19 Pentecost Proper C21
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 16:19-31 Sermon
September 25, 2016

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & Lutheran Service Book):
LSB 850 "God Of Grace & God Of Glory"
TLH 278 "Delay Not, Delay Not, O Sinner Draw Near"
LSB 802 "Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise"
TLH 451 "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus"  


TEXT (vs. 22-24):  "The time came when [Lazarus] the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.  In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'"

            There's a joke that's been told over the years that I'm going to share with you this morning.  And as jokes with an ecclesiastical theme frequently go, the theology isn't accurate at all, as is the case with this one.

            The story starts out with two men who have died, and they're standing at the pearly gates of heaven.  The one man is a pastor, who had served the church faithfully for over 50 years.  The other man is a New York City taxi driver, who had been at his job about 20 years.

            St. Peter meets them, and tells the pastor, "Come and see your home for eternity."  With that, he is led to a nice comfortable little cottage.

            Then St. Peter goes to the taxi driver and says, "Come and see your home for eternity."  With that, he is led to this huge manor with a magnificent view.

            When the pastor sees this, he asks St. Peter:  "Hey, what's going on here?  I've been a pastor for over 50 years, faithfully serving the Lord, and I'm given this small cottage.  But this taxi driver gets this beautiful manor!  I don't understand this!"

            St. Peter replies, "It's quite simple really.  This taxi driver has scared the hell out of more people in 20 years driving a taxi, than you did in 50 years from your pulpit."

            Hell is a word that we hear all the time.  You'll hear it every Sunday in church when we say together in the creed that Jesus "descended into hell."  It's even in our hymns.  When we sing "Onward Christian Soldiers," there's a verse that says, "Hell's foundations quiver, at the shout of praise."  On Easter, we'll sing, "Hell today is vanquished; heaven is won today."  Or, "Mighty victim from the sky, hell's fierce powers beneath thee lie."

            When we talk about hell in the church, it's usually in connection with Jesus' victory over hell, and death, and Satan.  Through faith in Jesus, hell is something that we have overcome as well, so it is something that we need never worry about.  Jesus led the victory march through hell when he went there before Easter.  That's the confidence we have that he has destroyed death and all of the devil's power.  This is something that gives us comfort and joy.

            However, hell seems to get its share of publicity in the secular world as well.  People seem to always be talking about hell in one way or another.  So often, it is used as a modifier for another word; something to intensify the meaning.  So you'll hear people say things like, "It's colder than hell, it's hotter than hell, I'm tired as hell, I'm happy as hell, I'm mad as hell, I feel like hell, I got a hell of a good deal, that was one hell of a good meal, he's one hell of a great guy, where the hell have you been, the hell if I know, he ran like a bat out of hell, who the hell do you think you are, what the hell is going on here, what in the hell do you think you're doing, this old car is shot to hell, the kids have been hell on wheels today," and the list goes on.

            Then there's the sign I saw one time in a shop.  The sign read, "Our new credit manager is Helen Hunt.  So if you want credit here, go to Helen Hunt for it."  This of course is with my apologies to the actress.

            If you want to be technical about it, there's really nothing wrong with the word "hell."  Like I mentioned before, we use it in church all the time.  And when it is used otherwise as an expression, it might be considered as being crude or vernacular, and not something people would generally use in formal or polite conversation.  I most definitely wouldn't want children to feel justified in gratuitously adding that word to their normal speech.   But even so, it is not an example of taking the Lord's name in vain.  In fact, Jesus himself made a mockery of Satan and hell when he descended into hell and did his victory march.

            I brought this to your attention today to point out just how common the mention of hell is in our society.  Now one would hope that for so many people to use the word that they would understand what they are saying.  But that's not the case, not at all.  It's because they lack understanding that they have what I like to call "An Attitude of Damnation."  That attitude comes through both a lack of understanding as well as doubt as to the existence and reality of this place we know as hell.

            Our Gospel lesson for today is one that focuses upon the absolute reality of hell.  In various places in the New Testament, Jesus employs about every graphic picture and metaphor he can to get us to understand how terrible of a place hell is.  He wants to make sure that we see it as a place we would never want to be.  It is a place of misery, and torment, and torture, and eternal agony.  And Jesus is going to do everything he can to be sure that nobody has to ever go there, or have any fear of it.  Jesus has taken care of the "hell problem" once and for all for all true believers in him.

            There's an illustration that's been going around for a long time that I think bears repeating.  It's the story of a devout Christian woman who was married to a man who was a terrible alcoholic.  There were many nights when he would be out past midnight.  He would stumble in at all hours, usually with some of his drinking buddies in tow.  He would then wake his wife, and demand that she get out of bed, go to the kitchen and prepare a meal for him and his friends.  And without complaint, she would oblige him.

            One time, one of her husband's friends said to her, "I've watched the way he treats you.  Why do you put up with this and give in to his demands?"

