Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Epiphany (February 3, 2019)

Jeremiah, by Michaelangelo from
the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel


In the name + of Jesus.

     When the Lord called the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah had his reasons for not wanting to do it.  Jeremiah offered this excuse: “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” (Jeremiah 1:6)  Now, to be fair to Jeremiah, he may have been truthful about himself.  The word “youth” simply means a young man.  He was not one of the elders of the community whose word carried weight because of his age, dignity, or experience.  And it is probably true that Jeremiah was no great orator, either.  For these reasons, Jeremiah figured he should have been excused from being God's prophet.  God was not buying it.  God knew what he was doing when he called Jeremiah.  But to alleviate Jeremiah's fears, God gave him a promise: The LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8)  
     The Lord has not called you to be a prophet, but he has called you to be his disciple.  You are a follower of Jesus and a learner of his word.  What's more, you are also a confessor of that word.  As a confessor, you get to declare the glories of God.  As one who bears the name of Christ, you get to represent Christ before the world in your actions and especially in your words.  You get to tell others how God has loved the world, how Jesus has suffered and died for sinners, how the guilty can find forgiveness in Jesus, and that his gifts are given Sunday after Sunday at our church.  And you get to go forth boldly and say so.  A bold confession comes from a bold promise.
     Perhaps you can appreciate Jeremiah's fear and reluctance now.  We all have excuses about why we are not up to the task of confessing our faith to others.  Perhaps you are afraid that people will mock you for going to church or believing the Bible.  Perhaps you do not feel like you have mastered the Bible enough to talk about it with others.  Maybe you wonder, “What if I screw it up?”  Perhaps you feel it is someone else's job.  God is not buying it.  God knew what he was doing when he redeemed you and brought you into his kingdom.  God revealed his promises to you and planted the faith in your heart to believe his promises and to receive his benefits.  He calls you not just to think of his promises, but also to boldly confess them.  A bold confession comes from a bold promise.
     Satan is a master at handing us excuses.  And in our laziness, we believe them.  Consider the Psalm we sang this morning.  Psalm 78 begins, “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!  I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.  We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Psalm 78:1-4)  This bold confession begins with our own families.  We talk about the Lord's promises as we walk along the road and when we sit at home, in our coming and going, when we get up and when we go to bed.  How else will our children believe that these things matter?  And while we confess bold promises, confessing these things to our children is as easy as it gets.
     Sadly, it does not often get done.  Satan gives us excuses not to do this, and we buy them.  On more than one occasion, I have warned parents, “Did you know that you are raising your children to not be Christians?”  Naturally, they were appalled by that question.  They had a knowledge of who Jesus is.  They put up a tree and celebrate Christmas.  “But,” I highlighted, “you never come to church.  You are training your children that Sunday mornings are not for Jesus.  If you don't bring them to church when you are completely in charge of them, what are the odds that they will go to church on their own when they are older?”  In theory, they knew that was true.  But Satan gave excuses.  Children were happier doing other things.  And the parents favored the children's happiness over their salvation.
     We have no problems talking about what shampoo we use, what restaurants we prefer, or who we will cheer for in the Super Bowl.  Ultimately, these things don't matter.  But this has to do with the eternal salvation of family, friends, and even of yourself.  If this is not the highest priority, if you only fear, love, and trust in God above all things in theory, then you are lost.  Repent.  Satan will try to convince you, “Don't get all religious about this.  You and your family are fine.”  Jesus says, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)  Therefore, if you are not hearing, faith will not come and it cannot remain.
     A bold confession comes from a bold promise.  God called Jeremiah to go and preach the word.  And God gave him all he needed.  Jeremiah noted: Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth.  And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9)  God did not tell Jeremiah to craft a clever message and to win the hearts of the people.  As the Lord's prophet, Jeremiah was given the words to say from the Lord.  The bold confession was simply the word the Lord gave to Jeremiah.  And since the Lord gave Jeremiah a bold promise, there was no reason for Jeremiah to keep silent.
     So it is with you.  God has given you the words to say.  God gave us his word so that we can distinguish right from wrong and good from evil.  We teach our children to avoid what God forbids so that they will spare themselves of many griefs and God's wrath.  We teach our children to do the good things God demands.  In this way, we become honest, noble people who benefit our fellow man.  But as we teach these things, we will also recognize that no one lives up to what God demands.  Therefore, we again make a bold confession: We confess our sins—which is to say that we agree with God's word.  We don't have any contest about who is better than another.  There is no difference; all have sinned and continue to fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:22,23)  But then we make another bold confession: We confess our faith.  We believe that Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, has suffered for our sins, died to deliver us from a cursed death, and rose from the dead to declare that our sins are, indeed, forgiven and that heaven is open to us.  Now, based on God's bold promise, we make our bold confession: We believe in the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
     A bold confession comes from a bold promise.  We do not need to invent things to confess.  We simply declare what God has declared.  Behold!  The Lord has put his words in your mouth.  You get to talk about them day after day so that your children grow up in the faith and, by God's grace, will be kept in it.  You get to confess that word to your family and friends because you have the good news that they are looking for.  You have the peace which they seek.  And you have the confidence to stand before the Lord on the Last Day which they need. 
     The Lord called Jeremiah to be a prophet.  He gave him the words to say, and he gave him the promise, “I am with you.” (Jeremiah 1:8)  He has done the same for you.  Now, full disclosure: Jeremiah did what he was given to do.  He made the bold confession, and he was hated for it.  So, your confession will not always be received well.  Be bold; make it anyway.  God knew what he was doing when he called you to be his own.  He has put his name on you, and he has put his word in your heart, in your mind, and in your mouth to confess it.  After all, he has given you a bold promise that stands no matter what anyone else things of it.  Even though that confession has been despised by some, it has led to the salvation of others.  There is no way that salvation is attained except through the word.  There is no way that faith is sustained except through the word.  So, make your bold confession, and boldly trust God's promises.  He will be with you.  He will save you.  And he will not fail you.

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

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