Monday, June 16, 2014

Wealth does not condemn us; poverty does not save us


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The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. Luke 16:22 23

Wealth does not condemn you, and poverty does not save you, but whatever you do, don’t neglect Lazarus! That’s what we need to learn anew on the first Sunday after Trinity.

As God’s people reckon time we are in the second half of the church year which is called “the semester of the church.” The first half, “the semester of the Lord,” provided us with an orderly presentation of salvation history from the Fall, to the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. For six months wave after wave of God’s mercy washed over us, soothed us and saved us as we heard the lessons, prayed the prayers and sang the hymns of the various seasons. The Gospel does not go away in the church’s second semester, but instead we now learn how it bears its fruit; how it has its way with us, and how changes and propels us to express the same love that we have received to other people, and what better way to begin such a season than to hear the Lord’s teaching of the rich man and Lazarus?

Many believe today’s gospel lesson is a parable, an earthly story with a heavenly lesson, and indeed it may be, but there is no clear indication of that, and there are just as many theologians who think that Jesus is giving us an account here of two actual men: one named Lazarus, whose name means the Lord is my helper, and another man whose name we never learn, but who helped only himself, and who, when he finally got religion, found out that it was too late, but it is not too late for us to learn from his travails, and to be very careful never to neglect Lazarus!

Ah, but how thick we are! How afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder when it comes to the things of God. Moses points this out in today’s Old Testament lesson. As he looks into the future he warns his people that when they come into the good land the Lord promised them: a land flowing with milk and honey, and filled with good things that they did not labor to provide, and when they ate and were fully satisfied that they should not forget the Lord their God.

Why would Moses say that, except that we do? Except that when everything is going as planned, and we are well-dressed and well-fed, that we forget the Lord who delivered us from the bondage of sin, forget the poor around us, and resort to worshipping our own bellies? Yes it’s true, true of us all no matter how righteous we might think ourselves to be, and for any who would deny it that person suffers from the most malodorous disease of all; Self righteousness. We can little afford that, dear Christians, not when we are the beneficiaries of divine love the likes of which no tongue can tell. Remember what God in Christ has done for us!

As surely as the rich man ignored sick and starving Lazarus, just so surely we who suffer spiritual starvation on account of our sins are fed to the full with the Bread of Life that comes down from heaven. Jesus says in John chapter six, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day, for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” Jesus dresses us in the royal robes of His own righteousness, and prepares a table of the most nourishing and soul-sustaining food for us, not just later at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, but now in the presence of our mortal enemies: sin, death and the devil, so that they can only marvel at our blessed estate.

He also cured the sores, which are our sins, first with forgiveness, this is most important of all, so that we might stand justified before God by faith, and second by graciously guarding us so that we have been spared many of the natural consequences that accompanies wrong-doing. Are things bad for you because of your sins? They could be worse, much, much worse! He doesn’t spare us from all the consequences of course, no good father does that, but even when our heavenly Father lets us get bruised He sends His holy angels to attend us just as they did the Lord in the wilderness; and in Gethsemane; and the streams of His mercy to shade and befriend us.

Once again let us hear the theme of today’s readings. As God did not neglect us in our spiritual impoverishment and disease, but gave His One and Only Son to feed us from His altar with the bread that we break, and to tend to our wounds by the cup which we bless; even so we must not neglect Lazarus.

Who is Lazarus? Scripture is clear. Jesus says, “Give to everyone who begs of you.” St. John writes, “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” Who is Lazarus? We have only to open our eyes to the suffering and deprivation around us; to the neglected children who suffer want of life’s most basic necessities while their parents indulge every desire. Our charity might be directed to them, or to the beggar at freeway off ramp, or to more organized efforts. There’s no question that we must always employ reason and caution because charity is a strong medicine with dangerous side effects, but we must do something! and we must not let the challenges involved choke off our compassion. Instead, as God’s people who have received mercy; who are clothed in the Lord’s own righteousness by baptism; and who are fed from the Lord’s table with food that makes us immortal; let us never forget the Lord our God who delivered us from Hades by the cross, never close our eyes to the need that is around us, and let us be sure never to neglect Lazarus. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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