Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 8

29 July 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 7:15-23 (Jer 23:16-29, Acts 20:27-38)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our blessed Lord is warning us today about false prophets. He says we can tell them by the fruits of their teaching. Rosebushes don’t yield grapes, thistles don’t produce figs, and those who teach an alien gospel do not bring forth repentant sinners living in the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

How often today we hear people pompously decry so-called “organized religion” while claiming to be “spiritual” as opposed to “religious.” Oh how convenient! One can declare himself aloof and above those who cling to Christ in His church – the same church that was given the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Sacraments, the Office of the Keys to forgive sins, which is the Office of preaching to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth. “No thanks, I’m ‘spiritual.’” “Spiritual” people are free to sleep in on Sunday, to ignore Scripture, to gainsay the forgiveness of sin, and are above the need to hear a sermon.

Such people deserve our pity and our prayers. For they are captivated by the very false prophets our Lord warns us about.

In Jeremiah’s day, the false prophets kept preaching that “The Lord has said, ‘You shall have peace’, and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’” And who would not like to receive this kind of preaching: fluffy, upbeat, so-called “relevant”, no mention of sin and repentance, all glory and all happy. Who wouldn’t want his pastor to say: “No evil shall come upon you”? Or “in this life, you will never have to contend with sickness, disease, death, doubt, fear, loneliness, depression, hurricanes, floods, accidents, birth defects, temptation, hurt, anxiety, or anything unpleasant. Name it and claim it. If you have enough faith, you will be rich and happy, healthy and wealthy. Follow these seven steps (and buy my book) and you will always prosper.” Who doesn’t want to hear that?

Of course, the only downside to this upbeat message is that it isn’t true. It is an evasion of the reality of the fallen world. It is a repudiation of God’s Word of judgment that began in Genesis 3, and also of God’s final Word of victory over death and the devil when our Lord breathed out His triumphant cry from the cross: “It is finished!”

Just as in Jeremiah’s day, just as St. Paul and our Lord both warn us, we are surrounded by false prophets. They wear sheep’s clothing. They have “Reverend” in front of their names. They confidently prance about on television before thousands of happy people seated comfortably in theater seats with cup-holders. They entice us with promises of glory in this life, of gold jewelry, of fat bank accounts, of and of healing and health. These promises are punctuated and supposedly proven by the preacher’s own cadre of swanky homes, private jets, and celebrity status. And as Paul warns, they do not spare the flock, but rather “draw away the disciples after themselves.”

But those who speak falsehoods instead of the reality that God has given us in His holy Word are setting themselves up for failure. “Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord has gone forth in fury – a violent whirlwind! It will fall violently on the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it perfectly.”

These are the “ravenous wolves” spoken of by our Lord in the gospel reading, the “savage wolves” according to St. Paul in our epistle. Our Lord warns us that these false prophets can do wondrous works. They can prophesy in the name of Jesus, they can cast out demons, and they can even perform what seem to be miracles. And in spite of these great works, our Lord says: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” For even though these works may seem godly, they aren’t. They are done by those whose teachings are false, whose preaching is not that of repentance and faith in Christ Jesus alone unto salvation – rather these are the false prophets with whom Jeremiah contends: the “name it and claim it” preachers, those who claim to speak for God something other than the terrifying Word that we are sinners and the comforting Word that through our Lord’s passion and death, we are forgiven.

By their fruits you will know them.

What makes a prophet false is not necessarily the piety of his life, the size of his congregation, or even his wealth. Rather what makes a prophet false is what he is teaching. A false prophet has exchanged the truth for a lie. And the father of lies is Satan. But a true prophet preaches the truth. His Word is God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, the norm of our faith and life. False prophets may strut around with a well-worn Bible in their hands – and they may even be able to impressively quote large passages. But in the end, they distort God’s Word, they turn the grace of God into a human work, they debase the promises of God’s eternal reward of everlasting life into mere trinkets of jewelry and gaudy material possessions – things which our Lord warns us are only destined to be destroyed by rust and moth. A glittering Rolex watch may look beautiful and cause envious heads to turn, but once the whirlwind of the Lord falls violently, it is only so much twisted metal fit for the junk-heap.

The Lord says: “I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” They are liars and frauds. They are the devil’s puppets. The Lord warns: “But if they had stood in My counsel, and had caused My people to hear My words, then they would have turned them from their evil way and from the evil of their doings.”

This, dear friends, is the difference between a false prophet and a faithful preacher: the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

The false prophet may have a TV network and a Malibu compound, but he doesn’t preach the Word of God unto repentance. He speaks not of sin, nor does he call his flock to repent. He certainly does not point them to, and proceed to serve them, the crucified body and redeeming blood of Christ, nor bring them to the living waters of Baptism attested by the Scriptures, the true Word of God. He has no time of day to hear confessions and pronounce absolution, nor to stand in lonely midnight vigil at the hospital bedside of a dying parishioner gasping his or her last breath.

The true prophet addresses sin and proclaims its cure – repeating the holy words of Scripture. But instead, the false prophet says: “I have dreamed, I have dreamed.” And the Lord says of such as these: “Indeed, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart.” For the true prophet will tell you things you don’t want to hear. A faithful preacher speaks God’s Word, which is “like a fire,” like a “hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.” For this hammer of God is what brings about repentance, what induces the sinner to confess – so that he can be brought to eternal glory through the forgiveness of sins. He declares the “whole counsel of God” – the things we like and the things we don’t like.

The true preacher has the Holy Spirit, given to him at ordination as a bishop and pastor of the church “which He purchased with His own blood.” Like St. Paul, he covets “no one’s silver or gold or apparel.” He is not seduced by the “theology of glory” or the “prosperity gospel.” For the faithful preacher simply repeats the Lord’s Word: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Even at his departure, the preacher of the Truth says with St. Paul: “I commend you to God and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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

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