Are You Listening?
Twelfth Sunday in Pentecost, August 3rd, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
“Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you and everlasting covenant.” [Isaiah 55:3a]
INTRODUCTION: Listening, I mean really hearing what someone is saying is a lot harder than people think, especially today with so many other things vying for our attention. Here’s a little hearing test that will determine how well you listen (o.k. men, here’s your chance to prove your wives wrong)… 1. A bicycle can’t stand on its own because it is two-tired. 2. What’s the definition of a will? (It’s a dead giveaway). 3. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion. 4. A lot of money is tainted. It taint yours and it taint mine. 5. A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat. 6. When an actress saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d dye. 7. Bakers trade bread recipes on a “knead” to know basis.
You won’t get theses jokes unless you listen well and take time to digest the information. It’s not that we don’t listen, but rather we don’t listen well. In one ear and out the other or so the saying goes. It seems that there are just too many things competing for our ears, and in regards to God’s wonderful gospel message this is true as well. But to know God and to have an abundant life…to have eternal life, we MUST listen to his Word. Now this is important so please hear and listen: There are two different kinds of listeners when it comes to God’s Word, there are those that fight to listen and those that fight listening. Did you hear what I said? This is important, so I will repeat it. There are two different kinds of listeners when it comes to God’s Word, there are those that fight to listen and those that fight listening. This morning, we will talk about these two types of people, and we’ll talk about what God does to help both of them.
I. Those that fight to listen. As I said earlier, listening in any format is difficult because of all of the alternative messages vying for our attention, but hearing God’s Word is perhaps the hardest thing to listen to! Why? Well because your enemy the devil has invested a vast amount of resources and time to ensure that you will not hear God’s message of mercy. He has to do this because the deck is stacked against him. God has made the message so enticing, so sweet and attractive that even the simplest fool and the grossest sinner can see the need for God’s love and forgiveness. And yet listening, really hearing what God has to say can be so difficult at times. I remember the time I was sitting in church trying to listen to a sermon, I mean I was really fighting to hear it because it was a timely message, when for no reason at all, I noticed a man two pews in front of me with the most amazing bald spot developing. I could even see the freckles on his head. “Stop that” I thought to myself! “Pay attention and let God’s Word minister to you. You need to hear this!” And yet, I couldn’t take my eyes or my thoughts off of that man’s bald spot!
For some, the distraction may be that God’s Word is being proclaimed to you from a man who is just as much of a sinner as you are. Maybe you’re wondering if the message he is proclaiming is really from God. For others, perhaps your distraction is an argument that you had with a family member just before coming to church? All of these things and many more are tricks that the devil will use to prevent you from hearing God’s Word of forgiveness and love. But do we really need to hear this message today? Well yes, according to God as He spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “Come everyone who thirst (for God’s love and forgiveness), come to the waters (and drink)!” [v. 1a] To know that God is really there, and to know that He is for you and not against you is not only God’s will, but it is also the one desire common to all people whether they admit it or not, and it is the one need common to all people, because all of us have sinned and fallen short of God perfection and glory! [Rom. 3:23]
Friends, God knows that the devil and your own sinfulness are fighting to prevent you from hearing, so he has brought you help. This morning, He says to you, “He who has no money, come, buy and eat!” This morning, God is telling us:” “If you have recognized that you do not deserve my love, that there is nothing in you that would cause Me to want to know you, then you are just the person I am looking for.” “But Lord”, we respond, “You said that I must buy and eat. To buy means that there is a price, and yet you said it is free! I’m confused.”
“Oh yes” He responds, “there is a price, and it is far too expensive for you to purchase, and that is why I have paid the price for this heavenly banquet my self.” Friends, there is a place set for everyone, young and old. All we must do is listen to the Lord’s invitation, sit at His table and allow Him to serve us!
Oh what a loving God we have! He has provided each of us exactly what we need at His banquet. If we are young in the faith, he serves us the rich milk of the Gospel, which says, “Jesus the Son of God, died for you! Your sins have been forgiven. Go in peace and serve the Lord with gladness!” And for those who are mature in their faith, He provides something stronger, he provides wine. The wine of God’s Word is His doctrine, the proper understanding and explanation of the same Gospel that the young in faith have received. But this Word must be served strong because with it we will be able to withstand the attacks of the devil, death, and sin. With it we will be able to fend of those who ridicule us because of our faith.
Dear friends, for those of us who admit that we thirst for God’s presence in our lives, we are called to drink and to be refreshed and filled by His Word. God’s Word comes to us this morning providing living water that refreshes our souls. And as we are fed, the Holy Spirit is with us and encouraging us to “Fight to hear! Fight to listen! Hear and listen so that you will live!”
