Faith and Love Go Hand in Hand
v.19-20 There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores…
Dear friends in Christ, the theme for this Sunday could simply be put as that old Lutheran axiom, "Faith alone saves, but saving faith is never alone." We see this reflected in each of our texts for today. In the O.T. reading, Abram is comforted by the Word of God concerning God's promise to give him an heir of his own body (though Abram had already been waiting for decades at this point). Yet, in the face of the Lord's clear Word, "[Abram] believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). So righteousness is received by believing the Lord's Word—faith. Furthermore, St. John records in our epistle the close connection between faith (love of God) and good works (love of neighbor). He writes, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him; whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:20-21).
And then we have our Gospel text, in which Jesus is telling the Pharisees (lovers of money and of self) a story about an unnamed rich man, and a poor man named Lazarus, whose name means "God is my help." The rich man dressed in the finest of clothes, lived in the poshest of neighborhoods, drove the fanciest cars, ate the choicest foods, and drank the finest wines. Being blessed with such material wealth and possessions he believed himself to be rigtheous—assured of a place in God's kingdom. How could God not love him? Just look at how great he was—what God had given him? This man lived in celebrated luxury—showing off ostentatiously—but he was truly poor in deed. For he lacked the one thing needful: faith.
How can you be so sure, pastor? After all, he is familiar with Abraham and the Scriptures. And yet, he had no love. How do we know that he lacked true faith in God—because he failed to love his neighbor in obvious need. The poor man, Lazarus, was laid outside the rich man's gate. No doubt Lazarus could hear the partying and the feasting going on inside as the rich man hosted the Who's Who of the local community. Lazarus' mouth watered at the smells wafting out of the kitchen—even as he hacked and coughed, growing weaker and weaker as the sores on his body opened and oozed pus and blood. But the rich man took no notice. He ignored the plight of this poor, sick man, even though he had every means, every opportunity to exhibit Christian love and charity. Lazarus, having been tossed before the rich man's gate like a sack of garbage—is ignored—except to be booted out of the way when the rich man left the house in his Ferrari. Only the dogs offered Lazarus any consolation—any mercy—by licking his wounds.
However, as is often the case with Jesus' stories, there is an abrupt and sudden reversal of fortunes. When does this happen? Upon the death of both men. Lazarus "died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side." How jarring this must have been for the rich man. He who had assumed throughout his life that, because of his great fortune and wealth, God had surely blessed him, and that he was therefore in a right relationship with God, only to find upon his death, that he was outside of the household of faith. Yet his lack of faith soon becomes evident to all when he opens his mouth to speak.
The rich man, being tormented in hell for his sin and unbelief, seeks not mercy from God almighty, but from Abraham! Nor does he even seek to be released from the anguish of hell, but rather only mild temporary relief, by using Lazarus as a servant. When he is chastised by Abraham, he then switches tactics, seeking to prevent his brothers from entering hell; again he desires Lazarus to be sent as a messenger—a tool. But Abraham rebukes him once more, saying, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them." They have the Word of God. Let them read from Holy Scripture what true faith is about—let them learn from the Word of God about the Word of God made flesh—He who comes to save His people from their sins—He who comes to suffer the torments of hell in the place of sinners and so set them free from bondage to sin and death—for a life to be filled with faith and hope and love. AGAIN the rich man argues! "'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'"
Beloved, faith and works go hand in hand, but this faith is only brought about by the saving Word of God alone. This Word that is proclaimed into your ears this day, moves you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to repent of your sin—your failure to love as you ought—both God and neighbor—and to look to Christ alone for your hope and salvation. To cry out, the Christian plea of faith, "Kyrie Eleison! Lord, have mercy!" We cry out not to any of the saints, be they Abraham, Moses, St. Peter, or St. Paul, but only to the One who can truly save—the Lord Jesus. He who has had mercy on us by coming to us—taking on our flesh—being burdened with the guilt and shame of our sin—suffering hell and the full wrath of God for our every sin on the cross—dying the death that we deserve—and then rising again to new and everlasting life. Christ Jesus has died for YOU! His blood has been poured out to wash you clean of every spot and stain—to soothe your troubled consciences—and to strengthen your weak flesh—in His saving work and life.
At times, dear friends, we are tempted (especially we Lutherans) to live our lives as if our good works don’t matter. "Good works do not save!" we rightly state, but that does not mean that we are neither called to do good works, nor that our good works are unimportant or unnecessary. For a faith without works is a dead faith—a false faith—a faith that leads only to hell. True and living faith in Christ always results in good works. The rich man did no good works—did not love his neighbor Lazarus whom he had seen—and so it is clear he did not love God whom He had not seen.
Listen to what James says in his epistle (2:13-18), "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." James is teaching exactly what Jesus is in our Gospel reading. Faith and works go hand in hand. We who have faith and trust in Christ to forgive our sins—also live our lives in love and service to our neighbor.
Beloved, you have heard Moses and the Prophets and the whole counsel of God. You have heard His Word that you are a sinner in need of His grace—a sick and dead man with no hope. Christ has come and opened His heart to you by pouring out His life's blood for you on the cross. Though convicted of your sin, you trust in God's Word of promise to you, just as Abraham did. You look to the covenant of grace God made with you in your baptism and rejoice. Knowing that though you are a sinner, you are a sinner for whom Christ has died, and who has been cleansed and healed by the saving blood of Jesus Christ.
Longing for God's grace and mercy, you are fed each week with the very Body and Blood of Christ from the Lord's own table. He does not provide you with mere table scraps to sustain you—but rather the rich banquet of the very Son of God—which is but a foretaste of the feast that shall never end. Though you may receive bad things in this life, yet you trust in God's Word that you shall be comforted in eternity—dressed in the robe of Christ's own righteousness, and living in the very home that Christ has gone to prepare for you, feasting for eternity with Abraham and Lazarus and all the saints.
Truly, we can rejoice in the words of that old Lutheran hymn, "Faith clings to Jesus' cross alone And rests in Him unceasing: And by its fruits true faith is known, With love and hope increasing. For faith alone can justify; Works serve our neighbor and supply The proof that faith is living" (LSB 555 v.9). Uplifted by the Word of Christ that dwells in you richly, and through which you hear and receive the forgiveness for all of your sins—your works of faith and love shine forth—all in joyful response to the One who died and rose again for you. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.