Feb 5, 2005

Sermon Title: Living in Dichotomy - The Rich Man and Lazarus

Linda E. Webster
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
First Place Feburary 2005 Round
The scriptures read today could appear to be a trap for many of us in various ways. We live within the society of the United States, which is affluent for many people – but not for all. This is difficult because those who are affluent do not want to see themselves in the position of the rich man that was read about today in Luke 16.

Honestly – if you are honest with yourself – you almost cannot help but see yourself as being part of the affluent. The rich man spent a lot of money on himself. He wore purple-colored cloth, a sign of wealth, and fine linen.

Please – just take a moment to look at what you are wearing today. You are probably dressed fairly nicely – even – by some of the world’s standards – richly. Out of curiosity, think about how much the outfit you are wearing cost.

The rich man ate sumptuously. What was your breakfast like this morning? Think about what you ate before you came here. You most likely had wonderful, filling, and fairly nutritious food – while many in the world live with hunger on a daily basis and would gladly take a small part of what you had for their entire, daily intake.

Though the verses in gospel according to Luke do not say exactly what it was that Lazarus was wearing for clothes, it is unlikely he was wearing the latest in fashion, even for the “street people” of the time. From the description, we can tell he was not completely covered as his sores were visible and the dogs could lick them. Luke’s story seems to imply that Lazarus would have loved to have been satisfied by the crumbs from the rich man’s table, but he could not be. Was the rich man so tight with even his leftovers that Lazarus constantly went away hungry? This story makes you wonder.

The readings from Luke’s gospel and the first letter to Timothy convict you and make you want to do something – anything – to alleviate your conscience. Write a check. Give food to the local food bank. Go through your closet and get rid of all those clothes you are not wearing anyway. Work in at a soup kitchen giving out breakfast, lunch, or dinner to the needy. Give money to Lutheran World Relief.

You want to DO something! You feel the need to do ANYTHING! You want to give your conscience some relief from the guilt it is feeling! That is our response to the law. It is the natural response – the normal human response. We hear the story of this rich man and we understand our own failure to live up to what it is we think God is asking of us. We are convicted of our sin before God.

The rich man in this story still does not appear to be completely aware of the problem. There is no repentance for his past actions. He does not acknowledge that he lived his life unconscious of his neighbor’s need. He does not seem aware that he lived his life in his own self-sufficiency.

The rich man does not acknowledge that he lived his life without awareness of God or his neighbor until he was long dead and in torment in Hades. Even at that point, he acts out of self-preservation. He wants help! But, that help is not forthcoming. When that plea fails, he asks that special messengers be sent to his relatives to “save” them. But, he is told there is a gulf between himself and God and there is a gulf between his relatives and Christ’s saving work.

There is no fear of God, only fear for self. There is no acknowledgement of sin as there is no repentance or asking for forgiveness. Pray that at the Last Day you do not find yourself in the same position this rich man was in.

This story of the rich man and Lazarus is a good illustration of the following words spoken by Jesus earlier in chapter 6 of the gospel of Luke in the “Sermon on the Plain.”
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. …

Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now for you will mourn and weep. (NRSV)
Are you receiving all the consolation that is yours now in this life? Or, will you receive consolation in the next life?

If we read a little further in chapter 6 of the book of 1 Timothy we come to understand what the Christian attitude towards riches should be. Please read with me again, starting at verse 6 and reading through verse 10.
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into this world – it is certain that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (NRSV)

I would like to tell you a story of a very small town located in northwestern Nebraska named White Clay. It is an unincorporated town of about 20 people. It has the highest per capita number of millionaires of any town in the entire United States. White Clay is located two miles south of the largest town on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is also named Pine Ridge. The major business in White Clay is selling alcohol. It has been estimated the 11,000 cans of beer are sold there everyday. Who buys this alcohol? It is the Native Americans who drive, walk, and hitchhike those two miles everyday who are the clientele of these establishments.
Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (NRSV)

Sadly, this is not a made-up story, but a true story. It is a story of people who in their desire to be rich have brought about the destruction of many others. When faced with an eternity such as that of the “rich man” in Luke 16, is the desire to be rich and the blatant ignoring of your neighbors and their well-being worth the pain of eternity without God’s presence – or as the rich man experienced – being separated from God by a wide, uncrossable chasm?

Is giving up all of our possessions the correct and proper response either? From 1 Corinthians 13 it says –
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (NRSV)
Each of us is in a predicament! If you have many things, you could be in serious trouble. BUT, if you give away everything you could still be in big trouble. How are we as Christians suppose to handle this daily tug-of-war, this daily push-pull dichotomy in our lives of faith?

Continuing to read from chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians –
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (NRSV)

And from Galatians 3 –
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (NRSV)

And, from Galatians 2 –
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NRSV)

We have been crucified with Christ. This is where each of us must come and hide – hide in the shadow of the cross – abide in the work that has already been done on the cross for you and for me.

