Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 8

2 August 2009 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.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Our Lord has tough words for us today – hard words for me as a preacher of the Word, as well as for you hearers of the Word.

For our Lord Jesus is telling me not to put my faith in my status as a pastor, a preacher, a bishop, a shepherd of the Lord’s flock for my salvation. For there will indeed be those who can claim to have preached, prophesied, and even cast out demons, who will be rejected by the Lord Jesus with these ominous words: “I never knew you; depart from me, you [worker] of lawlessness.”

This is a sobering warning directed to me.

For while it is of paramount importance that we pastors teach correct doctrine, we are also called upon to not be a “worker of lawlessness.” We are to take heed of our lives, paying attention to the fruits we bear. For as our Blessed Lord teaches: “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” And indeed “every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

How we live our lives is important – not because we pastors are under any delusion that our office and works somehow earn God’s favor, but rather because how we live is a reflection on the Gospel. The pastor must always remember he is one who stands “in the stead and by the command” of His Lord Jesus Christ, who in turn says: “When they hear you, they hear me.” The preacher must never let his life be a distraction from his preaching. The pastor must lead his flock in repentance, in seeking forgiveness, and in forgiving others, in striving for holiness, and in not allowing the world to become his god.

For you hearers of the Word are told something surprising by the prophet Jeremiah: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you.” The Lord is essentially telling you not to listen to certain preachers, those who fill you “with vain hopes.” For these false prophets “speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” St. Paul builds on this warning, saying: “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

This is a sobering warning to you.

Dear friends, do not listen to any preacher of any denomination, regardless of his credentials – myself included – who is only preaching his own opinions. For we preachers are under orders to proclaim not our own word, but God’s Word alone. For God’s Word is always true, and it is always powerful. God’s Word creates, recreates, forgives, renews, heals, makes whole, enlivens, enlightens, and carries God’s grace to you, through your ears, into your heart, and to your very soul.

And how are you to know whether or not the word you hear is truly the Word of God? Well, the Word of God according to the preacher Jeremiah tells us how to tell what is not God’s Word: when you hear a message of “It shall be well with you” and encouragement to those who “stubbornly follows his own heart,” saying “no disaster shall come upon you” – for these are the prophets the Lord did not send, to whom He did not speak.

In other words, the false preacher tells you that everything is just fine, encouraging you to do whatever you want, and nothing bad will ever happen to you. He is a preacher of self-esteem. This is exactly the kind of feel-good message that people want to hear, that turn the Oprahs and Doctor Phils into wealthy celebrities. If I were to preach such a message, we would soon need a stadium to hold the crowds.

But it is not God’s Word.

For God’s Word is not license to do whatever you want and permission for selfishness, but rather a call to repentance. God’s Word includes His law, the reality that because of our willful rebellion from Him, “wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst on the head of the wicked.” God’s Word is a warning about the “anger of the Lord” that “will not turn back until He has executed and accomplished the intents of His heart.” God’s Word addresses the issue of sin.

Preachers must not only preach the things we all want to hear: the Good News of forgiveness, God’s mercy, the love of Christ, the gift of the Spirit, the message of peace, joy, hope, and love. For we are to preach all of this, but we are to do so in the context of repentance. The Lord is gracious and merciful, precisely because He forgives us our sins. And that is because sin is truly something we need forgiveness for. Sin is something He calls us to renounce. Sin is why He came to our earth, taking our flesh, dying our death, and rising to give us life. Jesus calls us to fight back against sin.

And just as we preach about the Lord’s mercy, we also preach about His wrath. Just as we preach forgiveness, we preach the call to repent. Just as we preach about the glories of heaven, we also preach and warn of the reality of hell. This is what St. Paul means when he says: “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole council of God.” This is what he means when he tells us preachers: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the Church of God, which he obtained with His own blood.”

This is why the Lord warns you hearers: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” A pastor who will not preach the “whole counsel of God,” a preacher who will only tickle your ears with what you want to hear, never calling you to repent, never warning you of God’s wrath, one who does not, like St. Paul, tearfully admonish you “day and night” is indeed a false prophet. He is at best a coward or a slacker, and at worst, he is an agent of the devil.

Dear friends, the whole “counsel of God” is no laughing matter. There is a time and place to joke around, but now is not the time and in this pulpit is not the place. On my own sinful flesh, I would much rather be making you laugh and telling you all what you want to hear – but I would be a false prophet and would not be faithful to my calling to do so. Nor would such preaching be of any benefit to you. For the Holy Spirit has made me an overseer, a bishop and pastor among you, in order to “care for the church of God.” And like our earthly fathers, that means disciplining and correcting you, not out of anger or a desire to control, but out of love for you and a desire to see you receive the Lord’s grace and mercy.

And woe to any pastor who will not do this.

And just as your pastor must call you to repentance in his office as a preacher, so too must you respect and obey him in your office as a hearer. And if he shrinks from this duty, if he preaches a “name it and claim it-” or “prosperity-gospel” something alien to the preaching of the Crucified One, if he is promising to make you healthy if you make him wealthy, if he never points you to the cross or calls you to repent – you are not to listen to him.

If the preacher is full of dreams and claims of the Lord speaking to him, but he does not have the inscripturated Word of the Lord, the “hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” on his lips and in his pastoral care – flee from him. If he is your parish pastor, remove him from office. If he is on the TV, turn him off. If he is an author of a book you are reading, throw it away. For “what has straw in common with wheat? Declares the Lord.”

For unlike the Oprahs and Doctor Phils, unlike the TV preachers and those who claim to work miracles with gold dust and speaking in gibberish, the faithful preacher is to “commend you to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

This “Word of His grace” is not simply telling you what you want to hear, but rather it is the “whole counsel of God,” both the “hammer that breaks,” and the preaching of the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy to “build you up.”

This, dear brothers and sisters is the life-giving Word of God that has the power to save you, make you holy, and give you eternal life. For remember, it was not your preacher who shed his blood for you, but rather your Savior. It is His Word, not mine, that gives life. For the Lord Jesus is no wolf in sheep’s clothing. You know Him by His fruits. He is the Good Shepherd, the Lamb who has ransomed the sheep. He is the One who does the will of the Father, the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world. And as St. Paul says to both preachers and hearers: “remember the words of the Lord Jesus.” Amen.

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

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