Sunday, June 8, 2014

At The Door

Focus: Salvation by law vs Salvation by faith
Function: To help people see how faith is expressed in works.
Form: Bible Study, Story-telling

INTRO: Does anyone think it is odd that I am preaching two passages that seem to have little to do with each other?
I appreciate the inspiration of the Brother Luke when he placed Jesus' these two passages together.
They belong together.
The end of verse 14 tells us why: “They ridiculed him...” NIV: “they sneered at Him”
And on the surface, it almost appears to be a non-sequitur, a “change the subject.” response. But it isn't.
They, who are described in this passage as “lovers of money” ridicule Jesus for His words.
His words, verse 13 are: “You cannot serve two masters... cannot serve God and money.”
Apparently, they thought they could.
So, the parable about the rich man and Lazarus makes sense, it is judgment against those who are greedy, demonstrated by their refusal to help those whom God has placed at their doorstep. It is a condemnation, in one of the most severe senses in the entire Gospels. The rich man is suffering torment in hell for his refusal while the poor man is enjoying eternal comfort.
And Jesus states in this passage that the only difference between them was the fact that the rich man, while enjoying worldly success before he died, refused to care for the one who never had any real comfort. He refused to care for the man who was sitting AT HIS DOOR.
We cannot save the world entire, but we can minister to those that God has placed at our door.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus seems to be a fitting response to the Pharisees derision when Jesus condemned them for loving money.
So, what about Jesus little parenthesis about adultery in between those two passages?
Did somebody make a mistake at one time or another and accidentally insert it in the wrong place? That might be more likely if they were using a word processor and they accidentally cut and pasted it in the wrong spot because they couldn't see the cursor or something.
But no, This is the order of all the ancient manuscripts. So, what does divorce and remarriage have to do with the love of money?
Verse 15: “You try to justify yourselves in the sight of others but God knows your hearts...”
In both this explanation about divorce and adultery and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus is showing them how far short their self-justification, their self-righteousness, falls from God's perfect redemption.
They prided themselves in the fact that the Law justified them.
But, the implication is, that in their “free to divorce and remarry society,” apparently a transgression that most of them had committed, they could not be justified by the law.
So, first they are condemned by the letter of the law that they felt so proud of upholding. But what is worse is the story of the rich man and Lazarus and the way it sheds a light on their condemnation for missing the “Spirit of the Law.”
Remember, everything in scripture must be taken in context. And so, if anyone here is divorced and remarried and is feeling guilty or condemned, remember, Jesus isn't teaching about divorce and remarriage, Jesus' context is how impossible it is to justify ourselves by the letter of the law.
What needs to be focused on, for salvation, is the Spirit of the law. And that is where this story of the rich man and Lazarus comes into play.
And I want to focus on those two men, with this thought: “The letter of the law kills, but the Spirit behind the law gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)
READ Verses 27-31: 27He said (the rich man to Abraham, in the torment of hell), ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
This is pretty scary stuff.
What is their condemnation? They knew the law, but they did not listen to it.
Look at Luke 22:37-40: 37He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Or John 13:34: 34A new commandment I give you: Love one another.
Or Romans 13:9-10: 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
The Pharisees were condemned because they did not follow both the letter of the law, demonstrated in divorce and adultery passage, neither did they follow the spirit of the law demonstrated in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
And there is a warning here. We can know the Bible, but the proof of our Christianity is our actions, not our words.
Divorce is a terrible thing, just ask anyone who has gone through it. But it isn't a litmus test for who is in or out of the Kingdom of heaven.
The test is in the actions.
And in this case, it has to do with how the rich man ignored the man at the door, or how well we, love the poor.
What does it mean to love the poor? What does it mean in this day and age? If we are saved by our confession of Christ, just how important is this loving your neighbor as much as we love ourselves?
Will we, when we get to heaven have many accounts of not caring for the poor at our doorstep, end up like the rich man and say to God: “You were serious about that?”
So, let me take this home to today and tell you about a time I am pretty sure I saw an angel.
But let me give you a warning: Don't say amen to quickly.
I am setting this up, but not trying to set you up. I am not like the salesperson who says: You want American made knives don't you? You want knives that can cut both granite and tomatoes, don't you? You want knives that will never need sharpening, don't you?
And we all know that if we start saying yes, then the salesperson has more power to close the sale even though afterwards we might regret spending 600 dollars on a set of knives?
So wait to say “amen” because I am setting this up. Alright?
Now, the angel.
How familiar are you with Isaiah 58?
It is one of my favorite passages of the entire Bible.
I was preaching on it, one Sunday.
It is a passage about loving the poor.
In the passage, the people of God are fasting and praying for a revival. “Lord, send back the old time religion.”
And the world just seems to be getting worse.
