25 September 2016

The Rescue and Salvation of the Body in Christ

The Word of our Lord concerning the rich man and Lazarus follows shortly after His Parable of the Unrighteous Manager, as we heard last Sunday.  And with this Word He continues to catechize you in a similar point.  He teaches you how to think about and use the material blessings of this body and life, that is, in faith toward God and with fervent love for your neighbors in the world.

It is for the sake of Christ that you are to live in this way.  For He by whom all things were made has become flesh and makes His dwelling with you here.  He sanctifies your life in the body.

Those who deny the Incarnation of the Son of God — His becoming flesh by the Blessed Virgin Mary and His coming in the flesh of His Holy Word and Sacraments — likewise neglect to love their neighbors in the flesh with any real charity.  Their faith, so to speak, is a matter of the heart and of the head, but not of the body.  Consequently, they forget the significance of their Baptism; they neglect and ignore the preaching of Moses and the Prophets, of Christ and His Apostles; they despise the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion; and they say to their neighbor, if they speak to him at all, “Be warm and well fed,” without providing any food, clothing, or shelter.

Yet, the body does matter.  In fact, it is indispensable.  There is no salvation apart from the flesh and blood of Christ, the Son of God.  Nor does your soul have any contact with the one true God apart from the body.  You receive His grace, mercy, and peace by bodily ways and means.  The preaching of the Gospel comes to you by way of human words from the mouth of your pastor into the ears of your body.  Your soul is cleansed and forgiven as your body has been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism.  And you will rise from the dead to spend eternity in Paradise, both soul and body, because your body is fed with the life-giving Body and Blood of the incarnate Christ.

We sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are bodily creatures of flesh and blood.  Therefore, the Lord took flesh and blood to be His own by His conception and birth of St. Mary, in order to be your Savior.  He lived your life in His Body of flesh and blood like yours.  He suffered and died bearing your sins in His own Body on the Cross.  He offered His flesh and blood as the Sacrifice for your salvation.  He rose again bodily from the grave, and He bodily ascended into heaven.  And to this day, He feeds and nourishes His holy Church with His bodily Means of life and salvation.

So it is that you are called to love and care for your neighbor’s body and life with the good works of your body, with deeds of mercy, and with tangible gifts of charity for those who are in need.

And you should understand that what you receive, suffer, experience, and do with your body in this present world has significance for the life to come.  Because the body does matter.  It is not at all irrelevant or incidental to your Christian faith and life, but integral to the life that you are called to live by faith in Christ, unto the resurrection of all flesh and the life everlasting in Him.

But do bear in mind that your body is rescued and saved by the way of the Cross.  Those who are wealthy and comfortable in their body and life on earth may find themselves tormented forever in the very real flames of hell.  And those who now suffer great anguish and affliction, poverty and hunger in their flesh, may receive the everlasting comfort of God the Father in the age to come.

All things shall be accomplished in accordance with the Word of our Lord: “Blessed are those of you hungering now, for you will be satisfied; but woe to you rich ones, for you have already received in full your consolation.”  It is likewise as we sing week after week throughout the year with St. Mary in the Magnificat: “The rich are sent away empty, but the hungry are filled.”

Let there be no confusion or misunderstanding in these points, however.  The rich man of whom the Lord Jesus speaks was not damned because of his wealth.  Whatever he had in this body and life was a gift and blessing of God.  He was damned because he prioritized those gifts above the Giver of all good things.  He trusted in himself and in his stuff, and he presumed to use what God had given as though it were his own.  His lack of faith was then made obvious in his lack of love.

By contrast, poor Lazarus was saved, not by his poverty and misery and hard life, but rather by his faith in Christ in the midst of his poverty, suffering, and death.  He trusted the Lord to save him, not only from his sorry situation, but from his sins, from the death he deserved, and from all evil.

Such faith and hope in Christ Jesus are the whole difference between the rich man and Lazarus.

The very same criteria are true for you, as well, and nothing else finally matters.  The eternal destiny of your body and your soul is determined by your relationship to Christ Jesus in the flesh.

Even as He speaks the Words of this Holy Gospel, Christ the Lord is on His steadfast journey to the Cross in Jerusalem.  He is on His Way to sacrifice His Body and Life, His flesh and blood, for Lazarus; for the rich man; for scribes and pharisees; for publicans, prostitutes, and pagans; for His disciples, and for those lost sheep still to be found; for all whom He will call to Himself from yon and hither; for you, and for your neighbor, too, including the one whom God has now laid at your gate in need of food and clothing, in need of your love and mercy, in need of the Holy Gospel.

Purchased and cleansed by the Blood of God, living in His flesh as a member of His Body, are you serving that poor neighbor in his or her need?  Or do you step over your neighbor’s body on your way to and fro in your busy life?  Or do you walk around him, refusing to see him or his need?

Are the many gifts that God has entrusted to your stewardship being used to the glory of His Name for the benefit of others?  Or do you scrimp and save and horde whatever you can get for yourself, using and abusing everything of this body and life for your own personal comfort and benefit?

Take heed whose child you are: here in time, and hereafter in eternity.  Are you a child of Abraham, and of your dear Father in heaven, a son of God in Christ?  Or a child of the old Adam, exercising all of his sinful lusts and desires, and awaiting the inheritance of the rich man in Hades?

