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“And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Can’t Get Saved Till You Know You Need Saving”

At the end of today’s Gospel, the rich man asks Abraham to save his brothers.  Though he suffers torment for his neglectful life, he genuinely loves his brothers.  He doesn’t want them to suffer his hellish fate.  So from across the great gulf, the rich man asks Abraham to send the comforted Lazarus back to warn his brothers of the torment that awaits them unless they turn from their wicked ways.

“Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Since our Lord Christ is the one telling this story, and since He is the first of all men died and rose from the dead into everlasting life, we can read this and assume He means Himself.  That is, if the wicked do not heed the Law and the prophets, then they will not heed the Son of God rising from the dead.

Christ has not come as a warning, but as a solution to the hitherto intractable problem of sin and death in our world.  The Law of Moses and the prophets of Israel show the way to holiness and good behavior to the nation of Israel and unto the whole world.  But people have not heeded their calls to righteousness.  People instead continue living lives of selfishness and sin.  People would rather feel pleasant sensations than face the objective hard reality of goodness and truth.  We would rather feel good with our friends and family than face the truth of our relationship with Christ.

Each of us who has lived into maturity has faced the choice whether to live inside of loving-kindness or live outside of loving-kindness.  Each of us has faced the decision of whether or not to follow our baser instincts rather than do the right thing.  The easier route is almost always the wrong route.  The wide inclusive way is almost always the way to brokenness and selfishness.

Christians may find this appeal to the Law and the prophets reminds us of the warning of St. Paul in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

But the relationship between law and faith is not truly one of contradiction.  We read in St. James:  “wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”  After all, he reasons, “The devils also believe and tremble.”

So how can it be that if the brothers heed not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded if one rose from the dead?  Why does Christ tell such a great story to end it with this teaching?  How can Moses and the prophets matter so much to the good people of metropolitan Augusta today?

 

The beginning of the answer lies in that great Summary of the Law recited here all but one Sunday a month:

“THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

We need to get right with God; we need to get right with our fellow man.  St. Paul writes in that same epistle:  “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

The next clue is the basic kerygma, or preaching message, of the New Testament:  Christ is God who came down among us, died for us, rose again from the dead, and saved us all from sin and death.

Without that operative bit, “rose again from the dead”, we cannot be saved.  That jump from Christ’s death to our salvation in His Resurrection from the dead is only possible for those who operate within some kind of goodness told of in the law and the prophets, the kind of goodness which depends upon (“hangs”) all the law and the prophets.

This is because one of the most important parts of the Law of Moses for us is to quicken our sense of sin.  As St. Paul says in Romans:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”

If we do not think that good things are good, then we also do not think that bad things are bad.  If Christ came to save us from our sins, the burden of these ultimately bad things which separate us from God, and we do not think separation from God is ultimately bad, then we see no need for Christ to save us.  We think that we do not need Christ, His Church, and His Sacraments because we misperceive the world around us.  That is, we hold tight the lie that we do not need saving.  Thus, we do not need a savior.

This is most obviously true with those who hold that nothing means anything, or nihilists.  Some atheists fall into this category.  Also, Buddhists are resistant to faith in Christ because they believe – and theirs too is a leap of faith – that pain is an illusion and death is not a real thing.  If pain and death are not actual problems, then you do not need actual relief from them, and you do not need the Great Physician of our souls.

Part of the proclamation of the Gospel which we Anglicans have tried to be too polite to preach is that things are bad, death is a real problem, all that we do to try to accommodate ourselves to pain and death is wrong-headed, and we need saving.  We would rather keep our position in society than appear ridiculous, speak against the culture, and risk losing it.  We would rather participate in the sins of others by concealing them, defending them, or simply remaining silent.  This is not the Gospel of Christ.  This is what Christ preached against and would save us from.

Instead, we must loudly and openly acknowledge the wrongness – the sinfulness – of the flesh, the world, and the devil.  We should live such lives of goodness that others find us to stand out from this world of sin, pain, sickness, and death.  Our words and our actions should prick the consciences of those around us.  Others should find us uncomfortable yet fascinating to be around.  Others should be constantly surprised that we do not act as others act.  Others should find themselves drawn to how we behave, to how we love them.  We should be beacons in the darkness, candles on candlesticks, not under bushels.

I guarantee you that if we practice this, it will draw negative attention to us.  Is this too high an honor to render to Christ?  When persecutors spill the blood of martyrs, is this unfortunate?  Or is this their greatest glory?  Is it not rather the greatest sermon their souls could sing forth?  Their ultimate declaration that they follow the ways of their good God no matter what the cost?  Their ultimate declaration that they will not be persuaded by the ways of sin, disease, pestilence, murder, and death?  Rejection by the world is our treasure!

Dear children of God, we must show the loving-kindness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost forth in our lives.  We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our minds.  We must love our neighbor as ourselves.  We must show forth the light of Christ in this broken world so that God the Holy Ghost can prick the consciences of those who lie wallowing in the despair of sin and death who are waiting – just waiting – for the hour of their deliverance to come.

The goodness and holiness which others see in us greatly affects what the Holy Ghost can do in the hearts of men.  Every wicked and selfish act we commit takes those closest to us further from Christ.

Will you instead dare to tell forth the Good News of Christ in your actions and in your love?

 

“And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Lazarus suffered right in front of the rich man’s home.  At any time, on any day, at any passing of the gate, the rich man could easily have relieved his suffering.

The rich man did not see Lazarus.  He paid him no mind.  He looked past him.  Lazarus was invisible to him.

If the rich man had been guilty of murder, adultery, theft – then surely Jesus would have mentioned this.  He is told as wearing fine clothes and eating very well.  The rich man was not known for being evil, he was known for being rich.  He had not an evil reputation.

However, that irrational part of God’s creation, the dogs, did what their Maker would have them do – lick the wounds of Lazarus – while that rational part of creation formed in the image of God, the rich man, chose to ignore him.  The dogs condemn the rich man, for he refused to open his eyes and learn pity even from the dogs.

St. Augustine says, “Of these two then, tell me, which died well, and which died ill? Do not ask the eyes, return to the heart. For if ye ask the eyes, they will answer you falsely.”

Jesus says earlier in this chapter in the fifteenth verse, “for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

By refusing to look after Lazarus, the rich man who was so proud in this world became a beggar of drops of water in the afterlife.

A person who cuts himself off from other people and from his God locks himself in a prison of his own making.  The rich man locked his own self into the place of torment.  There is a fundamental continuity within God’s creation between this world and the next.  “Life here fashions our eternal destiny.”

The rich man requests Father Abraham to send Lazarus first to cool his lips and then to return from the dead and go to his brothers.  By telling Abraham that his brothers will listen to a man returned from the dead, the rich man thus implies that he himself had not been adequately warned.  This is a form of self-justification.  Abraham disputes the logic of the request.  For example, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Herod thought that Jesus was St. John the Baptist risen from the grave but yet that did not cause him to repent of his wicked ways.

The juxtaposition of the existences of the rich man and poor man would have simply been a classical reversal of fortune story except that the poor man lay at the rich man’s gate.  He had before him opportunities without number to do the right thing, but did not, for he had not love.

St. John Chrysostom says, “He died then indeed in body, but his soul was dead before.  For he did none of the works of the soul.  All that warmth which issues from the love of our neighbor had fled, and he was more dead than his body.”

The rich man was absorbed by the things of the world and did not renounce them in his heart.  He was owned by his possessions instead of holding them in trust for the Lord.  He was a slave to the things of this world.  He loved his things and not his suffering neighbor.

Sin is being without Christian love.  The rich man did not love his neighbor.  That lack of love led to profound and eternal consequences.  Think:  His ignoring his neighbor at his gate led to his damnation.  His lack of charity towards others led to an eternity without charity for himself.

Fr. Melville Scott said, “Lazarus, borne by loving angels, is placed next to Abraham at the feast of Paradise, as the beloved S. John was placed next to Christ at the last supper, enjoying rest and comfort, the most blessed companionship and affection, but Dives has no place here in a home of love into which he is spiritually incapable of entrance.  In Hades he awakes to gaze on the gulf he himself has fixed; to endure the flame of remorse he himself has kindled, and the parching thirst contracted in his desert life of selfishness.  He has made his own punishment….”

The rich man says that his brothers will repent if Lazarus is sent to them.  This acknowledges that they have something of which to repent and that he ought to have repented during his life.  Effectively, he admits that he sinned.

But see how the rich man started accepting his guilt after suffering anguish in hell, not during his life of comfort.  This realization grew from the consequence of his sin and was not efficacious.  True penitence springs from realizing the wrong you have done or sorrow for hurting others, not from sorrow from hurting yourself.  “I’m sorry that I got caught” is not true repentance.

Even when through his anguish the rich man sees his sin and is moved to ask of Abraham, what he asks first of Abraham is relief from that suffering.  The rich man’s selfishness becomes more perfect in Hades.  He recognizes it more clearly, yet he also acts within his selfishness more perfectly as well.  He has trapped himself in his own torment.

Even in death, the rich man tries to cut deals and manipulate.  Even in death, he seeks to control the fate of others, after he has so poorly controlled his own fate.

Here we see again the profound continuity of life here and beyond.  The rich man in Hades remains attached to the things of this world and suffers accordingly; Lazarus no longer is attached, no longer suffers, and rests peaceably, nestled with his people.

Father Crouse says, “What does it mean that the rich man is in hell?  It is not some arbitrary punishment visited upon him from outside; it is simply the description of the parched, tormented soul which has rejected the love of God.  That is what hell is: nothing more, and nothing less than the practical denial of God’s love.”

This ‘hell as separation from God’, of course, is not some wishy-washy “spiritual” but actually materialist understanding of frowning at people and thus earning a well-deserved reputation as a sourpuss.  Rather, this is the actual existential personal reality of rejecting the bonds of love which unite us with our heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters and ending in everlasting torment without the love of either other people or God.

That the rich man did not commit sins that were audacious in the eyes of the world, of his family, or of his friends does not make those sins any the less wicked.  God cares not for the fashion of this world.  Clever insults and droll jabs can leave their mark in hurting others and can show a disdain for the God-given beauty and integrity and salvation-worthiness of our neighbor that God will forgive but will not ignore.

We create our own notions of righteousness, our own ‘philosophies of life’.  But we are judged by the one eternal God’s judgement according to his righteousness.  We create our own systems of value to justify ourselves, whereas we should be like the Publican who stood afar off, asked God to have mercy upon him, and justified God.

Love of neighbor and love of God are fundamentally bound together.  “God is love” is quite correct.  How we live and love is the greatest adventure of our lives!  But it is so difficult to live out.

This loving each other involves willing the best and highest good for each other and acting in accordance with that will.  This is a very tall order.  How can we do this?

Jesus says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”

How we can start is this.  Every day, examine your conscience.  Find your faults.  Acknowledge them before the Lord.  Resolve not to do them again.  Ask the good and gracious and loving Lord for forgiveness.  That is repentance.

Brothers and sisters, I commend to you to seriously confess your sins during this mass.

I commend to you to make your private confession to Fr. Nick or another wise and discrete priest of the diocese.

But I absolutely implore you to go home, remember your sins, and fall on your knees and say, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

 

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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