As we enter the second half of the Church Year, our attention shifts. While the first half of the year centers on Jesus Christ and the events of His life, the second half actively engages the topic of sanctification, that is, our growth in the faith. This is always going to be rooted in justification, the blessed truth that we are saved from sin, death, and hell by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is delivered to you through Word and Sacrament and is received by faith as it takes hold of what Jesus did and believes firmly that it was done for you. The faith created by the Holy Spirit naturally wants to do good works. Out of thanksgiving for the life and salvation given by Christ, despite the damnation we deserve, the new man wants to live very intentionally in a way that shuns sin.
Why does the Rich Man in today’s Gospel go to hell? Why is Lazarus borne by the angels to Abraham’s bosom? Is it because of the life they lived? Is it because, in the end, God makes everything fair? The Rich Man had good things, so now it’s time for him to experience the bad? Lazarus starved, was unable to help himself in any way, and now lives in the lavishness of heaven that far exceeds what the Rich Man had? No. None of that is right, though we’d like it to be.
As we enter into the second half of the Church Year, our attention shifts. In the first half of the Church Year we focus on the life of Christ. Annually we repeat the cycle of birth—life—death—resurrection—ascension—giving of the Holy Spirit. Having heard once again what Our Lord has done to accomplish our salvation, we now ask a very Lutheran question: “What does this mean?” In other words, what implications does the first half of the Church Year have on my life today? Nothing the Church does is haphazard or accidental. The paraments and vestments have changed to green, the color of life and growth. Now our attention shifts to our spiritual life as it grows out of the life of Christ. The love He gave to us, embodied in His death and resurrection, we imitate by caring for others, by using the gifts and abilities God has given us to serve our neighbor. The faith created by the Word, seeks to grow and do those things which are pleasing to God.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.