Are You Listening?

Lazarus and the Rich Man  Jacopo Bassano · 1550
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“Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (Luke 16:29–31).
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
Are you listening? That’s a question many are asking voters as Election Day approaches. Are you listening? Are you paying attention? Do you know what the candidates really stand for? Do you know which candidates are closest in line with your values? Are you informed enough to vote? To help us listen, the airwaves are flooded with political ads and sound bites in the news. Ironically, it seems the more we hear about the candidates the more we don’t listen because they annoy us. Still, I suppose most of us would say that sometime before November 3rd we really should listen. The future of our country may depend upon it.
Our Gospel raises the same question—but more profoundly—and upon the answer depends another future: your eternal future. So I ask, “Are you listening this morning? Are you listening to the Word of God?” Even if you haven’t before, now is the time to do it. That’s the point our text makes most emphatically. Now is the time to listen to God’s Word because listening means eternal life.
That sounds easy enough—listen to the Word of God—but is it really? Let’s see. This is the second week in a row that our readings have talked about money and warned about its proper use. Last week Jesus told us bluntly that we cannot “serve both God and Money.” This week Amos warns against complacency. Paul reminds us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” But is anybody really listening? Are we changing our behavior on account of God’s Word?
That’s hard to do, isn’t it? After all, money is our principal tool for coping with day-to-day life. He who has money has it easier in life—he eats better, has better clothes, a nicer home, superior medical care, and so on. But is that why God gives us money? To live better? For our own selfish enjoyment?
The rich man in the parable certainly thought so—he lived in luxury every day. Please note, the Bible doesn’t say this man lived an especially sinful life. Good food and clothes aren’t a sin—except when they’re enjoyed at the expense of our neighbor—in this case, one who languished literally on his doorstep.  
The scene shifts from earth to heaven and hell. Lazarus dies and angels carry him to Abraham’s side. This is an extraordinary reversal. Lazarus wasn’t even allowed scraps from the rich man’s table, but in heaven he feasts forever at the Lord’s banquet. Looking up from his place of torment, the rich man sees Abraham with Lazarus at his side. Though separated by a great chasm, they are close enough for a conversation to take place between these two completely different realms. The rich man begins by asking Abraham to have mercy on him. Curiously, the rich man’s arrogance hasn’t been tempered by hell’s flames. He still thinks of himself and views Lazarus as a servant whom Abraham can send to relieve his agony.
Abraham calls the rich man to “remember” what happened to him and to Lazarus during their lifetime. In his earthly life he received good things and Lazarus received bad things, but now the Great Reversal has taken place. Lazarus is comforted by God, and the rich man is in left in eternal torment.
Two main points are made in this parable: (1) the finality of judgment at the time of death; and (2) the importance of listening now to God’s Word if we want to avoid the rich man’s fate. This story also helps shed light on the story of the shrewd steward from last week. He showed mercy to his master’s debtors because he trusted in his master’s mercy. Jesus used this parable to encourage the Pharisees and His disciples to rely upon His mercy and to show mercy to others.
The rich man pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers so they don’t end up where he is. Abraham curtly replies: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” In other words, these brothers need to listen to God’s Word and to take it to heart, now while they still have time! Those who wish to avoid torment in hell must listen to the full Word of God as it reveals their sin and testifies to Jesus and His work of salvation.
The story could’ve ended here, but the rich man speaks again. He begs Abraham to let someone from the dead go to his brothers so that they might repent.
The rich man is finally listening, but it is too late for him. The more pressing question at this point is, “Will the rich man’s brothers listen to God’s Word before it is too late for them?”
But even more personally, I must ask, “What about you? Are you listening? Are you listening to God’s Word and examining your own life in the mirror of His Law? Are you listening so that God’s Word produces repentance and changes your heart so you may love your neighbor in need? Are you listening?”
Perhaps the most unnerving thing about this parable is that the only reason given for the Great Reversal in the afterlife is offered by Abraham when he says to the once rich man, “In your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.”
No negative report about the rich man is given in any part of the story. We are not told that he cheated anybody, that he was an adulterer, or even that he rolled down the window of his limousine one day to yell at Lazarus to “Get a job!” It’s clearly implied that he did no direct harm to Lazarus. He simply ignored him.   
According to Abraham, then, is his great sin that he was rich? If that’s true, just about everybody I know will breathe a little sigh of relief, because we’re not rich. Wheww! But here’s another thought to chew on: right now more than a billion people in the world live on less than one dollar a day. Now who’s rich?
Before the Israelites entered Canaan, Moses warned that when they became prosperous, they might turn to other gods. St. Paul says the same kind of thing in our epistle: “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith.” This is certainly true in modern day America. We live in a land of plenty. Few of us actually have to deal directly with beggars. But still, our attitude is much like the rich man’s—we’re complacent and self-centered.
Consider once again our politics. The politicians vie with one another in making promises. But how many of us stop to evaluate those promises on any other basis than our own self-interest? We wonder, “How will it affect me—my income, my taxes, my life?” And rarely do we ask, “How will it affect others?” But we should be asking, “How will my vote square with my Christian faith and the life I am called to live as one of God’s children?
 God tells us to love our neighbors, but when it comes to money, to showing mercy, or voting our consciences, we find it hard to listen. The question I have for you today is this, “Will you listen? Will you hear before it’s too late?”
You see, we have our own Lazaruses on our doorsteps, too. Oh, we might not recognize them as such, but they’re still there all the same. Some of them we figuratively step right over as we enter the voting booth and cast our ballots based upon who promises us the most goodies. And our complacency leads to the death of over 3,600 of these little ones every day in this country alone. Yes, I’m talking about abortion, a national atrocity that since 1973 has traded the lives of 50,000,000 babies for “a woman’s right to choose.” Each one of those babies was a little Lazarus, for whom we Christians should’ve spoken up for and shown mercy.
May God have mercy on us for failing to listen to their silent screams. May God have mercy on us for becoming so complacent that we would allow politicians to represent us who have no fear of God, who don’t keep His commandments, who won’t stand up to the special interests who profit from death.
Abortion is not a “political issue” that Christians have no right to address. Abortion is a grave sin. Abortion assaults God’s Word of truth about the sanctity of human life and, therefore, assaults the Word Himself Who became flesh that we might have life. Abortion is a sin against God Who is the Author and Redeemer of life. It is a spiritual issue, one that we must not be complacent about.
There are other Lazaruses we must reach out to as well. Not only does each abortion kill a pre-born child, it forever wounds a woman. Although she may at first feel a sense of relief that her “problem” has been solved, eventually the reality of this unnatural choice sinks in. When it does, the guilt and shame can be devastating. This awful reality can also bring the same devastation to fathers, grandparents, and siblings. Because abortion can destroy relationships within families as well as between God and an individual, it is a spiritual issue.
Therefore, as Christians, we cannot debate the pros and cons of abortion any more than we can debate the pros and cons of rape or lying or stealing or adultery. Abortion cannot be a “right” for, in God’s sight, it is a fundamental wrong. It is such a fundamental wrong that when it comes to voting, a candidate who favors abortion should be disqualified from receiving our vote.
The Church is compelled to “speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves” and to expose the “fruitless deeds of darkness.” We must diligently examine the voting records and stance of candidates in regard to the sanctify of human life. And when we find that a candidate promotes the sin of abortion, we must take action to oppose this sin and defend those affected by it.
The Church is compelled not just to expose the deeds of darkness but also to be a light to those trapped by them. The Gospel of forgiveness is the only source of true hope and healing for those struggling with a past abortion decision. We, in the Church need to share that message of love and forgiveness those who are hurting. But first we must repent and hear that word of forgiveness for ourselves.
The truth be told, we’ve failed miserably as a society and as individuals. Too, often we’ve put ourselves first and ignored the needs of those around us. We’ve been so consumed with making a living, we’ve failed to love our neighbor in need. Like the rich man, we only deserve to suffer the torments of hell for eternity. For this we must repent and plead for God’s mercy and grace.
We need to be like the beggar. He had nothing at all—no food, no friends except dogs, certainly no money, only a name, Lazarus, which means “God helps.” And God did help. For when he died, God sent angels to take him to heaven.
God helps us, too! His Word reveals the selfishness of our lives and the selflessness of His Son. Jesus lived the perfect life we could not. He freely gave up His life on the cross to pay the price for our sins. He suffered the torments of hell we deserved so that we wouldn’t have to. And He rose triumphantly, the firstfruits of the resurrection. The dead man returned that we might have eternal life.
By God’s grace, we have not only the Old Testament, but also the New, not only the promise, but also the fulfillment—Jesus Christ. And we have that powerful Word made tangible for us here today in His Word and Sacraments. In this Word of God, we receive the absolute assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we have a place with Abraham in heaven. In the Holy Communion, the risen and ascended Word feeds us His very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. In His Word, God transforms us into His children, who do not walk over the needy, but walk with them, perhaps even picking them up and carrying them, using the gifts God gives us to use for others.
Go in the power of strength of God’s Word! You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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