Wednesday, June 23, 2021

What Makes You Afraid -- and Why?

 Mark 4:35-41

35 And on that day, when evening had come, He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side."  36 And leaving the multitude, they took Him along with them, just as He was, in the boat; and other boats were with Him.  37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up.  38 And He Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"  39 And being aroused, He rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Hush, be still." And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.  40 And He said to them, "Why are you afraid? How can you have no faith?"  41 And they became very much afraid and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?

Sermon for Pierce                            6/20/21

What Makes You Afraid, and Why?

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I want to begin this morning with a confession.  I altered the translation of the Gospel lesson.  I didn't change it much, but, since no translation is perfect, I decided to improve on the translation of our Gospel Lesson.  In the original, Jesus asks the disciples why they are so "timid."  In the King James Version, He asks why they are so "fearful".  The word in Greek means "cowardly, or fearful".  The question Jesus asks them is why they are so easily frightened – or why they are afraid.  That is, ultimately, the question Jesus asks us, this morning, through the Gospel lesson.  Our theme is, What Makes You Afraid, and Why?

It is easy for us to see what frightened the disciples.  They were out in the middle of one of the world's most unpredictable bodies of water, in the middle of a great storm, their boat was being tossed about by waves bigger than it was, and they were filling with water faster than they could bail it out.  On top of that, they probably did not know how to swim.

Why do I think that they did not know how to swim?  Easy.  In their society and religion, they had the superstition that the bodies of water, particularly seas and large lakes, were the domain of the demons.  After all, they had reasoned, so often when someone fell into the water, they disappeared.  They were dragged under by the demons and died there.  If their bodies ever did float to shore, they were always dead.  It seemed reasonable to them that the demonic ones lurked in the waters, waiting for them to make the mistake of entering their realm.  So, one did not learn to swim, because one did not willingly enter the devil's domain and invite death.  They might jump into the shallows where they could walk.  They tried to swim when they were in deep water, but they didn't generally swim well, and most, except for the hardy fishermen, couldn't swim a lick.

They had good reason to be terrified.  Even if they were able to swim, swimming in a violent storm is not usually successful.  Their boat was about to sink, or so it seemed.  They were going to die.  And Jesus was asleep.  He was acting like nothing was wrong and they were perfectly safe.

They woke Jesus up.  They were asking Jesus if He didn't even care that they were about to die.  In Matthew's account, they just cried out to Him to save them because they were perishing.  I am not sure what they expected Jesus to do, but they called on Him to rescue them somehow.  They clearly did not expect Jesus to do what He did, for they were marveling at what He did.  And Jesus simply commanded the wind and the waves to settle down and be quiet, and it happened!

The point of what Jesus said to them, then, was that they should have known.  Their faith should have told them that they were safe, somehow.  They had nothing to fear.  Their faith told them that Jesus could rescue them.  And if Jesus could rescue them, they really had nothing to fear.   If Jesus was not frightened or worried, but was quietly sleeping in the front of the boat, they should have realized that they were safe, too.  If they could believe He could save them, they should have been able to understand that as long as He was with them, they were safe already.

Jesus pointed out that inconsistency, and asked them why they were so cowardly, why they were so easily frightened – and then He answered the question in Matthew, – You men of little faith!  The question was an accusation, and the answer was the explanation.  As long as Jesus is on the job, we have no reason to be afraid of anything.  Period.  Not sin, not sickness, not death, not hell, not the wrath of God, not injury, not sorrow, not Covid, not misfortune, not financial disaster, not hunger or thirst or anything!  Nothing should have the power to make us afraid – if we believe the Gospel.

St.  Paul said it in Romans 8:  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? . . .  For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our confidence in God and our shield against fear rests in the Gospel.  It was on the cross and in His willingness to die for us that Jesus showed us how precious we are to God, how great His love is toward us, and how far He will go to save and rescue us.  He became a man for us.  He set aside the glory of God and took on the poverty of man, and lived among sinners and those who hated Him as God and Man for us!  He endured the abuse leading up to the cross, suffered the pain and the indignities of the crucifixion, and died for you!  It wasn't a faerie tale sort of thing.  Jesus died the same sort of death you will one day face, human death.  It was the separation of body and soul.  He died in your place so that your death would not be permanent or filled with terror and pain, but be the doorway to eternal life in glory with Him.  He went that far and did that much for you.  That is the Gospel.

That is what you confess with your anniversary celebration theme from Ephesians 1:3:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ

Knowing that love, and the will of God to do whatever it takes to bless us, and go as far as needed to save us, we should be at peace.  We can be confident that nothing will happen in our lives that will be evil for us, if we simply put our trust in Him, and rest our confidence in Him, and find our hope – in this world and life and for eternal life – completely in Him and His love and His good will for us.  And what is His good will for each and every single one of us?