Psalm 91 says –
You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (NRSV)

You cannot find deliverance from yourself in yourself. Your deliverance is only found in God and the work already accomplished for you on the cross of Calvary by the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. Your salvation is not dependent on what you do to deliver yourself or how you may change yourself. God has already done all the work. You are only asked to come and live in what God has already accomplished for you. From living in God’s presence, through the Word and in the fellowship of the Church, you will be changed.

Love and generosity are fruits of the Spirit. Fruit is something that grows from being in the proper environment. Fruit grows when a branch of the vine is getting the right food and enough water. Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. I am the Living Water. I am the Vine – you are the branches.” Jesus is the Word of Life.
Fruit grows without any knowledge of the branch and it will continue to grow as long as the branch stays connected to the vine and receives all the nourishment it needs. Just as the fruit is unaware of the branch, the branch is unaware of the fruit. Listen to how this is illustrated so well in the 25th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (NRSV)
God’s work of salvation was completed on the cross. We can do nothing to make that work more complete. The only thing we need to do is hold onto the promises that God has made.

In Psalm 91 God has promised to deliver those who love God, to protect those who know God’s name, to answer when God’s name is called, to be with those in trouble and rescue and honor them. There is the promise of satisfaction with long life and salvation.

The Christian life is one that is described as being a life of stewardship and generosity. Does that come from within us – from our humanity? No. It can only come from “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” as Colossians 1:27 says.

If we depend on ourselves we will only fail. If we depend on Christ we cannot help but live a “fruit-ful” life, no matter what it seems to look like on the outside. Did Lazarus look successful? Not by the world’s standards. But, he certainly was by God’s standards. Did the rich man look successful? Yes, by the world’s standards he did. But, by God’s he failed miserably.

Today, no matter where you think you are, trust in God’s work in and through you. The work of salvation is complete. The fruits of the Spirit are growing in you. Stay nourished – a branch connected to the Vine – watered and fed – through the washing of water by the word, as Ephesians 5:26 says, and through the renewing of your mind, as Romans 12:2 says – and you will grow in grace unto life eternal.

Sermon Title: This is My Body

Steven Broers
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
Second Place Feburary 2005 Round
You swallow the bread and the wine. I swallow you. This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
You feel quite insignificant now that you have the crucified and risen flesh and bone Jesus Christ riding down your esophagus. You cannot prepare for Jesus making a home in your digestive juices. You consume Jesus Christ, all of him, true God and true man. He consumes you. He is a consuming fire killing everything in you, all of you, and molding you in his own image-brand spanking new! Your new home is in the refuge and fortress of Jesus Christ himself.

You gulp down that hunk of bread and you are finished. Jesus Christ says, "This is my body, given for you." This is Christ's promise for you handed over in a hunk of bread. You have no part to play. You receive the living God. Your pious desires make no difference. Your theology makes no difference. Jesus is not looking for a few good men. Jesus dies only for the unworthy, the confused, the condemned, the distraught; Jesus hands himself over for you. He wants you and swallows you whole. You take Jesus in the way he chooses to give himself. In a crusty, dried up loaf of bread. In a pasty white wafer. Jesus reveals himself, "This is my body given for you."

You take Jesus in the way he chooses to give himself. He gives himself for creatures, for you, who do not know him. He gives himself for creatures, for you, who want to kill him on a cross. Jesus Christ gives himself for you, the creature, the one he made, and pronounces you dead in yourself and alive only in him. You are indeed only a dead creature but alive as Christ's chosen one, a Christian. Claimed with the name of Christ. He gives himself to make you free-not so that you might make better choices-but so that he can be all in all. By placing all your faith on Jesus Christ alone you will know the freedom of being bound to Christ. Your sins hang heavily around your waist, but Christ grabs hold of your belt and leads you where you do not want to go. He kills you with your sins in order to bring you to eternal life.

You are two people now and he has two words for you. The first word is that of the law, what Jesus expects from you as a creature. He has made you a creature in order to love and serve your neighbor. He provides you with daily bread and twelve extra baskets full. You hold the daily bread for those in need. But, you do not and will not heed his holy word, for you are bound to listen to your own voice-to your own judgment. You received the good things in life and now you are in agony. Everything in your life does not come from you but from God. God provides the necessities of life to all people, rich or poor, through the hands of others. You heard the laws of Moses and you did not follow the law. You heard the call to repentance and did not listen. You are not convinced to follow the law even by Jesus Christ himself being raised from the dead. You have no excuse.

You are two people now and he has two words for you. The second word is that of a promise given to those he claims by his name. "This is my body given for you." You are not convinced by God's laws. You are not convinced by God's Son. So God kills you and makes you alive by his word alone. God's word hammers you back into the dust you came from and opens the grave with his final word, his word of promise for you. Indeed, this is my body and it is given for you. You are dust and to dust you shall return, but, I am the Lord of the living and not of the dead. I will raise you up on eagle's wings, make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of my hand. You are mine forever. You will live forever because of me.

You swallow the bread and the wine. I swallow you. All of you. All of your most pious desires. The ones that make you feel so evolved and godly. Jesus Christ burns away all your good works until you have nothing to show for yourself before God and nothing to be proud of. Why? So that there is nothing to separate you from him. Nothing will separate you from Jesus and his love-he defeats you. He even defeats death itself. He's not doing it for your glory. He is doing it for his glory.

