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The First Sunday after Trinity

June 02, 2024; Rev. Kurt Lantz, Pastor
Proper 23 B. heinrich-hofmann-christ-and-the-rich-young-ruler.jpg

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 He Is Our Help and Our Shield

How did they do it? Abram continued to believe God’s promise to give him descendants as numerous as the stars, even as he and his wife got older and older without any child of their own. Well, he did have questions, such as it is related in today’s Old Testament Reading (Genesis 15:1-6). “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2). The LORD was even in the midst of telling Abram, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (15:1).


The questions still come even as God is giving His promises. The circumstances of our lives in this fallen world do not align with the wondrous promises that the LORD keeps giving. He promised Abram descendants as numerous as the stars while Abram was aging and childless. He gives the promises such as we sang in today’s psalm even while we remain in want of their fulfillment.


Such was the life of poor Lazarus begging at the rich man’s gate. Lazarus, whose name means “the LORD is my help,” had to cry out for help every day, “a poor man, covered with sores, who desired to be fed” (Luke 16:20-21). His name kept reminding him who the LORD claimed to be when He gave His promises to Abram: “Fear not, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”


That is the blessed promise to all whose God is the LORD. He is their help and their shield. It is not a promise only for Abram and Lazarus, but for all those who look to God to fulfill His promise to be their helper. It is a promise of blessing for the children of Abram, who as St. Paul teaches in his letter to the Romans and Jesus taught as recorded in the Gospel of John, are not necessarily the physical descendants of Abraham but rather those who hold the same faith as Abraham. Those who believe that the Lord is their help and their shield, as Abram “believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).


These are the people whom the LORD has chosen to inherit His blessing. “The LORD looks down from heaven; He sees all the children of man; from where He sits enthroned He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds” (Psalm 33:13-15). The LORD extends His promise to be their help and their shield. They believe His promise and He counts their faith as righteousness and they are saved. They live their lives holding to the promise of the LORD and it is evident in their deeds as they live under trials of doubt and hardship and old age and illness and poverty.


They do not trust in an army of supporters who may desert them. They do not trust in their skill or strength which wanes with age. They do not trust in the resources around them which they may not be able to attain, or may be deprived of if their circumstances should change. They look to the LORD to be their help and their shield, even while they question like Abram without a son, and beg like Lazarus hounded by the dogs.


We don’t want to be childless like Abram or destitute like Lazarus. We think of such situations as curses, absent of the blessing of God. When we are in those situations we wonder how could it be any worse than to be barren, unable to conceive a child. How could it be any worse than to have to beg for a scrap of food and be ignored in a time of need? Most of us never have to experience those kinds of situations. But we worry about them and we question God about other things that we suffer in life. We question how He is fulfilling His promise to be our help and our shield? We question if He is really faithful to His promise. We question if He has forgotten about us in our situation.


Today’s psalm reminds us that not only has God looked down from heaven to state His promises to us, but that He continues to keep His eye on us. “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His steadfast love” (Psalm 33:18). He is aware of our questions and our circumstances, just as He was aware of Abram and Lazarus struggling to hold onto the promises that He had given to them.


And He is not just watching us while we question and cry. But the psalm explains why He keeps His eye on us. It is not so that He can keep pushing us to our breaking point. It is not so that He can make us crack and give up the faith. But “that He may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine” (v. 19). It is so that He can be our help and our shield in our time of need; so that He is aware of every one of our trials and sufferings and struggles, in order to fulfill His promises and be the one who rescues us.


His eye was on Abram so that He could come to him and restate the promise and show him the stars of the sky so that Abram would have a reminder every night when he might find himself sleepless with anxiety about the future. It would not hurt for you on your sleepless nights to go out and have a look at the stars, remembering that God’s promised blessings to you in His Word are greater than the lights you can see in the night sky, greater even than the stars you could see if you drove far away from any city lights, where the Milky Way and other galaxies of stars become visible, as they were to Abram on his pilgrimage.


The LORD’s eye was on Lazarus so that He could send His holy angels to carry Lazarus to the life of comfort, peace, and healing that he prayed for. He delivered Lazarus from death and gave him eternal life, and not the eternal life that the rich man who ignored the suffering at his gate received. While that rich man is forever alone in torment because he trusted in his wealth and possessions, Lazarus had the comfort of being one welcomed into the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:22). He became one of the many children of Abraham, one of those as numerous as the stars in the night sky, whom father Abraham has the joy of embracing as they enter into the eternal care of the LORD.


As we experience the grief and suffering of this life we are very tempted by the life that the rich man had in this world. He feasted sumptuously every day (Luke 16:19). He did not have a care in the world other than how he might gratify his desires in some new way that he hadn’t yet tasted. Not even the beggar at his gate dampened the pleasures that he revelled in throughout his life. That is the kind of ease that we crave—no worries about the future, no diseases to be cured, no discomforts that annoy, no dependence on anyone else, no need for the LORD who would be our help and our shield.


But none of the comforts of this life did that rich man any good for eternity. In fact they worked in him such a callous self-centredness that he never gave a thought to how the excess that he wasted might bring some joy, comfort, and ease to the man who was suffering just outside his door. All of those comforts drowned and suffocated that rich man in the sinful selfishness that damns us to hell. And while we are often tempted to desire his life in this world, we in no way want any share in the life that he now has for eternity. The eternal hell that he suffers in isolation and torment, without any help or shield.


No, it is the eternal life of Lazarus that we desire, although we do not want any share in the earthly sufferings that plagued him. But the LORD was his help and his shield throughout the terrible injustice and cruelty, a help and a shield that sustained his faith in the LORD who delivers from death. The LORD was his help by the work of the Holy Spirit to continually direct Lazarus to the blessed promise of the LORD to deliver from death those who trust in Him. The LORD was his shield by sending His eternal Son into this life of suffering to carry our sins and bear our infirmities in His own body on the cross. Jesus has shielded from death and damnation those who hold to the promise of salvation from the LORD.


The LORD has looked down from heaven where He sees all the children of man. From where He sits enthroned He looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, and He sees you. He sees you in your trials and sufferings, in your anxieties and despair. He sees you and He has chosen you to be the recipient of His promises, to be His chosen heir of blessing.


And as you struggle to hold on to His promises to you through the circumstances of your life, as you wait for the fulfillment of all that He has for you, He continues to be your help and Your shield. He helps by the Holy Spirit, the Helper Jesus promised to send to keep you in the truth of God’s Word of salvation and blessing (John 16:7). He shields you from your sins and the death you deserve by putting His Son in front of you and covering you with the perfect righteousness of Jesus. Just as He did for Abram and for Lazarus, He does for you.


You have the same promises that the LORD gave to Abram and to Lazarus. You have the same faith in those promises that they had, a faith that questions, yet holds to the Word of Him who is faithful. You have the same LORD who has chosen you to be His own and who watches over you in every circumstance of your life. He counts your faith in Him, your belief that He has kept His promises to you in the death and resurrection of Jesus and that He will keep you to the end, as righteousness. Your sins of doubt and despair and selfishness and misdirected hope are all forgiven in Christ Jesus.


The LORD continues to be your help and your shield day and night, through trial and temptation, into old age and to the day when His holy angels gently carry you to be embraced in heaven by Abraham, your father in the faith, at the pearly gate where Lazarus begs no more. There you will join them with faith confirmed and eager expectation for the day of resurrection and a new creation.

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