At this point, I have trained my congregations for decades to reply, "Our Salvation."  So let us try this again: And what is God's good will for each and every single one of us?

We should be at peace in His love.  But our flesh does not always permit us that peace, does it?  And so our Gospel lesson today asks you the question, "What Makes You Afraid, and Why?"  Just like the Disciples, we can stand in the presence of Jesus and be frightened by the noise and the fury of the storm of life around us.  Many people fear the worst is going to happen.  The economy will collapse.  Their personal lives will disintegrate.  Their children will fail, or turn their love away from them.  Life will crush them in one way or another.  Among us, disease is often a specter that causes fear.  Cancer.  Heart troubles.  High-blood pressure.  Covid, Diabetes.  M.S.,  Strokes.  We often fear them, and they cause us terror when the doctor speaks their names in the diagnosis of our health.

What makes you afraid?  We each have something.  But the ultimate reason for fear is our little faith.  God would reassure you.  He would have you know no fear at all.  Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you!  Let God do the worrying!  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.  Remember the love that God has for you and all that He has suffered for you already!

The cause of fear is sin.  It convinces us that God is against us because we are evil.  And it is true that we are evil and sinful by nature, but God is not against us!  Sin causes us to fear death – but Jesus has borne our sins, and died our death to transform our deaths into the door leading directly into eternal life in the very presence of – and glory of – God.  Sure, life will hurt.  There will be pains and discomforts at times.  Some of them will be tremendous.  If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  But the pain will pass, and the discomfort is but for a time, and then glory.  St.  Paul reminds us of this truth in His statement of faith in Romans 8:18, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

When we are with Jesus, nothing in this world can harm us.  It may not be fun at every moment, but then His cross wasn't fun either – so why should the cross we must take up be?  However we may perceive it, no evil shall befall us.  Not even death can hurt you when you have everlasting life, and resurrection hope built on Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection.  It is like a get out of jail free card in Monopoly – only this isn't a game.  It is for real.  He that believes and is Baptized shall be saved!

What makes you afraid?  God's answer is that it is the smallness of your faith.  Pray like the father of the boy who was demon-possessed when He was seeking a miracle from Jesus, Lord, I do believe, Help my unbelief!  This isn't a command but an invitation from God to find peace and security and hope in Him for every circumstance of life.  We are perfectly safe and secure in the arms of Jesus.  Remember the precious words from the pen of Paul, Who will bring a charge against God's elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Just as it is written, "FOR THY SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED."  But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.

Heaven knows – and I mean that literally, heaven knows how many things there are threatening us and trying to make us afraid.  There is just one answer, and it is the perfect answer, the blood of Jesus Christ and the love of God and His promises to those whom He has claimed to be His own in baptism.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid, believe in God, believe also in Me.

What makes you afraid? – pray the answer be nothing.  And Why?  Because Jesus Christ is our Lord and our Savior.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Setting Priorities


Luke 14:15-24

And when one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, "Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" But He said to him, "A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.' And another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.' And another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.'

"And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.'

"And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.'"

Sermon for Second Sunday After Trinity 06/13/21

Setting Priorities

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

"First things first." That is the saying I have heard all of my life. It is all about setting one's priorities. For most of my life, the temptation has always been to do everything first but that which needed to be done, and then to do that only when confronted by a deadline. I have had a great deal of success managing things by facing a deadline - and I have often found it difficult to organize myself and motivate myself to do things before they needed to be done. When I am really under the gun, I often find myself helplessly drawn to read a good book, further increasing the pressure to get things done. One might suspect that I have trouble setting priorities.

But I do not. I know what is important, generally, and I always have my eye on the ball, so to speak, even if I don't seem to be paying any attention at all. My seeming inattention is simply how my brain works and organizes things. So far, I have never shown up for church without my sermon ready, the paper I was to deliver in hand, or my assignment incomplete. If how I approach things sounds strange to you, imagine how it seems to me, since this is not a conscious avoidance thing. It just works that way.

The people in the story Jesus tells have lost their sense of priority, or they have set their priorities poorly. Jesus tells us this parable to focus on two aspects of the story - the ones who were invited but did not come, and the response of the man who was giving the dinner to the casual disrespect of his invitation. Israel was the invited guests, and the host is God, the dinner is salvation, and we are the ones along the highway and in the hedges, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Our theme is Setting Priorities.

