might be any consequences by not listening.
It’s tough to take Jesus or His Word seriously when you’re anxious or angry or depressed because you’re certain that the best is not yet to come.
PAYING ATTENTION TO THE MOVES
So, maybe to listen to Jesus, we have to bracket what’s going on for a minute. Like walking into a dark movie theater when you feel like garbage and being willing to get lost in the story for an hour or two. Sure it’s going to be hot outside, and you’ll still be broke, and you’ll still feel like nobody understands. But, at least, for a little while, you got away from it.
In Jesus’ story, this rich guy doesn’t have a name, but the poor guy does. In fact, if you’ve been to church more than once, you know the name Lazarus is the name of this guy in John 11 that Jesus raised from the dead. But…this seems to be a different Lazarus, because he doesn’t have a nice home that Jesus and His disciples like to visit, nor is there any mention of sisters named Mary and Martha who are pretty well off. This poor guy, Lazarus, has sores that dog’s lick. He’s poor. He’s unclean. He seems pretty much a street person.
The anonymous rich guy treats the poor guy as pretty much an “unperson,” although when the rich guy is dead, he seems to know Lazarus’ name after all. But, even when he’s dead and in hell, the rich guy still thinks of Lazarus as a lesser person whose sole purpose in all of eternity is to cater to the rich guy’s wishes. And the rich guy is still, even in hell, clinging to the notion that he’s somebody special in Father Abraham’s eyes, because after all he was born a child of God! Maybe he had belonged to the wealthiest house of God when he was alive. Maybe he had always left some meat on the bones he threw in the trash at the holidays, so that Lazarus could get a bite. Maybe he had even given to some charity once a year for a tax deduction. Who’s to say for sure? But the worm has definitely turned. The rich guy is still in hell, and Lazarus is finally doing well.
Jesus is saying. Life is shorter than we think. Eternity is forever. This guy is in hell, and he’s not getting out. And nobody can help him. And neither Lazarus nor anybody else is going to warn his brothers, because not only do they already have God’s Word to read, they wouldn’t even listen if somebody rose from the dead! So to quote an ancient Schlitz beer commercial, you only go around once in life.
This is, of course, where we do need to stop to admire Luke’s editorial hand in reporting Jesus’ words about His own resurrection several chapters before He is killed by the religious and political establishment in Jerusalem. Delicious irony to say the least!
THE LAZARUS IN YOU AND ME
Because we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves, that means your life and mine is more like Lazarus at the gate than we care to admit. We are covered with the sores, the wounds of our lives – not just the anxiety, anger, and depression but also the misplaced trust and sense of entitlement of the rich guy in the story! It’s called Sin with a capital “S.” In the words of Martin Luther, we do not fear, love, and trust God above all else. Who, then, will deliver us if we cannot, like both the rich man and Lazarus, save ourselves!
God, our Maker and Owner, rich in mercy and loving-kindness, knows our names and all that ails us. In mercy for this fallen world, He becomes human, born of a virgin, and takes the name “Jesus” which literally means “God saves!” When the religious and political leaders nail God’s Son Jesus to a lonely cross, thinking that the world is their oyster, God’s Son bears their sins and ours. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! And God the Father raises His Son from the dead, and in His Holy Word and Sacraments, our Risen Lord still speaks the promise of forgiveness of sins and salvation only in His name to all who believe and are baptized!
We don’t have to wait like Lazarus for crumbs to drop from God’s table of grace, because here in bread and wine, Christ Jesus gives us His own body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation! God richly shares His things with us!
Now, as bearers of Christ’s endless life and love, our job is to rise up like Lazarus and tell all the other beggars where to get Jesus, the Bread of Life! Our job is to say, “Look, now is the appropriate time. Today is the day of salvation. Come; be washed clean and made whole in the waters of Holy Baptism. Come; be fed with the medicine of immortality!
The danger is always that, because of sin our age-old rebellion, we will forget who and Whose we are and fall in love with the broken world that would seduce us to eternal destruction like the rich man. The danger is to begin to think, like the rich man, that we are entitled to God’s riches because of some unique preciousness that is ours apart from God. The danger is to treat this church as a country club in which the privileges of membership include no responsibilities to worship, study, serve, or give and an entitlement to fun and games – and perhaps a little bit of moral instruction – for ourselves and our children!
No, as children of God by grace alone in the washing of Holy Baptism, we have a different story and a different trajectory for our lives than that spiritually poor rich man.
So…the option is yours to leave worship today as if emerging from a dark theater unchanged to resume anxious, angry, or depressed lives. Or, you can get outside of yourself…which is to be called by the Lord Jesus from a life in which one is always self-absorbed and self-concerned like the spiritually poor rich man.
Oh, come to the water of Holy Baptism, dear friends. Come; become what you are as children of God by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. There’s no reason for hell not to be empty, other than the damned foolish idea that we don’t need God to save us daily from our own stubbornness!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A Message from Rev. Samuel Zumwalt brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass