The First Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| May 25, 2008| Jeremiah 9:23-24
“Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
The wise man who glories in his wisdom is a fool. The apostle writes, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise.” (1 Corinthians 1:27a) The mighty man who glories in his might is also put to shame. The apostle writes, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:27b) The rich man who glories in his wealth is the greatest fool of all. He remains forever poor. As Jesus said,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Only a fool would glory in his wisdom or in his might or in his riches. Only a fool would trust in these things while ignoring the God who gives these gifts and can also take them away. But this world is filled with fools. It has been this way since the fall of Adam.
As we know from biblical history, the nation of Judah trusted in their political wisdom. They trusted in their military might. They trusted in their material riches. They despised the God who gave it all to them and they worshipped false gods. So God took it all away and sent them away in captivity as he said he would do. But who has learned the lesson? People still put their confidence in their wisdom, might, and riches, living as if God did not exist.
No one would know the name of a beggar lying at the gate of a rich man’s house. They would know the name of the rich man. But Jesus gives no name to the rich man in the parable. He gives the beggar a name instead. It doesn’t matter how people know us. It matters how God knows us. The name, Lazarus, says it all. It means “God is my helper.” The rich man thought that he needed no help from God. He had it all. So he thought.
Idolatry is in the heart. Wisdom, might, and riches are gifts from God. But when the one who receives a gift from God worships the gift instead of the Giver of the gift the gift becomes an idol. As Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Where is our treasure? Is it in God and his gospel? Is it in what no man can ever take away from us? Or is it in the things that fools have idolized throughout history?
When God urges the wise man, the mighty man, and the rich man to glory in knowing Him, the LORD, the first thing God mentions about Himself is his lovingkindness. To be loved by God is the greatest treasure anyone could have in this life. It is worth more than any created gift. God is love. To be loved by God is to have God and that means to have wisdom greater than the wisest scholar, might more mighty than the greatest army, and riches beyond human measurement.
But how can God love a man such as the beggar described in this story and leave the poor man in his miserable poverty so that he remained a beggar until he died? Where is God’s lovingkindness? Why doesn’t God send someone to help this poor beggar who receives only crumbs for food? The only living beings to show the slightest compassion for him are the dogs that come to lick his sores. How can we believe that an almighty God actually loves this pathetic man? It defies human wisdom to believe such a thing. But we don’t glory in human wisdom.
Just as amazing is that the rich man who has everything he could have wanted in life does not have God’s love. God had showered the man with every possibly luxury that money could buy. But the man refused God’s love. That is why he had no love. That is why he showed no love to the beggar lying outside of his gate.
The beggar on the other hand, as his name implies, trusted in the God who was his help even when he saw no evidence of the help or love of that God. Faith clings to God’s word alone, not to physical or material evidence of God’s goodness. Through faith in God’s gospel the beggar received from God what no man wanted to give him and what no man could give him. He received eternal life.
The fact that the rich man had no such faith is shown by the conversation between him and Abraham. The man shows no remorse for any sin. When Abraham reminds the rich man of the written Scriptures that warn of hell for the wicked and promise heaven to the faithful, the rich man dismisses Moses and the prophets with contempt and asks for a miracle instead. If someone were to rise from the dead! But those who won’t hear the words of the Bible won’t be persuaded by any miracle, not even the resurrection of Jesus Christ Himself.
What do we value? Do we value what God values? God is not a man. He doesn’t think like a man and he doesn’t judge like a man. When God the Son became a man he joined his divine nature to the human nature that he received from the Virgin Mary. Here is how we confess this Personal Union in the words of the Athanasian Creed: “Who, although He is God and Man, yet He is not two, but one Christ: One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God.” What does this mean: “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking the manhood into God”? It means that God did not change when He became a man. The man that God became was, is, and will always be the perfect man because He was, is, and will always be the true God. When God and man are united in the one Lord Jesus Christ, we see in Christ true wisdom, true strength, and true riches.
Look and see your God! See what Lazarus saw. The world thinks that true wisdom lies in man’s search for God. Then it glories in this endless search. But we cannot find the lovingkindness of God except in Christ. True wisdom is in the love that condescends to bear the sin of all sinners on the cross. Our human wisdom parades itself. True wisdom is found in humility. It is found only in Christ who humbled Himself to suffer and die for our sins.
The world thinks that true strength is in human effort, but when and where have people achieved the perfect judgment and justice by which their strength can do nothing but good? As a matter of fact, the strong oppress the weak and take advantage of their weakness. Justice is denied to those who cannot speak for themselves. Justice goes begging while the strong do whatever they want to do simply because they can. The world glories in power for power’s sake. God in Christ reveals true justice. This justice is established in Christ’s innocent suffering for the guilty. It is a justice that the world, blinded by its own power, cannot see. Only the helplessly weak who know they are helplessly weak can know it and receive it because God gives it freely to those who have no strength of their own on which to rely.
The world thinks that true riches consist in the things we own. God makes us rich by giving us the righteousness of Christ. This makes a sinner into a saint. It makes a poor beggar richer than the man who lives in the lap of luxury. When you know that God, for Christ’s sake, forgives you all your sins you know that you are righteous. You are rich. All the riches of heaven are yours.
The world can see none of these things. God sees differently than the world sees. True wisdom is the message of the cross that is foolishness to those who don’t believe. True might is the power of God’s love in the human heart, something that no one can see or measure or know unless he has it. The beggar lying outside the gate knew the love of God in Christ. He knew his Savior. He trusted in his merits. God’s power rested on that pathetic failure of a man because he wasn’t a failure. He wasn’t what he appeared to be. When he died, the angels from heaven carried his soul to Abraham’s side.
You don’t see true riches in this world. You see true riches in heaven. It is the place for those who have received God’s love in Christ. Perfect love, as St. John reminds us, casts out all fear. Only those who know God’s love in Christ can live without being afraid of God’s judgment. They know that heaven belongs to them already even while they are living here on earth.
Compare the value of love to the value of everything else that is valued among us. We know God in Christ. We know a love that covers all our sins. It comforts us in every loss. It assures us that we have eternal life and are heirs of heaven. From this love we love each other. We love because he first loved us. From this love we know God and can appreciate properly every gift that He gives. Only in this love can we be freed from idolatry that worships the creature rather than the Creator.
Hell is real and real people go there. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus describes what is real. Hell is the place where there is no love, no comfort, no forgiveness, and no hope. The guilt never goes away. Heaven is the place of pure love. In heaven there is no hatred, no violence, no greed, no resentment, no temptation, or anything evil at all. In heaven there is nothing that goes against love. Those who treasure the love of God in Christ, the love displayed on the cross, the love given in the gospel and sacraments of Jesus, these people, like the beggar lying outside the rich man’s gate, treasure heaven. To treasure God’s love is to treasure heaven. To treasure God’s love is also to love those whom God has given us to love here on earth. It is in loving our neighbor whom we can see that we love God whom we cannot see. God accepts what we do for our neighbor as a precious offering to Him because that is what it is.
We glory in the love of God in Christ who was crucified for us. This is the love that will send the angels to carry our souls to Abraham’s side. There we will forever glorify the gracious God who saves sinful beggars like us. Amen