To be honest, the parable is not properly understood without the context of the entire chapter of Luke in which it appears. Jesus is facing a test at the home of Pharisee to which He had been invited to eat. They bring a man in to see if Jesus will heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus asks them for their judgment in the situation, and they refuse to speak, so He heals the man. Then Jesus explains His action by asking them about which one of them would allow an ox or a son to fall into a well on the Sabbath, and not rescue it or him? Clearly, it is an issue of priorities: Sabbath Law or Ox or son? Just as clearly, Jesus expects them to choose the ox or the son, but to say so might be seen as blasphemy, so they keep silent.

Then Jesus talks about humility. He suggests that they not seek the place of honor when invited to a dinner, but take the lowest seat, and allow themselves to be honored by being moved up, rather than shamed by being made to give the place of honor to someone else, and be humiliated. Of course, there are risks with humility. Your host might not see anything amiss in your taking the place of least significance, and then you will find out where you really belong, in his estimation. The question is, which is more important, the place of honor with the risk of embarrassment, or the opportunity for recognition and honor with the risk of finding out that you do not merit any - but without the humiliation before others? Again, it is a question of setting priorities.

Then Jesus tells the man who had invited Him that when he gives a luncheon, he should not invite family and friends, people he would like to impress who might also return the kindness of his invitation, but rather invite those who would have need of the invitation, and no means to repay his kindness - the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Jesus says that such kindness would be repaid by God at the resurrection. This presents another setting of priorities - good times and good will here and now, or later with the Lord.

At this point in the narrative, someone spouts off with the seemingly out-of-place comment, "Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" I have kind of puzzled over that for a while, but I never got to intense with it because it was the verse just before our Gospel text for this Sunday in the Church Year, and I was always wanting to preach about the invitation, and our gracious inclusion in the banquet of salvation. Still, it was an odd interjection. At first, I thought the person was crying out some odd praise of God and of salvation, but the more I thought about it, the less it seemed to fit. Why say that now, in this place in the story? And why, in seeming response to the outburst, does Jesus tell the parable of the banquet spurned?

Then it struck me. It is just like when I preach about how rich we are, and how God gives us our riches for His purposes, and I get the sort of responses that say, "There is nothing wrong with my going on vacation, or owning nice things, or visiting my children in another state. When you preach about how we use our time or our things, Pastor, you make me feel guilty. But I have every right to do with my life and my possessions what I please. You can't tell me I have to do this or that to go to heaven." Of course, I cannot - and I really do not want to.

Jesus was talking about priorities, and confronting how everyone tends to deal with life, and with one another, and with God. He was explaining how God looked at things - the divine values and priorities, and the guy who shouted out the "Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" was trying to excuse their priorities, and dismiss what Jesus was saying by saying "We are all going to eat bread in the kingdom, and no one is going to be unhappy to be there, so what difference does it make if do this or that, how we manage the little stuff, or how we treat the poor?" It was a "Just get off our back!" kind of thing. Being Jews, you know, the Chosen People, they knew they were going to go to heaven, and they really wanted to pay more attention to life on earth, right now, and worry about heaven once they got there.

Jesus' response said, in effect, that might be true for those who are going to heaven - but how do you know that you are going to make it? Jesus took the presupposition which lay behind the man's statement, and told him the truth – showed him the truth about it and what it meant. Israel - as individuals, not as the entire nation - lived more or less just as the man had asserted. They lived like so many of us twenty-first century Christians live today; taking God and eternity for granted, and making the most of the day we live in, but according to the purposes of the flesh, not according to the purposes of God.

The moment came - and it is never at a convenient time that it comes - and the call went out, the dinner is ready, everything is prepared, come to the feast. But those invited - the Chosen People - found themselves too wrapped up in the affairs of life to heed the invitation. The one was busy with land he had purchased. The next was occupied with oxen - five yoke of ‘em. The third was newly married. Who could deny them the right to business, wealth, or family? Surely, they had every right, and it was all God-given, so no one could say it was evil gain or something they ought not to have or ought not to be doing. Still, when the call to the dinner came, it took second place to the other things.

Was the dinner less important? I don't think so. Did they not care about the dinner? I would guess that is not true either. It was just a matter of priorities. Israel had gotten so wrapped up in living in the blessings of God that they lost sight of both the Giver and of the purpose of the gifts. The land, the oxen, and the wife were more real and more urgent to them than God and salvation. They didn't say they didn't want God or eternal life, they just wanted them on their terms and when they were ready. They forgot that love and hate in the sight of God is not the same as it is in our thoughts. With God it is a matter of setting priorities, and anything preferred to or more urgent than God means you love that thing and despise God.

