Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 8 – 2011

14 August 2011 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.

In the days of the prophets, there was a great temptation to tell people what they wanted to hear – especially when that audience included someone who was powerful – like a king or wealthy person. A prophet who played his cards right could live the good life, be surrounded with riches, and ride the coat-tails of the rich and famous.

And the opposite was also true.

A prophet who stubbornly clung to God’s Word, in season and out of season, who called people to repentance, who used words like “wrong” and “sin” – could find himself imprisoned or even executed. And this was the case with every prophet of God all the way to St. John the Baptist, who himself was imprisoned and beheaded for not telling the king what he wanted to hear.

And even when the days of prophetic revelation came to an end, the same perils were in store for preachers of righteousness, like St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, who was stoned to death because he would not tell his rich and powerful listeners what they wanted to hear.

Moreover, prophets, pastors, or preachers who modify their message in order to make friends and influence people –
filling us “with vain hopes” and speaking “visions of their own minds” – do more than simply save their necks or their income, and perhaps even enjoy mansions or luxury cars or fancy wristwatches. For they are false prophets and they lead their hearers into hell. And a false prophet is the tool of Satan, the father of lies, the one seeking whom he may devour.

Such false prophets “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.’”

They preach a “gospel” of health and wealth and prosperity, of no accountability, of a faith that says: “do whatever you want without regard to right or wrong since Jesus has done it all for you and you are baptized.”

But what is a man of God called to do? He is called to tell the truth, to use words like “wrong” and “sin,” to warn those to whom he is called to preach that all is not well with you, that disaster is indeed coming on you, that our world is crumbling, that sin destroys and corrupts, and that any attempt to sweep this reality under the rug is a lie – along with the notion that your own so-called goodness counts for anything more than a filthy rag . He is not a soothsayer nor a minister of self-esteem. His job is not to tell the baptized what they want to hear, but rather what they need to hear – to be reminded that baptism is a washing and a calling out of this world of sin and death, not an invitation to remain in sin.

The prophet bears this unpopular message, dear friends: “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.”

This is what St. Paul had in mind when he spoke of “the whole counsel of God” “in the latter days” and admonished the pastors of his day to “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.”

The whole counsel of God is both Law and Gospel, both sin and grace, both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. For a “gospel” of redemption without repentance is no gospel at all, dear friends. And while such a “gospel” may make a pastor popular – if not rich and famous – it will not bring the true Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who hear it.

This is a burden both upon pastor and congregation, upon preacher and hearer. This is why our Lord warns us: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” He shares with us the frightening consequences of listening to such false prophets who spurn the “whole counsel of God” when he declares: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Pastors much preach courageously without regard or prejudice as to who is rich or poor, who is powerful or unpopular. God’s Word does not change based on the audience. Congregations likewise must be willing to hear, to allow the Lord’s unbridled Word to have its way, to hear the call to repentance and not to push the Holy Spirit away, rejecting Christ by rejecting Christ’s Word and Christ’s messenger.

Both pastor and congregation must be submissive – not to the whims of man, not to their own creature comforts, not to their own self-interests – but rather to the Word of God. Preachers and hearers are to be submissive to Christ. For in God’s Word alone do we find the truth about both repentance and redemption, about sin and grace, about the blood-stained cross and the empty tomb.

For the “whole counsel of God” ends on a glorious note of resurrection, of forgiveness, of redemption, of communion with God, of eternal life. The “whole counsel of God” is a message of new life, hope, glory, and victory.

And the Lord has chosen to use His Word – declared by prophets, proclaimed by pastors, confessed by sinners, embraced by saints, and made flesh in the body and blood of Jesus – to kill and to make alive, to wound and to heal.

It is in this “whole counsel of God” that our sins are are purged, our guilt is expunged, our corrupted natures are restored, and our lives are redeemed. For Christ is no false prophet, and we know Him by His fruits – the fruit of His very body hanging on the tree as the Tree of Life itself, the fruit of His very blood, shed in his passion and death and presented to us in the cup of the New Testament. “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit…. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

May we embrace the Word, dear friends! May we partake of the Word made flesh, dear brothers and sisters! May we preachers courageously proclaim this Word! May we hearers humbly hear this Word! For we are confessors of this Word, confessors of our sin, and confessors of the divine grace that saves us!

The goal of every true prophet and preacher who desires to be obedient in preaching this “whole counsel of God” is to join St. Paul in declaring to his listeners, the baptized, the forgiven, the reborn in God’s mercy: “And now I 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.” Amen.

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

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