Lessons: Genesis 15:1-6, 1 John 4:16-21, Luke 16:19-31
Hymns: LSB 500, 768, 505, 618, 571, 708
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Throughout life, we are encouraged to make good choices and do our best. From the surface, it would appear the Rich Man made good choices and did his best. He was rewarded with a luxurious life. It seemed like God was blessing him with every choice he made. He had it all. It would also appear that Lazarus did not make good choices or do his best. It looked like Lazarus was punished for his failures and mistakes.
With graduation season ending, no doubt many have congratulated graduates and encouraged them to make good choices and do their best. This is common advice in commencement speeches. Of course, this is good advice!
But why are we encouraged to make good choices and told to do our best? The answer is simple. We often do the opposite. And so we need many reminders and much encouragement to do what’s right.
Rather than doing our best, we spend countless hours on television, Internet, video games, or gossiping. We find ourselves settling for less because we are not interested in investing the effort to do better.
And look at all the places where we do not make the best choices!
We tend to snack on sugary treats instead of fruits and vegetables. We tend to use our free time watching TV rather than exercising. We’d rather watch smutty or violent TV programs, rather than educational programs. We’d rather hop in the car than use a bike or walk.
Why is this? Well, at the moment, our poor choices usually seem like the best choice. In everyday life, we often go for the things that are not so good for us because they seem so much more desirable.
When Eve was in the Garden of Eden, she looked at the fruit of the only tree which God said she could not eat from. She saw that the fruit looked good. So she, going against the command of God, ate the forbidden fruit which looked ever so desirable to her. At the moment, that fruit looked good and right to her, but, of course, was not.
It should be no surprise, then, that we not naturally are inclined to go for the things that are good for our soul. When it comes to the Christian faith, we are not always interested in making the best choices and doing our best.
Our flesh continually lusts after things that are not spiritually wholesome. Our feelings betray us, and we do not desire the pure milk of the Word.
We have been taught what is good, right and salutary. We have been instructed in the Word of God. We know right from wrong. And yet, we still make poor choices and don’t even come close to doing our best.
Like desiring junk food over fruits and vegetables, we tend to desire “spiritual” things which are not the best for us in the Church. Many Christians do not want pure doctrine; they want what their senses tell them. Many Christians do not want hymns that confess and teach the faith; they simply want to feel uplifted. Many Christians do not want the forgiveness of sins; they want God to accept their sinful choices. Many Christians do not want to attend church regularly and receive the Lord’s Supper frequently; they feel they can get along fine without these blessings of God. Many Christians cannot tolerate church services that last more than 61 minutes; they want to be in and out so they can get on with whatever they feel is more important. Many Christians sit down to eat without praying and even go to bed without praying. Many Christians want less preaching or shorter sermons. Many Christians do not even open their Bibles to read the sacred Scriptures at home.
Even though we may find these ways of the flesh more desirable; they certainly aren’t the best for us. God has given us far better than what we desire, even if we do not perceive the goodness of His blessings. That was even true of Lazarus.
Whether you feel it or not, want it or not, like it or not, God has blessed you immensely. Before you were born, God the Father sent God the Son to redeem you from your sin. Jesus paid for all your sin on the cross! He rendered His life as the ransom payment for your sin. He has actually earned your eternal salvation on your behalf!
And He gives it to you as a free gift. You see, what Jesus earned for you on the cross has to be delivered to you—it needs to be applied to you.
And so God has chosen to bless you with many ways to receive what Jesus earned for you on the cross. You’ve been baptized into Christ. Through Baptism, God saves you. In Baptism, you are united to the death and resurrection of Christ. You die to sin and rise to newness of life. And God delivered the faith with saves you.
God the Holy Spirit sustains you in the Baptismal faith through the Word. In the Bible, God reveals to you who He is and what He has done for you in love for your salvation. The Word makes you wise unto salvation. The Word is your great heritage. There is nothing more precious here on earth—not even gold or silver—or your family—than the Word of God.
And this Word comes to you in many ways. In Church, the Scriptures are read, and the Word is preached. Through this, the Holy Spirit keeps you in the one true faith.
You also have the wonderful opportunity to supplement your hearing of the Word throughout the week. You are privileged to have easy access to excellent devotional literature. And you can read your Bible. In fact, this week our Bible reading plan begins with the New Testament. This reading plan is published each month in the newsletter and extra copies of it are available in the narthex. The goal is to read the Bible over the course of two years. So if you didn’t start the two-year plan, or if you fell so far behind you’re having trouble catching up, or even if you’ve lost interest, I encourage you to give it a try. You can read the New Testament over the next seven months. This is a great gift of God. God has blessed you with time. Use that time wisely and be edified by reading the sacred Scriptures.
As Jesus teaches in today’s lesson, the only way a person receives faith to life everlasting is through the Word of God. Jesus teaches that people won’t believe even if they witness a resurrection. The reason is the Holy Spirit doesn’t work through our sight or personal experience. He works through the objective Word.
God has also blessed you with the Lord’s Supper. This meal was instituted by Christ so that you can receive frequently the Body and Blood of Christ for your forgiveness. From the time of Christ’s ascension to a few centuries ago, Christians everywhere celebrated the Lord’s Supper every week. That practice has been recovered here and you are blessed to be able to commune with Christ and with one another.
God has also blessed you with the Absolution. You can confess your sin and receive forgiveness from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it your sins are forgiven before God in Heaven.
God has blessed you with the opportunity to come before Him in prayer. He listens to all your prayers and answers them all according to His good and gracious will. Surely, he heard and answered the many pleas poor Lazarus offered to God while he suffered here on Earth.
God has blessed you with the gift of eternal life. When you breathe your last, you can be certain that with sins forgiven, God will receive you into His everlasting kingdom, as God did for Lazarus.
God has blessed you with the Resurrection of the Body. On Judgment Day, Christ will return and raise your body. He will make it perfect in every way.
All of these blessings are yours because God has blessed you with His love who has sent His Son to give you eternal life.
So do what’s best in this life. Realize what is best for you. Not spiritual junk food, but God’s lavish gifts found in His Word and Sacraments! And it is all available to you right here at Grace Lutheran Church for free!
As I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon, it looked like the Rich Man had done his best and made the best choices. But he did not. He had forsaken his Lord and became comfortable with all his possessions. He could not find time for the Word of God. He did not love his neighbor or help him in need. When the Rich Man died, he went to hell, even though he was certain he would be saved. Thinking he was wise, he became a fool, taking God’s gifts for granted until he forgot about them.
Lazarus, though, received the blessings of God. He had no wealth or good health to trust in. So he trusted in the words and promises of God. And God granted him the gift of eternal life.
So feast on that which is truly good for your salvation. As Jesus teaches, listen to Moses and the Prophets (that is, the Bible)! Repent of your sin. Turn away from them. For God gives you His Best—His Son who died for you.
He grants you forgiveness, life and salvation all by grace.
You have much to be grateful for, even if your life here matches the pain and suffering that Lazarus endured. Why? Jesus is your Savior. The way of salvation has been revealed to you. Remission of sins and eternal life is granted to you. You are God’s child. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen