First Sunday after Trinity
ďAlms are for the Poor and Heaven is for BeggarsĒ
May 29, 2005
Once upon a time
people gave alms. Today nobody knows what they are. The word ďalmsĒ comes from the Greek word for mercy.
We show mercy toward the poor by giving alms for their support.
Those who have received mercy from God express both their faith in
Godís mercy and their love for God.
They express their faith and their love by showing mercy to others,
especially to fellow Christians.
goes back to the very beginning. When
Jesus sent out the apostles to preach the gospel and administer the
sacraments they went out and preached the gospel and administered the
sacraments. That is what
ministers of the word do. Thatís
what they did. But thatís
not all they did. They also
took care of the daily distribution of food to the needy widows.
The preaching of Godís mercy and acts that express His mercy go
hand in hand. The heart that
receives mercy from God is thereby made merciful to others.
When the church first established an office to assist the preachers
of the word it was a ministry of mercy that they established.
It was taken for granted that Christians were responsible for
caring for the poor among them. That
some should go hungry while others were well fed would have been a
scandal. And in fact, the
Corinthian congregation participated in just such a scandal, for which St.
Paul severely chastised them.
assume that it is the Stateís responsibility to care for the poor.
A government run bureaucracy combines a graduated income tax with
various entitlement programs in order to transfer money from the rich to
the poor without anyone having to make a moral decision to do what mercy
requires for another human being. The
State has taken the place of God, the Church, the conscience, and any
responsibility for moral action. Just
pay your taxes and let the system care for those less fortunate than you.
You donít have to love. You
donít have to show mercy. You
donít have to care. You
donít even have to know. You
can walk right by the beggar at the gate and know that it isnít really
your Christian duty to do anything at all for anyone at all.
After all, why do we pay taxes?
But it doesnít
require socialism to harden the heart against the needs of those less
fortunate than we are. The
Welfare State is just a convenient excuse. What it requires is selfishness and greed.
My desires become more important than my neighborís needs.
What I can live without becomes more important than what my
neighbor cannot live without. This
is what happens when we make ourselves into our own gods.
Thatís what greed is. Itís
The rich man is given
no name. God did not know him as His child. The beggar is given a name.
ďLazarusĒ means God is my helper.
It is the name of the man whom God helps. There is an old saying, ďGod helps those who help
themselves.Ē Thatís not
quite biblical. God helps
those who cannot help themselves. God
helps those who beg him for His help.
As we sing in Maryís Magnificat, ďHe has filled the hungry with
good things and the rich He has sent empty away.Ē
You cannot always see
Godís mercy. Mercy lies hidden under many kinds of weakness.
It requires faith to see it. And
without faith it cannot be received.
Let me explain what I am talking about.
Godís mercy is His love, His compassion, His fatherly goodness.
Look at the rich man and you would think that here was a man who
had received Godís love, compassion, and fatherly goodness. After
all, he lived in the lap of luxury and had more than enough to satisfy
every conceivable desire. Was
not God the giver of every good thing the rich man had?
Of course He was. But
the rich man had no faith. He
did not trust in Godís mercy. Had
he trusted in Godís mercy he surely would have seen the man lying, half
starved, outside his gate. But
he didnít see him. He did
not know God. He did not know
mercy. He did not see the one
in need of mercy. So while
you would think that the rich man was greatly blessed by God, in fact he
didnít even know God.
On the other hand,
you would think that Lazarus had received no mercy from God.
Had God been merciful to Lazarus, why would He have left him in
such a miserable state? If
God loved the beggar, why did He leave the beggar to beg?
But Godís mercy is often hidden from our eyes.
Faith sees it and faith alone receives it.
We do not see Christ.
The greatest gifts He gives to us remain unseen in this life.
We do not see the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the
body, and the life everlasting. Yet we have all these things and with them we have pure and
undiluted mercy. This is
eternal mercy. The beggar had
it. It belonged to him. He
was wealthy beyond description even as he had to beg for his daily bread.
Imagine that! An heir of everlasting joys and nobody would have known it.
It was hidden from sight.
Only in heaven is the
mercy fully seen. To be taken
by the angels to Abrahamís bosom is to be brought into perfect
fellowship with God. Abraham represents the faithful of all generations.
