Sept 25, 2016 – Listen!
Waiting to be interviewed for a job as a wireless operator, back in the days when Morse code was used for telegrams, a group of applicants paid little attention to the sound of the dots and dashes which began coming over a loudspeaker. Suddenly one of them rushed into the employer’s office. Soon he returned. “I got the job!” he said.
“How did you get in ahead of us?” they asked.
“You were busy talking so that you didn’t hear the manager’s coded message,” he replied. “It said, ‘The man I need must always be on the alert. The first one who interprets this and comes directly into my private office will be hired.'” This man listened while the others didn’t.
‘If they do not listen’ is a key phrase to understanding the gospel lesson today where Jesus tells us the story of the rich man and Lazarus. To hear the word of God and believe the gospel, that’s key to what Jesus is driving at today.
“Faith comes by hearing” so Romans 10:17 tells us. A person hears the gospel and so believes. People aren’t argued or convinced into faith. In the story Jesus tells, the man in torment seems to say that he would have lived life differently – that he would have ‘believed’ – if he’d heard from someone who had been where he was now, in hell, and had come back from the dead and told him about it.
The truth for us is that Jesus has done that very thing the rich man wanted. Jesus has been through death, He has gone to hell as we profess in the creeds, and has resurrected in triumph. And still today what Jesus said, ‘they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ remains true. Though He has gone there and come back again, still many people will not listen to Him.
However, if they will listen to the gospel; if they will hear what the law and the prophets say then, then by hearing God’s good news they may believe. Jesus said through the parable that we have Moses and the prophets to listen to and they tell us of God’s love.
We don’t have to argue anyone into the kingdom of God. Knowing that makes what we do easier; we have to convince no one of anything. Sometimes I think our fear of witnessing stems from trying to convince ourselves. Rather faith is its own conviction without need of being propped up by some sense of a man-made or people-pleasing argument.
What God did in sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross and rise is, arguably, not rational or reasonable by any person’s standards. The gospel is not reasonable, rather it is fanatical. That’s because God’s love for you is that of a fanatic. God gave His only Son’s life to save yours.
That’s the act of someone desperately in love and no amount of logic or human reasoning was going to stop God from doing what He did. That’s not say that faith is not reasonable. It is… on its own terms. And those terms are love and love alone. What does John 3:16 say, for God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
It is trust in Jesus being the Son of God that is both the object of and content of our faith. Faith is not magic, voodoo or some vague “spirituality”. It is firm trust that what God has spoken, stated and proclaimed in His word is true. That which is declared by His word, as it is heard, that is what grants us faith. When we hear what God has done in Jesus Christ, we respond to that and that alone.
Now does it help that nothing in archeology has ever contradicted scriptures? Sure that’s helpful, but that fact alone will not convince anyone to believe in God or His word, any more than someone rising from the dead would convince them. That’s what Jesus said in the gospel lesson through the parable. No, it’s God’s promise, that, when believed and trusted in, it’s His promise that grants us peace with the Father in heaven.
God has forever been about the forgiveness of peoples’ sin and the restoration of all people. The warnings in Amos today are meant as that, warnings that to distrust or to disbelieve God is to place yourself outside of His restoration, forgiveness and love. But placing ourselves outside of God’s love that’s a choice we make when we refuse to hear His word. When we choose, as did the ancient Israelites to ignore the love and mercy of God we remove ourselves from the protection of His love. We are then left in the grip of sin, fear and uncertainty.
As opposed to that, Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession so says St Paul to Timothy today. Timothy wasn’t coerced, or argued into belief, he was called – by the word of God, by hearing the word of God proclaimed to him since he was little child as we’ve come to understand it from these letters. St Paul makes reference to the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. The conclusion being that Timothy was raised hearing the word of God, and through that hearing he was called to faith. And by the gospel and in response to that gospel, Timothy went on to be a pastor and continue that process of giving others the opportunity to hear the word of God.
What does it mean for you to hear the word of God proclaimed to you – here and now? What value is it to your life this week to have heard the good news proclaimed? There must be something of value for you here, so let me ask you. If this gospel is so valuable to you, don’t you think that others you know would also find value in the hearing of it? Why would we want to keep this most valuable thing quiet and hidden away from others in our life? Surely we find comfort and hope, joy and forgiveness, strength, peace and guidance from hearing God’s word. What kind of friend keeps such a treasure to themselves?
Toward the end of his life, the famous painter Renoir had great difficulty holding his brushes. Crippling arthritis threatened to steal his ability to paint at all. A fellow artist asked, “Why do you paint with such pain?” Renoir replied, “The pain usually passes, but the beauty always remains.”
I tell you this story because you have the opportunity to be Renoir. You have the beauty and comfort, the strength and peace of the gospel to describe to others. In our closing hymn we will sing these words, “The day of Resurrection, earth, tell it out abroad…” You don’t have to convince them of the truth, you have only to tell what the gospel means to you and how you see the world as a result of the good news of Jesus Christ dying on the cross and rising again from the tomb.
What Renoir did was paint, and he did this out of his need to share the beauty that God had given him sight to see. Painting a picture of what God has done for you in Christ is what telling the good news, the gospel, is all about. Jesus painted a rather bleak picture today of a man in torment, but Jesus said that by listening to the good news and believing it people are saved from this man’s torment.
Make no mistake – though Jesus is telling a parable, the reality of hell is every bit as bleak and forbidding as this scene describes, in fact I’m sure it’s quite a lot more. For us who have the gospel – to keep it from others is embarrassing at best and shameful as well. Since by withholding that good news, of Jesus’ resurrection victory over sin, death and Satan, withholding telling others about that, that can allow others to suffer the rich man’s fate in Jesus parable.
Again our job is not to convince someone that what we say is true. But our calling, our mission here is what? Hearing, Sharing and Living the Gospel.
Right it’s to simply say what we know to be true, that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, died on the cross and was resurrected from the dead to give peace with our Heavenly Father to all who trust in Jesus name.
We have the assurance that by the blood of Jesus Christ, we will be welcomed into the Father’s bosom at the close of our lives on earth, according to the picture Jesus painted to today.
Let us, like the Morse code operator, be ready and alert to seize what opportunities we may have to share with others the joy of being welcomed into heaven. Let us, like Renoir, paint that picture for our friends and family so they too may hear, may listen, and let the word of God call them as it called Timothy… to make the good confession that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. In His name, amen.
Sermon #846 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Amos 6:1-7
6 Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!
2 Go to Kalneh and look at it; go from there to great Hamath, and then go down to Gath in Philistia.
Are they better off than your two kingdoms? Is their land larger than yours?
3 You put off the day of disaster and bring near a reign of terror.
4 You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
5 You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments.
6 You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
7 Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end.
Epistle 1 Timothy 6:11-19
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
Holy Gospel Luke 16:19-31
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”