Monday, September 27, 2010

Sermon on Luke 16:19-31, for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Children's Sunday, "Important News"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Welcome again to our Children’s Sunday, and I want to thank our children for their beautiful singing, and for your support and encouragement for them today. Today I want to talk to you about Important News. Several questions to think about: What is important to me? Am I listening to important news? How would I recognize important news? What do you do with important news once you’ve heard it? As we consider some of these questions, we’ll be looking at the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

So what is important to you? God? Your children? Your family? Your possessions? Your life? The things that are most important to us are the things that we give our greatest time, attention, and effort to. They’re the things that we want to protect and keep safe, or the things that give us protection and security. So how do we recognize important news? Several month ago we had tsunami warning here, and people had to make an evaluation—is this important news or not? Should I get out of the ocean and go for the hills or not? A little yellow light on our dashboard might light up, and say “maintenance required.” Does our car need attention or not? Our email and postal boxes may be filled with messages saying “URGENT! Respond Now!!”, advertising the newest credit card deal that’s about to expire, or the chance to refinance your home that is slipping away, or the miracle herbal remedy that will re-grow your hair, boost your intelligence and energy. Or that mail might be “Urgent notice: Payment Overdue!” At the airport you might hear “Homeland Security has issued an advisory raising the threat level to Yellow” (or Orange). If you heard that warning, would you know what it meant, and how would it change your behavior?

With so many warnings and messages demanding our attention, it’s understandable that some might feel overwhelmed and panicky, while others might feel jaded and just ignore the whole lot and go on their way. After all, some are false warnings, some are just advertisements. Yet sometimes warnings and threats are real, but the danger passes or is delayed. It might condition us to take the warning less seriously the next time. It can become easy with so much information distracting us daily, to start to tune out; especially those things that don’t seem immediate. While ignoring some so-called warnings might cause us no harm, ignoring others can have dangerous and even permanent consequences. Of course we’d like to think that we’d recognize and pay attention if something truly important came along. But is that always true? Do you find it hard to believe that some people might pay more attention to the “low battery” warning or “no coverage” signal on their cell phone, than to a tsunami warning, for example? It does take being alert and the ability to discern, to recognize whether a message is truly important or not, and whether we should act on it. So how do we know?

The story of the rich man and Lazarus tells about Lazarus, who went to heaven, and the rich man to hell. The rich man in the story ignored the important news of Moses and the Prophets, to his own peril. Moses was the great law-giver and prophet of God, who lead the Israelites to their freedom. He wrote the first five books of the Bible. “The Prophets” refers to the whole group of messengers from God that had been sent to the people of Israel to turn them away from their sins and to teach them to trust in God. They authored most of the rest of the Old Testament, the part of the Bible written before Jesus’ time. Only after the rich man died, did he realize that the message they’d brought was truly important. He might have asked himself, “How did I get to this point and miss such important news?” But by then it was too late. The important news was in fact a matter of life and death, and had consequences for eternity.

In the story he never quite got to the point of regretting how he’d lived his life, and how heartless he’d been to the need of the beggar Lazarus, who laid so helplessly at his gate while he enjoyed his great wealth and extravagant feasts every day. In his life he couldn’t even spare the scraps from his table to care for a man so weakened by hunger that he couldn’t keep off the dogs who licked his wounds before he died. Had the rich man’s life been rewound and he taken the important news of God’s Word seriously, he would’ve lived quite differently. He would’ve used his riches mercifully and shown kindness and charity to Lazarus’ need. He wouldn’t have lived as though his possessions were most important. He would’ve trusted God and realized that all he had belonged to God, and could be returned at any time. You can’t take it with you.

When the rich man finally felt some remorse, he pleaded to Abraham, the great ancestor of the Israelites and father of the faith, and begged for Lazarus to be sent back from the dead to warn his five brothers, so that they wouldn’t come to that place of suffering. His idea was that surely if someone rose from the dead and told them, this would get them to pay attention and realize the message of the prophets was important. But Abraham replied that “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Wow! If anything should make people get up and pay attention, surely seeing someone come back from the dead should do it, right? Well, that was just the point of Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus. He was coming with important news—truly important news, but people weren’t paying attention. As Jesus told the story, through Abraham’s words He said that if they didn’t believe His words, even if someone should rise from the dead, they wouldn’t be convinced. Jesus was hinting at His very own death on the cross that He’d face. Jesus was alluding to the fact that He’d be betrayed, arrested, and sentenced to death on the cross; but that after three days He’d be raised from the dead. Yet many would still remain unconvinced of the truth and importance of His message. His power and love were dramatically seen in His death on a cross, overseen and verified by Roman executioners; His burial in a grave; and after three days rising from the dead in a complete and restored human body, alive, breathing, and miraculously whole. But even this act didn’t convince them of the importance of His message. And so it remains for many today.

