Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sermon -- 8th Sunday after Trinity (August 10, 2014)

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet,
by Michelangelo,
from the Sistine Chapel.

JEREMIAH 23:16-29

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jeremiah is sometimes called the “weeping prophet.”  He preached a strong message of rebuke and repentance.  Jeremiah foretold of doom and gloom, of war, exile, destruction, and death.  For Jeremiah’s preaching, he was subjected to hatred and slander.  He was the target of a murder plot.  He was threatened with stoning.  He was dropped into a cistern where at least one source (Josephus? Apocrypha? can’t remember where) reports that Jeremiah sank into the mud up to his neck.  It is no wonder Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  He did not have much to rejoice over. 
     But you also ought to know this about Jeremiah: He was right.  Jeremiah’s message of rebuke was not heeded.  And his pleas for repentance were both ignored and shouted down.  Therefore, the doom and gloom he had warned about did come.  The war, the exile, the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and the death of many of its inhabitants happened just as Jeremiah had foretold.
     Jeremiah was right for one simple reason: God had given him the message.  Jeremiah was the mouth through whom the Lord issued his warnings and calls to repentance.  When the calls to repentance were despised, the Lord carried out the punishment he had warned about.  Jeremiah may not have been a fun prophet, but he was a faithful prophet.  He had clung faithfully to God’s truth.
     Though Jeremiah’s message was unique, he was not the only prophet in Jerusalem.  The other prophets preached a message that was much happier, much less controversial, and much more appealing then anything Jeremiah was saying.  Jeremiah warned of judgment and doom; other prophets promised peace and prosperity.  One of them had to be wrong.  Guess who the people preferred.
     The Lord had warned, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes.  They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LordThey say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17)
     There is nothing new under the sun.  There are still competing voices.  There are still false prophets.  Jesus had warned that they will come to you as wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They look and sound like God’s people, but they will devour and destroy you with their message.  Now, surely they will have to answer to God for their lies and deception, but if you are deceived, you will suffer too.  God does not excuse you for buying the lie or for going astray.  Sheep who go astray get devoured; and blaming the bad shepherd does not change anything for the sheep.
     The message remains the same: It shall be well with you” and “No disaster shall come upon you.” (Jeremiah 23:17)  It is a message from the prophet’s own imagination.  He wants everything to be fine.  You want everything to be fine.  He sells a message you are eager to buy.  But based on what?  If God did not say it or promise it, the prophet has no business saying it.  You will be both deceived and disappointed.  Cling faithfully to God’s truth. 
     False prophets will come.  Preachers will tell their dreams.  Satan still wants to deceive.  And so, many lies are peddled today as if they were the very word of God.  How many sins are defended and encouraged in the name of love?  Now, God is love.  But God does not defend, much less promote, sin.  So the word “love” is misused.  It is used as a cover for fornication, adultery, cohabitation, same-sex marriage, and any other form of perversion you can think of.  Even worse, “love” is used to defend false doctrine.  Americans are not allowed to find fault with any religious teaching.  We are to let all the gods line up next to each other and declare them all equally good options.  If you don’t think so, try telling someone that you believe Islam is evil or that imams teach a demonic doctrine.  We are afraid to call liars for what they are because, first, people will not think it is very nice, and second, because we do not want to suffer for doing so.  We are better Americans than we are Christians.  So we back off of our confession.  We let the lies go unchallenged.  And by failing to expose or refute the lies, we make the confession that we accept them.  And even if we don’t, we teach our children that they are acceptable.
     Even Christendom has its share of false teachers.  Satan likes to play God in order to deceive you with godly sounding words.  Preachers will say that Jesus is nice and that God is love.  You can’t argue that it is wrong, but then you can’t say that it is right either.  Any message that does not preach repentance and forgiveness is not a Christian message.  Where there is no crucified Jesus, there is no salvation.  There is no Christian Church.
     Cling faithfully to God’s truth.  Be on your guard so that you are not deceived.  How can you be sure that you are hearing God’s truth?  The Lord answers for you: “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.  But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.” (Jeremiah 23:21-22) 
     A prophet or preacher is to do nothing other than preach the word of the Lord.  And God does not leave that word a mystery to you.  He has revealed his council to you in the Bible.  Jeremiah called Jerusalem to repent so that they would not die in their sins.  The hammer of God’s word was to crush their stony hearts into repentance so that they would not be crushed in divine wrath. 
     Jeremiah had proclaimed, Behold, the storm of the Lord!  Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked.  The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart.” (Jeremiah 23:19-20)  God’s wrath comes upon us because of our sins.  They cannot be excused; they must be paid for.  They are not forgiven just because you want them to be.  That comes from the imagination of your mind.  If you want to be sure that you are forgiven, then God must say so.  If you want to be sure you are saved, then God must act.  If you want true peace and not just wishful thinking, then cling faithfully to God’s truth. 
     The Lord has spoken and acted.  Jesus has stepped into the storm for you.  Bearing your sins, he took the brunt of God’s wrath.  He endured the fury of divine rage for your sins.  And so your sins were not excused, they were paid for.  Jesus demonstrated true love by suffering and dying for your sins.  You are saved by a God who became flesh and who was crucified so that God’s judgment would be executed on you.  God’s desire is not to accommodate you in your sins, but to redeem you from them.  He does not compromise his judgment or his commandments for you, but rather he fulfills those commandments and reconciles you so that you are not banished from his presence.  Cling faithfully to God’s truth for certainty of your salvation.
     The false prophets will always be out there, telling their stories, spelling out their visions, and making promises in God’s name.  God will let them go.  What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:28)  Those who are eager to believe the lies will be deceived by them.  But you are God’s harvest.  Therefore, cling faithfully to God’s truth so that you will not be deceived.  This is also how you remain confident of your own salvation.  For, by clinging to God’s truth, you cling to the only word that stands firm and the only word that saves.
     Jeremiah wept that his beloved city would be destroyed.  But you are not among those who are destroyed.  You are among those who have been saved.  God himself has told you.  His is the word that you must listen to.  Cling faithfully to it, and you will be saved.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.