A Church for Lazarus


The Gospel reading for the 1st Sunday after Trinity is recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke, Chapter 16, verses 19-31. In this reading we have a beautiful proclamation of the baptismal life. In this reading we have a glorious declaration of what it means to be a justified child of God and a sibling of Christ Jesus, our Lord. There’s one big problem with Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man. The problem is that most of the baptized, if not all of them and all of creation, if given the choice, would much rather live life like the rich man and not like St. Lazarus. We would rather have our good things in this life and have good things in the life to come. We want to have our cake and eat it too when it comes to our earthly and heavenly life. If given the choice, we will always choose the rich man’s bounty over the poverty of poor ol’ Lazarus.

If given a choice, we will always choose the better things in life over those things that would cause pain and heartache. We want a bank account filled with plenty of decimal points, rather than a phone that rings constantly with faceless voices demanding payment of past due amounts. We want a nice house in a well-to-do neighborhood, rather than a shack in the shady part of town. We want to be the prettiest and fittest in the class, not the fat kid with pimples whose picked last for the basketball game. We want to be well liked and popular, not an outcast with no friends. We want to eat the best cuts of meat, not the beef that’s discounted because it expired two days ago. There’s a problem though and the problem is that we will always choose the better things in life over the choices that lead to a life of burden and sorrow. We are bound, in this flesh, to will and desire the rich man’s toys rather than Lazarus’ sores. Because all mankind fell in Adam’s fall and one common sin infects us all, we will always desire and be inclined to keep company at the rich man’s table, rather than bear burden’s with our brother Lazarus. We all always want the better things in life and avoid the lowlier things. Trust me my friends and my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ when I say that God is not pleased with this behavior and He sees all the thoughts or our inner self. As Dr. Martin Luther of blessed and holy memory put it concerning the rich man saying, “Our old nature is a rascal and is very adept at this. Accordingly, each person has to be on guard against the kind of self-deception that happened to this, ‘fat-cat.” God, the knower of hearts, will be not be deceived; nothing is hidden from Him” (Luther’s House Postils Volume 2.232-Sermon for the 1st Sunday After Trinity). Our Old Adam is always keeping company with the rich man and he is, till the grave, trying to justify his actions before God.

The only option we have for this condition of constantly wanting the better things in life, to be a friend of the rich man, is not what we expect. We expect to come to church and be told 10 ways to live a better Christian life. But that’s the problem right there. We want to have a “BETTER” Christian life. We don’t want to have a more righteous life, a more sacrificial life, or even a more pious life. No. We want to have a better life. We want a more advantageous marriage, cooler friends, calmer children, healthier parents, bigger houses, nicer cars, and fuller pocketbooks. We want to know how to have a better life in Christ. If the answer to a better life was, “You’re going to be dirt poor and the only comfort you’ll ever get is from a bunch of dogs coming and licking your sores,” then I am certain that no one would come back to church. But that’s what the baptismal life is all about. We must die to this world. What does this mean? It means that we aren’t defined by the façade of happiness and glory that this world provides. Our life is not determined by how much we have here in this life, but rather is defined by how much and how great a gift we have in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Our life is defined in the same way as St. Lazarus’ was; in the wounds of Jesus. What’s the solution to our absolute problem of always wanting the better stuff in life? The solution is death, our death in the death of Christ Jesus our Lord. As St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome saying, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:3-5).

In this life, through the waters of Holy Baptism, we are united to Christ. What happens to Him happens to us. He died, we die. He rose, we will rise. This is our comfort no matter how many sores cover our body, soul, and mind. No matter how deep the depression or poisonous the relationships we have, we are united to Christ and therefore receive the benefits of His blessed exchange. Whenever we hear the Gospel proclaimed and receive the blessed sacraments, we receive the faith that justifies us and makes us right with our Heavenly Father. Jesus receives our sins in order that we may receive His righteousness. This is the baptismal life. This is what carries us from font to tomb. Our trust, our confidence, our happiness, our joy is not defined by how much stuff we have in this life, but how much awaits us in the life to come because of the work that Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.

As I said in the beginning of this letter, all of our baptismal life and life as a child of God and sibling of Jesus is declared in this story. We also have a beautiful confession of what the Church is in this world. A lot of people would say that a successful church is one with multiple campuses, vibrant programs for all ages, bank accounts with a surplus of funds, smiley pastors, and happy parishioners. A lot would say that a church is blessed by God when there is worldly success and exponentially growing numbers of church attenders. However, after reading the story of St. Lazarus and the rich man, I don’t believe that’s a good approach, but rather is one that destroys the church. If the church models herself after the rich man, then she will suffer the same fate as the rich man. The church, in this world, is in the image of St. Lazarus, in the image of Blessed Jesus, in that we will receive the bad things in this life, and in the life to come, the good things. Take heart then beloved and know that the good things of eternal life are waiting for you. Let us gather together then in the Divine Service where, like Lazarus, we receive relief from the sores of this life, Amen.

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