But what is that message and how should we recognize if it really is true and urgent? Jesus at His trial, told the Roman governor Pontius Pilate that “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” Pilate responded skeptically: “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38). That same question “What is truth?” has almost become the slogan of our present day. But Jesus not only said the truth is on His lips, but also that He is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). Jesus made the bold and unmistakable claim that He brings the truth and that Truth is bound up with His identity—and that all who belonged to the truth would listen to His voice.

Jesus was more than just one of the prophets, or a spokesperson for God, like Moses and the Prophets before Him. They taught in short, that there was one true God who must be honored above all else, the God who made all things, and that we’re accountable to Him for our life. They taught that God’s people were to reflect His characteristics of justice and mercy, and that they weren’t to oppress or mistreat the poor, the orphans, widows, etc. They taught that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, as Jesus also reaffirmed. But Jesus wasn’t just the next in line of these prophets. He came with the eternally important message, that He was God Himself in human form. He was the greater one that all the prophets pointed to—God’s coming Savior. Jesus the Savior, the realization of all they’d been waiting for. That was a radical and amazing claim, unlike anything they’d heard before. But He didn’t make that claim without backing it up.

Jesus’ whole ministry on earth was filled with miracles, but ultimately He offered His resurrection from the dead as the single greatest miracle and final proof that He was the Son of God, our Savior. This was the biggest and most important news, because His death on the cross means the forgiveness of our guilt and our wrongs, and His rising from the dead means our hope for eternal life. When we hear this message, how do we recognize that it’s important news, and decide whether or not to act on it? Back to the examples I started with, of tsunami warnings, warning lights on your dash board, and PA announcements at the airport—part of the way you measure the importance of the message is by being informed. Learn about it or investigate the information. But sometimes, as with a tsunami warning or threat level advisory, you might not be able to gather the information yourself, or know for certain how imminent the danger is. When it comes to the all-important news of Jesus Christ, we should learn and investigate. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Make it of first importance to recognize the importance of His message. We have His words written down for us in the New Testament Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There we come face-to-face through His Word, with the Living Jesus.

Jesus said that if we remain in His Word, we are truly His disciples or followers, and that we will know the truth and the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32). So finally to know the truth and importance of Jesus’ message is something we find in His Word. It’s by hearing that Word of Jesus that we’re finally convinced and persuaded of its truth and importance. Believing in Jesus is the way to be set free—free from our wrongs, our guilt, our past. Believing in Jesus is the way to eternal life. And if we believe in Him, it will begin to transform our lives, though in this life it’s just an imperfect start. But we’ll be marked by the same compassion and love for our neighbor and love of justice, that marked Jesus. May we all hear and recognize Jesus’ words of forgiveness, life and love as important news—but even more than that, as good news that God so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life (John 3:16). In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:
Children’s Sunday, 9/26/10

1. What are the things that are most important to you? Do you listen to important news? How do you recognize if a message is important? If you realized a message was important, how would you act on it?

2. What responses do we have to the flood of information that comes to us, claiming to be “important?” How do we sort them out to know what’s truly important?

3. What was the “important news” that the rich man (and his brothers) in the story ignored? “Moses and the Prophets” represented the messengers of God who wrote the Old Testament. They taught of the One True God (Deuteronomy 6:4-6), and what His commands were (Exodus 20:1-21). What did they teach about how to treat our neighbor, and in particular the poor and disadvantaged in society? Leviticus 19:9-18; Deuteronomy 10:17-22; 14:29; 15:7-11; Malachi 3:5

4. What was the consequence of the rich man ignoring that message, and mistreating his poor neighbor? Reread Luke 16:19-31. How was Lazarus relieved from his suffering? How would knowing and believing in God, and reflecting His love change how we would live, and also treat our neighbor?

5. What was Jesus’ purpose for coming into the world? John 18:37-38. Jesus not only witnessed to the truth, but said He was the Truth. John 14:6. How does believing this lead to eternal life? John 3:16

6. Does the death and resurrection of Jesus persuade you to believe in the importance of His message, that He is truly God’s Son and our Savior? Why or why not? How was His death confirmed? John 19:28-37. How was His resurrection confirmed? John 20-21, 1 Corinthians 15.

7. Finally if we hear the Word of Jesus, we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free. John 8:31-32. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are convinced of the truth of Jesus’ words, and believe them. John 16:13

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