June 3, 2018
"If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." (1 John 4:20-21) If you don't love your neighbor then you don't love God. St. John also writes to us, "God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." And as we heard in our Gospel lesson, the rich man, who showed no love at all for his neighbor, Lazarus was sent to hell. Many have misunderstood this and assume that faith and what you believe about God is not important, just so long as you love one another. Many have simplified their theological convictions to the refrain of St. Paul McCartney, "All you need is love."
Yet, it is important to remember that you are not saved because of how much you love. Rather, love is a fruit, which is produced by faith. St. John also writes, "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.", and again, "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." (1 John 4:9-10, 15) You cannot love your neighbor unless you first love God. You cannot love God unless the love of God first dwells in your heart. And the love of God dwells in your heart when you believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And so, we learn a lot about the rich man simply by how he did not love Lazarus. Because he did not love Lazarus, we know that he did not love God. And because he did not love God, we know that he did not have faith in the love of God. God's love was absent from him. And so, he was condemned.
Jesus is teaching us how to identify true Christians by their works. The rich man was clearly outwardly a pious Jew, as we hear he calls Abraham his father. To the untrained eye he looks like the beacon of godly living, as he clearly has been blessed by God. Yet, Jesus teaches us that looks aren't always what they seem. At the gate of this pious Jew lies a poor helpless man, who would be grateful even to eat the scraps to be dumped in the trash from the rich man's table. Yet, the rich man shows no pity. Even the dogs show mercy to Lazarus, but not this rich "son of Abraham."
It might be helpful for our context to make the rich man a prominent member of an LCMS congregation, who's proud to point out that his family has been in the church for generations and is happy to invite important people over for dinner, yet he shows no pity to the poor and needy. Jews used to refer to Gentiles, that is non-Jews, as dogs. So, the fact that dogs showed compassion was a way of saying that even the heathen showed compassion, while this member of the household of God refrained from expressing this attribute of God. And how often have members of the Lutheran Church been shamed by unbelievers, who show more compassion than they?
Yes, your actions can tell the world a lot about your faith. According to the 2016 Census, the Republic of Ireland is 78% Roman Catholic. Yet, two Fridays ago on the 25th of May 66.4% of the nation voted in a referendum to repeal their 8th Amendment, which guaranteed protection to unborn children. This means that many, who claim to love God and to confess Jesus Christ performed an act of extreme hatred toward their most vulnerable neighbors, who will soon live in great peril within their mothers' wombs. By this loveless action toward their neighbor they are showing that they do not love God. And I don't have to be a prophet to tell you that that 78% of self-proclaimed Roman Catholics will likely shrink dramatically in the coming decades. Yet, perhaps what is even more troubling is that Pope Francis, the head of the entire Roman Catholic Church, who has undoubtedly the most influential voice among Roman Catholics did not speak a word in defense of the unborn as one of the most Roman Catholic nations in the world voted to permit them to be murdered. This perhaps gives us a view of the spiritual state of the entire Roman Church.
Yet people are very selective in what they consider hatred in order to convince themselves that they are loving. The Catholics who voted to let babies die didn't think they were performing an act of hate, but an act of love toward women, who should have the right to abortion. And we see such hypocrisy every day. This past Tuesday the most popular sitcom on television was suddenly canceled, because its star wrote a perceived racist tweet against a former aid of President Obama. The actress apologized and claimed that she didn't mean it to be racist. Perhaps that's true, but she did intend for it to be hurtful. Have you noticed the strange standard? Certain types of hatred are intolerable, yet we tolerate hatred of all other sorts? You shouldn't spew racism on the internet! Yet, you shouldn't spew any type of hatred toward one of God's creatures on the internet or anywhere else. The incident Tuesday, which caused the cancelation of Rosanne should be a reminder to all, that if you are employed, you are just one hateful Twitter or Facebook post away from being fired. Yet, even more, it should be an indictment against all of us, that before Twitter and Facebook exposed the hatred we see on the internet, it was alive and well within our hearts; hatred toward our fellow man, which indicates a lack of love toward God.