Waiting quietly in your pew for your upcoming death at the Lord's Supper may comfort you. Reflecting on God's promises may give you some peace. But when the words are pronounced, "The body of Christ given for you." "The blood of Christ shed for you". These words kill you and your preparations come to an end. You, the person you know and love above anything else, dies. This death is not some spiritual death done by some spiritual Savior. The crucified and risen Jesus Christ says, "This is my body" and you swallow him whole. You are dead. Jesus Christ lives in you and you in him.

Of course you don't agree. You don't want a crucified God. You don't want God in bread. Eating the flesh and blood of Jesus just seems so icky. Seems so illogical. Seems like you would've done it a different way. You don't want an icky God. You want to be made right with a purely spiritual God on your own terms. Jesus has this to say, "Truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you." This teaching is difficult. Thank God! For Jesus Christ is not risen to convince you but to kill you. You have faith in his words because you have nowhere else to go. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life. "This is my body. This is my blood."

You want to be justified in yourself and by yourself. You want to be loved by God because of who you are and what you do. Instead, God justifies you because of nothing you do but because everything you do in despicable to God. Inside your head all you hear is your unworthiness and your final judgment. God's word comes from outside of you and says, "You are mine. I love you." God makes you right in his eyes not because of anything in you but because of his Son, the flesh and bone, Jesus Christ alone. You swallow the bread and the wine. I swallow you.

Satan harasses you questions "Did God say, 'This is my body?'" And what shall you say? Yes, he did. These are the clear words of my savior Jesus Christ. "How can this be possible? Isn't that just kind of disgusting? Did Jesus really mean 'This is my body'?" And what shall you say? Yes, he did. These are the clear words of my savior Jesus Christ. For a God who does not share my flesh and bone is no God at all.

In the city of Marburg, in the year 1529, Martin Luther met with another reformer named Zwingli. They met to discuss the Lord's Supper. Sitting at a table together, Luther lifted the table cloth and scratched into the wood the words "This is my body" and the discussion began. Zwingli asked, "Don't the words 'this is my body' really mean 'This symbolizes my body'" Luther lifted up the table cloth and said, "But Christ said 'this is my body.'" But Zwingli argued, 'You don't really mean we eat Jesus' flesh like cannibals! In the Bible it is written the flesh profits nothing." Luther lifted up the tablecloth, "But Christ said 'This is my body.'" Zwingli said, "But it is written that Christ sits at the right hand of God. How can he be in a loaf of bread in every church partaking of the Lord's Supper?" Luther lifted up the cloth, "Christ said 'This is my body.'"

You put your faith not in arguments of logic, not in personal experience, not in your own understanding, but in Jesus Christ alone. "This is my body. This is my blood." Any other words stand apart from Christ and his promise for you. Is this fundamentalism? Biblicism? No. This is Jesus Christ. Jesus isn't preaching law at the last supper but pure unadulterated gospel to bound sinners. Luther preached Jesus Christ and his words alone. Jesus Christ, the author of life, does the work.

Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . is conceited, understands nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words.
Jesus Christ says, "This is my body." You are absolutely condemned. So, because God's name and God's words are blasphemed and despised he sends a preacher so that his people will know his name and hear his words. He sends a preacher for you. He announces his last judgment. You have absolutely no life in you. You are condemned. He announces your salvation. You are whiter than snow. You are mine and no one will snatch you out of my hand.

You want to save your life and you will lose it. For Jesus comes not to bring peace but comes with a sword. His words cut you down and they kill you. Like a tree that bears no fruit, you are toppled over. Jesus kills you and raises you up. He destroys you completely so that he can raise you to eternal life forever. Your only hope lies in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus is in the bread and wine not as a sign, but for you. Jesus is in the bread and wine, not for a celebration of church unity, but for you. Jesus is in the bread and the wine, not because of what you do, but for you.

You are given the freedom that comes from knowing that eternal life is wrapped up in Jesus Christ. You are given the freedom to live your life out of the shadow of punishment from doing things right or wrong. And still, you continue to carry around the burden of being a sinner, a creature. Not a spirit eating a spiritual God but a creature eating Jesus Christ, true God AND true man. You cannot and will not love God or others more than yourself. But because of Christ, you now are free and can live with others on Earth in the shadow of the Almighty God.

So, issues in the church today and in the news today are no longer about what should be right or should be wrong for you do not live according to the law but according to Jesus Christ and his words. His word of law telling you that you are only a creature who lives in a sinful society that needs protection and ordering from the law. You stay out of the clouds of spirituality and live on Earth as a creature. Your daily life is not about freedom to do whatever you choose but is a life filled with death and repentance. But God does not just have one word but two, the word of law and the word of promise. Though death and sin infect every part of this world, God's last word is his promise. Jesus Christ has come to give life and to give it abundantly for you. Jesus Christ will create a new heaven and a new earth. You do not preach compassion or your own standard of truth. You preach Jesus Christ himself and let him do the work. You put your trust in his word of truth.

