The text as I read it has two clear parts. There is the introductory part which is the crucible around the man with dropsy. This part to me carries the full gospel – Jesus embraces sinners, heals us and releases us in peace. The second part is the parable or the parables. But these stories are not the cute little tales of fathers and sons or sheep and shepherds. These parables are less invitations to understand the goodness of the Father and are more warnings or wisdom sayings. (Hence the OT reading being from Proverbs.) They invite us not to ponder who God is, because Jesus has already demonstrated that clearly and completely in his action. Instead they invite us to consider how do we live having seen the revelation?
The world seat people, chooses honors and awards, in a certain order by its rules. Jesus knows this and gives that order the side eye. The warning is that we should know this as well. How the Father honors is different. How eternity with order itself is different. And if we are made for eternity, we should be acting that way today. As another parable puts it we should be using today’s mammon to be welcomed into eternal dwellings. If we eat up all our providence today, claiming the great seats now, when that day comes the shame will be known to all.
The text contains Jesus saying, “give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God”. It is possible simply take that answer as a simple dodge, but that is not what this sermon does. This sermon looks at Jesus’ saying in four ways. In the literal time frame it was a way to confront and avoid the politics of division. It encouraged the hearers to ponder both what was the state’s and what was God’s, and how they might or might not over lap. If we look through a lens of Christology one of the creedal confessions is that Christ sits as the right hand of God. He has defeated the powers and principalities and now does reign. What that rules out are the simple poles that the state’s things are always God’s things or that the state’s things are never God’s things. Caesar, like Cyrus and Pharaoh, is accountable to the God of Israel, the only God. In sorting out the things of Caesar, we can’t find ourselves at the extremes. If we look through a moral lens, Jesus encourages us to look at whose image or whose icon is on things. The coin bore the image of Caesar, but humans bear the image of God. Morally, when we see the least among us, we are to see the image of Christ, and act accordingly. Yes, that image is cracked due to sin, but it is that image that Christ repaired. It is that image that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is renewing in us. Finally, we are encouraged to take an eschatological view (a completion or end view). In how we dispose of the things entrusted to us, do we use them for temporal ends, or do we use them for eternal ends? Jesus invites us to put God in our debt. He’s good for it. If we give the things of God to him we will not lose our reward.
Worship Note: I moved our Hymn of the Day after the Sermon in the recording. LSB 851, Lord of Glory You Have Bought Us. I did this because the sermon was a little longer today. So if you just listen to that you can get to it quicker. I also moved it after because the words of that hymn I believe capture the Christological and Moral force of the message exactly. The eschatological is there as well, but not quite as direct, or not put in the same vocabulary. I use treasure in heaven as the vocab sticking with the monetary theme of the text. The hymn switches to theological virtue language: faith, hope and love.
I broke a rule today. One of the main sermon rules is pick a point or a theme and stick with it. You can’t develop more than one in the time allowed, and your listeners can’t absorb more than one. But today I had three things. There was the highly moralistic point of the lesson in its context following last week. Charity is not a false lesson. It is also one that we need to hear. But the rich man and Lazarus is more than a moral. The second was also short. I’ve heard and read way to many sermons that construct an entire picture of heaven and hell from this example. That is an abuse of the text. The sermon tells you why.
But then I turn toward the point that I think is deeper. “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” The moral point is true, but it depends upon two things embedded in that phrase – faith and the word. Everything that happens – even a man rising from the dead – can be interpreted in different ways. People will go to great lengths to ignore or explain away things that are contrary to their monetary benefit or settled beliefs. The message of Jesus – of the cross – is contrary to both in this life. It has always been a stumbling block. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God. And what that power of God has done, by the waters of baptism and the word, is give us a name. Like poor Lazarus, we have a name. The world would surely know the rich man’s name, but we do not. Jesus didn’t tell it. But he knew Lazarus. Like he knows ours.
