Sermon for Pentecost 19(c)
Amos 6:1-7 + Luke 16:19-31 + Revelation 2:8-11
Let’s start out today with the following premise: You, sitting here in this church, are, for the most part, among “the rich.” I know many of you don’t classify yourselves as such, and Forbes Magazine wouldn’t classify you as such. You may not be among the über-rich. But if you’ve been able to retire while your body and mind are still sound enough to work, then you’re most definitely among the rich. If your pantry is full of food, you’re rich. If your closet is full of clothes, you’re rich. Yes, some are richer than others. But most of you here, by those definitions, are rich. So am I.
That’s not a pejorative statement, not a criticism. It’s not evil. It’s not wicked. God does not demand that you become poor when you become a Christian, or that you try to somehow equalize your wealth with the rest of the world in some sort of communistic system. It’s OK to be rich.
But as today’s Gospel teaches, you may be rich, but it’s not OK to be oblivious to the poor man at your gate. As Amos teaches, you may be rich, but it’s not OK to be complacent, to live at ease up there in your ivory tower, to relax and enjoy your riches without giving a thought to your neighbor. See how the rich nobles lived in Judah and in Israel – relaxing on expensive furniture, filling their bellies with fine food and free-flowing wine, listening to their music and strumming away on their instruments – and oblivious to the rest of their brothers, their countrymen, their fellow church members in Israel. Oblivious to their needs, oblivious to their ruin. God tells them what really makes him angry, “You do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.”
God doesn’t condemn the nobles in Judah and Israel for having wealth. He condemns them for being so caught up in their wealth that they were oblivious to the opportunities God gave them to care about their brothers. God condemns them for failing to grieve over the ruin of Joseph (the people of Israel) – both physical and especially spiritual. These two nations were in shambles, shadows of their former selves because of their apostasy, no longer interested in God’s Word and God’s will, no longer looking forward to the coming of the promised Savior. The attitude of the rich nobles was clear: “Don’t bother me with what’s going on at the bottom of my ivory tower. Let me be, so that I can enjoy my life. Poor people? What poor people? God? Who has time to care about God? Pass the wine! Turn up the music!” They were rich, and they were oblivious to the world.
That kind of decadence and self-absorption goes on all around us, and we, who are rich, are certainly not immune to it.
I have to tell you, it can really affect you young people – middle school and high school aged. Life becomes all about you – your clothes, your friends, your phones, your feelings, your music, your sports, your relationships, your future. It kind of makes you oblivious to those who are hurting and needy around you.
I have to tell you, it can really affect you families. You may be concerned about helping one another in your family – but then it’s easy to become oblivious toward anyone outside your family. It’s easy to relax in your home and be at ease there in your own little castle with your furniture and cars and movies and TV and games and maybe boats and RV’s – but how far does your concern stretch outside that little group? Does the state of your church enter your mind? Or your synod? Or your neighbor?
I have to tell you, it can really affect you who are retired, or approaching retirement. You’ve put in your years of work, and now it’s all about enjoying the fruit of your labor. You served your neighbor well enough. Now it’s time to serve yourself! Spend money on you, take it easy, enjoy life before the ravages of old age make it impossible. Oh, be careful. God puts no age limit on his command to love him above all things and love your neighbor as yourself. God determines how much health and vigor you get to have as you grow older. And God has put many of you in a position to do more work than ever for his people, for his church, for his kingdom. Don’t think you can retire from serving God and God’s people. That’s what the rich people of Judah and Samaria did.
God’s sentence on those oblivious rich? Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.
Someone will say, “But I haven’t mistreated anyone! I just mind my own business!” But that’s the problem. You have not been called by God to mind your own business, and certainly not to indulge in whatever luxury makes you happy. You have been called to something more – to open your eyes and see whom God has placed at your gate that you may serve them. You have been called to use wealth without becoming engrossed in the things money can buy. You have been called to grieve over your own ruin as a sinner, and to grieve over your brother’s ruin, too.
So don’t be oblivious to your own sins. Grieve, now. Grieve every day, before it’s too late, like it was for the rich man in Jesus’ parable. Grieve now and do what father Abraham said the rich man’s brothers needed to do to avoid joining him in hellfire:“They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them listen to them!”
And where do Moses and the Prophets – like Amos – direct the complacent rich and the oblivious, self-absorbed sinner? To see your sin and repent of it. To grieve over your ruin.
But as you grieve, don’t despair! Don’t be oblivious! Where do Moses and the Prophets direct the grieving sinner? To the altar of the cross, to the blood of the Lamb, to the mercy of the God who promises forgiveness for the rich and for the poor through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus!
God comes to those who grieve over their sin and says, “Here! Here is Christ! Here is forgiveness!” Here is One who had no need to grieve for his own sins, but who was deeply grieved over the ruin of Joseph.
It’s not that Jesus went around grieving and sad all the time. But neither did he hide away in some ivory tower, oblivious to our troubles and disinterested in the needs of mankind. He humbled himself. He set aside luxury and leisure and went looking for those who had been ruined by sin – to have mercy on them and to help them, not by making them rich with earthly things, but by making them rich before God.
Here is One who was rich, yet for your sakes he become poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich – rich not with money and things, but rich like the church in Smyrna from our Second Lesson today. Rich in God’s love and in God’s acceptance, rich in innocence before God by faith in Jesus. Christ gave himself on the cross for rich and for poor, to make you all rich! Trust in his goodness! Rely on his sacrifice!
Let’s end today with this premise: You, God’s people, saved by God’s generous grace through faith in Christ Jesus, are among the richest people on earth. Maybe not in material wealth, but if you grieve over your sin, if you know that Christ Jesus bore that sin on the cross and trust in him for the forgiveness of sins, then you are rich – rich as the saints of God, rich with the hope of eternal life. Rich as members of a confessional Lutheran congregation where the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered. Don’t be oblivious to these riches. Rejoice in the riches of Christ’s generous love for you – and don’t be oblivious to the opportunities God creates in your life for Christ to show his generous love for your brother through you, too. Amen.