He is our spiritual father. He
believed the gospel promise and through his faith in the promised Savior
God reckoned Abraham to be righteous.
Those who trust in the merits and mediation of Jesus are the
children of Abraham. They
often appear to this world as losers. They havenít got status, prestige, or wealth.
Nobody even notices them. But
through faith in Christ they are wealthy because they are heirs of heaven
itself. They have received
mercy from God.
It was the cry of
beggars begging for mercy from God that sent Jesus to the cross to suffer.
Yes, it was Godís eternal counsel and will to lay the burden of
all our sins on His beloved Son. But
it was also the prayers for mercy that reached the heart of God. Prayers for mercy are always prayed from the posture of a
beggar. This is why Lazarus
represents all Christians. If
you will not beg you cannot be saved.
God doesnít save us in our pride and self-reliance.
He saves us from it. He
makes us beggars. He shows us
our mercenary, selfish, and greedy motives and desires and He shows us
that this is sin. He wonít
relent from insisting that we be merciful, even as He is merciful.
And when we see ourselves as so lacking in charity that we fear the
same fate as the rich man who went to hell our gracious Savior takes those
fears away and assures us that we live under His mercy.
We donít get what we deserve.
He got what we deserve. We
get what He deserved. The
evil that we did was borne patiently by Him and we receive the rewards of
His goodness. This is how we
can be confident that we receive that for which we beg.
We freely admit that we donít deserve to receive it.
But we plead the help of God for Christís sake.
We plead as Lazarus and our pleas are heard.
But it is only in this life that the cry of repentance can be heard. There is no repentance after death. There is either heaven or hell. There is no place in between. A gulf is fixed between heaven and hell that no one can cross. There is no second chance. After death is the judgment. While Judgment Day will occur on the last day at the resurrection, there is nothing that can happen after death to change the judgment of Judgment Day. There is heaven and there is hell.
Lazarus did not
go to heaven because he was poor. Poor
people die and go to hell every day.
The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich.
Rich people die and go to heaven every day.
Jesus emphasizes the one manís wealth and the other manís
poverty in order to illustrate their faith.
The rich man trusted in his riches.
The poor man trusted in Godís mercy.
The source of faith
is the word of God. Not even
the resurrection of Christ Ė witnessed to by hundreds of people Ė was
sufficient to convert those who refused to hear Godís word.
The rich man thought that the resurrection of Lazarus would bring
his brothers to repentance. But
the source of our faith is Godís word.
As Jesus said, ďIf they do not hear Moses and the prophets they
will not be persuaded though one rise from the dead.Ē
God will not use any other means to lead people to repentance and
faith than His word. He will
speak. His law will continue to condemn us for our greed and
selfishness and God wonít tailor His law to avoid offending our
sensibilities. His gospel
will continue to give us forgiveness of all our sins freely for Christís
sake, and He will never fail to be merciful to those who call on Him in
Jesusí name. So we hold on to Godís word and rely upon its power.
We donít depend on gimmicks, signs and wonders, or various
manipulative schemes to convert people.
We depend on the pure gospel of Christ because this reveals Godís
mercy to us and it is only by means of Godís mercy in Christ that we can
be led to faith and kept in the truth faith.
When we receive Godís love we receive a little bit of heaven.
The love that God has shown us in Christ is the same love that will
be confirmed in us in heaven. The
peace that we receive from Christ here and now is the peace that we will
enjoy with God throughout eternity. The
difference between now and then is that now we have what we have by faith
and we still suffer from sin and sinís effects on our lives.
In heaven our faith will give way to sight.
Hell is constant
suffering and no rest. Heaven
is a deep satisfaction that no amount of self-serving on earth could
possible match. The only true
rest in time or in eternity is in Christ.
It is a rest in divine mercy that will never end.
It is a joy that will never diminish.
It is a peace that will never be broken.
Heirs of heaven are able to show mercy to the least of Jesusí
brothers here on earth with confidence that they are being merciful to
Jesus Christ Himself. There
are no rules governing how this is to be done.
There is no law that can compel its doing.
But mercy begets mercy and love begets love.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus