16th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 18) LSB #’s 716:1-3, 5, 707, 688:1, 4-5
Text – Matthew 18:15-17
If your brother sins against you, go & tell him his fault, between you & him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile & a tax collector.
HOW WELL DO YOU LISTEN?
That sermon text ends with some harsh words. Gentiles & tax collectors were despised & hated in Jewish society. In our country, where just about anything is acceptable, it’s difficult to find a general equivalent that holds true across our nation & culture. Practically every sort of activity, or person engaged in them, is acceptable these days in some way, shape or form.
Serial killers & rapists find support from segments of our society. Certain psychologists make the case that it isn’t the fault of the murderer or rapist, because they themselves are victims of crimes done to them. As a result, they aren’t responsible for their actions.
From God’s point of view, those psychologists are not listening to what the Word of God has to say on that subject of who really is guilty.
It’s also common for adults to complain that children don’t listen like they used to. A former neighbor of mine, who lived to almost 100, told me this story. When he was about 17, shortly after WWI ended, wristwatches became popular & he wanted one. He asked his parents & they said if he had not begun to smoke by the age of 21, they would buy him a wristwatch.
How quaint is that story? For me it’s driven home how much our culture has changed in 100 years. First off, how many of you as parents are, or were, involved at all in the buying decisions of your teenagers?
And second, how many of today’s teenagers would buy into a deal where they had to refrain from something, like smoking, in order to wait four years for their parents to buy them the latest thing to come into style? We don’t listen nearly as well as people did 100 years ago, not as teenagers, & not as adults. The prosperity of our country has made it simple to buy what I want, when I want, without anyone else’s permission or participation. That economic freedom has made it much less necessary to listen to anyone besides me, myself & I.
When it comes to buying things we are capable of being our own god. After all, isn’t it the essence of godhood to be accountable to no one, to have the ability to act independently of anyone else? To be able to make your decisions stand without interference or having to listen to someone else’s opinion or advice? So I ask, “How well do you listen?” PAUSE
For adults it’s easy to complain how today’s children don’t listen like they used to, but that’s simply hypocrisy. It’s operating with a set of double standards. It’s, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That becomes evident when you look at church attendance. Are adults attending as faithfully as they did in the past?
When my home congregation was founded they had worship services in the morning and in the evening, but I’m not talking about Sundays. They met twice a day every day of the week. That’s how great a desire they had to listen to the Word of God. I could alter the sermon title, “Do you even care to listen?” PAUSE
It’s fairly common to read or hear of someone who is tragically injured in an accident through which they gain a new appreciation for life. From then on they make it a point to enjoy every day to the fullest. They claim to no longer ‘sleep walk’ through life as they once did.
After such an awakening, they come to appreciate more fully the blessings they have in this life. Maybe those are friends & family. Maybe they’re abilities like sight & hearing. Do you appreciate what it means to be a child of the almighty God? How highly you value that relationship is accurately reflected in how well you listen to our Lord. Does it occur to you very often what awaits you outside of a relationship to God as His child? Being treated as a Gentile or tax collector is simply the result here in time; it’s merely the tip of the iceberg. The consequences outside of time are an eternity of suffering & misery.
Are you ‘sleep walking’ through your relationship with your Savior? Are you failing to listen? In John chapter ten, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, & they follow Me. I give them eternal life, & they shall never perish...” (10:27-28 NIV) Are you one of Jesus’ sheep? Are you listening, or are you perishing? PAUSE
That should be an important concern of yours, because the consequences are forever. As your pastor I hope that it is your highest priority, because quite frankly, with your eternal fate hanging in the balance, it doesn’t seem wise to leave all that “religious stuff” to your pastor. I will not be going to hell in your place.
If God’s commands seem too restrictive, too old fashioned or too politically incorrect to buy into, keep in mind that He gave them to us out of love, & He demonstrated that love by dying for you. How many people have you known that have died for you? Are you just going to write off listening to God’s Word as too simple or quaint for a mature person like you?
The words of God’s law are meant to create in you a genuine sense of guilt & sin – very uncomfortable feelings. Those feelings make it difficult for us to listen to what God’s law says. Yet, it’s necessary in order to grasp just how sinful & repugnant we are to a Holy God.
Without that understanding we cannot appreciate what the news of forgiveness means. We cannot appreciate what our deliverance from hell is actually worth.
The knowledge of our sinfulness, & our reluctance to listen to God, should be made obvious by our attitudes concerning divorce, abortion, or living together without marriage. None of those were commonplace back when teenagers still asked their parents for permission to buy things like a wristwatch. But rather than simply bemoaning the collapse of our country’s morals, how often do you get involved in teaching the Word of God to our children, & to our world?
Confirmation class begins this week & it is a perfect opportunity for you to influence the future. One of its goals is teaching our children to hope in the Lord, & how to actually live out that hope. A religion that’s merely an intellectual exercise is simply a dead exercise. Children quickly see through & reject it, as so many of my generation have.
Many parents in the previous generation believed their religion with their head, but struggled to practice it outside the doors of their church. That lack of continuity, from belief to practice, played right into the hand of our adversary the devil. The OT reading from Ezekiel gives you instruction on how to practice your faith during the week:
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ & you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, & he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. (33:7-9 ESV).”
Warning someone about the possible result of their sin is believing and practicing your faith in Christ. Also, the Hebrew word translated as “listen” means to hear & to obey. In other words, if you only hear the words & do not obey them, then you haven’t really listened. Our split personality, saint & sinner, is coming into play when we are not listening to God.
The saint in us wants to obey, even tries to, but the sinner does not. Are you struggling with listening to God, or with placing your hope in the Lord? Then turn to the Great Physician, the healer of both body & soul. The Gospel of Mark records how Jesus opened the ears of a deaf man by simply speaking the word, Ephphatha, “Be opened!”
Jesus longs to speak that very word to you. He desires not only your ears, but also your heart & your mind, that you might receive Him. He has sent His Spirit to you in your baptism. He strengthens you with His very body & blood in Holy Communion, & He comforts you with His Words & with His forgiveness. Regarding your salvation, Jesus has done everything that’s necessary. There is no more burden to bear. You can relax & rest.
In response to that kind of love, things go much more smoothly if you listen to His Word. That Word has the power to create a universe out of nothing, & it certainly can create love out of fear, forgiveness out of bitterness & joy out of sorrow. It can even create the ability to listen to & understand the message of God’s love in a heart that has been rejecting Him. PAUSE
Have you been communicating with your Lord? If not, like many a marriage ended in divorce, you should expect that relationship with God to wither away & die. But don’t lose hope, because your relationship with God is built not upon your ability to listen, but upon God’s ability. He’s waiting to hear from you right now. In the book of Jeremiah our Lord declares:
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you & not to harm you, plans to give you hope & a future. Then you will call upon Me & come & pray to Me, & I will listen to you. You will seek Me & find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, & I will restore your fortunes & will gather you from all the nations & from all the places where I have driven you.” (29:11-14)
Notice there who is doing the listening? One reason God allows suffering into our lives is that we be reminded to call upon Him, & He always listens very well.
“My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled & do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV) Those are the words of Jesus, your loving Savior. He’s waiting to hear from you. How well do you listen? Amen.
Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways to keep His statutes still! Oh, that my God would grant me grace to know & do His will! Amen. LSB 707:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet