I grabbed a book off a friends bookshelf this past week called, simply enough, How To Communicate. Did you know that communication is more about listening than speaking?
"You're at a dinner party. Someone is telling anecdotes, someone is complaining, someone is bragging about his promotion. Everyone there is anxious to talk. Suddenly you get the feeling that no one is listening. While the talk goes on you notice that people's eye's wander. They are perhaps rehearsing their own remarks. It is as if they have secretly agreed: "I'll be an audience for you if you'll be an audience for me." The party may be a success, but people go home without hearing or knowing each other."
How To Communicate, p.5
19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30 " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
The rich man in this story has a problem. It wasn't that he had many good things in this life. It wasn't that he didn't share with others. It wasn't even that he probably wasn't grateful for what he had. The problem is that he didn't apply the things he heard at the Temple. He didn't listen. He didn't pay attention.
There are many like him in the Church today. They come. They fill the seats. They might get come political power from it. They are satisfied by things. But they do not listen. This doesn't translate to their homes or their business ethics. This does not lead to compassion toward others. This doesn't make them more like the God they come near to worship.
That is the point of the parable. The message about Abraham's bosom and a look behind the curtain of eternal things is not what Jesus is teaching. It is interesting to be sure but not the point.
Remember, Jesus tells these stories to make a point. These stories are designed to get a picture past our defense systems. These are designed to help us listen.
Isn't it interesting that the hope Jesus offers is found in the OT? If they listen to Moses (the Law) and the Prophets they have a better chance of recognizing the Law fulfiller and prophecy completer. As it is, 'if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
The rich man had many opportunities to listen and recognize the coming Messiah. Every Temple small group, or Saturday School Class, every sermon, offered an opportunity for him to listen.
Had he listened, he would not be in hell or in torment. He would have learned of a God that desired mercy and not sacrifice. He would have treated others differently. He would have been prepared to meet the Messiah.
Sorry for the sobering parable. This is where God led me this day. I wonder how much of what I hear at church or in my Bible reading time actually makes it to my heart? Someone once wisely said, "the distance between heaven and hell is only 18 inches .... the distance from your head to your heart".
As we come to the Thanksgiving table this week, as we worship in our usual place let's ask the Lord to help us to hear. Let's listen to the sacred silence ... listen to the holy Word.
Do you want to have a test of if you are listening well or not? How do you treat others ... especially those that offer you nothing in return? How well are you seeing Jesus Christ in your daily life? Do you recognize His hands and feet?
It requires listening.
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