"Created for Your Neighbor"
Now we shift gears from focusing on the life of Christ to focusing on the life of the Church. The green on the altar reminds us of life, the holy life, the life that Christ lives out through His holy Church. The life of the Church, and of every Christian, goes in two directions. We often pray it after we receive the Lord’s Supper. We pray that the Lord would use His Body and Blood to strengthen us “in faith toward [Him] and in fervent love toward one another.” First, trust in God; second, love toward neighbor. Put them together and we see how we are created for our neighbor.
Jesus tells a story to the Pharisees. They were “lovers of money.” In His story, Jesus says there was a certain rich man. To put him in modern terms, rich man wore $1000 suits with bright, fancy ties. He lived in a luxurious mansion, complete with a big screen TV, Blue-ray DVD player, the newest computers, the latest WiFi-operated appliances, and the best sound system. He ate only the best foods: steak, lobster, caviar, etc. But there was also a beggar named Lazarus. He was homeless, just lived on the streets. He was always looking for a handout. So sad…and so annoying! And his skin! Those rashes! Those sores! He really should see a dermatologist. The rich man knew about Lazarus. He saw him walking past the house everyday. As the rich man sat in the comfort of his leather recliner, he thought, “It really is a shame how some people have such bad luck in life.” And off went Lazarus, walking down the street.
Was it a sin for the rich man to be rich? No. Was it a sin for the rich man to hoard his wealth and ignore the need of Lazarus? Yes. Is it a sin for you to have money and own possessions? No. God is the Giver of those good gifts too. Is it a sin for you to hang on to your money and possessions, guarding them and using them only for yourself? Yes. You see God gives you money and possessions for a purpose: not only to provide for your self, but also to love your neighbor. God gives you money and possessions so that you can turn and use them to help and serve your neighbor.
The real problem is not the money. The real problem is not trusting God. Yes, Jesus must preach this sermon to us—the holy Church, people redeemed by His blood. No, you and I don’t fully trust God to supply our need. No, you and I don’t trust God to take care of us day by day. That’s why we scrimp and hoard. That’s why we rely on ourselves. That’s why we always want more and more and more. We do it in our families; we do it in the church. All the while God is watching and saying, “Hey, I gave you that money and stuff so that you could serve your neighbor, not yourselves!”
Lazarus and the rich man both died, and each of them went to their eternal reward. Beggar Lazarus went to heaven. Nameless rich man, who had the good life, went to hell. And in the midst of his torment, the rich man was still blind to his sin. “Hey, Abraham,” he called, “send Lazarus over here to serve me with a couple drops of cold water.” During earthly life, rich man paid no attention to Lazarus. In everlasting torment, rich man thought Lazarus should serve him as a slave.
Sometimes we talk of needing more giving in the congregation. And it’s true: we all could stand to be more generous in the offering and thus promote the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. But we often think and speak in these terms: “Let’s get those other people giving more.” That’s the same selfish thing the rich man said in his hell. “We seem to have a problem. Let’s get other people to solve it for us.” And do you know what God says to that? “Baloney!” He says, “I always give you what you need--even more than you need. You simply don’t trust Me or look to Me.” Do you want to know how to increase giving? It’s simple: Give! To everyone who says, “We need more giving,” the solution is simple: take out your wallet and give.” Don’t expect other people to do it for you. Set the example. Generosity leads to more generosity. Giving leads to more giving.
That’s the way God works. That’s the way God wants His Church to work. Giving leads to more giving. Generosity leads to more generosity. God gives you money and possessions so that you will turn and use them to help and serve your neighbor. And who is your neighbor? Take a hint from the parable. The rich man’s neighbor was right at his gate—right under his nose. In the same way, your neighbor is right under your nose. Your neighbor eats at the dinner table with you, attends worship with you, and works on the job with you. You don’t have to go searching for a neighbor. God is so good and gracious to you that He has already given you neighbors, the people with whom you live, worship, work, and play. You are created for them, not them for you.
This is how God has worked to save you. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came into the world for one purpose: to save you by dying for you—to lay down His life for you, His neighbor. He gave up the privileges of being God and took on human flesh. He gave up His own precious life to serve you. What marvelous generosity! As St. John says: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). St. Paul says the same thing: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
St. Paul is not talking about money or economics when He says that Jesus was rich and became poor. Jesus became poor—became a beggar—by taking our sin into His own body. As Jesus hung on the cross, God looked at Him and said, “You are the poorest, most beggarly sinner. You must die.” So, Jesus died and went through the torment and agony of hell to save us. You see, Jesus had to go there, because that’s where we were. And we deserved to be there, in the same place as the rich man in the story. But Jesus bridged the gulf, the grand canyon, between us and God. When Jesus rose from the dead, He brought us with Him from death into life. Now, we belong in Abraham’s bosom—right along side beggar Lazarus.
So, living the Christian life means learning to look at ourselves as beggars. That’s what we are. We have no claim on God, yet He loves to call us His children and His Church. We don’t deserve anything that God gives us, yet He still takes care of our needs. He lets us keep breathing every night while we sleep. He lets the sun come up in the morning to waken us and give us light. He lets us eat food every day. And we don’t deserve any of this. God is truly rich in mercy. Trusting Christ means learning to see ourselves as beggars who rely only on God. We keep sinning, but Jesus keeps forgiving us. We still fall into trusting ourselves rather than God, but Christ overcomes that sin too. He has already suffered torment for it and killed it.
When we come to the Lord’s Table, we come as beggars. Our mouths and our hands are open and empty. But be comforted. Jesus fills our mouths and hands with His own Body and Blood. In this Supper God teaches us to be beggars. He teaches us to trust Him and love our neighbor. When we receive Jesus’ Supper, we trust the forgiveness that He gives us in His Body and Blood. When we receive the Supper, we are also learning to love our fellow beggars as we eat and drink with them. We are beggars, and we need the Lord to feed us with His Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation.
When I say that we are beggars, I am not insulting you. Instead, I’m complimenting you. After all, you and I are free beggars. As we rely on God in Christ for every little thing, we are free to serve our neighbor. You see, beggars have nothing to hold onto, nothing to hoard. And what little they do receive, they always use it to help and serve their fellow beggars. Beggars are created for their neighbor. Amen.