The Lord Has Dealt Bountifully With Me

First Sunday after Trinity

June 3, 2018

Luke 16:19–31

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

It is likely that these are words the poor man in the Gospel reading prayed. These are the words we prayed this morning in the Introit. They are from Psalm 13. The Psalms were the prayer book of the people of God and they remain so three thousand years later. They often give us the words to say to God when it seems that God has abandoned us.

In the Gospel reading we are shown two men, one this poor man, the other a rich man. The opposite of the poor man, it would appear that he has everything. He clothes himself in purple and fine linen. He doesn’t pull out all the stops when celebrating a special event but feasts lavishly every day. In his eyes and in the eyes of the world he has everything a person could want. 

In contrast is the poor man. We are told his name, Lazarus. He is so poor and so covered with sores that he is laid at the gate of the rich man every day. He longs to eat simply what falls from the rich man’s table. He is in such a sorry state that the dogs come and lick his sores. 

But there is something these two men have in common. They both die. But that is where the similarity ends. In death there is stark contrast again. We are told that when Lazarus died he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. With the rich man we are told that he died and was buried. But he is in hell now. He looks up and sees Abraham and Lazarus at his bosom. He is in torment and sees Lazarus reclining at the breast of Abraham, a picture of one reclining at a meal, which is how they did it back then as opposed to our sitting down at a meal. The rich man’s feasting days are over and the poor man’s days of longing are over.

The rich man now cries out: “Father Abraham, heave mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” The rich man has called Abraham Father Abraham and so now Abraham responds to him in like manner: “Child, remember that you received your good things in your life and Lazarus likewise bad things. But now he is comforted here and you are in anguish.” And he goes on: “And besides all this, there is a great chasm that has been fixed between us so that none may cross from here to you and none may cross from you to us.”

What was the difference between Lazarus and the rich man in this life? Why did one go to heaven when he died and the other went to hell? Abraham says that in this life Lazarus received bad things. He took on the prayer of the psalmist, crying out to God, why had God seemed to forsake him? Why were his days filled with sorrow? And yet, the Psalm he prayed also confessed this about his life: 

O Lord, I have trusted in your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt bountifully with me.

We prayed these words in the Introit as well. This is a remarkable confession of faith in the midst of suffering and sorrow. Lazarus, along with the psalmist, seemed to have nothing. It seemed as though God was nowhere to be found. And yet, the psalmist and the poor man remained steadfast in their faith in God. They even rejoiced in Him! Because “He has dealt bountifully with me!” You and I prayed these same words. We are not different from the psalmist who first prayed them and from the poor man who also prayed them. 

Will we see this as well? Will we see that God has given us salvation despite what our outward circumstances may seem? Will we see that He has dealt bountifully with us despite suffering and sorrow we endure? Or will we look to the good things in life and place our trust in them as the rich man did? Will we clothe ourselves in the comfort of the things of this world and live in excess? 

In a way it’s hard for us to identify with either of these men. You and I aren’t either excessively wealthy or excessively poor. But what we have in common with them is what we need to take heed to. Like them, we will die. Whether we suffer or take in the pleasures of life we will die. Taking heed to this now in this life is what will determine where you end up once you die. You will either go to heaven or to hell. And as Abraham has pointed out, once you are there, you cannot go to the other place. If you are brought to heaven you have eternal comfort and feasting. If you are sent to hell you are in eternal torment.

We know what is ahead of us once we die. What do we do about it? That leads to the second thing we have in common with the rich man and Lazarus. Abraham expresses this as well. He does so in response to the rich man. Knowing that he is in eternal torment and cannot receive even temporary relief in cooling his tongue, he entreats Abraham again: “Then I ask you, Father, to send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may give testimony to them so that they do not come here to this place of torment.” Abraham’s response this time is succint: “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to them.” 

And that is it, my brothers and sisters in Christ. You and I have what the rich man had, what the poor man had, what the rich man’s brothers had. Moses refers to the first five books of the Old Testament and the Prophets refer to the rest of the Old Testament. In other words, the Bible, the Word of God. That is what they had. That is what we have. There is nothing different the rich man was given from what Lazarus was given. The rich man rejected the Word of God, Lazarus embraced it. The rich man entrusted himself to his wealth, the poor man entrusted himself to God.

But the rich man still was not convinced: “No, Father Abraham, but if someone should go to them from the dead they will repent.” In other words, the Word of God is not enough. They need to see a miracle! But Abraham is resolute: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone should be raised from the dead.” And that is it. That was it for them and that is it for us. We have what they had, the Word of God. The rich man wasn’t convinced. Lazarus treasured the Word of God.

What will you and I do? Will we think that God’s Word is not enough? Will we reject God in our suffering and sorrow? Will we seek the things of this world for our comfort and our pleasure? Or will we pray with the psalmist and the poor man and countless Christians down through the ages? Will we heed the Word of God? Will we listen to it, entrusting ourselves to it, even when it calls us to repentance? Will we reject the enticement of the world and turn away from temptation? Will we treasure the Word of God so highly that it is the first thing we seek at the beginning of the week, here in the Lord’s House, as is taught in the Catechism from the Third Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”

There is another person who prayed the psalms. He was a man just like you and me, just like Lazarus and the rich man. But He is begotten of the Father before all worlds and born of the Virgin Mary and is our Lord. He entrusted Himself to His Father and to His Word. He prayed the Psalms. And in praying them and carrying out His work of salvation He fulfilled the Psalms. There is the key to praying the Psalms, hearing the Word God, and believing what the psalmist said, the Lord has dealt bountifully with me. He has done so in Christ. Christ though rich became poor. We though poor have become rich. Christ though without sin has taken upon Himself our sin. We though sinful are holy. He lives forever and yet died. We die and yet we live forever. Amen.