Jesus pronounces your most pious desires for freedom, equality and godliness to be full of sin and utterly unable to meet the demands of the law. "There is no one who is right in God's eyes, no not even one." You find your hope in the freedom from that law that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Your faith finds refuge under his wings and in his words. You hear the gospel in the words of the Lord's Supper. There are no conditions to this gift of salvation, just the words, "This is my body, given for you." You swallow the bread and the wine. I swallow you.

Sermon Title: When they call out to me

Robert Godsall-Myers
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
Fourth Place, Feburary 2005 Round
"“You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you."

These encouraging words offer a promise of protection. The Psalmist continues with more bold promises of God, “he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways,” concluding with perhaps the most hopeful words of all, “With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.”

The Psalmist reveals to us more than just the extent of God’s promises. He explains who these benefits are for: Those “who love me” and “who live in the shelter of the Most High.” He also explains why these benefits are given, “because you have made the LORD your refuge.” Lastly, the Psalmist also declares when these benefits will be given: “When they call to me.” Thus, as we reflect on the Psalmist’s words, we can see that God’s gifts of protection and health are conferred on those who have faith - who love God, who take refuge in him, and who call on his name.

While such promises may be reassuring, they also leave a very important question unanswered: What do we do when things around us are not going well? If the grounds for our belief is what God will give us, what happens when present blessings seem to dry up? How would, how could such a Psalm be read to the Tsunami ridden areas? Surely there were many believers on whom such pestilence fell, many who cried out to God whose prayers went unanswered.

This Psalm is still a beautiful and meaningful Psalm, however, like all texts in the Bible, it, by itself, is incomplete. There are many blessings of faith and this Psalm well describes them. However, it does not address how we can love the Lord our God, how we can have faith, especially in times of trial, when the blessings seem to have dried up.

Turning from such comforting words, were are greeted with quite harsh words in Paul’s letter to Timothy: “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed.” Ouch. This first sentence from Timothy strikes us modern readers as anachronistic, if not offensive. This condoning of slavery, furthermore, seems inconsistent with the story of Exodus and the Christian message of Freedom in Christ.

Consider though the next sentence, “rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.” Paul at one point proclaimed to the early Church that in Christ, there was neither slave nor free. Here it seems though, that in the early Church, there was both slave and free. There is no evidence that distinctions at the communion table were ever tolerated in the early Church. Indeed, Acts points out examples where such distinctions were condemned. Thus, Paul's letter would be read aloud to a group that contained slaves and masters along side one another, in and among one another.

How then could such slaves do it? How could slaves go to work in the morning, sweating and toiling for someone else's profit and then go and praise God with such a person? Here can we even see our neighbors as similar to ourselves, much less love them as ourselves when they are our masters who profit from our labor?

While Paul’s letter may challenge, even upset us with its message, the Gospel lesson today does more than upset us, it indicts us. “And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.” Such an acute description of poverty makes empathy nearly impossible. In spite of our daily difficulties, it would be a stretch for any of us to identify with Lazarus, covered in sores that dogs lick, looking on at a neighbor who feasts every day. Sadly, as we read this story, we more likely see ourselves as the rich man, “dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.”

I recently took a trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The poverty on the reservation is staggering. The unemployment in the county has been above 80 percent for decades. Alcohol abuse and addiction is so rampant that it not only cripples lives, but families and even generations. At one point during an elementary school Pow Wow, an 11 year-old leaned over to his brother to indicate why he was there: “Uncle is drunk.” The words alone were painful enough, but his tone struck me. He mentioned this fact so causally. This was not some unusual big event. This was a routine occurrence.

I viewed the children on the reservation as modern-day versions of Lazarus. No reason for Lazarus' condition is given; it is merely portrayed as inhumane. This is indeed what the conditions of the children here. As one child told me, his house had two windows without glass. I would not have believed him, but for my own daily runs through the surrounding area where I saw shack after shack with open windows, surely making for a cold night on the Dakota prairie.

I have rarely been more painfully aware of my wealth. Artisans always came to the retreat center hoping to pedal their work. Soon our purchases became less for the sake of friends back home and more for the sake of those from whom we bought, many of whom came with sob stories of why they needed money. I had no idea whom to believe and on whom I should bestow my humble petty cash. Would it go for alcohol? Would it be better to give to the community college? I felt like the rich man in hell, aware of the brokenness and unable to do anything about it. Where was God? How could I love my neighbor?

Jesus concludes his parable with the despairing words, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” After such a parable, these words might seem like the final straw, the final nail that killed hope. Jesus seems to predict his own failure here: Even after his resurrection people will still not get it. These words, although seemingly depressing, are ultimately empowering. Jesus tells us here that his resurrection is not some miraculous display of power which will be used to convince us to obey the law. Jesus knows we will never be able to obey the law. Jesus tells us here that his resurrection is a miracle which has a power which the law does not, namely, to forgive us and make us right before God.

