Text: Amos 6:1-7
Date: Pentecost XIX + Proper 21 + 9/25/16
We’re surrounded by angels today.
“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side” (Lk 16:22). Therefore we sing and pray for ourselves in the hymn:
Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abr’ham’s bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing. (LSB 708:3)
This week we celebrate St. Michael and All Angels Day.
Today’s Gospel gives us some amazing, impressive and comforting details about the afterlife, what happens when we die, as the promise of the ministry of angels at our death. It also lays out a serious warning. No, the story Jesus tells of the Rich Man and Lazarus doesn’t mean that all poor people go to heaven and all rich people go to hell. And it doesn’t mean either that the way to heaven is the way of caring for the poor and our other good works, except insofar as our love and works or lack of them are indicators of our relationship with God if it exists at all. What is your relationship with God? A Christian priest got a laugh when he was questioned by a seven-year-old child after watching him serve the sacrament at Mass, innocently asking, “Do you know Jesus or does He just work with you?” Christian faith is never a part time thing, or shouldn’t be.
The Old Testament reading from the prophet Amos describes how the rich man spoken of by Jesus demonstrates the sin of selfishness and false security to the neglect of God’s place in our lives and our place in the lives of others. “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria.” This woe applies to all in both the southern and northern kingdoms of Israel, to all of God’s people. “Those who are at ease” identifies us when we pretend like we’re pretty good people who are never going to die. But how does it go? “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor 15:32). We know death is inevitable no matter how much we deny it.
So the truth is, “The poor man died…. The rich man also died and was buried.” Rich or poor, good or bad, famous, infamous or unsung, “in Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22). “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:4). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The verdict of death is over all.
But wait! Death is not the final word. For the Bible says, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27). But what will that final word be? Jesus described the judgment scene in Matthew 25 beginning with the words, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations” (Mt 25:31-32), that is, everyone who ever lived as the prophet Daniel said, “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). Judgment day is not something you can avoid. It’s something that you can either deal with now or it will deal with you later at the last day.
“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches,” who eat the rich leg of lamb and the choicest veal tenderloin. Those “who sing idle songs” frittering away their days using God’s gift of music for their own mere entertainment or worse. “No small wine glasses here, please, only bowls will satisfy.” “And splash on the Pierre Cardin or the latest Giorgio Armani while you’re at it!” The rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day. “Woe,” says the prophet, to Israel, to the rich man, to all, “Woe to those are at ease in Zion…but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!” that is their own spiritual depravity and the threat of God’s Law of judgment.
God calls sinners to salvation. The way to that salvation is by repentance of our sins and faith in God’s service to us, Gottesdienst. Repentance means to grieve over your own spiritual depravity, to wake up to the fact that you’re actually not “pretty good people.” When you wake up to the truth, the truth about your sin, who you are on your own without God, to repent and to believe is to deal with God’s judgment now in a way that will give you acquittal, release and eternal life. For the promise from Moses and the prophets to the last word of Revelation is “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16). The Old Testament saints, says St. Paul, “were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2). So today all believers have been baptized into the death of Christ by water and the word.
Now Jesus’ story does not reveal the whole mystery. But the details maintain that to die without faith, to die by rejecting Jesus, the torment of Hades, Hell awaits. Then there will be no bargaining for yourself or anyone. Though the rich man ignored poor Lazarus in this life here he begs Abraham to treat him as a slave to come and help relieve him. “Besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” The judgment is already past.
Nevertheless, the negotiating continues, but only to proclaim Christ’s resurrection. “Send Lazarus to warn my brothers.” But they have already been warned. Moses and the Prophets, God’s Word, the Bible has already laid it all out, Law and Gospel. Then the shriek of unbelief, “NO, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” And guess what! Of that we have proof. For One did rise from the dead. Not Lazarus but Jesus, the One spoken of by Moses and the Prophets as the risen Jesus said to His disciples, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44) including His resurrection from the dead.
To be “at ease” says the prophet Amos is to be unconcerned with or in denial of your innate spiritual depravity apart from God. To possess the promise of a peaceful death and the gentle ministry of the angels is the sure hope of faith in Christ. That life of faith is a struggle as Christ transforms all our burdens and suffering to be but a blessed sharing in His cross, that symbol of His own suffering, sacrifice and death for us and for our salvation, that cross that mysteriously reflects our own hope of faith. For on that day, then will be the feasting and joy of eternal life.
When we on that final journey go
That Christ is for us preparing,
We’ll gather in song, our hearts aglow,
All joy of the heavens sharing,
And walk in the light of God’s own place,
With angels His name adoring. (LSB 503)