“We are all beggars needing Jesus’ forgiveness, a new life, and eternal salvation” Trinity 1 2024

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02. June 2024
Trinity 1
Luke 16:19-31

“He cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.’”

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s gospel lesson is a tale of excess, depravity, and divine retribution. We hear the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, a story that reveals the true nature of our human condition, and exposes the consequences of our insatiable lust for worldly pleasures. In this tale, we find a stark contrast between a wealthy man, feasting sumptuously every day, and a poor beggar named Lazarus, covered in sores, longing for the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. As we dig into this parable, we must confront the uncomfortable truths it holds and consider our own lives. The parables are mirrors in which we see ourselves. And how this parable reflects the truth at us! 

Our society is filled with material abundance, where the rich man’s decadent feasts are the norm, and our own spiritual degradation and poverty blind us to the needs of those like Lazarus. Worse, in our blindness, we fail to grasp that a Christian lives not for himself alone but for his Lord and his neighbor, in whom he sees the very face of God. This parable is not just a morality tale or a warning against spiritual degradation. More than that, it reveals the radical nature of God’s kingdom, where the tables are turned, and the last becomes first. It shatters our illusion of self-sufficiency and exposes our desperate need for divine intervention. 

Old Lazarus is lying at the gate, his sores oozing and hunger gnawing at his stomach. In the distance, the rich man feasts, blissfully ignorant of the suffering right before his eyes. Picture the absurdity of the situation, as Lazarus longs for the scraps that fall from the rich man’s table while the rich man, blinded by his excess, throws away the leftovers from his lavish feasts without a second thought. It’s an absurd, grotesque comedy. 

But let’s not stop there. Let’s dig deeper. The rich man dies, and suddenly, the tables are turned. He finds himself tormented in the flames of Hades, while Lazarus, the one who suffered on earth, is comforted in the bosom of Abraham. The great reversal is unveiled as God’s justice brings the arrogant to their knees and exalts the lowly.  

In this topsy-turvy tale, Jesus reveals the harsh reality that our earthly possessions and status mean nothing in the face of eternity. Instead, the rich man’s torment becomes a warning, a blistering reminder of the consequences of neglecting our fellow human beings, of turning a blind eye to the suffering around us, and not seeing God at work in even the lowest of the low, and the poorest of the poor.  Again, this is a stern reminder that the Christian lives not for himself alone but for his Lord and neighbor, in whom he sees the very face of God.

And so, where do we find ourselves in this topsy-turvy tale? Are we the rich man, feasting on the spoils of life, the poorest of the spiritually poor, disregarding the plight of others? Are we Lazarus, yearning for a crumb of grace to sustain our weary souls? The answer is that we are both. 

Each of us carries the weight of our arrogance and selfishness, yet we also bear the wounds of our suffering. We are all Lazarus, longing for the scraps of love and forgiveness, crying out for Jesus to help us, to raise us from the dead, and to give us eternal life. We all need the divine reversal, where the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.  Jesus’ parable makes it shockingly clear that our goodness or achievements do not earn us a place in God’s kingdom. No, it‘s God’s scandalous, outrageous love that reaches into the depths of our spiritual and material poverty and raises us in faith to see that we don’t need more stuff. We need more Gospel, more of God’s gifts, more communion with brothers and sisters in Christ, and therefore more of Jesus. 

The audacity of this kind of love that’s so alien to us leaves us in stunned silence. Picture Jesus, the Son of God, leaving the heavenly realms to dwell among us, to eat with sinners, and to die a criminal’s death on the cross. The divine madness of it all! But in that act of sacrificial love, Jesus opens the door to eternal life, to a new way of being where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. 

Let’s not be fooled by the illusion of self-sufficiency, my friends. The rich man in the parable trusted in his wealth and status, only to find himself tormented in the flames. Our possessions, accomplishments, and worldly success fade away in the face of Jesus’ grace and mercy. Only the grace of God can sustain and enrich us.   So if we dig deep, digging down to the roots of this topsy-turvy tale, Jesus’ parable reveals that we are all beggars. We are all beggars needing Jesus’ forgiveness, a new life, and eternal salvation. There is no exception, no escape from this truth. It is our common condition. It is our shared humanity.

But this is the ultimate comfort because, in our utter beggary, we find the unmerited gift of God’s grace. Through Jesus’ work for us, his life, his death, and his resurrection, we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life. We do not earn it or deserve it; it is freely given to us by the boundless mercy of our Savior. In his wisdom, Luther declared, “For who can boast of being a Christian? Nobody! The life of a Christian is all humility.” And so, we humbly acknowledge our need for Jesus, for his saving grace to change our hearts, to raise us from the dead, and give us eternal life. And so, with Jesus, we relinquish our pride and our self-righteousness, and despite worldly enticements, we cling to the cross of Christ.

In this divine exchange, we become instruments of our Savior. Through His forgiveness, He strengthens us to extend forgiveness. Through his love, he compels us to love one another. Through his salvation, he commissions us to be his hands and feet in a world dominated by the kind of spiritual poverty that Jesus describes in his parable. So we embrace this calling in faith, with boldness and humility. We leave our Father’s house, proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ work for us, trusting that we are vessels of grace, instruments of mercy, and holy beggars sent into a world that’s pleading for crumbs to announce that we know where there’s a table that people can come to and eat their fill, feasting on the body and blood Christ, which gives them forgiveness, a new life, and eternal salvation today and always.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin