Who Ya Gonna Listen To?

The title of this morning's sermon is, "Who Ya Gonna Listen To?" To begin, I want to share a few little vignettes with you.

Sometimes we get tired of listening because it seems to be the same old stuff rehashed in one way or another. Aunt Martha who was in her nineties was growing quite hard of hearing. The family tried to interest her in a hearing aid, but to no avail. Aunt Martha said she'd have no part of a hearing aid, explaining, "I'm 95 years old and I've heard enough."

Sometimes, even when we're younger in years than 95 it we feel like we've heard enough.

The closer we get to election time, the harder it is to know who to listen to. Everyone has a way of making a fact or figure suit their purposes. People do that with the Bible, too. They'll take something from the Bible and make it suit their purposes so they can use it as some sort of authoritative corroboration. A good many Christians, especially Lutherans, are biblically illiterate and can be made to believe whatever anyone tells them because they don't know what the Bible actually says, and can't be bothered to look it up, or they trust the person who told them and they feel they don't need to look it up. But of course, the person THEY trust probably did the same thing and trusted the person who told them etc. etc. and no one ever really corroborates the truth.

Some folks don't send me e-mails any more, passing along junk they get through their e-mails, because I check out what they send before I send it on (a simple 3 minute check) and I let them know that what they sent is false or inaccurate or misrepresented or misstated and suggest that they let everyone know that they sent out an e-mail to and misinformed. They don't do it, of course. They'd just rather let the lie continue. Often they do it because they WANT to believe it, even though false, and would rather spread a falsehood than to take time to correct it.

The general manager of a good sized business had an important message he wanted to communicate to every member of the firm from top to bottom. He was trying to think of the best way to do it and suddenly had an inspiration. He told his secretary, "Miss Jones, I have a message for all our employees. Please connect me with the grape-vine."

Good idea on the one hand, bad idea on the other. The good thing is that the message will spread quickly indeed. The bad thing is that the message won't be told the same to everyone. Depending on one's disposition to receive the message, it will get passed on with a tinge of one's own attitude and interpretation.

This has actually happened to me, though I didn't intend to be using the grape-vine at all. At a meeting I suggested using some bulletin inserts of hymns from another newer hymnal now and then. The message got passed in several ways, actually, or at least it came back to me in several ways. The message came back to me that I had said we needed new hymnals. It came back to me that I said we should not use hymnals but only inserts. It came back to me that I said the bulletin needed more inserts and that we gradually needed to replace our hymnals with newer hymnals.

Shortly before George Washington's birthday a third grade teacher told her students some stories about the first president's life. She emphasized the story about the cherry tree, and especially the angle that George could not tell a lie. Later she asked the class what the biggest problem was that George Washington had in governing our country. One boy, who was wiser than he realized, raised his hand and said, "He couldn't tell a lie."

It's a standard joke that politicians lie. We all know that they ALL don't, but we also know that there are many who do. The irony here is that even though we know that the majority of politicians lie, or to put it kindly, stretch the truth, or tell the 'truth' as it suits their purpose, we still believe them. We get suckered right in.

As far as the upcoming election, most folks have made their minds up as to who they're going to vote for-especially if they are affiliated with a particular political party. It doesn't matter what facts are presented, what truth is unearthed, what slander is proved to be just that, slander and lies, we just go on believing the way we were. Don't confuse me with the truth is what we ought to say.

It's the same with religious truth. People will listen to whom they want to listen and hold what others say to be inaccurate or misleading or just flat out false. We want things to be black and white-easily determined. But life isn't that way at all. And religion becomes extremely dangerous when it makes answers very simple and they get attached to political beliefs. It endangers one's soul. It's a perilous perch.

But an even greater danger is when we don't pay attention to the signs. And especially when we don't take the time to pay attention and don't take the time to investigate. We let someone else do our thinking. And just who is that someone else going to be? Who ya gonna listen to?

Jesus tells a wonderful story in the Gospel today. He tells about two men who died. One rich, uncaring, goes to hell, the other a beggar, humble, goes to heaven. The story tells of a great chasm between heaven and hell that can't be crossed. There are people who want to help others, but the chasm between them is so great, the ones whom they want to help aren't even listening or paying attention. Those who would want to help simply can't because they can't get the attention of the others to help them.

There are people who set their course with their ideas and nothing is going to change them, not even if it means derailing the whole train and taking others with them.

In the Gospel story the man who went to hell recognizes the errors he committed in his life and his lack of compassion or concern for others and he wants the beggar who went to heaven, who's on that side of the chasm, to warn his brothers that they need to change their way of living so they don't end up like he is in hell.

