The First Sunday after Trinity, 2017

Trinity 1 Sermon, 2017
Luke 16:19-31
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

“We are all beggars. This is true.”

These are the last written words of Martin Luther, and they convey perfectly the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in general, and today’s Gospel lesson in particular.

And—we hate it.

We don’t want to be beggars.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches us about true wealth and poverty—heaven and hell.

The man who appeared poor was truly wealthy, but we don’t want our lives to look like his.

And the man who appeared wealthy was truly poor, and we work hard every day to look just like him.

He whose suffering on earth made it look like God does not help was helped by God.

And he who apparently lacked nothing of his heart’s desire, in the end, could receive not even a drop of water to quench his unquenchable thirst.

The rich man was poor in hell.

The poor man was rich in heaven.

In their earthly lives, both were beggars.

Only one knew it.

As we all know, appearances can be deceiving.

We hate that.

We prefer to believe what we can see, touch, taste, smell, hear, and think.

We don’t like to admit it, but we’re influenced by materialism without even being aware of it.

We like proof—when we don’t need it.

For example, do you need proof that heaven exists to believe that heaven exists?

We hear the Word, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, we believe what we can’t see, that heaven is real.

And yet…we might buy a book by someone who claims to have been there and come back.

We need no proof.

But man, we’ll rush out to buy it.

Hear again what Abraham says to the poor rich man:

“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” (Luke 16:26).

The only source of reliable information about heaven and hell is the Holy Scriptures.

The very best you can say about books like Heaven is For Real, for example, the very best you can say about emotional, mountaintop experiences, or visions, or dreams—even when it’s supposedly an eyewitness—the very best you can say with those is: “What if…”

“What if…” it’s true?

But do you want to base salvation off of a “what if”?

The only source in matters of eternal significance is the Word of God. The very best you can say about the Bible, the very best you can say about the account of these eyewitnesses is “In fact…”

So you can base your salvation off of what God has said in the Holy Scriptures because, in fact, He has said it.

Again, Abraham, to the poor rich man, says:

“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them,” [and] “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29, 31).

No one believes only because of the resurrection, or a claim in a book about a boy who died, went to heaven, and came back.

Even Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, of itself, converted no one. Only the Holy Spirit at work in the Word of God proclaimed does that.

John’s account of the gospel gives the best reckoning of this. In John chapter two, “Jesus answered [the Jews], ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But [Jesus] was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:19-22).

They believed the Word.

Emotions don’t convert people.

Emotional connections, visions, dreams, books of fiction don’t convert people.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t work through emotions.

The Holy Spirit is not something you feel.

The Holy Spirit is something you hear.

The Holy Spirit works through the preached Word of God. It is the Word of God that converts people.

And, “If they do not hear [the Word of God], neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31)…

…Even if it’s a bestseller, on sale for $4.99, and turned into a major motion picture.

You see, we all want God to speak to us individually, in fantastical ways, but He doesn’t promise to do so.

In many and various ways, God spoke to the people of old by the prophets. But now, in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son (cf. Heb. 1:1-2).

Instead of buying a fantastical book about some dream that some kid had, look at your baptismal certificate.

Do you know where it is?

Ask your godparents about your Baptism.

Do you know who your godparents were?

Ask them—what was preached in the sermon? What was sung in the hymns? What was read from the lectern?

Chances are, it was something along the lines of Luther’s last written words: We are all beggars. This is true.

Lazarus was a beggar in every way imaginable.

He was a nobody. He did nothing important. The world ignored him. But he trusted in the Word of God.

He didn’t earn heaven by being poor. The rich man isn’t kept out of heaven for being rich.

The only way to heaven is through faith in Christ, our God and brother, who won heaven for us, by His perfect obedience to God’s Law and bitter suffering and death on the cross.

Heaven is God’s gift, poured out upon poor beggars, who, otherwise, could not be saved.

Lazarus means “the one whom God helps.” And though his earthly life looked like God was of no help at all, Lazarus went to heaven because God helped him.

Lazarus received everlasting wealth.

It looked like all he had was dirt and dogs, but he had true and everlasting riches.

Appearances can be deceiving.

We’re familiar with that phrase. As Lutherans, we might even be familiar with Luther’s last written words.

But another phrase is, today, just as appropriate.

Beggars cannot be choosers.

You don’t choose how God speaks to you. God has spoken to you in His Word. You call on the name of the Lord because you believe. You believe because you’ve heard. You’ve heard because someone has preached. And he who preached to you was sent to do so.

You don’t choose how God saves you.

God works through means, and the means are simple and clear.

In the Word proclaimed, beggars hear of their merciful Lord who died in their place. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

In Holy Baptism, in the Word poured out for you, beggars are washed and made clean, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for Christ’s sake.

As Lazarus himself had nothing to offer, just so, when you were baptized, you had nothing to offer. No way to help.

But our God comes to help us. We are Lazarus, the one whom God helps.

In Holy Baptism, God saves us, not by a work done by us in righteousness but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (cf. Titus 3; 1 Peter 3).

And in the Word given and shed for you, in Holy Communion, beggars eat and drink for their body and soul’s good. “This is my body…” Jesus says, “This is my blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

God works through means, and the means are simple and clear.

These are how God has chosen to save you.

Men like the rich man in today’s Gospel lesson don’t need God’s help. They don’t think they do, and they die. And they go to hell.

Beggars know. We know we need God’s help. We know that we are lost without it.

Beggars receive God’s gifts and promises and live.

Yea, though they die, yet shall they live.

“We are all beggars. This is true.”

And only beggars go to heaven.

Let us pray:

“Lord, let at last Thine angels come, / To Abram’s bosom bear me home, / That I may die unfearing; / And in its narrow chamber keep / My body safe in peaceful sleep / Until Thy reappearing. / And then from death awaken me / That these mine eyes with joy may see, / O Son of God, Thy glorious face, / My Savior and my fount of grace, / Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend, / And I will praise Thee without end.”

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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