Worship Note: We had a great slate of hymns today. I didn’t include it in the recording but LSB 845 (Where Charity and Love Prevail) was the hymn of the day picking up on the moral point of the lesson. What amazes me is that the text is 9th century Latin. The church has taught the same things for a long time. Thy hymn I left in was LSB 782 (Gracious God, You Send Great Blessings). It was pledge card collection day, so that is part of the reason, but the hymn gets the order right as few stewardship hymns do. We have received mercy. We have heard the word. We are sustained in this creation. Lord we pray that we your people, who your gifts unnumbered claim, through the sharing of your blessings, may bring glory to your name. We have that name. We don’t do good works because we’ve been told, but because we have been named. That and the tune is one of the most uplifting in the book.
I made an off-hand comment in bible study a few weeks ago that I’m a big fan of helicopter money drops. That was a slightly snarky way of saying two things: 1) I don’t believe in complex charity or any complex programs and 2) I think that people who are in poverty, relieving the immediate cash crushes often leads to the ability to think longer term.
I look at those two reasons as more or less extensions of simple theology. 1) Complex programs are functions of the law. No matter how perfect the law, we can’t keep it. The law does not save. If we could cure poverty through the application of the law, it would be done by now instead of getting worse. The biblical fact is that the more the law increases the greater the trespass. 2) Just giving people money to solve immediate needs is a simple application of the gospel. We needed our sins forgiven. Absent that, nothing else really matters because we would still be damned. Christ forgave our sins first, and called us to freedom. Absent eternal death hanging over us, we can start to look further down the road. In a much smaller way, just giving money is an act of grace that removes immediate needs and allows greater vision.
The reason I bring it up is I saw this article with the headline: Free Money might be the best way to end poverty. The article runs through a bunch of social science experiments that basically support what I said snarkily. Now the writer and I would viciously part company on who and how and why this works. My reason why it would work is that it is the gospel – alms freely given and received change lives. (If you have ever seen Les Mis you should know the lesson.) The author instead takes it as the call to build a government program to give free money and to disparage “workfare”. The author would make a law of the gospel, and in so doing steal all its power to change lives. He would by force of law take money from some to give it to others. When the government does this, it is not love or even the attempt at love, but part of a transaction of which both giver and receiver and everyone part of the transaction remains guilty. It might be justice, but a justice without mercy and true love. The law does not save. Love saves.
But of course this is the tragedy of 1960-today America. We have abandoned the gospel, yet attempted to achieve its goals through the law. Ever more onerous and terrible laws. Laws that drain away the grace and replace it with cynicism and mandates. Mandates that the connected can get exemptions from or buy indulgences for. Because they like to parade around in splendid clothes (Luke 20:46-47).
The first is local to my synod and actually made the major papers. The Pan-Lutheran relief agencies appear to be splitting over the ELCA votes concerning homosexuality. Here is the article.
I’m not really sure about this. On the negative side, I don’t really think doctrinal purity is a reason to stop works of charity. I am also wary of some of the statements from the CTCR quoted. I think they could just as easily be used against churches within the synod as charitable partners. For example “adopt operational principles alien or contrary to scripture” in certain circles could be read as any church that uses some “church growth” techniques is to be doubted. Lutherans have always run ecclesially light. Unlike Catholics who mandate an episcopal structure, or reformed who work in presbyteries or baptists who are local control – Lutherans can confessionally be found in all organizations. That statement would signal a potential change. On the positive side, the Harrison administration says something and given time takes action instead of just letting inertia and lethargy do their thing.
The other interesting thing is the growing investiture crisis in China. The Catholic church for many years worked with the Catholic Patriotic Church (as well as running house churches). Occasionally China asserts the patriotic side of that body and appoints bishops. In the west, settled in the snows of Canossa, the Pope alone appoints or invests bishops. Some interesting parallels. If you work with someone (like the LCMS and ELCA in charity) you will have to deal with relationship troubles – like who appoints bishops and leaders and where money gets spent. If you opt for purity, you control that, but where does that line stop and do you have the reach to actually make disciples, or are you too worried about your purity. [This one eats with tax collectors and sinners].