Jesus resurrection is what allows us to have this faith the Psalmist praises. Even if things in the here and now are difficult, the resurrection of Jesus lets us know that we have a heavenly home. The resurrection grants us full security, knowing that we may get sick or suffer setback, but the true pestilence, that of death, will never be ours. Jesus’ death and resurrection is what proclaims to us the words of Psalmist-- we will have salvation and long, indeed, eternal life.

Furthermore, before the cross, we all know that we are humble sinners, unable to achieve this salvation on our own. Thus, we can look at our boss, our “modern master” or our lying colleague and realize that before Christ, we are just as unworthy as he or she is. I may have a lower economic position; I may have taken the high road; but this does not impress the cross. Before the cross, we are in the same position: unworthy. Before the cross, the person next to me is no longer my master, but my brother. He deserves my best and I deserve his best.

The parable of Lazarus surely points to Jesus’ concern for the poor. Indeed, the reign of God does not consist of justifying current social relationships. However, the last line of the parable points us toward what enables us to care for people who are poor: the love of the resurrected Jesus working in our hearts. Working in impoverished conditions, hope can seem small. At these times, we can feel the terror of the night surrounding us and the words of the Psalm seem vague and distant. It is precisely at these moments though that we need to though, as the Psalm says, call on God. We need to invite Christ to bear our earthly sufferings. We need to look to the empty tomb and see our heavenly home.

However, if we look to heaven for help before we see the depth of Lazarus’ despair, we are like the rich man. We cannot ignore social problems, dismissing them as temporal cares. For when we look at the difficulties of Lazarus we realize the need of a God to work on our side. Our faith in God allows us to fight for the poor; fighting for the poor shows us how much we need God. And the Good News is that when we are fighting for the poor, and we are forced to our knees in awe of situation, and we call on God’s name, he will answer.

Sermon Title: Social Justice

David Castner
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
Honorable Mention, Feburary 2005 Round

I grew up next to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. I have seen a good many reservations in my life and I would have to consider the San Carlos Reservation to be one of the poorest. I had a good friend who lived there. He did not have a father that I knew about but he had a very loving mother and a sister. One weekend he invited me out to visit. His house wasn’'t much more than a shack with two bedrooms. There was a central heater that heated the entire house which meant that Augie had no heat in his room.

It came time to sleep so I was to sleep in his sister’s bed which was in the living room next to the heater. Augie went so far as to take many of the blankets off his bed and piled them on mine so that I could be warm. I still remember how thickly piled my blankets were and how hot I was under them. The next morning I realized just what sacrifice Augie had made for me when I could feel the cold draft coming out of his room and realized how few blankets he had. I never forgot his friendship or kindness; much less his selfless act so that I might be warm.

I think often about Augie and the other people in my life who have so selflessly given of themselves. I am also reminded of the story of a group of chaplains in WWII who gave away their life jackets and perished when their ship was struck by a torpedo.

What is it that these people believe? I get so disgusted with myself and others who complain about so little in our lives while others have such grave needs. The guilt can be horrible and weigh so heavily on my shoulders that I can feel guilty for any good fortune and blessings.

The law of God is written in scripture such as Luke 16. Scripture also tells us that it is written on our hearts. This is the moral side of the law. The law is wonderful in that it tells us what is expected of us by God and gives us something to measure ourselves against. The unfortunate part is that it is either black or white. There is no gray in the law. You keep the law or you break the law.

Luther taught that we are human and as such we are prone to sin. In his explanation of the third article of the Apostles Creed says, “
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord
” In this he acknowledges my frailty and shortcomings. He teaches that not only can we not keep the law by our own strength, but we cannot even have faith in God without the Holy Spirit to strengthen us.

It is in Jesus that we are finally given forgiveness. It is Jesus who makes up for our inadequacies so that we can finally be righteous in God’s eyes. In our baptism liturgy we read, “Let your light so shine before others that they will see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.” These good works are the deeds of Christians that are committed in this world. These works though are not in order to earn your way in heaven, because that is already freely given through Jesus; these works are done out of joy in knowing you are forgiven freely. Basically, the energy that one would have expended in trying to earn your way in to heaven can now be freely devoted to help people out of the joy and love in your heart for your God because he is your refuge from not only death, but from your own darkness.

1 Timothy and Psalm 91 tell us many things. We learn that God protects us under his wings and punishes the wicked. But what about if you are a slave? Paul tells Timothy that Christian slaves are still to be very respectful to their Christian masters out of love. We realize from these texts that sometimes we are put in situations we dislike. Sometimes we are slaves or poor, diseased or disabled. Christians can find themselves in as many situations as any non-Christian but we have a staff to lean on. God promises to take care of us in this life and eternally in the next life. This is where our strength comes from.

People, maybe you also, ask how God is taking care of his people today. What about that person lying on the street; how is God taking care of him. God is taking care of him through you. The Old Testament shows us a God who was very active in the world but he still chose to work through people. Today is no different; God works through us now. God speaks to you through the Holy Spirit so that you might do the work he needs done in this world. That is why you have those urges to help people for no reason or do unexplainable things. I can'’t give you any secret formulas other than to listen to your heart. Your Lord is still speaking to you but not from the fiery bush or the voice from above. He often speaks in the most benign ways.

