Archive for the ‘Luke 16:19-31’ Category

Abraham’s Bosom?

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 26, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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This morning God’s word jumps out at us like a Hollywood movie.  It’s a story of contrasts and a story of tragedy.  If it was a movie, we might call it “Rich Man-Poor Man” or “Eternally Trading Places”.  Remember from last week’s gospel lesson that there are three different groups of people listening to Jesus teachings.  There are Jesus disciples, the open sinners who are drawn to Jesus Word because they really hungered for a life of forgiveness and peace with God, and then there are the Pharisees who have been eavesdropping.  Well eavesdrop no more you brood of self-righteous vipers, because now Jesus is going to talk directly to you, but in doing so He is also talking to everyone else who longs for God’s love and forgiveness.  In short, He is talking to you and me!

Jesus sets the stage for His parable by telling a story of two men.  Both were Jews who worshiped the same God.  One was empty but would be satisfied and full; the other was already satisfied and full but would be emptied.

The first character that we are introduced to is the “Rich Man”.  Jesus says that he was “clothed in (a) purple (robe and wore) fine linen (under his robe), and (he) feasted sumptuously every day!” [Luke 16:19]  In other words he was living large; he was living a lifestyle of the rich and famous.  His lifestyle was so opulent that even Robin Leach would have blushed!

The second character that we’re introduced to is Lazarus, who was more than poor; he was a terminally ill beggar who counted on the pity and care of others.  Listen to how Jesus introduces and describes him: “And at (the rich man’s) 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.  Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” [vs. 20-21]

Like a Hollywood script, these two men are flashed before our eyes.  One lives in the lap of luxury and the other in extreme poverty.  Now we must remember that being rich is no sin, but how you use your riches can be!  The Pharisees were lovers of money in addition to being self-righteous, so they knew that Jesus was talking to them.  They knew that Jesus was forcing them to look into their own hearts and they didn’t like it one bit! 

Now, did you notice that the rich man had no name but the poor man did?  His name was Lazarus.  Do you know what that name means?  It means “God helps”!  This was a direct appeal to Levitical Law where God commanded that the poor be taken care of by those who had plenty.  You can be sure that the Pharisees knew that this story was aimed at their hearts.  In the character of the rich man, Jesus had put his finger or their love of money by comparing it to the nameless rich man’s greed and opulence. 

Poor old Lazarus!  He was dumped at the rich man’s front gate by some people who thought, “Surely this rich man will give him a little something!”  Did he?  No, not one thing!  I’m sure that a lot of other rich people came by every day to visit, and none of them gave him a thing.  The only comfort that Lazarus found was the companionship of roaming dogs that licked his sores with their soft tongues!  God provided brute comfort when human comfort failed!

Now Jesus moves us to a place where all good stories and Hollywood movies seem to start and end… in death!  We are at a cemetery.  On one side of the grounds we find well-kept and peaceful tombs.  This is where the body of the rich man is laid.  Oh, you can be sure that his tomb was the finest that money could buy and that all of his rich friends were there to say their last good-byes.  If this was a Hollywood movie, they would all have on designer suits and dresses and their Limousines, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces would be lined up as far as the eye could see!  And on the other side of the grounds, where the poor people were laid to rest, there is another burial taking place.  But unlike the rich man’s funeral no one attends.  Like the Beatle’s song Eleanor Rigby, nobody came… nobody cared!  There was only the grave digger and the Rabbi and the body of Lazarus.  How sad!  Was the good life only a dream for poor old Lazarus; a dream that never became a reality?  No, because Jesus’ story flashes to another reality; not an alternate reality but an eternal one. 

“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 at his side.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” [vs. 22-24]  Like a bit of Hollywood magic, Jesus’ parable somehow combines two places into one.  Now we are simultaneously taken to heaven and to hell, and there we observe both the rich man who still has no name because God has forgotten him, and Lazarus, who once was hungry, poor, and pitiful but now is rich, blessed, and seated at God’s heavenly banquet table leaning on Father Abraham himself! 

