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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Sep 25, 2016  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text before us is the Gospel lesson appointed for this Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost, the Gospel according to St. Luke, the 16th chapter, verses 19 through 31. There we read these words:

"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' "But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' "He answered, `Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' " `No, father Abraham,' he said, `but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

We begin in the Name of Jesus, AMEN

In this text, our Savior sketches for us an amazing story concerning two destinations - the only two destinations a person can journey toward - eternal life with God in heaven, or eternal torment in the depths of hell. This story involves two people - a rich man who’s never named, and a poor man known only as Lazarus.

Over the years there have been a number of interpretations of this text - some more correct than others. However, I must say that if you really want to understand what Jesus is talking about here, you need to put His words in the proper context. You need to see this story as it relates to the accounts immediately preceding and following it.

Two weeks ago, the Gospel Lesson was from the 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel where the Pharisees were incensed among themselves over the fact that Jesus - a so-called "Prophet of God"- was eating and drinking with sinners and tax collectors. Last week’s Gospel was the Parable of the Unjust Steward who was commended for his shrewd-ness - a story that ended with our Lord reminding His listeners - in this case, a group of Pharisees - how impossible it is to serve both God and mammon.

What took place between that lesson and today’s reading was that Jesus confronted the Pharisees, saying, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God."

It doesn’t require too much insight to see that Jesus was breathing fire against the Pharisees - castigating them for their greediness, their love of money, their self- righteousness, and above all, their unbelief.

And that’s precisely the point Jesus drives home when in this account the Rich man is told by Abraham that his brothers couldn’t be turned from their unbelief even if someone was raised from the dead. After all, why should they be?

Stained Glass Baptism Window

Did any of the Pharisees turn from their unbelief when the brother of Mary and Martha - also named Lazarus - was raised from the dead? No! Indeed, Holy Scripture points to the resurrection of Lazarus as one of the chief reasons why the Pharisees we seeking Jesus’ death. Lazarus’ resurrection only confirmed the Pharisees in their unbelief!

This story is not about riches, poverty, or one’s station in life. It’s about faith and unbelief. The rich man in this account wasn’t banished to hell because of his riches, but he was for the very same reason anyone goes to hell - unbelief.

Lazarus wasn’t taken up into heaven because of his meekness or poverty, but because of his faith. No matter how you slice it, none of this has anything to do with what’s in your wallet, but only what’s in your heart!

Luther’s Large Catechism states it this way when it says: "A God is that to which we look for all good - and in which we find refuge in every time of need." So, when you get right down to the real nitty-gritty, there are really only are two gods to chose from.

There’s the one and only True God -Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the One whom Scripture reveals as Triune. And then there’s Mammon, worldly stuff. There are no other choices.

And this is especially important when you consider Jesus’ statement about the impossibility of serving two masters - or, as it says in the Greek, two "Lords." Your faith has to be in one of two places. You have to rely on the one true God, or else you can rely on Mammon - those things you acquire for, and by yourself.

That’s why Jesus draws such a sharp distinction between the rich man - who quite obviously - at least in this life - felt great delight from the things he’d gained for himself - and Lazarus - often called a poor man, but who should more correctly be referred to as Scripture describe him, that is, as a beggar.

It’s this beggar, Lazarus - not the rich man - whom Jesus holds up as an example and a Godly model of what it means to have true religion. Even though the rich man considered himself a child of Abraham - remember, he called him "father" - nonetheless Jesus held him up as an example of the religion of mammon. And so it was also with the religion of the Pharisees. They were concerned primarily with what could be acquired on their own. It wasn’t just money, but also reputation, honor, and righteousness before God.

This is also the case with much of the pop religiosity and religious fervor of our own day - where the primarily focus is on how you become more holy through the exercise of you own effort and will - of course with Jesus Christ held up as the example and motivation to do better. In this way of thinking - prevalent even among some in our own Church body -Jesus is turned into a Means for getting the things people want - a Means to an end, but not the End Itself.

