Sunday, June 14, 2009

Trinity 1

Sermon on Luke 16:19-31
For Our Savior Lutheran Church of Norwood Park, Chicago, IL
June 14, 2009 (The First Sunday after Trinity)

Martin Luther’s last words were, “We are all beggars. This is true.” And it is true. The words, “Lord have mercy,” which form several parts of our worship service, are the words that beggars have used for centuries to ask for help from those who are in a position to do so. To be a beggar, is to own nothing, to rely on someone else for everything that is necessary to get you through life. It is to be totally helpless, totally dependent, like Lazarus was in this Gospel lesson. And, in relation to God, we are all beggars. If He didn’t give us everything we need to support this body and life, we would have nothing. In fact, we wouldn’t just have nothing, we’d be nothing. We wouldn’t exist. No matter how much you have in your bank account, no matter how big or nice your house is, no matter how expensive your car is, God gave you all that. In fact, he gave you your very life. He created you. He made you. He made all the stuff you have. There’s nothing you have, whether in terms of physical things or relationships with other people and family members, or talents, gifts, and abilities, that did not come from Him. We are all beggars.

Thing is, that’s the furthest idea from our minds. Like the rich man, we forget who we are in relation to our Creator, and we think of the stuff we have as stuff we’ve bought or earned or won rather than gracious gifts from our heavenly Father. Even those of you who may not have a whole lot in comparison to others around you are incredibly rich in comparison with people in most times and places in human history. And just like we think of ourselves as independent of God, we think of our stuff as independent of Him as well. We don’t think of ourselves as beggars. Pride won’t let us think of ourselves as beggars. Pride causes us to think of ourselves the way the rich man in our story thinks of himself.

Of course, when the two men died, the situation was reversed. Lazarus had everything, the formerly rich man had nothing. I want to emphasize that the rich man wasn’t condemned to hell simply for having a lot of money, nor was Lazarus saved simply because he was a beggar. Rather, the eternal destinies of these two men were caused by what was in their hearts. Lazarus was a beggar not just physically, but spiritually. He was dependent not just on human charity, but on God’s charity, God’s mercy. He died trusting in the salvation which was promised through the coming Messiah, not in his own good deeds or his own resources. The rich man died trusting in himself, in his own riches and resources, and they weren’t enough. “You can’t take it with you,” the old saying goes. And it’s true. But it means more than just the fact that whatever stuff we have here won’t be there (and won’t be needed) in heaven. It means that nothing we have, nothing we can do or give or make, will make a difference as to where we end up. If we trust in such things, we are trusting in something or some one besides the true God, and when it comes to heaven and hell, that just doesn’t work.

But the way we were born was like the rich man. That’s the way we are by nature. We want to do it ourselves, rely on ourselves, view our stuff as what we’ve earned or bought, and so on. And we can’t change that about ourselves. In fact, if we try to change that, we’re still relying on ourselves to do it, and not giving glory to God. And so we’re still right back where we started. No matter how much we do for the Church or for our neighbor, it doesn’t change who we are on the inside one bit. Who we are on the inside is rich men, who think that we have the ability and the resources to fix ourselves and fix our own relationship with God and with our neighbors. And it never works.

And so our riches aren’t riches at all. In many cases, they’re stumbling blocks to us rather than helps or resources we can draw on. And so we are forced to recognize that we have nothing that can truly help us when it comes to our relationship with God and our eternal destiny. We are forced to admit that, really, we are beggars. Even if we’ve got lots of money and lots of possessions, we are beggars.

But that’s where we are supposed to be. After all, our creator Himself sent His Son to become one of us. “Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” He became a beggar in our place. He relied on His Father’s providence even when tempted not to do so. “Command these stones to become bread.” “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” He did not consider equality with God something to be displayed as spoils, but made Himself nothing. He did so because that’s what we are. Beggars. And He was stepping into our position.

And that’s why the physically poor and needy we encounter in our lives are pictures for us of Him who became nothing in our place. He took on Himself all the ravages of sin in this world in our place, so that when we see those around us who have been hurt or injured or who are diseased or destitute or otherwise affected by the messed up nature of this old world, they are reminders for us of what Jesus became for us, what He endured on the cross in our place, and therefore also of what we are in relationship to Him. Beggars.

But that’s not such a bad thing. After all, what God gives to beggars is the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. He doesn’t give it to those who rely on themselves, because those who don’t think they’re beggars will think of charity as an insult. And unfortunately even if a beggar, or rather, THE Beggar, rises from the dead, as He did that first Easter, there are some who won’t believe, if they don’t believe the Word which God has already given. But the Word does what it says. God gives His gifts, His charity, His mercy, simply by speaking to us. He gives us Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles, who tell us that we are not mere beggars, but citizens of the heavenly kingdom recipients of the divine mercy. We sit with Abraham and all his spiritual descendants and share in the great feast of victory which has no end, the same feast we receive here when we partake of the body and blood of our servant Savior as a free gift. We didn’t earn it, because we couldn’t earn it. We’re beggars. But when the Heavenly Father is the one giving charity, beggars is exactly what we want to be. Amen.

✠ Soli Deo Gloria ✠

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