Are You Livin' The Good Life?

Text:  Luke 16:19-31

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We all want the good life.  Yes, you and I want the good life where we have an abundance of food, nice clothes, laughter, dance, joy, and plenty of cash to drop on any toy that we want.  Life is easy – or so we think – when we can eat what we want, sleep when we want, and do whatever we want, without any worries whatsoever.  We all want the good life. 

It seems that everybody else wants this good life too.  Our culture constantly exalts this good life by highlighting the supposed good lives of celebrities on tabloids, social media, and reality television shows.  It is easy to turn on cable television or go to the internet to watch celebrities drive around in their fancy cars and living in their Hollywood mansions, while going to parties where everyone is dressed like a supermodel.  We see the good life on advertisements and commercials as well.  Buy this car!  Buy this makeup!  Listen to this kind of music!  Buy this new technology.  Buy this and buy that and if you do, you will enhance your meager lives and then be living the good life.  Don’t settle as a second class citizen; don’t fly coach; don’t buy generic cereal; don’t shop at Kmart; don’t be a loser – live the good life!

There is no doubt about it that the good life is exalted and those who do not wear a certain type of clothes or drink a certain type of beverage or have a certain type of pedigree are frowned upon as lessor human beings, unless the person does everything possible to overcome it.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day believed that they were living the good life.  They turned their noses up at everyone around them, made long prayers, and acted holier-than-thou. They paraded around acting like they were living the good life and everyone else around them was a subpar.  They believed – along with others – that whoever is rich and powerful and living the good life is fortunate and should be respected; whereas, those who are poor, needy, and forsaken are unfortunate and should be looked down upon. 

But why is the good life exalted so much?  There is a temptation to look externally to clothes, material things, money, and power and then determine on the basis of these external things how important or valuable we are.  Furthermore, there is a temptation to try and acquire a supposed good life, where we can have everything together and look like we are the cat’s meow, all for the sake of justifying ourselves in front of others.  It is a temptation that stands before all of us.  We want to be respected and admired and worshipped by others – we want God to be impressed by us and our lives. 

Unfortunately though, when we begin to buy into the mentality of the good life, we can deceive ourselves.  In other words, fine clothing, quality products, and good living should ‘not’ be condemned; however, when we try to live the good life by looking for pleasure and identity and worth from these things… well, we have forgotten God and have been ensnared in a vicious trap. 

Dear friends, the desire for the good life is so enticing.  As we have already heard, not only are we tempted to base our worth and identity off of the good life, but things within the good life have a way of distorting reality as they suck us into them.  In other words, we can be so seduced by the good life that we turn good into evil and evil into good.  For example, food and drink and clothing and joy are good gifts to us, they are wonderful gifts; however, if we are enticed by the ideology of the good life, we can take food and turn it into gluttony, drink into drunkenness, clothing into self-centered glory, and joy into a pig’s life.  Furthermore, this good life knows no limits as it leads us to dress up sin, as if it were good: greed is viewed as talent and pride is turned into honor, to name a few. 

Simply stated, it is easy to separate and forget God and then be drawn into the endless chaos of trying to grasp the imaginary treasures of the good life. 

So, not only can we wrongly base our worth and identity off of the good life, but we can be drawn into deception, where evil is made good and good is made evil. 

Knowing this, we can start to make sense of why the rich man found himself in hell.  Permit me to explain. In our Gospel reading Jesus lays forth two men.  “One is rich and the other is poor.  One lives each day well, has abundance of food, the other suffers need and dies of hunger.  One is handsomely attired, has his chests full of suits and clothing, the other goes naked, unable to cover his body.  One laughs, the other weeps.  One dances, sings, leaps, and lives to the full [a true playboy]; the other lies down and dies.”[1]  Yes, Jesus lays out two men side by side, in our Gospel reading.  They have nothing in common, except death.  At death though, contrary to what people might think, the rich man finds himself in hell and Lazarus, the poor beggar who experienced hell on this earth, finds himself in paradise. 