II. Those that fight listening. But why is it that some fight listening to the Word of God? Perhaps it is because of what they hear? In our reading from Isaiah, I trust that by listening to God’s Word, you have already realized that it is Jesus Christ Himself who has called you to His banquet table of mercy. You have come to the realization that in this Holy meal, He offers You His Word that will satisfy the thirst of your soul. You know this so you come to Him to be filled. You come because you know you need to come. But no one is forced to respond to His call. To some, His call to come will mean a drastic change in life. They know that if they turn to Jesus they must turn from their present life style. They know, just as you do that there is no room in God’s kingdom of grace for the evil person who refuses to turn from his sin. Or perhaps, such a simple plan of free forgiveness without any work seems far too ridiculous. Maybe they feel insulted by God’s offer to abundantly forgive their sins, with no payment on their part and no questions asked. Dear friends may I say that those who are satisfied with the world and with their own self righteousness, will never in that condition be able to turn away from their sin and turn to Jesus Christ. They can’t turn to Jesus because they see no need too, or they won’t because God’s offer makes no sense to them. Then what about these poor lost souls who fight listening? Is there any hope for them? Yes friends there is hope, and that hope is Jesus Christ! Jesus is completely serious in his desire that everyone should come to him and find salvation “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” [Matt. 11:28] There’s no prequalification; He wants everyone to come to Him. He offers himself to all of us equally in His Word. He wants everyone to hear the Word and not to plug-up their ears. But still, few accept the Word and follow it. In fact, it appears that they have contempt for God and His banquet invitation. St. Paul saw this tragedy playing out in his own time as well. In our Epistle lesson (Romans 9:1-13) he is clearly grieving over the fact that much of Israel had rejected Christ and their salvation. In Paul’s own words we can hear his pain: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” [Vs. 2-3] Even though Paul knew such a bargain with God was impossible, his emotions were intensely real. Why? Because He loved his fellow countrymen and longed for their salvation.
Those of us who have loved ones who are lost know Paul’s pain. We really enjoy spending time with them, laughing with them, even playing with them, but there is always deep pain underneath it all. Martin Luther put it this way: “Love is not only pure joy, and delight, but also great and deep heaviness of heart and sorrow.” Our hearts carry the grief of love for family and friends who seem to be fighting not to listen. While this sorrow is painful it is also good, because it proves that God is not only living within us but working within us as well! He is working and moving us to keep our family and friends in prayer. He is working within us to speak to them about God’s love for them. Friends, if the lost have any hope at all it can only come from Christ’s church, which is you and I! We must continue to pray for those who have left the church or never joined one, and ask God to touch their hearts! We must pray not just for our family and friends, but for our entire community. We must pray that God’s Word will change their hearts so that they will hear! We must also continue to speak God’s Word, because it is only through the Word that faith will come, because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” [Rom. 10:17] And this is precisely the help that God has sent to strengthen us so that we may speak for him to those who fight not to listen.
III. The only way to listen is through faith! Friends, by faith, we are to proclaim to others what we have learned our selves, and as we do faith is given freely to those that will listen. It is impossible for a heart to believe that God would allow us to buy without money, if we are without faith. It is impossible to believe that God’s love and mercy are a free gift without cost if a person does not have faith. It is impossible without faith to understand that all other teachings apart from the Word of God are ultimately useless for bringing true peace to a troubled soul.
You can’t listen to God’s Law beat upon you and long for His Word of forgiveness if you have not first been given faith! It is only through faith that a person is brought to salvation in Jesus Christ and it is only by faith that we are strengthened to continue believing this truth! As a matter of fact, it is faith alone through the work of God’s Word that saved you in your baptism, and it is faith alone that will complete the work that Christ began. Through faith, God has lovingly protected you and he has separated you from the world sin. Dear friends, through faith God’s Word constantly warns us and reminds us that we must fight to listen and hear His Word and then through the work of the Holy Spirit, we not only begin to listen but we understand as well. Through faith, we are given the wisdom to teach and confess that God desires everyone to be saved and He takes no pleasure in the death of any sinner and yet simultaneously believe and confess the Words of our Savior: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” And finally, through faith we are given the ability to accept the mystery that is contained in the question: Why are some saved and others not?
Friends this mystery of why you are saved and some are not saved is not for us to understand or solve because it belongs to God’s unsearchable judgments. Along with St. Paul we all can agree that His ways are far past our ability to find out, but we do know that God does not choose anyone to remain unsaved! You and I must instead concentrate on God’s work of salvation to the extent that it is revealed and given to us in His Word. It is His Word, which teaches us that Jesus as the true “Book of Life,” has opened His pages and revealed that our names are written there! We see and believe that our names are in His book of life when we hear these Words preached to us, “God will save no one apart from those who acknowledge his Son Christ and truly believe in him.” We find comfort in these words because we know that it is God Himself who continually gives us faith to believe unto salvation!
CONCLUSION: Dear friends, when we leave here today, let’s leave with a wonderful message to share with our family, friends, and neighbors who are living apart from God. Let’s pray that God will use our message of hope to open the eyes of their hearts by faith so that they may see their sinfulness, turn from it and turn to Jesus alone for salvation! Let our testimony then as Ambassadors of Christ be this: “Because I have been given faith, I believe that Christ’s glorious Gospel invitation to come unto Him and be saved is not only true, but it is for me! At the cross of Calvary, God guaranteed my everlasting salvation through the work of Christ alone, not because of any merit or goodness found within me but only because of the undeserved love and mercy that God has given to me and all people!”
“May Almighty God and the Father of our Lord Jesus grant the grace of His Holy Spirit that we all may be one in Him and constantly abide in this Christian unity, which is well-pleasing to Him! In Jesus name…Amen.”