Social justice is an important part of Christianity. We are blessed in so many ways by God. We may not all have money, but we all have God’s saving grace. Our other blessings are all different but that is the way it should be. The person blessed with money but lacks faith can help the person who lacks money but has abundant faith. Do you see? We are to help each other and share our blessings. It’s not rocket science! What the Psalmist, Luke, Paul, and Luther are all trying to tell us is to LOVE EACH OTHER, not just talk about it.

I ask myself what is it that I could have possibly given Augie in return for his generosity that night in his freezing house. I thought hard about it, and the answer came to me finally in 1 Corinthians 13:13; what I gave Augie was love and friendship. He never wanted or needed anything other than that.

Sermon Title: In Groups, Out Groups, and the Grace which Transcends Both

Kevin Sumner-Eisenbraun
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
Honorable Mention, Feburary 2005 Round
The subtitle listed for the 91st Psalm reads “Assurance of God’s Protection.” To whom does this subtitle refer? We read in the first verse: You who live in the shelter of the Most High who abide in the shadow of the Almighty…” The person to whom this Psalm refers is depicted in quite a favorable light. The person in the Most High shelter is the only person left standing when the rest of the world falls out of favor with God.

Many times a day I wrestle with the question about how I personally fit into this Psalm. Obviously, we are speaking in metaphors here. Do I live in the shelter of the Most High? Do I abide in the shadow of the Almighty? Or am I awaiting my condemnation? And what does it really mean to live in the shelter of the Most High? This Biblical passage is quite threatening really. How do we know if we are on God’s good side or bad side? Is God really that hard to please?

I believe this Psalm is analogous to our legal system. On one hand, we are thankful for the laws that keep us and other people safe. On the other hand, when we get speeding tickets our anger can be misplaced. We might get mad at the officer and throw a fit. In theory, we are willing to submit to the laws of the land. However, when we are the offenders, our response is quite different.

Luther speaks about God’s anger unleashed upon us. It is not a pleasant thing to think about. Most of us only want to think about the God that loves us and the God who is always warm, always loving, and always caring. But I must ask… Would God be a loving God if S/He ultimately let evil take over our souls?

This discussion about who is under the functions of God’s Law is vital for our discussion of the Biblical texts we are investigating. As we make our way through the Biblical passages I encourage you to try to fit yourselves into the texts. The way in which I questioned my own place in today’s Psalm is an example of this exercise.

Let us now turn to the Gospel reading for this morning from Luke.
Many believe the book of Luke was written especially for the down-trodden, the oppressed, and the marginalized. In fact, the Gospel of Luke is the book of choice for Latin American Liberation theologians. That is, theologians that believe God has a preferential option for the poor. So, do we believe that? If this is true does God want all of us to be down-trodden and oppressed our entire lives? In order to gain God’s favor and live in the shelter of the Most High, do we need to sell all of our possessions and live a life without luxury and convenience? I certainly do not want to romanticize poverty. In a book I recently read entitled, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, a youth travels to Alaska penniless in order to live out a life free from money which he believed to be oppressive. This impulse which causes us to want to “escape” the ills of society is popular among many groups. In many circles, people believe that the very structure of the economic system of which we participate is against God’s plan for the world.

Many of these groups in our culture have their own answers. There are the cult leaders who believe that to “live in the shelter of the Most High” actually requires a radical withdrawal from society, a casting aside of all of the things that get in the way of our relationship with God. When I was in high school I was “dumped for Jesus” on more than one occasion due to this type of thinking.

Then there are the thinkers associated with the liberalist movements of the 19th century, often called Deists. These thinkers believed in human achievement and progress. It was a time when questioning authority was O.K. The God of the Bible and traditional forms of the Christian faith were not especially appealing. Instead, people began to place their faith in the work of people. Many thinkers associated with Deism believed that God set the world in motion and let things progress from there. As a result, the belief that humans had the tools to bring about positive change and a better life was contagious.

There was only one problem. With human progress also comes human egos and pride. Wars began in part because of this type of thinking. Then there were the World Wars and the optimism was crushed. Rather, then looking over the vast accomplishments of humanity, the ground and the world was a garbage dump. The need for a radically Other being and belief presented itself. Barthian neo-Orthodoxy was the solution. In this way of thinking humans must turn back to God and believe that God is truly the only truly holy one.

Notice the trend here. The liberal theological movements of the 19th relied far too heavily upon humanity, while other groups, believing they are only relying upon God excommunicate themselves from everything worldly.

Now that we have had a brief history lesson I must ask, how then do we cope with the challenges of modernity? How do we make peace with these texts? We never want to over spiritualize the Bible. It does not have to be a mystery. We let our conscience guide us. Luther translated the Bible into German, the language of the people, simply for this reason. He claimed that the Word of God is clear. But is it? The two examples from history we just discussed were stories of people using Biblical “practices” that looked very different. How do we read the Bible without polarizing it? After all, Lutherans do believe in dividing the Bible into Law and Gospel, right?