The fact is that you are no better off than Lazarus: poor and sick with sins, covered with sores, licked by dogs, and dying in the street.  Nor will your poverty and misery save you, for these are the rightful wages of your sins.  Of yourself, you merit nothing better than the rich man.  For you are proud in your sin, greedy and selfish with your possessions, neglectful of God and His grace.

For you, as for Lazarus, the hope of your life and your salvation is found in Christ Jesus alone.

He is the Rich Man clothed in purple.  And though He was so rich, yet, for your sake, He became poor, so that you might receive the riches of God in Him and feast sumptuously from His Table.

The same Lord Jesus Christ has suffered all that poor Lazarus suffered, and all the suffering and pain of the entire world.  He has suffered all that you have suffered, and all that you will suffer yet in this body and life under the Cross.  He has suffered all the pangs and torments of hell itself, so that you might receive the comfort and eternal bliss of the Resurrection to Abraham’s bosom.

The rescue and salvation of your body and soul, and of any and all who shall be saved, are found in Christ Jesus alone, for the sake of His suffering, in the reception of His riches, which are offered in the Gospel to rich and poor alike by His grace alone.  Thus, it is neither your riches, nor the lack of them, nor genealogy, but faith alone in Christ alone which makes of you a child of Abraham.

Even your faith is a gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.  You do not fear, love, and trust in Him by any choices or decisions on your part, nor by any miraculous demonstrations of divine glory, but rather by the unassuming Ministry of Christ in the flesh and blood of His Word and Sacrament.

Now, then, by such faith in Christ the Crucified, receive whatever riches, wealth, and comforts God may provide you in this body and life as gifts of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy.  Receive them with thanksgiving.  Sanctify them to yourself by His Word and prayer.  Enjoy them in peace, and use them, to the glory of His holy Name, for the benefit of your neighbor — for the “Lazarus” at your gate, whom God so desires to bless and help through you, His own dear child.

The name “Lazarus” means “the one whom God helps.”  But God desires to help this man, here in time on earth, by the means of His children.  He provides the words and deeds and gifts of love that you and other Christians speak and do and give unto even one of the least of these, especially to your brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is for this purpose that the Lord your God has blessed you with all that you need for this body and life — and, really, with more than you need, with more than food and clothing.  Not to please and pamper yourself, nor to lord it over your neighbor, but in the Name of the Lord Jesus to serve and help the poor, who are with you always in this life.

Regrettably, your fallen and perishing flesh is perverted by your sin and death, by your appetites for the wealth of this world, and by your lack of faith and the fear of God.  You hunger and thirst for that which is temporary, so you are never satisfied.  Instead of turning to the Lord for all that you need, you turn away from Him in unbelief, and away from your neighbor, too, in selfishness.

You have heard how it was for that rich man, who was too proud, too wrapped up in his own self-importance, and too busy enjoying himself to be of any help or service to the poor man at his gate.  And yet, when that rich man found himself in hell, and Lazarus in heaven, in his sinful pride he still assumed that, if anything, Lazarus ought to serve him! — with a drop of water for his tongue, or a word of warning for his miserable family.  Even though, on earth, the rich man had not a crumb from his table to spare for poor Lazarus, nor even a kind word of mercy for him.

By contrast, the angels of God are not too great or proud to be of service to Lazarus.  They bear his frail body in their hands and cover his naked flesh with their wings.  They carry and escort him through the gates of heaven into the glorious presence of God, as though this poor man were their lord and master.  For Christ, the Son of God, who is their Lord, has taken this man’s flesh and blood to be His very own; He has borne his sins and carried all his sorrows in His own Body on the Cross; He has suffered poverty, hunger, and thirst, rejection by the powers that be, and death by crucifixion.  So it is that now those legions of angels who serve and attend Him — always eager and ready to do His bidding — they rejoice to guard, protect, and serve His frail, weak, and little ones, for whom He has given His Life and shed His Blood and opened the gates of heaven.

You, no less — but all the more, as you receive the Ministry of Christ and His angels — you must likewise be eager and ready to help and be of service to your neighbor in caring for his body and soul in every physical and spiritual need.  Affirm the goodness of the body that God has given to you and to your neighbor.  Be content with who and what you are in your body, whether as male or female, created, redeemed, and sanctified by the Holy Triune God.  So also be content with what you have, as much as God has entrusted to your stewardship.  Instead of coveting and resenting what God has given to your neighbor, use what you have to love and serve your neighbor in peace.

And wherever you have failed to live and to love in such faith, Repent.  And so also bear the fruits of repentance in Christ.  Return to Him, your Lord, by faith, and turn to your neighbor in love.

Thanks be to God, the Lord Jesus Christ is faithful in showing mercy to and helping those in need, including you.  Though you so often fail to feed the hungry, to dress the naked, to visit the sick and those in prison, He graciously persists in feeding you and clothing you and visiting you with forgiveness and life and salvation for your body and your soul, for now and for ever.  He does not leave you lying in the gutter, dying in your sins.  He provides you with the comfort and consolation of His Gospel, the cleansing of your conscience with the benefits of Holy Baptism, the removal of your sins with His spoken Word of Holy Absolution, and the health and restoration of your flesh and blood in preparation for eternity in heaven by the Body and Blood of His Holy Communion.

So it is that you are saved by His grace and fed from His Table this morning.  And so may the Lord attend you with His holy angels, while you are waking, while you are sleeping, even unto death; here in time at His Altar, and hereafter at home in the bosom of your God and Father forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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