Saturday, September 29, 2007

Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

The 18th Sunday after Pentecost (September 30, 2007)
“Making a Name” (Luke 16:19-31)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Rich people usually have made a name for themselves. You hear the name Microsoft, and who do you think of? Bill Gates, founder of the world’s largest computer software company. You hear the name Seattle Seahawks, and who do you think of? Paul Allen, owner of the Seahawks, Portland Trail-Blazers, and along with Gates, co-founder of Microsoft. You hear the words “You’re fired!” and who do think of? Donald Trump, flamboyant real estate mogul and Rosie O’Donnell’s worst enemy.

According to Forbes magazine, Bill Gates is the richest man in America, with a net worth of $59 billion. But did you know that Paul Allen is only #11 on the list, at a mere net worth of $16.8 billion? Trump comes in at #117, believe it or not...tied with movie director Steven Spielberg. Each of these names are ones pretty much everyone knows. They have made a name for themselves.

Here’s a name for you: Williston Bibb Barrett. Never heard of him? He’s a character in Walker Percy’s novel The Last Gentleman. Here’s how he is described there. He’s one of those people who made a name for themselves in high school or college. Everyone knows who they are. But later on, everyone asks, “Hey, whatever happened to him?”

Trying to Make a Name for Yourself

We would love to make a name for ourselves. Maybe it’s asking too much to be rich and famous...or infamous, as the case may be. At the very least, we would all like to be well-known and respected among our peers.

We want people to talk about us after we die. “What a great guy he was!” ... “What a super gal she was!” ... a long obituary in the paper, extolling your virtues, telling about all the social work you did, giving money to charity, volunteering for this and that at church, etc.

How, in the end, though, do you want to be remembered? When your life ends, will it really matter what people here think of you? And did they know the “real” you...all the secret thoughts and attitudes of your heart, in spite of what you were on the outside? What will really matter is what God thinks of you. After all, the Bible says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10)

The rich man in Jesus’ story in today’s Gospel reading was probably someone who thought he had made a name for himself. He wore purple, the color which symbolized a person’s high standing in society. He feasted every day, indulging in food and drink reserved for special occasions. He was what we would call today a “party animal.” When he died, it’s safe to assume that he received a funeral fit for a king, with a long procession, a large reception, and a lengthy obituary in the Jerusalem Herald. But where do we find him after he has died? In Hades, the Greek word for the place of the dead, which here is obviously used as a name for hell. The rich man was in torment. He was in anguish in the flames. He saw Abraham from a distance, while he himself was far from God’s presence and joy. All he wanted was one little drop of water from the tip of a finger to cool his tongue. But there was no help for him. It was too late. The gulf between heaven and hell is too great. By the time you find you are in hell, it will be too late to decide, “Hey, I’m not so crazy about this place. Can I change my mind about my eternal destiny?” By the time you are in hell, it will be too late to say, “Jeepers, I wish I had paid more attention to Moses and the Prophets.” And like the rich man, don’t think that you will be able to request that someone from the dead should visit your family so that they will repent of their wasteful, unfaithful life before it’s too late.

In the story that Jesus told, Abraham tells the rich man, “Your brothers have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” In other words, “Let them listen to the Word of God. All that they need to know for their faith and life and eternal welfare is written there. Besides, even if someone should rise from the dead they still won’t believe.” That describes a lot of people in our world today. Our Savior Jesus DID rise from the dead. We have the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles to the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament. Yet, like the Pharisees and so many others in Jesus’ day, people still refuse to believe.

God in Christ Makes a Name for You

The rich man wanted to make a name for himself. But what is his name? It’s not mentioned. Whose name IS mentioned? The poor man, Lazarus. The rich man who wanted to make a name for himself has no name in our story. The poor man who was more than likely ignored on the steps of the rich man’s home is given a name by Jesus...Lazarus.

The nameless rich man was once clothed with purple and fine linen. The nameless rich man once lived in luxury and feasted daily. Now, he was clothed in flames. Now, his tongue was parched. He tried to make a name for himself apart from listening to the Word of God and trusting in his promises.

Lazarus, on the other hand, was once clothed in sores. He once was placed outside the rich man’s gates, hoping just for a crumb from his table. He once was probably called, “That disgusting beggar, who even lets the dogs lick his sores.” Now, he is given a name ... Lazarus ... which means “the one whom God helps.” God was gracious to him, gave him faith to trust in God’s promises, and wrote the name Lazarus in the Book of Life. Now, Lazarus was clothed in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. Now, Lazarus was comforted and filled at the heavenly feast, reclining at Abraham’s side. And you can imagine who else was at that table...Isaac, Jacob, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and the rest of the saints in heaven, including ones whose names we have never heard, but whose names are surely written in the Book of Life.

In Holy Baptism, God made a name for you. He marked you with his own Name...Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Through water and the Word, the Holy Spirit created faith in your heart to trust in Christ, who died for your sins and rose to life again. You were forgiven and given the name Christian.

You might also say that you are a “little Lazarus.” As God’s beloved, forgiven child, you are “one whom God helps.” And hearing that name Lazarus, you can’t help but think about another Lazarus in the Bible. Jesus had a friend named Lazarus whom he raised to life again. Beforehand, he spoke to Lazarus’ sister Martha and said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) Jesus makes us into little Lazaruses as he raises us to new life. We have new life now, as St. Paul says in Romans 6, “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.” And we also are looking forward to eternal life in heaven, as Paul says in Romans 8, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

Most of us will never be as destitute as Lazarus was in today’s Gospel. But at one time or another we have all received bad things in our life. We may not be covered in sores. We may not be starving and begging outside the home of Bill Gates. But we are beggars nonetheless. We deserve nothing because of our sinfulness. But God in his grace and mercy “executes justice for the food to the hungry...sets the prisoners free...opens the eyes of the blind...lifts up those who are bowed over the sojourners...upholds the widow and the fatherless.” (Psalm 146) All of this is fulfilled in the promise of forgiveness through Christ Jesus who became sin for us “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) All of this is fulfilled as he welcomes us to his table, where we are fed with much more than crumbs. Our hungry hearts receive the very body and blood of our Savior. And there is a place reserved for us at Abraham’s side, at that eternal feast in heaven where we will be comforted just like Lazarus.

When that day comes, most of us will not be remembered here, except among our family and few friends. Earlier, I said that it won’t matter what people think of you when you die. But that’s not entirely true. What people think of you won’t get you into heaven. But I would hope that we all want to leave some sort of lasting legacy behind. I would hope that the most important thing we all want to leave our children is not an estate, but a life that testified to a belief in the Crucified and Risen Savior. Your name may never be spoken of in the same breath as Bill Gates, Paul Allen, or Donald Trump. Your name may never be spoken of in the same breath as Paul, Augustine, or Luther. But when your name is remembered, may it be remembered as one who gave all glory to God for giving you the name “Christian,” and one who, through the love of Christ, was able to serve all the Lazaruses laid outside your gate.


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