Let us turn now to the Gospel message for today and perhaps a coherent message might become clearer to us. If the Hebrew Scriptures were hard to understand, perhaps Jesus may be able to clear things up for us.

The Gospel lesson today is the story of the Rich man and Lazarus. First, I want discuss what it means to be rich. Not in a spiritual sense. Simply, what is it that makes someone wealthy? How much money does someone have to have before they are considered rich? When I was growing up, from my perspective, the rich kids at school were the kids with cable television in their homes, and video games.

It is important to think about what rich means when we consider Walter Bruggemann’s notions of scarcity verses abundance in a book entitled Deep Memory Exuberant Hope. Bruggemann tells the story of Pharaoh and his eventual domination of all the food in the region. Pharoah was scared because he heard there was going to be a famine in the land. As a result he collected all the food for himself and created the first monopoly. The rich man that Jesus refers to in this story is probably this kind of rich, monopoly rich.

I asked us to think about how we might place ourselves in the Biblical texts for today? Would you all consider yourselves the rich man or Lazarus? Again, consider what we discussed earlier. Are we romanticizing poverty if we choose Lazarus? Or are we more like the rich man? We shall come back to this question but for now let’s continue.

The Epistle lesson today comes from the book of 1Timothy. In this passage it sounds as though it is a ringing endorsement for slavery. How can that be in the Bible? Would we really instruct a slave to remain under the yoke of slavery and actually honor his master? I don’t think so.

Concerning the Epistle, do we really believe that those who do not obey their masters are guilty of conceit and a morbid craving for controversy?
Many believe the God of the OT in condemning while the NT God loves. However, this cannot be true when we search the whole story.

Now is when we turn to our theological imagination. The Bible has many different seemingly contradictory messages. But the final verse in the Epistle lesson reads: “Of course, there is great is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” This verse, I believe, is the key to our learning this morning.

The Lutheran faith is all about affirming tension, finding a middle ground, thinking things through. Christians receive the gift of grace which is out of our control. Sin is also out of our control. I believe the presence of sin forces us into extremes, but the fact of grace keeps us marching forward.

The way we make church decisions is evidence of this fact. Instead of making hard and fast claims we affirm the “both…and” nature of the universe. We believe God is both hidden and reveled. God is both gracious and judging. In the same manner we believe humans are both sinners and saints, worldly and righteous. When we come to the communion rail there are four elements: both bread and wine, and the body and blood of Christ. The list goes on and on. All this is to say that there are no easy answers. This should not paralyze us, however.

The Bible has all sorts of polarizing stories. Are you with the Most High? Or are you with the condemned? Are you a rich oppressor? Or are you the marginalized poor? Are you a master? Or are you a slave?

The beauty of our Lutheran theology is that we can say yes to both. We fit into the Biblical narrative in both places. We are righteous when we live according to the traffic laws, but when we receive a speeding ticket we have done wrong. But we are still loved by God.

This is the final message today. We do not have to live out our existence in extremes. You are loved and forgiven just as you are. We do not have to choose between the Creeds and compassion. Our traditions are the result of a redeemed community’s struggle over many centuries to be truthful about life. The truth about life is that we are all absolutely equal before God.

What does this mean for us then? Just as we have learned about Lazarus and the rich man and the Epistle Lesson’s discussions of the master/slave distinction, we must also begin to imagine ourselves in these stories. However, instead of choosing a role to identify with and play out, we shall instead look at the issue from every angle. This is what our Confessions, Traditions, Creeds have done. The purpose is that these elements of orthodoxy allow us to be more loving, more compassionate and disciples of Jesus. Our orthodoxy gives us a systematic framework in which we can exercise our compassion. Amen.

Sermon Title: I'm Lazarus

Amy Kirsten Strydom
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
Honorable Mention, Feburary 2005 Round
I am fairly well off, though I am sure there are more people better off than me. I am supported by my husband, and with a stipend given to me by the congregation that I work for. We have fancy clothes to wear (because I have to be presentable you know), and a soft bed to sleep on (because if I didn’t get my sleep, I would be really difficult to work with), and I think plenty of food and other luxuries. My husband thinks that the pets eat better than we do, but I think he’s just exaggerating the fact to get a bit of pity. We eat a well balanced diet, why shouldn’t the cat and dog, after all, we made the choice to have them and look after them.
(Lazarus: Karen)
I'’m Lazarus.

I am thirteen. I live with my family in Bethlehem. We had to move to my uncle’s house because the soldiers said we had to leave our house. My uncle says that the Lord is protecting us, but I am still scared. Pastor says that there is a room for me in God’s house and Jesus is coming back to bring me there. I wonder what it looks like.

The congregation that I work for has lots of activities going on: Bible studies, council meetings, choir practices, circle meetings! Almost every day there is a group of people gathering to read God’s Word and pray for each other. Come to think of it, there are also a number of groups dedicated and devoted to doing things for Lutheran World Relief, the Crop Walk, and Habitat for Humanity and Food Pantry. These groups are trying so hard to open the eyes and hearts of others in the congregation so that they can share what they have. Even the Sunday school classes and youth groups are encouraged to do some sort of service for the community.

