Thursday, August 21, 2008

Trinity 8 Sermon - from July 13

I am posting this draft of this particular sermon for one reason only, it was preached on the date closest to the 15th Anniversary of my Ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Speak My Word Faithfully
Jeremiah 23:16-29

Our text for this morning is the Old Testament lesson read earlier from the 23rd chapter
Jeremiah’s prophecy.

We pray Luther's Prayer before the sermon: Eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us Your Holy Spirit who writes the preached Word into our hearts. May we receive and believe it and be cheered and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify Your Word in our hearts and make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, through Your Holy Spirit think what is right, and by Your power, fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

How many of you could tell me what happened fifteen years ago on July 11, 1993? It was an incredibly memorable day. It had been a day I had been looking forward to for over a year. When it came, it terrified me. Every year, as I remember what took place that day, I pause to ponder some things and examine them.

You see, on 11 July, 1993, I was ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry - and as I prepare to go to the Doxology pastoral training this coming week, I couldn’t help but remember that anniversary - even more so, as I considered today’s texts. As I reflect upon that day and the vows I took, again my heart was filled with dread, fear, and anticipation. Why? Because the words of our text to Jeremiah and the words of Jesus in our Gospel lesson make me pause and consider a couple questions. Have I been faithful to the Word of the One who has called me into that office of the Holy Ministry? Have I been a faithful prophet or a false prophet?

There are words in both these texts that cause some sober reflection. Jesus warns the people to beware of false prophets. He states that there will be some who will come to him on the last day declaring that they had preached in Jesus’ name, cast out demons in Jesus’ name, and done mighty works in Jesus’ name. What will Jesus’ response to them be? 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'

To Jeremiah, the Lord of hosts said: "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 Lord. They 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.'

For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? 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. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. "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.

Those who follow their own heart, no matter what the Word of the Lord says, will find themselves in dire straits come the last day. Those who preach a message catering to the whims of the people, the unfaithful prophets/preachers who would not call them to repentance, will also find themselves in trouble when the last day arrives.

As if these texts were not enough, I try to keep Paul’s words to the young pastor, Timothy always in my mind. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Tim. 4:1_4 ESV)

Yes, it is obvious that many who claim they have been sent by God have been overcome by a desire to keep the people happy, and have resorted to telling the people what they want to hear. In Jeremiah’s day, many had done it to keep their own life intact, for many of the prophets and apostles were killed because they spoke boldly about sin and repentance. Some do it today so they can remain popular or to keep their church full, and they get a steady paycheck.
Of course, some have the best intentions. They truly want people to believe in God. So, they remove all the obstacles. In their proclamation then, they remove any discussion about sin and death and judgement and repentance. Instead, they tell their listeners how God loves them just as they are.

What did Jesus command His disciples to go out and preach? They were to go out, that repentance for the forgiveness of sins might be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)

How many pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers - basically the modern day prophets - fail to do this, and are instead filling the people with vain hopes? How many are speaking visions of their own minds and not words from the mouth of the Lord?

More to the point as I reflect back on these 15 years since my ordination - how can I know that what I am speaking is from the mouth of the Lord?

Dear friends in Christ, lest you tune me out thinking that this is just a sermon where I am examining myself, this is also important for you. According to our text, and the words of Jesus, if I or another preacher teaches falsehood, and if you are led astray to believe it, what is at stake is your eternal well-being, your salvation.

From Old Testament times, to the time of Jesus’ fleshly sojourn on earth before His crucifixion, to the time of the Apostles, and even through today, there have been those who have proclaimed falsehood in the name of God and Jesus Christ. They found it more important to be popular and keep the people happy than to faithfully proclaim the truth. It is what Paul warned Timothy about. And today, it seems even more important. Today, if people do not like what the pastor has to say, they will walk away and find another church. And there are plenty out there willing to tell people whatever they want to hear.

We could look at some specifics, to see what has become acceptable teaching in some circles that claim to be Christian, but we don’t need to. You know! You know what is being taught out there and you know what is in error. Why? Because the Scripture is very clear.

Only those who are trying to justify what they know in their heart is wrong proclaim that what is in the Scripture is just one of many interpretations. But, there are many who do so, there are many false teachers out there - you only need compare what they teach to the Scriptures.
God’s Word is very clear to call sin what it is. God’s Word is very clear that those whom He calls to proclaim His word, are to call sinners exactly what they are - sinners. And, to call them to repentance. For it is in repentance where the greater truth of God about them is to be proclaimed, that they are forgiven sinners. Their sinfulness has been nailed to the cross in the very flesh of Christ.

That, dear friends, is where true hope is to be found - in the crucified and risen Son of God, Jesus Christ.

There is only vain hope in the preaching that doesn’t call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In fact, that is no hope at all. Those who think they need not repent, are trusting themselves, not God. Oh yes, they may feel good believing such lies. They may believe they are wonderful Christians, that they are living God-pleasing lives, and that God is satisfied with them. And the preachers who tell them such things may even be wildly popular and write best-selling books. But whoever claims to be without sin, God tells us, is a liar.

True hope is in Christ Jesus. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Where those who come and speak faithfully the Word of God, the Spirit is at work. God’s word leads to repentance and to trust in Christ Jesus for forgiveness.

The hope of Israel was in the works of God. False prophets led them to trust in themselves. That is vain hope.

As I prepared to come to you today with a message, and proclaim that it is from the Lord, I was again filled with dread, fear, and anticipation. I have been called by God to carry out a noble task - to proclaim His word - just as God spoke to Jeremiah, one of those who has His word and speaks it faithfully.

I dread those times where the truth of God’s Word will offend people. I fear for those who will walk away from it because their vain hope tugs at their hearts strings, and they continue clinging to the sins they love rather than repent.

But even more, I anticipate God will work, even through my stumbling stammerings, to bring to faith those whom He wills to be His dear children.

I know without a doubt that I am a bumbler as a pastor. I have sinned in thought, word and deed - by what I have done, and what I have left undone. I have not always loved my neighbor as myself, nor have I loved God with my whole heart. There are those whom I have hurt and those whom I have failed to help. Simply put, I am a sinner.

But, I am in good company, for there are numerous other sinners whom God has called to serve Him by proclaiming His word: the arrogant one, Peter; the chief sinner, Paul; the runner, Jonah; the one slow of tongue, Moses; the one convinced he was the only one left, Elijah; and all the others who, in spite of their sinfulness, spoke His Word faithfully - for He led them to do so - and forgave them their failing.

There is One, however, who in all that He did, never failed. He humbly proclaimed the Word His Father instructed Him to speak. Without sin he lived everyday of His life. When things got tough, He didn’t run to Tarshish, nor did He flee His responsibilities - but instead, He died for those who hated him - to redeem them from their sins.

Dear friends, I beg of you to join me. I encourage you to repent and lay your sins on Jesus - the faithful Word of God made flesh.

Faithfully hear the Word of God spoken to you; you are forgiven. Trust that Word of God spoken in all faithfulness. Receive gratefully Christ’s body and blood given to you in the blessed sacrament. By the Word of the Lord, it is a holy meal in which you are strengthened in faith to believe that in eating and drinking, you are given forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

In these things, dearly beloved of God, is true hope. In the Word spoken faithfully is Christ crucified delivered to you. It is that Word faithfully spoken which bestows upon you the gifts He purchased with His innocent suffering and death.

That dear friends, is the word of God that I speak to you. And, it is that Word of God in which you must trust with all confidence, and are saved. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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