Dear friends, do not be deceived.  What is prized and desired by mankind is abhorrent to God.  That is what we are learning from today’s Gospel reading.  That is to say, the things that mankind believes is the good life – the things that mankind looks up to, admires, finds pleasure in, boasts of, glories in, and uses to justify ‘self’ is actually utterly abhorrent in God’s eyes.  To put it another way, all of our forms of self-exaltation before God are disgusting in God’s eyes.  God is not impressed by the size of our paychecks, the beauty of our makeup, the quality of our cars and pickups and farm equipment.  He is not impressed by the fanciness of our houses, the accomplishments of our spiritual resumes, and the impressiveness of our reputations, even though we cherish these things four ourselves.  Being proud of ourselves and boasting of our own worth, dressing up our greed and polishing our pride, and clinging to clothes and material things, while snubbing those around us, will not earn us a place in paradise, but will make us beggars in hell. 

Being sufficient and having plenty of prestigious things in this life does not validate a person as being godly and being poor does not mean one is accursed.  With that said though, is the point of today’s Gospel reading that we should all become poor in order to avoid the fire of hades – that is hell?  Should we become like poor Lazarus and lay dead at the feet of wealth, with sores on our body, beating our breast saying, “I am justified because I am so poor and beggarly!”  No!  Absolutely not!  We must understand that poor Lazarus does not come into paradise because he is poor or the rich man into hell because he is rich.  Being rich is not evil and being poor is not good.  Riches save no one.  Poverty saves no one.  It is only Jesus who saves. 

You, who have ears, hear this:  it is not spiritual millionaires who receive the kingdom of God, but spiritual beggars.  Those who mourn over their sin, those who are meek, and know that they have nothing – those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of God is for people such as this. 

Why did the rich man go to hell?  He was proud in the world, he was self-sufficient, and considered himself good to go because he had the good life.  He was blind to the reality of his sinfulness, that he was a sinner in thought, word, and deed.  He was blind to the reality that he needed grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Why did poor Lazarus go to paradise?  He saw himself as a sinner.  His stony heart was crushed; any aspirations of the good life were unattainable.  He knew that the circumstances of his life – his weakness and beggarly status – were the same for him spiritually speaking.

Dear Baptized Saints, beware of seeking out the good life with the intent and purpose of becoming self-sufficient, so that you will not wish to be looked upon or feel like a spiritual beggar.  Yes, beware of the temptation of trying to acquire the good life, so that you will no longer be in need of forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

Here is the catch, the better that things go, the easier it is to deceive ourselves supposing that we do not need Jesus’ forgiveness, life, and salvation.  For example, it is easy to go to church when times are tough, but it is easier to neglect the Word and Sacrament when times are good.  In the words of Martin Luther, “Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one.  For Christ dwells only in sinners.” [2]  The Gospel is for sinners only.  Paradise is for spiritual beggars only. In other words, repent of aspiring to be like the rich man with his supposed good life, for his end is hell. 

So, dear Baptized Saints, whether you are financially wealthy or beggarly poor, we are all the same – we are poor miserable sinners in need of forgiveness.  All of us are brothers and sisters not to the rich man, but to poor Lazarus.  Yes, indeed, whatever your status in the eyes of the world - no matter your outward appearance, accomplishments, or success, as measured by earthly standards – you have been brought before God’s Word and His Altar this day as poor miserable sinners.  And before God’s Word and His Altar, you hear and receive the goodness of the Lord, who has befriend you, who has saved you, and who has opened your eyes to see your need of salvation.  You are right there with poor Lazarus as an inheritor of paradise.  Your end is not hell, but paradise.  Yes, you are with Lazarus, for the Lord knows you by name and He gives you the good life.  He gives you the right to be called the children of God.  He gives you His good Word.  He gives you His good body and blood to lavishly feast upon.  You are given the good life in Jesus Christ apart from anything that you have done, can do, or will do, so that you can and will recline with Lazarus and all the saints in paradise forever and ever. 

The good life is not in the empty aspirations of this world, but it is in the Lord who gives you your identity, your worth, and the promise of the good life for eternity.  He gives this to you now, as His baptized Christians that you should not want or fear, but rest with complete and total assurance.      

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Johann Spangenberg, The Christian Year of Grace: The Chief Parts of Scripture Explained in Questions and Answers tr. and ed. Matthew Carver (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2014), 234.

[2] Excerpt of Martin Luther’s Letter to Friar George (April 8, 1516).

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