Some of the folks asked if I wanted to get involved-- but I am so busy with this and that. I mean, they should be grateful that I show up on Sundays and put in my time here... maybe if I just smile and nod, and say a few encouraging words, they won'’t expect too much from me.
(Lazarus: Glenn)
I'’m Lazarus.

I got laid off because the company found somewhere new to put their plant. There is no work for someone like me, so I wait monthly in the unemployment line. I am ashamed that I can'’t provide for my family and it is wearing on me. I have no desire to keep up my appearance and sleepless nights are eating away my hope. Don’'t the people in those offices understand how their greed affects others? Where are you God? Where is your providence? My enemies eat great feasts while my family suffers! Where is my vindication?

On another note, there is a lot of greed in the world today. Some companies are discontinuing health benefits for their employees because it cuts into their profits. Some businesses are laying off a large number of people because robot work is cheaper. And this whole concept of out-sourcing… I keep hearing about companies who are building factories and offices in other countries. Maybe, it is to help those countries. How can you know? How can you tell what is true charity for others and what is greed and what is just plain survival? Don’t get me wrong, I agree that people here have a right to work and get paid a livable wage for their time, but, I have to admit, I do like my Low, low, prices…and, well, let’s face it, people in India and China and Japan work for less, and so the savings are passed along, right? What can I do anyway? Isn’t that what grace is for?
(Lazarus: Lisa)
I'’m Lazarus.

I live in Arusha, Tanzania. I have a disability and have to be in a wheelchair. My family has put me out on the street to beg so that I bring in some money. No one will hire me because of my disability and it is unfair. Why must I beg when my mind is alert and I am able to learn? Don’t blame my family; they do what they need to do to survive. I trust that God will provide and Pastor says I will be made whole at the resurrection. Please don’t look down on us.

And, it is getting close to the holiday times again... so every time I go to the store, there is someone standing there with a bell or a can asking for change or anything I can give... I say I don’t have any change, but something still haunts me. Jingle, jingle... I just want to tell them to go away and stop interrupting my world with their announcements that people need help. I know people need help, but what'’s that got to do with me? Quit spreading your gloom into my picture perfect world. You make me feel bad.
(Lazarus: Bob)
I'’m Lazarus.

I am poor, ill, and hungry. I lay here at this gate, hoping that he will heed the Word of the Lord and give me justice, or at least pity; for pity would be something... pity would give me a coat or a bag of leftovers. But everyday he passes me by, in his gilded carriage; in his fine clothes... I am invisible to him. I am worth less to him than the dogs and rodents that eat the crumbs off the floor. When I die he will neither mourn nor rejoice over my absence for he did not even acknowledge my human existence. O Lord, have mercy on me, a pitiful beggar.

Then, to top it all off, I found that I had to preach on the text about the rich man and Lazarus! Talk about a story that makes you think about your life! How ironic that the rich man who started out with everything, ended up as the beggar! And Lazarus, without so much as a word in the story, ends up on the lap of Abraham! Abraham tells the rich man that Moses and the Prophets tell his brothers exactly how to repent of their sinful living... and they should listen to them; because if they don’t change because of their warnings, why would they be convinced to change by someone raised from the dead? What a confusing thing to tell him. I mean really, who even understands what the prophets are saying? Which prophets? Here, here, why can’t Lazarus just stand up and say, “Here I am”? It would be so much easier... besides the only one I know that has been raised from the dead is... hold on... I... I'’m the rich man... I have been the one who has ignored Jesus command to feed his sheep... But I thought... sharing the bread of life was just telling them about Jesus. I remember now his words,
"“when I was hungry, you gave me food, when I was thirsty, naked, in prison, lonely... you took pity on me... for whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”

Oh Lord, have mercy on me! You have given me great riches and abundant blessings, yet before you, I am a pitiful beggar. Turn me around, give me ears to hear and wisdom to understand... help me to trust that following you will lead me to Lazarus. Lord, who am I that I should stand before your people, yet you give me words to speak of your grace and mercy, so that in the proclamation of your Word, others may hear and repent. Lord Jesus, hear my prayer.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Hear the Word of the Lord! Your salvation does not depend on you finding Lazarus. Lazarus is not a means to an end or someone that can be manipulated and used for your benefit. Lazarus depends on you forgetting about yourself and hearing him, seeing him as a person, a whole person, worthy of the body and blood, death and resurrection of Jesus, worthy of your love and compassion, your actions of justice and social responsibility.

If we don'’t care for Christ in our midst, who will? In this life, we may be the rich and blessed, but before the cross of Jesus, we are all stunningly clothed, pitiful beggars waiting in hope for the day we, too, are sitting in Abraham’'s lap. And when we are sent out from here, we become broken bread in the life of Lazarus. Can you hear him calling, “
"I’'m Lazarus.”"