In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It seems a little early to start talking about “A Christmas Carol” and Ebenezer Scrooge. In some ways, it seems that Scrooge is patterned off of the Rich Man in today’s Gospel text. And yet, there is a big difference.
Ebenezer Scrooge worships his money. He adores the wealth and serves it, with every thought,
word, and deed done to protect and save the money, for fear of losing it. On the other hand, the Rich Man in today’s text worships himself. He uses his wealth in every thought, word, and deed, to make his life comfortable and excessive. Money is his tool in adoring himself and giving in to his every whim.
This is a recurring theme in fictional works in print and film, sometimes even with humor, which lightens our mood and can get us to forget about the idolatry here. Think of London Tipton on Disney Channel’s Suite Life. Or the Cullen family in the Twilight series, Richie Rich from the old comic books, or Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island. We have an obsession with wealth, even when we try not to. These characters are fiction, and none of them are really mean, but think about their life of faith, or rather, the absence of it. Now the financial success is not the sin. But adoring it is. Worshiping oneself with it is. Crowding
Christ out of your life for however much or little wealth you have is.
Then there is Tiny Tim, the adorable little boy with the weakness and illness, hobbling on his crutch, and on the verge of death unless Scrooge changes his ways. In the Scriptures it is poor Lazarus. But Lazarus is neither adorable nor little. He is a grown man, exceedingly poor, starving, his stomach rumbling and desiring the garbage that falls from the rich man’s table, and covered with sores.
In the book and films of “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge ends up repenting and changing his ways. He begins to share his wealth rather than be a hoarding miser. So how dare this Rich Man deny mercy to Lazarus! He refuses to show mercy to the beggar, and ends up in hell. But is that why?
Why does he go to hell? Not because of his sin in hoarding and coveting. Not in the sin of denying mercy. These are wicked, yes, but they are merely the symptoms of his problem – his damning problem. Jesus is NOT at the center. The Rich Man himself is! He fears, loves, and trusts in himself above all things. He gives himself offerings of the finest clothes and most sumptuous feasts every day. No room for the Lord God in his life, only for self!
And as he rots in hell, you see another difference between the Rich Man and Scrooge. Scrooge, according to the story, had a true change of heart. He repented and even became known as a man of peace and generosity. This Rich Man never repented, and now in hell, does not even want his brothers to repent in faith. No. He just wants them to escape punishment. That’s it.
Beware, my friends. Do not let this be your habit. Do not go through the motions of repentance, but do it only out of fear of punishment. True repentance is a gift from the Holy Spirit. He will recall you to your baptismal waters where He refreshes and renews you in Christ’s forgiveness. Forgiveness that comes to you through His Holy Gospel!
Jesus, the loving Shepherd sought out this man, but was rejected. Christ knew his needs and well-provided him, but still he wandered and refused to return to be folded to the Shepherd’s breast. How sad!
Beware of wandering as the Rich Man did. It doesn’t even take skipping the Divine Service to wander. You might be enjoying a few sips of your Starbucks or sneaking in a text or two on your cell phone while in the pew. You might be looking at your watch, or not, but still thinking, “When is he ever going to stop!?” Yes, these are offensive to God, and begin refusing to listen to Him.
And that is what the remarks about the Rich Man’s brothers are all about. They had Moses and the Prophets. In other words, they had the Scriptures! They knew God’s Word. If they did not listen to God’s Word, they would not believe even if someone rose from the dead! And rose from the dead they DID! The daughter of Jairus, the son of the Widow from Nain, and…huh…LAZARUS. These resurrections did not cause any great numbers to repent. No massive group of followers for Jesus as a result of these miracles – even the miracle of rising from the dead. But even more importantly, not long after this, Jesus Christ Himself suffered, died, and rose from the dead! Those who refused to listen to God’s Word, refused to believe, even when Jesus Christ rose from the dead!
Not so with you. You are Jesus’ little lambs. You have been gathered by the Great Shepherd of the Sheep who is risen from the dead. He has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His Gifts, sanctified, and kept you in the true faith.
You have a new life, forgiven in Christ. The Great Shepherd has risen from the dead, and speaks to you now in His Holy Word. He proclaims His comfort to you week after week in the preaching of His Gospel. He releases you from the guilt of your idolatry through Baptism and Holy Absolution. And He gives you far more than scraps from His Table – He gives you His very Body and Blood, given and shed for you, that you may not end up in the place of torment, but have life with Father Abraham, Lazarus, and all the saints, together with our loving Savior.
Jesus has gifted you with life and salvation, and has given you all that you need in this life, as well. He provided even for poor Lazarus. He has given you far more. As you continue to hear about “Build St. John’s” you are given Christ’s mercy. God has shown great mercy in building this congregation. He gives you His mercy even now. He IS mercy. And He bestows mercy through you.
The Rich Man placed his faith in himself and in the wrong wealth. He trusted in what moth and rust can destroy and thieves steal. But God the Holy Spirit has placed your faith in true wealth – the wealth of Christ! Jesus IS the absolutely highest in value. Jesus IS the priceless treasure.
Rejoice, dear redeemed and baptized little lambs! Jesus has given you Himself, which surpasses any wealth imaginable. He has shown His ultimate mercy and keeps you forever! Amen.