The loveless actions of the rich man and the 66.4% of Ireland, and the myriad of hateful tweets and Facebook posts demonstrate a lack of faith in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ. You cannot love God and hate your brother. Yet, take a look at Abraham, the man of faith, who was justified by his faith apart from his works; what do you see by his actions? You see that he loved his wife Sarah, even honoring her after her death. He loved his son Ishmael and pleaded to God for his inheritance. God, himself attested that Abraham loved his son Isaac. Even for sexually perverse and greedy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham interceded to God, pleading that if even 10 were found righteous that God would spare the cities. All this love poured out of Abraham, because the love of God dwelt in him through faith.
Compare that to the rich man! His hatred toward Lazarus was not the only sign that the rich man hated God. He demonstrated his hatred toward God himself when he conversed with Abraham from hell. The rich man pleaded that Abraham would send Lazarus from the dead to warn his brothers, so that they would repent and not come to this place of torment. Is this an act of love performed just a little too late by the rich man? No, this too is an act of hatred and defiance. By requesting Lazarus be sent, the rich man is accusing God of not doing enough to save him from his current torment. If God had sent a dead man from the grave or even performed a single miracle, the rich man would have repented and lived a loving life! But what does Abraham say, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them." In other words, they have the holy Scriptures written by Moses and the Prophets, let them hear the oracles of God from Scripture. "No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent." The rich man has the gall to call Abraham, the man of faith, his father in the same breath as he disregards the word of God, which alone has the power to create faith.
Lazarus rising from the dead would not have convinced the rich man's five brothers to repent, even as Jesus' friend Lazarus rising from the dead only incited more hatred from the religious elite. And when Christ himself rose from the dead the chief priests paid a bribe to silence the guards, who accepted it, even though they witnessed the angel role away the stone of Jesus' tomb. Only the word of God proclaimed from the Holy Scriptures has the power to create saving faith, as St. Paul writes, "Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ." The rich man and his brothers disregarded the only source of saving faith. And even in hell, the rich man remained unaware and unbelieving.
Yet, had he listened, what would he have heard from Moses and the Prophets. Jesus tells us after his resurrection in Luke 24, "everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. … Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem." (vss. 44, 46-47) So, you see, Abraham told the rich man that his brothers should listen to the love of God, which is manifested through the death and resurrection of God's Son, whom he sent into the world. Had the rich man listened to Moses, he would have heard our Old Testament lesson and learned that he is justified through faith, apart from his works. And the love of God, which overwhelmed him through faith, would have poured forth into acts of love toward Lazarus.
But what about Lazarus? We don't know much about him, except that he was poor, which in and of itself is not an act of love. In fact, we know of no act of love done by Lazarus. Yet, he was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom. So, what do we know of Lazarus? His name is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Eliezer, which was the name of Abraham's servant of whom God told Abraham, "This man shall not be your heir!" Yet, his name also means, "Helped by God." And with that we find how Lazarus is a Christian example to us all. He can't help himself. He's covered in sores. He's starving. He can't work. Yet, God helps him. God gives him an inheritance. God takes the man, who shall not be Abraham's heir according to the flesh and makes him a son of Abraham through faith.
This is what will happen to you if you listen to Moses and the Prophets. The Scripture will expose you to be the selfish and unloving rich man. And with a crushing blow from God's Law, Scripture turns you into a helpless Lazarus, whose sins are so great, that he can only hope in God's mercy. And then, through the revelation of Jesus, who died on the cross for your sins, you are carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
Are your works of love lacking? Have you failed to help the helpless or even performed an act of violence against the unborn? Have you spewed hatred, whether on the internet or elsewhere, or even felt it in your heart? Do you look at the rich man and see yourself looking back at you from a mirror? Has God blessed you with material gifts that hundreds of generations of people never dreamed to exist, yet you show no love to the less fortunate or generosity to God's church? Then repent. Become like Lazarus. Be helpless and let God be your helper. Listen to the message from holy Scripture: God loved you first; he sent his Son to die for your sins; all your sins of hatred are forgiven. And in faith, approach Abraham's bosom, which is made present even today, and receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, which communicates the love and forgiveness of God our Father. And through such love of God shown to you, believe that God can and will lead you to act in fervent love toward your neighbor. Amen.