The reply is wonderful. They should pay attention to Scripture he is told. They have that available to them. They should listen to what's in the Scriptures. The man pleads further. No, they need to have someone go to them from the dead and they will repent. And here's the wonderful sentence: He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Scripture [God revealed in relationship with humankind], neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'

It's true, you know. If someone is not going to listen to the truth that is already being presented to them plainly, someone coming back from the dead isn't going to convince them. You've heard the expression, "What'll it take to convince you?" Miracles don't convince people. They might entertain the thought for a bit, but then their logical, analytical mind takes over and they aren't convinced.

Who ya gonna listen to? If someone brought you a message from "the other side," would you believe it? If Jesus himself came and stood at the foot of your bed, would you believe he was really there, and would you believe whatever it was he told you?

And if you DID believe it, and shared it with others, who couldn't in any way believe you actually saw him and that he spoke to you, but had all sorts of explanations for what happened, would you eventually cave in and no longer believe what you knew to be true? By the way, in the version of the Lord's Prayer based on the Gospel of Luke, the line translated (more accurately than what we traditionally use) 'save us from the time of trial' is exactly this. The people didn't want to be lured away by false prophets from what they knew to be true. They didn't want to fall away from the faith.

Depending on who you listen to, you can fall away from the faith and not even know it. You can think you still believe, but you have been tricked out of your faith. If you support any politician because of what they say about God or their belief or what they say God is doing or who is or is not a Christian if they don't believe the way the politician believes...then you have been tricked out of your faith.

Do not, do not, make any decision about politics based on what you believe is a politicians stand on religious matters. Do you think that Jesus coming here today would take the side of politicians? Don't you know from reading the Bible that Jesus turned the tables upside down-he railed against institutionalized religion? He abhorred rules and laws that were followed to the letter but had lost the spirit of why they were created and thus had lost their true value because they hurt the very people they were intended to protect and benefited those who oppressed them.

Who ya gonna listen to? I really dislike the overused phrase, "What would Jesus do?" But when you come down to it, that's a good question. Indeed, what would Jesus do?

Ah, but here's the rub. You have to KNOW what Jesus would do. You have to know what he said and how he acted and what he spoke out against and why. You have to recognize that something is not in keeping with Jesus' total message. The question, by the way, is NOT what would Paul do? The Gospel is about Jesus, not Paul.

What would Jesus do? He'd take a stand for women's rights. He would visit the prisoner. He would help the poor. He would heal the sick of spirit and body. He would show that the authority does not lie in the name or title, but in the compassionate action. He would be opposed to war. There is nothing in any of Jesus words to support war. But there are many who would try to convince you otherwise, especially when they start pulling in quotes from the Old Testament. But Jesus is the NEW covenant. Jesus changed thinking. He taught about the kingdom of God, a NEW WAY OF THINKING, A SPIRITUAL WAY OF THINKING.

People talk about separation of church and state. What has happened is that people have put the state in one part of their thinking and the church in another. Thus, it is okay to start a war because it is decided in a different state of mind. What Jesus taught, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and words like that, don't cross over into the other state of mind. There is a great chasm. The one side cannot hear the other, because they are not paying attention, they think it doesn't matter that they don't pay attention.

Who ya gonna listen to? It's really quite clear, as complex as we make it, it is quite clear. Even if a man rose from the dead to prove his teachings were from God, people still wouldn't listen to him. The chasm is too great. They can't bring the spiritual ideas across the chasm because it would change their very way of life.

I had to chuckle last week at something someone said to me. They had written their name on a card saying they'd be willing to wear a button for a month, all day, everywhere, that said, "Ask me how I am blessed," but didn't get a button because we ran out (and we'll have the rest of them by next week, by the way). The person said to me, and this is a person I respect immensely, and actually was going to share my chuckle with this person but never got the chance-anyhow the person said, "It's just as well I didn't get a button since I wouldn't be able to really wear it with going here and there and company coming and traveling. I'll be able to wear it when I get back."

That's the point. To wear it where we ordinarily wouldn't. To cross the chasm. To change a pattern of life so that it's more spiritual. To close the gap. To make one part of your thinking come closer to the other until the new spiritual way of thinking invades the other side and life is reborn.

Who ya gonna listen to? What would Jesus do? What would HE do, not what would you would want him to do, not what you, placing YOUR values from the 'state' side of your being on to Jesus' teachings.

Who ya gonna listen to? BAM. Well I'll tell you this. You damn well better decide soon.


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