Sermon - 1st Sunday after Trinity

St John 16.19-31 Trinity 1
St John's Ev LC, Victor, IA 2013.6.2

In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Gospel reading records a story that Jesus told to the Pharisees. Whether this story is true or not, we aren't told. It certainly could be, as Jesus uses the names of real people: Jesus' good friend, Lazarus, and the patriarch Abraham; though, the circumstances surrounding this story make it seem a bit unrealistic.

Whatever the case, God saw fit that we didn't need to know, so we don't; and that's just fine. The important part / is the story itself. It is a story about the two extremes of earthly life: abundance / and scarcity; having everything you ever imagined / verses having nothing but the filthy clothes on your back; being rich / verse being poor.

I honestly never really considered this before, this Scriptural dynamic between the rich and the poor. But as I meditated on this Gospel reading in preparation for this morning, I began to realize just how prevalent this was throughout Scripture; there are poor and there are rich everywhere in Scripture. Just by doing a quick word study, I found these two principles: on the one hand, / God makes special and adequate provisions for the poor (with only limited exception to that rule), while, on the other hand, / God makes some very serious demands on the rich (again, with only a few exceptions).

Now, examples of this abound. If you are interested in looking any of this up, you can check out Leviticus 25 where the Lord gives some of the most rigorous Mosaic laws regarding this very interaction between the poor and the rich. And what you will find there / is that God orders and commands this interaction between people / as though He were controlling it, as though He initiated and blesses and sustains this type of community where some are wealthy and they provide for the others who are poor.

But of all the places in Scripture where we are taught about the poor and rich, none is so clear and bold as what we are told in the Song/Prayer of Hannah, the mother of the great Prophet and Priest Samuel. This prayer is recorded in 1 Samuel, chapter 2. I'll read for you the whole thing just so that you can get a sense of her boldness.

And Hannah prayed and said,
“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my horn is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in your salvation.
2 “There is none holy like the Lord:
    for there is none besides you;
    there is no rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble bind on strength.
5 Those who were full / have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry/ have ceased to hunger.
The barren / has borne seven,
    but she who has many children / is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills / and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol / and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor / and makes rich;
    he brings low / and he exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
    he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
    and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
    and on them he has set the world.
9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
    for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
    against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
    he will give strength to his king
    and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

The Lord makes poor / and makes rich; he brings low / and he exalts.” This is the Lord's doing. “The Lord / makes / poor / and He / makes / rich.”
We love to hear that God is gracious, and that He provides for our earthly needs. / But what about this? How do you react to the truth that our good and gracious Lord also takes away, and withholds earthly goods? More importantly, I should ask this: How have you reacted in your life, when the Lord has taken away from you, and when He has withheld? Has God made you poor?
Of course, in some ways, we are all poor. It's just most obvious when we don't all have equal abundance of food or possessions. But reality shows us (and Scripture also teaches us) that there are poor in health, poor in spirit, poor in faith, poor in wisdom, patience, gentleness, humility, and honor, and the worst of all (as we heard about in the Epistle lesson): poor in love.
God makes the poor. And not just in stories, like in the one He told to the Pharisees. He really does it. / He made you poor, in one way or another. Blessed be the name of the Lord? / It's a challenge sometimes, isn't it?

Repent. / Let God be God. He won't challenge you more than you can handle. If He counts you worthy to suffer as one who is poor (in spirit or possessions or honor or whatever), you just leave that to Him. In fact, the only reason the poor know that they are poor is because they have lost their focus on God and looked out at the world and started comparing themselves. The counsel of my wise father comes to mind here: “if you compare yourself, you will always be unhappy.”

In the story, the one descriptor of Lazarus that we don't hear, because he wasn't like this: is unhappy. Lazarus had a terrible life, the worst! The only reason we assume he is miserable and unhappy / is because that's how we know that we would respond. Repent. And let your trust and confidence in God be unwavering. Let not the Holy Spirit's flame of hope and trust, which was ignited in you in your Baptism, let it not go out or dim down because of worldly, temporary circumstances. Your faith is greater than any suffering that you could ever undergo. Beware, yes, / but take heart. God makes special and adequate provisions for you.