In many ways Jesus becomes nothing more than a Passport into heaven - while the individual Christian's spirituality is turned over to the religion of mammon - or, as Lutherans call it - the religion of Law - which also happens to be the religion of the rich man, the Pharisee, and many today who bear the name of Christian - including even you and me.

After all, the Law is the very thing that’s so attractive to sinful flesh because it gives one something with which one can measure and compare one’s self to others. It makes you feel good. It has the outward appearance of Godliness - and, it’s pleasing in your eyes.

But that’s precisely why you always need to return to the words of Jesus -for they once again remind you that those things which are "highly esteemed among men are an abomination in the sight of God."

In fact, it’s easy to be attracted to the religion of the Pharisees and some of the modern-day religious sects, because - at least to the untrained human eye -those peoples lives do seem to shine and glitter more than many others.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

Sermons based on the religion of mammon cab be extremely interesting because they focus on what you can get out of life when you fashion your way of living after a particular pattern. Worship in such a setting is often times lively and entertaining - and people frequently walk out awash with "good feelings."

Popular songs are sung that don’t require much effort or thought, and everything is done the way the majority of the people think it ought to be done.

But if you think about it, it’s probably nothing more than a remake of the old standby of Jesus’ day, Pharisee-ism - religion that causes us to feel good about the things we do and the way we do them - even when the motivation and the method is oftentimes completely un-Biblical.

In contrast to that we have true, Biblical Christianity - the religion of tax collectors and sinners alike - here identified with the poor beggar, Lazarus. He’s not attractive, but repulsive. He’s covered with pus and sores - so that even the dogs of the street take pity on him.

But look at what’s in his heart. He longed to be satisfied only with the crumbs which fell from his Master’s table. His desire wasn’t to be like the rich man -feasting and getting fat - but only to have a few crumbs thrown his way. For Lazarus that would be food and plenty enough.

The true Church - like Lazarus - carries on Her work in weakness and true humility - as those who belong to Her confess that they’re nothing more than poor, miserable sinners - and desire steadfastly that God fill them with the crumbs which drop from His table.

True religion isn’t centered on what you want, think, or "need" for yourselves. It’s not individual, but Communal and Sacramental. It’s not focused on what you like, but rather on that which Jesus Christ gives. It’s not man-centered, but Christ-Centered. It’s not about boosting of self-esteem and self-worth. It’s about confessing your sins and longing for the blessed balm of the Gospel of forgiveness.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said: "Blessed are you poor in spirit," - again the word was "beggars." In other words, what Jesus was saying was: "Blessed are you beggars in Spirit, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven."

The religion of mammon - the religion of the Law - is nothing more than a religion of seeing - because it can be measured, and has tangible results. But true religion is about unyielding faith in the Son of God and His promise to forgive - even when the devil, the world, and our flesh ask, "Where’s that kind of religion going to get you?"

You may not see the immediate results of holding to such a faith in this life, but Jesus has promised that in holding to such a faith your reward will be great in heaven.

That, dear friends, that is the wonder of the Gospel - that poor beggar sinners such as you and I inherit the kingdom of heaven through the forgiveness of sins - a forgiveness earned for us all and freely given when Jesus Christ - who was rich - became poor for our sakes.

That’s the faith to which you and I now cling - and even that faith isn’t something we acquire for ourselves, but is, rather, a pure and gracious gift from God.....

A gift He generously and freely gives through His plenteous forgiveness passed on to those who belong to Him through Word, water, bread and wine, A gift which boldly and unabashedly proclaims, for all the world to hear, that those who trust in Christ have had their sins forgiven, A gift that declares that in Jesus, God will, and has granted them, everything they need for this faith and life.

That’s the faith that, when the final analysis is given, proclaims as we do today, dear friends, Christ Is Risen. Amen.

Luther Rose


Christ Is Risen
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