            She turned and looked him square in the eye.  She said, "My husband is not a Christian.  When he dies, he will be in hell, which is a place of indescribable misery.  Because of this, I have decided to make his short time on earth the best I can for him."

            As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, we can see this played out in detail.  There was this rich man who lived only for the "here and now."  He surrounded himself with every earthly pleasure he could.  He was as happy as he could make himself, given his resources.

            But you know, he also had an attitude of damnation.  It's obvious that this man was a Jew, and therefore he should have known the reality of hell.  But somehow, he felt that he was exempt from it.  He probably felt that hell was just some sort of fictitious place from ancient lore and myth.  He didn't fear hell because he probably felt it didn't exist.

            The attitude of damnation actually begins just that way.  If a person has deluded themselves into thinking that hell is not a reality, then the devil has won the first round.

            If hell isn't a reality, then why do people need Jesus?  If there is no hell from which to save people, what purpose would a Saviour have?  Why would Jesus have given his very life to pay for all of humanity's sin if it was all meaningless?  When people see no need for Jesus and what he has done, then the devil has won the second round.  The attitude of damnation has prevailed.

            The attitude of damnation is so prevalent in our world today.  The evidence of this is that people just don't care.  They can't see the eternal consequences of sin and unbelief.  People want to live for the moment, and do whatever they feel like doing.  All morals go straight out the window.  People think, "Go to hell?  Sure, why not?  Maybe party with 'old nick' for all eternity?  I'm down for that!"  And so, one by one, Satan takes that attitude of damnation so many people have, and turns it into a reality for them.  Unfortunately, they are getting way more than they bargained for, just like the rich man in our text for today.  And when that happens, it's too late to change that attitude of damnation.  There's no turning back.

            But there's another facet to this "attitude of damnation," and it's not quite so blatant.  When people read this story about the rich man and Lazarus, they begin to think, "Well, if that rich man only gave Lazarus some food, then he wouldn't be in hell now."   People think that by simply following the "love thy neighbor" rule, they will get into heaven.  They fool themselves into thinking that by doing a "pretty good job" of keeping the commandments; it will be good enough for God.

            That is another attitude of damnation.  Keeping the commandments is something we're supposed to do, but that alone isn't going to save us.  Being saved from hell is not based upon what we do, but upon what we believe in our hearts.

            That's when we have to look to Jesus.  When we come to him, we do so with empty arms.  We don't try to tote along some sort of self-righteous record, or a type of scorecard that lists every noble thing we've ever done.  This just doesn't pass muster as far as our salvation is concerned, and it won't keep us out of hell.

            Faith in Christ alone is what it takes.  When we come to Jesus in faith, the Holy Spirit changes that attitude of damnation we have by nature, and turns it into an attitude of salvation.  A change of heart is something that God does within us.  He changes despondency into promise, sadness into joy, and futility into hope.  This happens only through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.

            In the first five verses of Romans 5, the Apostle Paul records some very appropriate and joyful words for us.  He says, "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And werejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but wealso rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."  

            I started out this morning by telling you an old joke about a pastor and a taxi driver at the gates of heaven.  The punch line was that the taxi driver scared the hell out of more people than the pastor ever did.  Remember, it's only a joke, and not some sort of deep theological statement.

            In keeping with this sentiment however, I will tell you that I never want to scare the hell out of anybody.  We have the mental image of the old "hell fire and brimstone" type of preacher who pounds the pulpit and yells on at length about the terrors of hell, with the intent of scaring people into faith.  These preachers seem to think that God actually wants to send people to hell, and enjoys doing so.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

            Hell is a real place, with real torment, and real agony.  That is the truth of the matter, and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that.  But the last thing I want to do is to scare you.  A person cannot be scared away from the attitude of damnation, nor can they be scared into an attitude of salvation.  It doesn't work that way.

            It's my job to reassure you that hell is something you need never fear.  When you are a Christian, you know without a doubt that Jesus has removed this fear from your life.  Jesus doesn't want you to be threatened or scared by this story about the rich man and Lazarus; he wants you to be informed.  The road that leads away from hell is paved through faith alone, and the cross of Christ points us in the right direction.

            The attitude of damnation is so rampant in our society today.  People openly defy God and go their own way.  Like the rich man in our text, they think only of themselves and what pleasure they can find to make them happy.  There is no reality for them beyond the here and now.

            But as Christians who believe in Jesus as their Saviour, we know what lies ahead.  We know the hope that awaits us.  1 John chapter 4 verses 16-18 says, "...God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment, because in this world we are like him.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

            As Christians, we do not have to fear hell, not at all.  Because of Jesus' love for us, we can have confidence in the Day of Judgment.  We don't have to fear any punishment because Jesus took that punishment on our behalf.  So don't be scared of hell, because Jesus has conquered it for us.  The battle has been won.  Satan has been defeated.  Because Jesus lives, we too shall live forever, in the mansions of heaven, just as he has promised.