In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. We are all familiar with the sight—you are driving down the road or sitting at a stoplight; you look out one window, and there on the side of the road stands someone in tattered clothing, with greasy hair, and holding cardboard sign. Then, out the other window sits a man in a nice suit, designer sunglasses, and driving a Porsche, Tesla, or your choice of high-end vehicle. The contrast could not be more stark. One man is poor, the other man is rich. One man is shunned, the other celebrated. One man is despised, the other is envied. Given the choice, only one of these men would change places with the other. And so, the question almost doesn’t need to be asked which of these two men you would rather be. There is only one answer. Of course we would rather be the rich man. To say differently would be to lie to ourselves. But more important than the question of which of the two men you would rather be is the question of why. Why would you rather be the rich man? Maybe it’s because you desire the status he has. Maybe it’s because you desire the kind of possessions and vehicle that he has. Or maybe, and I suspect this is more likely the position of most of us, maybe, if pressed, you would choose to be the rich man not because you yourself desire to be rich, but because it seems better than the alternative. We know Saint Paul’s words to Timothy: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Heeding Saint Paul’s words, we might not desire to be rich, but we reason that if forced to choose between being rich and being a beggar, at least being rich would afford us the resources and opportunity to give generously to others, to be a blessing to those in need. Leaving aside whether or not you would be able to follow through on this generosity in such a hypothetical situation, the question is, why are we so desperate to avoid being a beggar? How is the evil of being a beggar greater than the potential snare of riches? And yet, to our society it is. Riches are celebrated, and begging is despised. To be a beggar, constantly at the mercy of others, is one of the chief evils of our society.
2. But here stands our Lord’s story of the Rich Man and Lazarus to confront this societal assumption. The story of the rich man and Lazarus shows us how each one of us is Lazarus. And this is true, even of the rich man. He is Lazarus, which is to say, he is a beggar. Of course, the rich man did not appear to be a beggar as he dressed extravagantly and feasted sumptuously. He certainly did not appear to be a beggar to those who came and went through his gate, attending his feasts and marveling at his wealth and prosperity. The rich man seemed to have it all together, being in perfect control and never needing to rely on another for anything. And yet, in death the rich man’s money and possessions were revealed to be nothing more than a façade—they did not endure. When he was buried six feet under, no doubt in an ornate, elaborate manner, the rich man was revealed to be what he had been all along—a beggar. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Timothy 6:7). Being in Hades, the rich man is nothing but a beggar before Father Abraham. First, he begs for himself, and then he begs for his brothers. But even in this begging, he does not humble himself. He remains entitled and prideful rather than embracing what he really is.
3. My friends, let us take heed, lest we become like this rich man. Martin Luther’s famous dying words are easy to forget: “We are beggars. This is true.” And yet, it is easy to become like the rich man in our Lord’s story. We live in one of the wealthiest countries the world has ever known. We are surrounded by so much stuff that we fill our basements, garages, and storage units with more possessions than the majority of humans throughout history could have imagined owning. Now, I don’t say this as an inditement against possessions themselves. I simply bring this up to emphasize how easy it is to live in a delusion. We have so much ease, prosperity, and wealth that it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have more than we do. It’s easy to think that we have more control than we do. It’s easy to think that we are more self-sufficient than we are. It’s easy to forget who we really are. “We are beggars. This is true.” We have nothing which has not been given to us by our Lord. No physical possessions and certainly no eternal inheritance comes to us apart from His good and gracious gifts. We are beggars who receive everything we have from our Lord. And so, Luther instructs us to pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer so that “God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
4. “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24-25). Thus says our Lord to the Rich Young Ruler. Why is it so difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? Because he is a sinner. A camel could pass through the eye of a needle before a sinner could stand in the presence of the almighty God. And so, in this regard it is no different for a rich man than for a poor man. Humanly speaking, it is impossible for a rich man or a poor man to enter the kingdom of God. So, what makes the rich man different? It is especially difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven because he will almost without exception have more difficulty recognizing who he is before the Lord. “We are beggars. This is true.” A rich man is rarely quick to assent to this reality. But only one who has despaired of his own abilities will join those who heard our Lord’s words to the Rich Young Ruler in begging before Him: “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:26), to which our Lord replies: “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
5. And so, The one who will enter the kingdom of God is the one who relies on God alone for help. There are a couple of points in our Lord’s story which affirm this. The first is in the name of the poor man. Lazarus is the Hellenized form of the Hebrew name “Eliezer”, which means, “God is my help.” This poor beggar had nowhere else to turn. The rich man in whose gate Lazarus dwelt could have and should have cared for him, but he did not. God alone was the helper of the beggar Lazarus. Secondly, note to where this poor beggar is taken. Unfortunately, the ESV editors relegated the proper translation of verse 22 to the footnotes. “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22a). The father’s bosom is where a helpless child is consoled and comforted. And so, Lazarus is consoled and comforted in the bosom of Father Abraham after a lifetime of suffering in this world. And as he is consoled in the bosom of Father Abraham, Lazarus receives not the crumbs but the fullness of the Lord’s banqueting table. He who relies only on the help of God is rewarded.
6. So, too, is it for us. Like Lazarus, we live in this life by the grace of God alone. We come as beggars before the foot of this altar in the Divine Service to receive the grace which we cannot provide for ourselves. And this is why we must come to the Divine Service. In the world we so easily come to believe the delusion of control. We are rich and wealthy, so what do we need from another? And yet, the Divine Service reminds us that we are beggars before the feet of our Lord Jesus. As we enter this room and see the crucifix where our Lord hangs upon the cross, we are reminded of our sins. Your sins drove Him there. All delusion is swept aside when you are confronted with this reality of who you are before God. You are a poor, miserable sinner who has sinned against the Lord in thought, word, and deed. You justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. God owes you nothing but punishment. “We are beggars. This is true.” And so, we come before the foot of the cross in deep humility. But we also come before the foot of the cross in complete confidence. Our Lord Jesus who hung upon that cross did so for you. He has suffered in your place so that the grace of God might be yours. And so, we boldly confess at the foot of this altar: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). And so He does.
7. “We are beggars. This is true.” We are not beggars at the gates of a man who rejects and despises us. We are beggars at the gates of heaven. We are beggars at the feet of Him who died and rose again so that we might be rescued from the torment of Hades. We are beggars at the feet of the one who has promised in His Word that “He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11-12). When your hour comes, you may die unfearing because the one who has risen from the dead has given you His word. His angels will come at the last to bear you home to Abraham’s bosom. And the Lord will keep your body safe in peaceful sleep until His reappearing, at which time He will awaken you that your eyes may see His glorious face and that you may praise Him without end. “We are beggars. This is true.” And our Lord Jesus desires nothing more than to grant comfort and rest to those who look to Him as their help. May God grant this comfort to us for Jesus’ sake.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.