And they ask God why revival does not come. So the prophet Isaiah is asking God why revival doesn't seem to come.
God answers the prophet with the fact that although they have the religious part of fasting down well, they have not bothered to care about what God cares about.
Specifically, God tells them that they don't pay their workers enough, their business deals are not win-win, but win-lose and they don't care about the loser. But the biggest condemnation, in my opinion is the way that they point fingers of accusation against the poor, apparently with words like lazy, or stupid.
And that was the gist of my sermon.
And I wondered as I was preparing it just how far God wanted me to go with this principle to never point an accusing finger at the poor.
It is easy for me to ignore the poor with words like “entitlements, lazy, socialism and etc.”
IT IS EASY FOR ME. I am not accusing anyone else. This was God speaking to me.
So how did this bring me into contact with an angel?
I believe it was a fulfillment of Hebrews 13:2. A command that says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers because by so doing, some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
That is probably a reference to Lot being from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because he was the only one who showed hospitality to angels disguised as men.
But the command is relevant to today.
This happened to me about 20 years ago.
I was at my church (tell the story). *
God convicted me of my judgment against the poor and showed me just how serious He was about not pointing the finger at that man.
Indeed, the poor we will always have with us.
And in one part, that means that we cannot solve all of the problems with the poor. It is too big a job.
But we can, and must, take care of the one at our door.
The rich man was condemned to hell fire for refusing to take care of the one who was at his door.
So the question of the day for us is this: Who is at our door?
*The story:
I pastored a Church right on exit 14 of Interstate 69. It was exit ramp, parsonage, Church.
And because of our location, we had lots and lots of requests for help from travelers passing by.
At the intersection there was a Pilot gas station with a small grocery and a Subway.
Whenever people stopped, I would buy them a tank of gas, some groceries and some Subway sandwiches.
Thankfully, once a month the “Christian Men's fellowship” among all the local churches sponsored a breakfast fund raiser to provide me with the funds.
I would typically charge the expense to my credit card and get reimbursed from the Treasurer.
But, I am not sure how Christian it was. The fellowship was great, but once I put a man up in a motel for the night. It was a cheap motel and I called the treasurer that night to inform him and set up my reimbursement. He confirmed the motel and the room number the man was staying in.
The treasurer did two things that shocked me. First, he yelled at me for getting a hotel, refused to reimburse me and he said: “the whole idea of this fund is for you to give them money to send them on the way so that they do not become our problem.” I winced.
And then he called the Sheriff and told him that there was a vagrant at the motel and would the sheriff kick him out.
Oh Lord, help us.
But as years went by at that Church, I started to get cynical, or maybe skeptical about most of the people I was helping.
God sent an angel to change my thinking.
And I noticed something. It seemed like everyone I was helping was on the way from Texas to Michigan for a funeral of either an aunt, mother, or grandmother.
It felt like somewhere on the South side of Indianapolis was a rest area with a sign that said: “The pastor at the Church on exit 14 is generous and will give you money if you tell him you are on a trip from Texas to Michigan for a funeral.”
When someone would knock on the door and start to say: “I am on my way...” I wanted to finish their sentence!
So, it is Sunday morning, early. I am at the Church rehearsing my sermon and I look outside.
The way this church was set up, from the pulpit, you could see the main entrance.
And right in front of the door was a man, early 30's in sweat pants. He stopped at the door, bent over, raised the sweat pant on his right leg to reveal a prosthetic leg. He didn't raise the other. But I could see him do this intentional thing to garner more sympathy from me.
I began to doubt him
He walks in with the “You the preacher? I am on my way from Texas...”
But this guy seemed real clever.
I never give cash. Heaven forbid someone get cash, buy a bottle of liquor and go home and beat their wife.
But this guy, it seems to me, had a clever way to get me to give him cash instead of buying him a tank of gas, Subway sandwiches and groceries.
Now the motor head guys and gals will get this right away, He says: “The transmission seal is bad on my truck and I need money to buy transmission fluid.”
Now, transmission fluid is expensive. It is so expensive that it generally comes in pints containers that cost several dollars each. And I am thinking he is going to want $30-$40 in cash, which is what I would have spent on him at the Pilot anyway. However, when a person doesn't want gas and food, only cash, you get suspicious.
And he seemed to have a good excuse.
But I am thinking in the back of my head: “I got you, you liar.”
Because, on my next day off, I was planning on changing the filter and transmission on my full size Chevy van. I have 2 gallons of transmission fluid ready for him and I do not have to give him any cash.
I couldn't wait to see the look on his face when a pint or two of fluid will fill him up and his lie was exposed.
But guess what? His truck took the entire 2 gallons of fluid. He was not lying.
And I was getting ready to preach about giving to the poor, but being very careful that we did not enable them. I had all the cliche's about poverty down.
And instead, God showed me the scripture: “Do not neglect to show...”
Because I was preaching about not judging the poor that morning and this happened, God changed my mind.

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