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