But how does that happen? How does God make those special and adequate provisions? / Well, this is what Scripture describes as the community of believers. Again, examples of this abound, but one of the greatest is in Acts, chapter 2. Listen to this blessed account:
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

The Lord makes poor and / makes rich.” Has God made you rich? Has He given you abundance, more than what you and your family needs? Most obviously, I'm speaking of possessions, but not only about possessions and material things like food and clothing and the abundant, ornate shelters that we call homes (in most times and places throughout history, our homes would be called palaces), I'm not only speaking of those things, though having an abundance of material things certainly allows you the luxury of caring for others in a very powerful way.

But I'm also speaking of being rich in wisdom and health and faith and patience and love and honor.

The poor need the rich. It is from the abundance of the rich / that God makes these special and adequate provisions for the poor. To be rich (in one thing or another) is to have great responsibility over that thing. Be clear about this / and this is for all of you, because you are all rich in one thing or another (by the way, it's a bit misguided to label someone a poor person or a rich person; a better way to talk is to say that a person is poor in a certain thing, or rich in a certain thing; and what's more this changes throughout life. When you're young you may be rich in strength, for example, while when you're old you become weaker and even poor in strength or health or whatever; and the reverse is also true, of course, that when you're young you are poor in wisdom, but as you get older you increase and become rich in wisdom.) So all of you need to hear this, whether young or old or a little bit in between. You all need to hear the warning / and the blessing / of being rich / and of being poor.

And to give this a little more kick, I'm just going to let Dr Luther explain it to you in his own words. The following is what He preached on this Sunday in the Church Year in the year 1535 in a small parish church in Germany. Luther said:
We must make the proper distinction: the poor man doesn't come into heaven because he is poor, nor the rich man into hell because he is rich...The distinction in itself is right and good: poverty is not by nature something good; neither is wealth [by nature something] evil. The person who handles his poverty properly and with patience, content that it is God's will, as St Paul says (Phil 4.11): “I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content,” [if the poor one handles his poverty like St Paul here, then] his poverty is a precious thing / and [even] a preparation for eternal life. / By the same token, when a wealthy person perceives how God has blessed him with possessions and resolves that, because God has bestowed riches upon him, he will rightly use his wealth and become neither proud nor greedy; he is ready to share his goods if and when a poor man comes to him for help in time of need. Such a rich man handles his riches well, like Abraham and David who were wealthy, or Job, of whom it is said that he did not eat his morsel [of bread] by himself alone (Job 31) [because he constantly entertained the poor in godly hospitality]...God, the knower of hearts, will not be deceived; nothing is hidden from him [neither the good, nor the bad].”

Dearly beloved, God makes special and adequate provisions for the poor. In what area of your life has God made you poor? Handle it well, that is, be humble / and receive the admonition of the Lord Himself: “you have not, because you ask not.” Repent / and pray / and be delivered from you poverty, just like Lazarus.

Dearly beloved, God requires much of the rich. / In what area of your life has God mad you rich? You also, be humble / and handle your riches in a godly way, unlike the rich man in Jesus' story. To avoid his destruction, you must submit yourself to prayer and ask God to grant to you wisdom to meet the challenge of wealth; / to know where He needs your wealth to go, and for whom He needs you to care.

This is what Jesus is teaching in the story. / Do you believe that God is in control? Then you must see that He is also controlling the way things are now; He is ordering, blessing and sustaining the interaction between the rich and the poor. He is taking our destructive thoughts, words, and actions, and using them for His good and gracious purposes, just like He did on the cross, where He exhibited this order in a perfect way, for He who was rich in all things, became poor for our sake, / that we who were poor in all things, might become eternally wealthy.

He did that, He gave you eternal wealth, made you an heir of God's heavenly kingdom, you trust Him with you eternal life / trust Him also, that He can order your earthly life for your good and the good of your family. He is in control, and He is Good.

In +Jesus' name. Amen.

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