Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sermon: Oculi - 2011

27 March 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 11:14-28 (Jer 26:1-15, Eph 5:1-9)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The prophet Jeremiah had a big problem. God told him to speak. That wasn’t the problem. Jeremiah was a prophet, and that’s what prophets do. The problem was in what God wanted Jeremiah to speak. God told Jeremiah to say something unpopular, something that would make the people mad, something that ran afoul of political correctness in the new Jehoiakim administration.

And to top it all off, Jeremiah was not even permitted to be tactful, gentle, or pastoral about it. He wasn’t allowed to consider the feelings of his listeners, or even his own safety. For God explicitly told him: “Do not hold back a word,” knowing what was in store for the prophet. For this is the message Jeremiah was sent to preach: “‘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.’”

In other words, Jeremiah was sent to call the people to repentance: bluntly, clearly, and unequivocally. And there is nothing that angers people more than this. The people responded by laying hold of him saying: “You shall die!” The call to repent often arouses such a replay, even as it brought a beheading to John the Baptist, a stoning to Stephen, and a cross for our Lord Himself. Indeed, this is often the fate of a faithful prophet.

Jeremiah would be spared a martyr’s death, but several times in his ministry, he came close. For instead of hearing God’s Word, instead of repenting, instead of submitting to the prophetic message and the warnings of the Lord, the people arrogantly demanded that the prophet recall his words, change his message, and tell them what they wanted to hear – or else.

The Word of God – especially the call to repent of our sins and to seek a holy life of obedience and submission to the Lord’s will – has been mocked since the Garden of Eden, and will be a stench in the nostrils of every Old Adam – believer and unbeliever alike – until the Lord returns in glory to vindicate Jeremiah’s proclamation to, and lamentations over, the people to whom he was sent.

Following Jeremiah, St. Paul also preached the unpopular Word of God, and many times found himself at the business end of a lynch mob: pelted with rocks, beaten with sticks, arrested, and persecuted. For listen to what St. Paul preaches to the Ephesian Christians – not pagans, mind you, but to pious church members. After telling them to “be imitators of God,” the holy apostle gives specific pastoral counsel in his call to repentance: “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”

For Ephesian Christians of the first century were surrounded by a lowest-common-denominator culture of sexuality and crude joking. Twenty-first century Americans have the added complication of television and the internet, as well as their children being indoctrinated in false religion and atheism from sources thought to be wholesome because they cater to children’s entertainment.

For modern American Christians, we have the option of attending church on Sunday morning and watching cartoons on Sunday evening that not only include “sexual immorality” and “impurity” and “filthiness” and “crude joking,” but also outright mockery of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God. We Americans can offer an “Amen” to the Word in the morning, and serve up giggles at jokes about the Word in the evening. And since many of these shows are animated, children can get a head start on this religious and cultural schizophrenia at an increasingly younger age.

And to our sinful flesh’s impulsive claim that we can enjoy such things that “everyone else” participates in without spiritual damage, St. Paul retorts: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

As for our forays into darkness, St. Paul says to stop it! Jeremiah says: “walk in my law… and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened.” For just maybe, “it may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that [God] may relent of the disaster that [He intends] to do to them because of their evil deeds.”

For the Old Adam always excuses sin, blocks his ears to correction, and finds a way to shoot the messenger rather than heed the message. Dear friends, the call to repentance from Jeremiah and Paul are as relevant today as ever. Listen to them! Heed their words! For their words are God’s Word, their call to repentance is God’s call to repentance. He is speaking to you now, pleading with you to hear Him, to really and truly listen, to resist the urge to be defensive and to lash out at the messenger. He is calling each one of us to turn from our evil ways and live. And God does not want to hear us go on about our good works or how well we know our doctrine. God is not impressed, and He is calling us to repent – not because He hates us, dear friends, no indeed! But rather because He loves us beyond what we can ever conceive.

He backs up His warnings in His own blood. He beckons you to follow Him to the cross, to the atonement, to forgiveness, to redemption, and to everlasting life! And that good news follows the call to repent. So hear it anew, dear brothers and sisters, hear it again, hear it fresh, and hear it with all the seriousness of the prophet Jeremiah being threatened with execution for speaking the Word of God: “repent!”

For our Lord wants to heal you, forgive you, save you, and restore you. He has come to you to redeem you, to revive you, and to remove every trace of the Old Adam from you. He continues to come to you to exorcise you, to call you to repent, to declare you to be forgiven and righteous, and to offer Himself to you in His Word and in His most holy body and blood, to comfort and to strengthen.

He has not come to condemn, but to save. But dear friends, if you refuse to be saved by your hardness of heart, all He can do for you is to continue to call you to repent. He will not abandon you to the devil, and so He continues to plead over and against all of our Old Adams: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Dear brothers and sisters, our Lord is telling us that repentance is not child’s play, not something to be taken for granted. For like Jeremiah before Him, our Lord is demonized for calling the people to repent, for not telling the people what they want to hear, for not heaping praise upon those who think more highly of themselves than they ought. So deluded are they in their hardness of heart that they think His casting out of demons is evidence that He does so by the devil’s help. Sin can cause people to be so warped that even their logic and reason – let alone common sense – is perverted by the evil one.

Our Lord warns us that a demon once cast out, if courted back, “goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

Dear brethren, let your repentance be repentance. Hear this good news that Jesus casts out the demons on our behalf, not by Beelzebul, but instead by the “finger of God.” He has the authority to reach out to you; He has the will to save you; He has the power to redeem you; He has the love to forgive you. He is merciful in His call to repent, and He is gracious in His response to our cries for mercy.

For Jeremiah was a precursor of the Lord Jesus who overcame the Old Adam by being the New Adam, the one who not only calls us to repent, but who delivers salvation to us in proclamation and preaching and the promise that is signed, sealed, and delivered by His crucified body and shed blood itself.

And St. Paul tells us what is yet to come for those who remain in the Word and do not turn from the Lord. Though we cannot do it perfectly in this life, we are called upon to strive against sin and struggle against evil and anticipate the time when we will indeed by God’s grace: “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”

“Return to the Lord your God,” dear brothers and sisters, “For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and abounding in steadfast love.” Amen.

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

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