What determined the fate of these two characters in Jesus’ story and what determines our fate?  This was the question that Jesus was confronting the self-righteous Pharisees with; it’s the answer to this question that we all must hear and learn from this morning.   And to get that answer, let’s get back to the story. 

“But Abraham said (to the rich man), ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime receive your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are (there) in anguish.  And besides all this, 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.’  And (the rich man) said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send (Lazarus) 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.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets (that is holy scripture), neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’’” [Vs. 25-31]

Dear friends, Jesus is teaching us that it is God’s selected and declared means of grace alone that will save us from sin, death, and the devil.  It is His holy Word alone that has saved us, is saving us, and will save us!  It is God’s means alone that not only directs our lives here on earth but determines where we will spend eternity.  Jesus wants us to understand that it is God’s Word alone and our treatment of it which creates faith and the ability to do two things: Please God and to have a desire to be with God!

We please God when we desire to hear His Word and receive His Sacrament.  When we receive these things, they change us by giving us not just forgiveness of sins but the faith to believe in that forgiveness.  Hearing God’s Word and believing it are the only way to please God.  His Word is the only way that a sinful heart, your sinful heart can be cleansed.  But our sinful hearts don’t like to hear this, so we invent new means, our own means that we think God should have provided but didn’t, so we take it upon ourselves to fix what we feel God overlooked.  This is why the rich man wanted a miraculous raising of Lazarus’ dead body.  He wanted the dead to do the proper work of the living Word of God!  He wanted Lazarus to bring repentance and faith unto salvation instead of God’s law and gospel!

Friends, God’s means of grace, His Word and Sacraments and nothing else, are the very things alone that change our hearts so that they desire to do the things that please God.  How do we please God?  By hearing His Word and then building His kingdom!  How do we build His kingdom here on earth?  We do it by hearing His Word and then sharing that same Word with whomever He puts in our lives!  When we share His Word with those who are living without it we are opening the very gate of heaven to them.  Will they enter and be saved or will they reject His Word and only know the torments of Hell?  God alone knows and not us, so we continue to feed them God’s only means of salvation!

But what of those who are physically poor and pitiful like Lazarus?  What does God want us to do for them?  Well they too need the Word of God, so we also speak it to them, but they also need acts of loving kindness here on this sinful earth, so we feed them and care for their physical needs as well!  You know, our church pantry is a wonderful way to do this very thing!  We can always use donations of food and even financial support so that we can continue to show simple human kindness and compassion to them.  But we could also use your time there as well!  What a wonderful way to spend a few hours, sharing God’s Word and a sack of groceries with some of our neighbors!

Dear friends when we become centered in God’s Word, we will also begin to see it changing us and leading us.  And when that happens we will begin to find ourselves doing the things that need God.  And as you are doing the things that God wants done you will begin to see something else wonderful happening within your heart… you will begin to want to be with God!

When we desire to be with God we will also desire to stay in His Word and receive His sacrament, and when we stay in His Word and are fed in His Sacrament we discover that we are already with God!  Friends, through His Holy Word God draws all men, all sinners unto Himself, even you and me!  Through His Word He creates our desire to come to His heavenly banquet table and feast on a meal of forgiveness!  At His table and through His Word we discover that we’re already where we shall always be… at Abraham’s Bosom!

 What is Abraham’s bosom?  It is the living Word of God; the very person who has just shared this wonderful story with us; it is Jesus Himself!  He alone is Abraham’s heart and He is ours as well!  His living Words are real food and drink and they are the only thing that moves us not just to the gate of heaven but into heaven itself where we will discover that our place at His banquet table has always been our place.  It is a place where we have been communing with Him and we will continue to commune with Him.  It is the only place where we are assured of real rest and peace and peace with God!  I pray that God’s Word continues to do this mighty work within our hearts.  I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!