Sunday sermon on the Gospel lesson from Luke 16:19-31
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
Looking at the rich man from today’s parable, we could say that he’s really got it. He had the best clothes, he had the best food, he had the best banquets, he probably even had some friends who really enjoyed the things he was providing for them.
By many different standards, especially by the standards of our time, he was living the life. By our standards, he was a really progressive and progressing man. Deep down in our hearts, there isn’t one person here today who wouldn’t want the kind of life the rich man had.
The only thing he did not have was an actual good life. For all the splendor with which he lived, his life was rather miserable; and with each day it was getting worse, not better. You see, the kind of life we begin here, the kind of life we build now continues into eternity. Eternity is not something that happens after our soul departs our body; eternity for each of us begins as soon as we are conceived. So this earthly life is already part of our eternal life.
The lives we set for ourselves now continue on the same course, forever. And this course is either going up or going down; there is no middle ground, there is no a “little bit of both” kind of thing.
The rich man died, was buried, and found himself in a place of torment. Why? Because that’s the kind of course he set for himself in his life. All that extravagant living was already a kind of little hell for him here on earth. And it wasn’t because he was rich.
The reason he ended up where he did was not because he was a nice guy who made some bad choices. Rather, he’s tormented because of who he had become as a result of those choices. As the saying goes, “The doors to hell are locked from the inside.” Very often we are the reason for our own hell.
How do we avoid the fate of the rich man? And by this I do not mean how do we become poor, but how do we avoid being arrogant and selfish, how do we avoid being shaped by the bad choices that we so inevitably and so often make?
And the answer is kind of simple – be progressive. Christianity is progressive. To be a Christian means to be progressive. Our faith is not a stagnant faith, it is the faith that leads to growth and sets us on the right course.
C.S. Lewis, one of the best writers of the 20th century, in his book Mere Christianity, describes progress in this way,
Progress means getting nearer to the place where we want to be. And if we have taken a wrong turn, then to continue going forward does not get us any nearer. If we are on the wrong road, progress means doing a U-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the person who turns back soonest is the most progressive one…Going back is the quickest way forward.
This is something the rich man was not willing to do, to progress. He was set in his life, and even though he was presented with multiple opportunities to do the right thing – to feed the hungry, to pay attention to Lazarus at his gates, he just continued to trudge forward. He was unwilling to go back to fix his mistakes. You know why? Because going back is not pleasant, going back and admitting that we leave a trail of serious mistakes, of enormous messes is painful…but it is necessary in order to be progressive, in order to be a Christian.
This process of going back in order to go forward, the process of progress is called repentance. Repentance is not just a “father forgive me for I have sinned. I didn’t kill anyone (at least not intentionally), I didn’t cheat on my spouse (at least openly), and I really-really want to be good.” That’s not even a good confession because it is not serious.
For sure, the sacrament of Confession is part of our repentance. But repentance itself is not a one-and-done event. In the life of a Christian, repentance is continual, it never stops, otherwise it won’t be a progress. We constantly go back, through prayer, through self-evaluation, through guidance of experienced people in our life and we find the mistakes we make, and we get ourselves back on the right course, move forward, progress. Repentance is continual.
It's continual because God is infinite. The point of our life, the point of repentance, is to get to know God as intimately as possible. But there is an infinite distance between us, the creatures, and God, the Creator. This means that we can eternally continue to draw closer to God, progress, learn more about Him, understand Him more deeply, and still have ways to go. Because God is infinite, our progress in Him is also infinite. As good as we think we might be (and we really are not), we can still be better because God is infinitely better. To progress forever, we repent forever.
The rich man did not think about repentance even after dying and seeing Abraham and Lazarus in Paradise. Repentance was not on his mind because the course he set for himself, the one of stagnation, did not involve repentance; he never thought about it, nor practiced it. Since he never did it in his earthly life, he was unable to do it after dying.
The life we build now continues into eternity, repentance we practice now will always be familiar to us. The closer we come to God, the more we become aware of our own sins and our own weaknesses and our own failings. Lack of repentance is the same thing as knowing that I am on the wrong road, but nevertheless continuing on it because I am scared to turn around and admit that I made a mistake. And so, we continue to repent throughout our whole lives because we are progressive, we want to draw nearer to God.
Our closeness to God, our understanding of Him, our knowledge of Him, our sharing in God’s life begins in this life and continues into eternity. We can’t know God, at all, if we do not repent; we can’t go forward without going back; we are not Christians, if we are not progressive.
To our infinite God Who provides numerous opportunities for us repent, to be progressive: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with Whom we desire to grow closer, we give glory, honor, and worship, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.
Leave a Reply.