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Household (A Seriously Theological Sermon)

October 2, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills

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Proper 21/C [Pent. 16] (2019): Amos 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Luke 16:19-31. 

Household,            [A]n overseer must be beyond reproach…temperate… hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard… not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well… for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (vv. 2-5)

Reading the Confessions of St. Augustine, it is easy to contrast his profligate, apostate life as he approached Baptism in his mid-thirties and then taking Holy Orders a few years later over against St. Paul’s strictures for church bishops and deacons. The comparison is striking of Baptism’s radical “begetting from above”. 

God desires his household (church) to be led by conscientious and capable stewards of his word and ethos; sadly, that is not always the case; pastors are sinners. The hope and prayer is for continual repentance of these stewards for grow in service to God’s people.   

Today’s spel, “the Rich Man and Lazarus” compares with last Sunday’s parable of “the Dishonest Steward”. We don’t know the rich man’s name; we will call him, as some, “Dives”.  Jesus provides only a thumb nail sketch of Dives; yet allowing for inference.  

Many years earlier the prophet Amos (6:1-7) fleshed out the character of Dives, hisamily, and associates; they were the social and religious aristocracy of Israel; living to themselves on estates that excluded all but their own invited class.  

These elite were at ease in the church; they thought better of themselves than others; and by privileged positions considered themselves immune from a day of reckoning. Their daily garb was the pretentious extravagance of royalty; feasting was a daily occasion as they sprawled on couches of inlaid ivory.  The bill o’ fare was succulent baby lamb, Chateaubriand, and the like, washed down with copious amounts of the finest wine.  They entertained themselves with idle songs arrogantly compared to David’s psalmody.

Damning, most of all, Amos describes these leaders without “grief over the ruin of Joseph” (6:6b), referencing the treachery of Joseph’s brothers, mocking him, cast him into a pit without water for death and sat to dine in loveless fellowship (Gen. 37:18-27).  Joseph’s brothers, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day “were lovers of money” (Lk. 16:14), deciding rather to profit, selling him into slavery. 

As for Lazarus, he was placed at Dives’ gate to receive alms which might be expected from the “wealthy”; instead only the “dogs” (Gentiles?) were contented by the sores of Lazarus’ flesh. The scene recalls Mary’s prophesy before Elizabeth as church bearing Christ within her;

“[The Lord] has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever” 1:52-55).

Jesus’ account of “Dives and Lazarus” is not exactly a parable; rather a current allegory of Christ, his revelation of self-offering for his Church. In Jesus’ telling, “Father Abraham” is cypher for God and himself, “Lazarus”. 

God’s “bosom” is the primordial Place from which his eternal Son was sent into the world; and the Place to which Jesus, like Joseph and Lazarus of Bethany were raised from death’s pit, attended by Ascension angels to ready heaven’s wedding Banquet.

At Dives’ gate Lazarus was the wretched picture of Jesus; rejected by his own (Jn. 1:11), without a place to lay his head (Mt. 8:20), humbled in Gethsemane into his baptismal Office on the cross as God’s Sacrifice; the place where he was “a worm and not a man” (Ps. 22:6a), the “Abomination of Desolation” (Mt. 24:15), and “Bronze Serpent” raised in the wilderness (Num. 21:8, 9; Jn. 3:14-16) for healing those who believe and receive him. 

Christ possessed heaven’s treasure; but for love of God and mercy toward men, Jesus received our flesh, humbled himself in taking our sin, and set before the church leaders of his people at Dives’ gate, of these he would say, “‘… I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcomed me, naked and you did not clothed me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me’,…‘Truly,…as you did not do it to one of the least of these [my brothers], you did not do it to me’” (Matthew 25:42-45).

Jesus has “Father Abraham” describe Dives’ wealth as your good things”.  This is precisely our problem; the point Jesus taught all along, “rich men” cannot enter heaven’s Banquet.  His table is packed with forgiven sinners who repent of approaching the King’s table with anything of their own than the King’s provision alone; faith alone

Dives’ self-absorbed life made him apathetic of his Israelite brothers, Lazarus’ plight at his gate and numb to his own impending judgment. Not so, the Dishonest Steward from last Sunday, who at his master’s discovery of his household abuse immediately discerned urgent peril. 

The Steward, with little time, employed “unrighteous money” still under his control to glorify in the community his master’s merciful and gracious character; forgiving debts as a true steward or pastor in the image of his Master, and so obtained his own forgiveness to continue in the House.  

Of our “own” wealth, status, learning, position, authority, and other gifts; some possess more or less than others; still some stand in need. One discerns a common thread from the recent sequence of Jesus’ teachings. Those attending heaven’s banquet are the poor, humbled, and broken (Lk. 14:13, 21) who turn their hearts in repentance in “remembrance” of Moses and the prophets through the voice of Jesus (Deut. 18:18).

It is the Baptized, having died to self and rising to God who now occupy heaven’s table, under care of the church’s pastors for “remembrance” of God’s mercy toward his Israel.  By the words of sacramental Consecration, “this do in remembrance of me” you comprehend God’s mercy by its delivery and your reception of Jesus’ all sufficient Atonement for you. 

Upon Dives’ death, ‘Father Abraham’ directed that he “remember… [his] good things” (Lk. 16:25) held in single-minded enthrall and never seeing Lazarus at his gate.  But we, baptized into the sacrificial poverty of divine Lazarus, are blessed to hear and live repentant faith with open eyes open brothers and sisters in plight. 

When giving to the needy, we witness to Christ, which is to say; charity is not of ourselves, neither is mercy, any more than are the things we possess. It is all gift of God, and through us to his world. 

St. Paul counseled Pastor Timothy that the Church call spiritual men to Christ’s office of word and sacrament by which we have our Eucharistic “remembrance” and praise.

Daily the Baptized, through water, blood, and Spirit “remember” God’s grace by faith with all of our fellow scoundrels in penitence laying at the church’s gate for salvation by the narrow gateway.

Through unworthy pastors, we develop ears that hear and eyes that see radically alter lives (Luke 16:16). By God’s word we are being conformed into the image of Christ’s sacrificial, risen flesh, that with him we might abide upon the bosom and heart of God, and partake of the King’s bread and board.  Amen.