Because they found everything more urgent and real than God and faith and salvation, they were found to be unworthy - and God went out and dragged the unworthy in and gave them the banquet. You and I are those blind, crippled, lame, and worthless people who just happen to have stumbled into the riches of life and salvation. We did not find it or choose it, but we were found in the hedges and the back-alleys of life and compelled to come in. That is the grace of God.

Jesus prepared the feast of salvation by His death on the cross for our sins and dragged us into the dinner hall without asking for our consent. See, the banquet rests on the altar before you this morning! Here is life and salvation, forgiveness and peace, and resurrection and joy.

Of course, now that we have become the chosen ones, we also run the risk of taking it for granted, and finding other things more exciting - and more urgent - and more pleasurable, and skipping the meal anyhow. But this parable does not tell you ‘to beware', it tells you of the wonderful grace of God in bringing you into this banquet of life and forgiveness and peace and salvation, so that you may rejoice and give thanks! Still, we can see what ‘taking it for granted' can lead to, or rather, lead away from.

It is about setting priorities. The argument about your priorities is not with me, or with Jesus. It is an argument with your flesh. God will not be put in second place, and salvation will not wait for you to exercise your perfect rights as an American to have and to do and to go and to enjoy. If there are more urgent things in your life, well, then there are more urgent things in your life. We ask nothing you cannot freely give or do. The Lord loves a cheerful giver.

But remember, while everyone in heaven is going to be delighted to be there, not everyone who thinks they are going is going to be in heaven. Those who take it so much for granted that they can count other things more precious or more urgent run the risk of finding that the call to the banquet that they were waiting for came while they were busy with something else - too busy to come to the banquet.

Look at what you've got. Count the blessedness of being dragged in, unworthy though we are, to the banquet of Salvation. Give thanks, and keep your wits about you. You are chosen for something you don't deserve, but you really want and need.

Do not marvel, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. . . . We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. . . . Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

Monday, June 07, 2021

A Picture of Reality


Luke 16:19-31

"Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.

"Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.'

"But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' "And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father's house – for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' "But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' "But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!'

"But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.'"

Sermon for First Sunday After Trinity 06/06/21

A Picture of Reality

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I have preached this Gospel lesson at least a dozen times. I have heard it preached at least a dozen more. Most of what I remember about the preaching I have heard is a misapplication of the text. The text is so inviting for misunderstanding. This is one where the reader must struggle to apply the principle of the point of comparison. When one does, this parable is a picture of reality, drawn in terms of life in the first century. Our theme is A Picture of Reality.

One of the reasons that this parable is so hard to keep straight on is that it is so real. Jesus doesn't indicate, for example, that this is a parable. He is talking just before this pericope about the permanence of the Word of God and about divorce, and suddenly we are into this lesson about the Rich Man and Lazarus. It sounds like a story, and yet Jesus gives one of the characters a name - so some have speculated that Jesus was telling about a real event, learned by divine observation of two real people. It is a parable, however. The contents of the story are realistic but stylized and the name given to the poor man is an explanation of why the rich man and the poor man are differentiated. "Lazarus" means "He whom God helps", and indicates that this one is a faithful child of the heavenly Father.

Knowing that this is a parable tells us that not every detail is significant. Some details are there to inform the story – like the details of the moral character of the rich man – and some are there just to make the story work - like the dogs licking the sores of poor Lazarus - but have no meaning in terms of the truth which the story is intended to teach. Knowing it is a parable means that we look for the point of comparison - the touch-point between the parable and reality. In this parable, it is all very real, and so it is easier at times to sort out what the parable does not teach than to tell what it does teach.

Most preaching on this parable is Law - but the parable is Gospel. Let me illustrate what this parable does not say. The parable talks about the rich and the poor. It is true that there are and always will be both rich people and poor people. Neither condition all by itself automatically indicates anything about our standing before God. Some of God's people will be affluent, and some, probably many, will be financially challenged, if not downright poor. Neither condition means that God loves you more, or loves you less, or that you stand in His favor or His displeasure.

This parable also does not suggest the promise that everyone will eventually have both "good things" and "bad things". Some people will never know hardship, and yet they will be found to be God's people, and others who are poor and desperate will go to hell for their unbelief. I have often seen this mistake made when people go to foreign countries and see the intense fervor of the religion of the poor and judge them as "wonderfully Christian" for their fervor, without recognizing that their fervor is established on false doctrines and sometimes pagan rather than Christian foundations. Some people are fervent about their religion because it is all they have - no other forms of entertainment or public contact is permitted by their culture and their poverty. The "pious poor" can and will be condemned to eternal destruction if their piety is not Christian piety.

