September 30, 2007
Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Peace and grace to you in the name of the Holy Trinity who gathers us together here, nourishes us and will go forward with us into the world.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” What does the pursuit of happiness entail? How will you know when you have attained that which you pursue?
Our culture tells us there are many things we need to make us happy. Maybe we are not receiving advertisements for beds of ivory or wine bowls, but we do need a Victrola…a hi-fi…an eight-track player…a cassette player… a Walkman… a CD player…a Discman… an I-Pod. There is always something newer, better, faster, bigger to be had. It’s not even to keep up with the neighbors anymore. It will make our lives better. We’ll save time, be healthier, be smarter, have shinier hair, whiter teeth, a better marriage, deeper sleep, a free pet turtle… it’s always something.
I am not saying progress is bad. That we should shun technology and retreat or that we need to divest ourselves of all our belongings, but what good is it if we gain the whole world and lose our souls? Too easily life can become about what we have. Please look at the back of your bulletin at the second lesson. “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”
Godliness combined with contentment? What does that mean? Let’s think of contentment as satisfaction- a fullness of heart and spirit. Godliness can be described as humbleness in communion with the Creator. So there is a deep sense of fulfillment in knowing one is walking with God. Yet that phrase still is a little troubling. We know it is God who meets us, who comes to us, who gives us the gift of faith, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. So godliness is an attribute that comes from the top down- from our Maker to us. How can we be anything but content to know that God walks with us in our daily lives?
But what about that parable? Where the rich man goes to Hades? And the poor man, described so graphically, goes to be with Abraham? This parable is preceded by the woman who finds the lost coin, the man who finds the lost sheep, the father who finds his prodigal son and the dishonest manager who was extravagant in forgiving debt. Still when the Pharisees heard all these stories, they scoffed at Jesus. Luke 16:14 says, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him.” Jesus tells them, “… God knows your hearts…” and then this parable comes abruptly.
This parable is interesting for many reasons. There is no introduction or conclusion. Hades was the Greek term for hell. Lazarus doesn’t go to the Father, but to Abraham. There is no mention of faithfulness. What is interesting is that the rich man still thinks he can give orders from Hades. Oh, Abraham… how about sending that man to cool me off? No? Well, send him to my brothers, so that they might be saved.
Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, “You fools! You just don’t get it. Amos said your possessions mean nothing if you do not grieve for the wrong that is in the world. Micah said do justice and love mercy. Isaiah says how beautiful are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, good news and salvation. Everything you need is right in front of you, but you will continue to believe that you are better than others because you dress well, eat well and offer more expensive sacrifices. You just don’t get it and I’m beginning to see that you may not ever.”
While we are able to see Jesus’ point, we can easily forget it. As Martin Luther reminds us, the first commandment is always the easiest to break. We do not mean to have other gods, but when we are distracted by the offerings of the world, when we idolize what is offered here, our hearts are not in the right place. We end up not grateful and we are not content.
This morning we have a baptism. Some of you may be able to remember your baptism, but many of you may not. Baptism is a mysterious of work of God that we have the chance to witness and in which we can participate. We are always encouraged to remember our baptisms daily. And what of those baptismal promises?
The strangest one always seems to be “Do you renounce the Devil and all his empty promises? The forces of evil?” What are we renouncing? That promise reminds us that nothing else in this world can offer us what God offers us in baptism- life, salvation and mercy. We baptize infants because God has called us to welcome all in this way into the family of the Church. When we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Before we have the chance to sin, God’s power cleanses us, showers us with love and fills us with the Holy Spirit.
Here where we are claimed as God’s own- there are certain truths that are self-evident. We are all equal in God’s eyes- beloved and blessed. Through God’s promises we can take hold of the life that really is life. We are freed to love the people around us- to use our possessions, our talents, and our time to help our neighbors. And we are called here again and again to remind ourselves that we are God’s own. That reminder serves as a beacon to guide us in pursuing godliness and contentment. Let your light shine before the world, so that they may see the good things you do and glorify your Creator in heaven.
We all have things, but we must remember they are just that… things. They have no value beyond what they can do for our lives in the very short term. Let your heart be moved by all that God has done for you and do not be swayed by the empty promises of the Devil. Remember God’s miracle for you in the waters of baptism. Solid and sure are those promises combined with water. They do not fail.
In fact, there is only one empty thing that God has ever given the world- the tomb.