Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sermon -- 13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 14, 2016)

The prophet Jeremiah, from the Sistine Chapel,
by Michelangelo.
JEREMIAH 23:23-29


In the name + of Jesus.

      The prophet Jeremiah preached in Jerusalem for a number of years.  If you want to ball park a date for his ministry, you can hang it around 600 BC.  Jeremiah was a unique voice in Jerusalem.  That's not to say he was the only prophet there; it is to say that Jeremiah's message stood in stark contrast to what all the other prophets were saying.
     Most preachers in Jerusalem were promising peace and prosperity for Jerusalem.  They assured the people that they were beloved of God, that God would protect the people from their enemies, and that the Lord would always preserve his temple.  Jeremiah, on the other hand, preached this: “Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth.” (Jeremiah 26:4-6)  In other words, the people of Jerusalem were under God's wrath.  Because they were unfaithful to the Lord's covenant, he would exile them, destroy their city, and obliterate their temple—just as God had foretold through Moses.  Jeremiah's message was a bold and blunt call to repentance—that the people turn from sin lest they be destroyed and damned.  Guess which message the people preferred.
     Be faithful to God's word, and that means listening closely and continually to God's word.  The only way that you are going to be able to trust that you are listening to what is the truth and to not be deceived, and subsequently damned, by lies is to be faithful to God's word—both hearing it and doing it.
     Jeremiah spoke the Lord's word: “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’  How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another...?” (Jeremiah 23:26-27)  From these words, we might think it is easy to label a false prophet.  But it is,'t, not always.  While it is true that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44), it is also true that Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).  In other words, Satan tries to sound as much like Jesus as possible so that he can seduce the sheep away from their Good Shepherd.  The only way to avoid being seduced and devoured is to faithfully listen to your Good Shepherd.  Be faithful to God's word, and then you will continue to have your trust in God's truth.
     The false prophets in Jeremiah's day were believed for several reasons.  One reason is that they claimed to speak for God.  Another reason is that their message was appealing.  The people wanted to believe that God did not get hung up on their sins like Jeremiah did.  They wanted to believe that God loves all and would always grant them peace and prosperity.  Be honest; you like the sound of that, too!  And to be fair, there is an element of truth in what the false prophets were saying.  God is love.  God does, indeed, desire the salvation of all mankind.  Jesus does promise life to the full.  Therefore, many preachers sound like they are proclaiming God's promises when they promise love, peace, and glory.  And since my flesh craves these, I want to believe that they are all true.  But let me ask you: Do you really think that the abundant life that Jesus promises is about satisfying your greed, your lust, and your ego?  And if you know that Jesus does not promise such things, why would you entertain the preachers who promise them?  And why would you continue to crave such a life?  Repent.
     I would like to tell you that it is better today, but it is not.  Satan will always seduce and deceive through fine-sounding lies.  You can't stop Satan from being Satan.  A recent Facebook meme illustrates this, claiming, “Your relationship with Christ is not defined by your attendance at church.”  To be sure, you can find an element of truth there.  After all, not everyone who goes to church believes or lives according to God's word.  But ask yourself: Who is more likely to say this, Jesus or Satan?  If you are going to be faithful to God's word, where do you hear it?  God bestows his forgiveness and salvation through his word.  Where is it preached?  God grants his grace through his sacraments.  Where are those administered?  You hear, “Your relationship with Christ is not defined by your attendance at church,” and your sinful flesh will always say, “Yeah, see?  I don't need church.”  But Jesus says you do.  Since church is about gathering to hear the word and to receive the sacraments for the forgiveness of sins and salvation, how can staying away be God's will?  That is a lie, no matter how much it appeals to you.
     You can't stop Satan from being Satan.  Satan always masquerades and lies.  The Lord knows there will always be preachers who will preach Satan's lies in God's name.  And they will always have an audience because many want to believe the lies are true.  That is why the Lord says through Jeremiah: “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully.  What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:28)  You cannot stop Satan from being Satan.  But you don't have to give him your ears.  Be faithful to God's word.
     The prophet Jeremiah was despised for being a faithful prophet of the Lord.  And just as it was in Jeremiah's day, so today, pastors who refuse to label sin and to call sinners to repent are applauded and celebrated as loving and nice.  But false prophets sin against God and their fellow man because they will not let anyone be a sinner.  If that does not sound like a big deal to you, then take these words to heart: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  
     Be faithful to God's word and understand that there is no nice way to call a person a sinner.  Even the Lord knows that.  “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)  Sinful hearts must not be coddled; they must be crushed.  Therefore, God crushes us and shows us that we are not as good as we like to think we are.  If we are afraid of God and his wrath, good!  That means we believe him when he says, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:24)  We can probably hide our sins from most, but nothing is hidden before God.  He sees.  He knows.  He does not pretend that we are good.  The devil does that, and he is lying.  God proclaims the hard truth: All are sinners.  It may not sound nice to say so, but it is good to say so.  To believe that you are a sinner is to believe God's word.
     Be faithful to God's word; for that word declares: "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)  If you hear the word “sinner,” and confess, “That's me,” then hear the first part of the sentence, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  And then confess, “That's me!”  Jesus Christ came for you.  Jesus Christ came to take away your sins.  He does not overlook them.  He has suffered God's wrath for all of them.  He has died a cursed death for you in order to deliver you from the curse.
     Do not be wowed by vision-casting pastors who always have some new dream to tell you.  In doing so, they make themselves the source of truth.  Since your eternity hangs in the balance, you need a sure word to cling to.  You have it.  Be faithful to God's word which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  Sinners find mercy only through Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ comes to you only through his word and sacraments.  Through these, Jesus applies to you the forgiveness he won by his death and the salvation he won by his resurrection.  God has given us no other means of his grace, but what God has given us is sufficient to forgive and to save.  Therefore, be faithful to God's word.
     The Lord sent the prophet Jeremiah to preach the word of God to sinners.  He sent Jeremiah to say what had to be said so that sinners would repent and not perish.  God still sends preachers to do the same.  God gave you his truth so that you will not be deceived.  God proclaims his forgiveness so that you will not be destroyed.  These are the words of eternal life.  Be faithful to God's word so that your faithful God will bless and keep you always.

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