Another thought you often hear in connection with this parable is that the rich man was facing his troubles because of the way he used his riches during his lifetime. There is nothing to indicate that this is true, in this parable. The use of his wealth did not determine where the rich man was going - it only reflected it. How he used what he possessed was a reflection of what sort of man he was, and what was going on inside of him. His hoarding of his money and ignoring the needs of Lazarus did not earn his sentence to hell - it just illustrates that he was the sort that goes to hell.

By the same token, the poverty of Lazarus did not determine his eternal destination, nor did his use of it, but his use of it also reflected who he was, as shown by his name, and therefore where he was going. He did not go to heaven, called "Abraham's Bosom" here in accord with the custom of Israel in those days, because he was poor, or sick, or maltreated. He went to heaven because He believed. He was identified by Jesus as one of those whom God helps - the faithful. He remained faithful in spite of his outward state - although there is no indication of that in this parable other than his name and his final disposition.

So, we learn from this that your condition in this life does not tell us anything about how you stand in the favor of the Lord. We also observe that how you use the things with which you are blessed - the "stuff" of life - does not determine either your standing with God, nor your eternal destination, but can only reflect who you are as you stand before God. In other words, the details that seem to scream so loudly, because we can relate to them, are just there to hold the story in shape so Jesus can get to the tertium - the point of comparison and the point of the story.

The description of the chasm between heaven and hell may or may not be realistic. Such judgments are way outside of our ability to make. You may not be able to see from one to the other - no one knows except those who are there, and they are not talking, at least, not to us. The details of the parable do underline the teaching of the finality of the judgment, but that is not the point of the lesson, just a truth that happens to fit into the storyline.

We come close to the meaning of the parable when the Rich Man pleads for special assistance for his brothers. Here he blames God for his circumstances - saying that the Word preached is insufficient for salvation and that we need signs and wonders - like someone rising from the dead - to get our attention and bring us to faith. That is a common theme of television religion, pentecostalism, and really, of most religions - Protestant and Roman Catholic included - today. They all want you to feel something, to be impressed, to have a wonder or a sign to look at, an experience to validate your faith commitments, a relic to adore, or a decision that you made to look back on.

Abraham is the voice of God in this story, and Jesus speaking through him says, "No!" He says, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them." When the Rich Man argues, I hear in the back of my mind, in the response of Abraham, the words of Jesus in another place in John, "He that is of God hears the word of God." But what He says, and what the parable is all about, is this, "If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded even if someone should rise from the dead."

Only the Word of God has the power to convert. Only through the Word can anyone be saved. The messenger is of secondary importance if that much. Only the Word has the power to work faith and cause one to be born-again to living hope which Jesus purchased for us with His own blood and death on the cross. Jesus proved the absolute truth of this statement of Abraham in the parable by rising from the dead. His resurrection did not change the hearts of His enemies. It made them more bitter and determined to destroy Him. It has the same effect today. Wonderful signs and terrifying natural disasters do not have the power to change men's hearts. The tragedy of the collapse of the twin towers of September 11th only made people go to church for a couple of weeks. Within a couple of months, the bubble in church attendance was gone, and in its place was an even more furious rejection of the simple truths of the Gospel - both inside the churches and out.

Should we have compassion on those less fortunate than we are? Surely, that seems like a reasonable idea - but it is not what this text is about, nor what it teaches. If you want to do that, it is a godly thing to do, but find your motivation in the love of God for you - it is not part of this parable.

Should we use our resources for the welfare of others? Again, this is another nice idea - it just not part of this lesson. You can find that thought in the Law, but that is not what this parable is about.

I could preach about the torments of Hell, based on the description in this parable, but it isn't really taught for that purpose. The depiction of the agony of hell is impressive, but the reality of the agony of hell is, I suspect, beyond our comprehension. It simply fills out the motivation of the rich man in the story. It isn't the love of the truth that moves the rich man, it is the realization of what awaits his brothers - everyone who, like him, live their lives without a thought for God and eternity and judgment and justice and – well, everyone who lives like modern Americans tend to live - for the moment, in the pleasures of life and for the sake of enjoying it to the fullest.

Is this a condemnation of you and your life? You might hear it that way, but that is not what Jesus was saying. If you think your life ought to be different than it is, perhaps you ought to do something to make it different. But not so that you get to go to heaven. Jesus already made that difference, and has done everything you need done for your salvation, and has poured it out on you in baptism and feeds you eternal salvation in the meal of His body and blood which brings us also forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

All Jesus is really saying, in a most persuasive way, I might add, is, "Be careful to hear – and believe – the Word of God." This is true for rich or poor."

6 And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. . . . 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

My, what a perfect picture of reality we have in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)