In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
As we move into the second half of the Church Year, our attention shifts. From Advent through Pentecost, we focused on the life of Christ. We recounted what He has done for our salvation—His birth in Bethlehem, His life of perfect obedience, His death, His resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. But now as we move into the long stretch of Sundays after Trinity we learn about what our life as Christians looks like. In other words, how does the first part of the Church Year affect how we live our life? As we wrapped up the Easter season, the Epistle Readings especially started to prepare us for this. On the Fifth Sunday after Easter, the Apostle James told us, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22). This isn’t to say do good works to earn your salvation, but it’s the admonishment to repentance and newness of life of Christians. It’s a reminder that as long as we are in this body and life, we have to fight our sinful flesh. This body doesn’t want to do what pleases God. Our faith does, but faith and the flesh wrestle and our faith needs to be encouraged and strengthened by the Word of God. So, James tells us to do what the Word tells us to do. Today we get a practical glimpse at that.
The Collect for the Day begged God to grant us the help of His grace to keep His commandments. How is this done? Our Readings laid it out nicely and in the correct order. First, Abram was the picture of faith. By him we were reminded that faith is what makes a man righteous in God’s eyes. So before we even get to the doing of good works, we are reminded that for anything to be pleasing to God it must flow from faith. With that faith living and active, we next ask “how can I keep God’s commandments?” The Epistle tells us to love our brother. John showed us that this is not optional. We cannot claim to love God while hating our brother. As he asked, If you do not love your brother whom you see, how can you love God, whom you do not see? Finally, the Gospel put it all together as we saw Lazarus and the Rich Man. The Rich Man, who called Abraham his father, likely claimed to love God, to be a faithful son of Israel. But how did he conduct his life? He lived a life of highest luxury and had no love for poor Lazarus who laid at his door! This reminds us that as a Christian, good works are supposed to be done. We are not to suppress them and imagine that we don’t need to love our neighbor, thinking we’re saved regardless of how we live our life. Faith produces good works. Faith without good works is no faith at all, and as Jesus soberly warns us, hell is prepared for those who refuse to do good works, who suppress faith’s natural desire and fail to love their brother yet claim to love God.
God isn’t telling us to all go become paupers, selling all we have and giving all of our possessions to the poor. Sure, we can all probably stand to be a little more generous, helping any number of people or charities. But we can’t think this is only about money; there’s more to loving your brother than tossing money at him. Could the Rich Man have helped Lazarus financially, maybe feeding him or giving him money for medical treatments or a spare room in his home? Yes. But think about how else the Rich Man could have helped. When he begs assistance of Abraham and Lazarus, for whom does he plead? He begs for spiritual help for his five brothers. He realizes that they may be well-off temporally, but in terms of eternity they are poorer than Lazarus, as the Rich Man now realizes he is, too. He realizes that in terms of the one thing needful, they are lacking. They need to be converted, to come to faith and realize that they need God more than they need things.
This is true love for your brother. It’s caring about him in both body and soul! God doesn’t just want us to throw money at him, thinking that solves all his problems. Truly loving someone means helping them holistically, not just seeing to their basic physical needs and thinking you have solved the problem. Like the Rich Man, the person you help with money may end up richer than Bill Gates, but that doesn’t benefit him eternally. Those whom God has placed in our lives may need temporal assistance, but how many of them need spiritual assistance? Just like we all know people in our life who could benefit from charity, we all probably know people who need God’s Word. But remember: Love doesn’t mean giving blanket acceptance to everything someone does. Sometimes truly loving someone means confronting them over harmful behavior, just like true love slaps the toddler’s hand away from the hot stove. There may be tears and hurt feelings, but they are temporary, especially as the toddler grows and realizes that you spared them great injury. Maybe you know someone who has wandered from the Faith who needs a reminder of the eternal fate of those outside of the Faith or who claims to be Christian but has willingly ignored God’s Word in regard to their favorite sin. Or maybe it’s someone broken down by the Law, sorrowful over their sin and searching for forgiveness, or someone thinking that no one could love them knowing what they have done. No matter who you know, those people need to hear of God’s unconditional love. They need to hear that God wants everyone to be saved, to stop listening to the devil’s lies that they can live however they want or that they can never be loved or forgiven or whatever else the devil has managed to convince them of. They need to hear that in Christ there is forgiveness for whatever sin they have done, and that He gives His Holy Spirit to help them turn their life around, to cause them to walk in ways pleasing to God. They need to hear that Jesus is the only one who can satisfy the longing that drives them, that they will be restless until they find their rest in Him. In our brother, in all of those God has placed in our life, He gives us the opportunity to be doers of the Word and not hearers only, to show them how much we truly love them by telling them all that Jesus has done for them and wants to make theirs by faith.
Though this is what we are all called to do by virtue of our Christian faith, we know that we all fail. None of us have loved our brother as we ought. Maybe we’re embarrassed or afraid because the person we should be talking to in love knows all our warts as well and they may perceive what we are doing as being “holier than thou” or we just don’t know the words to say. Repent. Pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen you, to give you the words to say, just as Jesus promised He would.
Though we may act like the Rich Man, ignoring the obvious needs of our brother, Jesus still forgives. By His cross and resurrection He forgives us for our sinful inaction. He then makes us like Lazarus, rich in peace and joy and hope and contentment. By this richness He makes us long for heaven, to be borne by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. And this all strengthens our faith to give us the courage to be doers of the Word, people who love their brother and help him in all of his needs of body and soul.
So as the Church, waiting in these latter days between Pentecost and the return of Christ, may our prayer always be that God grant us the help of His grace to keep His commandments, and grace to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and His forgiveness that opens heaven to us and all believers.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).