Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sermon: Trinity 8 - 2018

22 July 2018

Text: Matt 7:15-23 (Jer 23:16-29, Rom 8:12-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Beware,” says Jesus.  This is a word of warning.  It literally means: “hold your mind to.”  It means, “Watch out!”  It means, “Be on your guard!”

This is a word that you use when someone is in imminent danger.  It is a word that you might shout at someone in a dire emergency: a life-or-death situation that requires a clear head and quick action.

“Beware” is a word of love, a word that saves lives.

“Beware of false prophets,” says Jesus, “who come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

False prophets have been around since the beginning.  The first one was Satan, who appeared to Eve and said, “Did God actually say…?”  Jesus called him the “father of lies.”  False prophets tell lies, and you are to beware, dear friends, lest you believe them.  This is a matter of life and death, because you are in danger if you take their bait.  False prophets dogged the early church, even in the Book of Acts, including a fellow named Simon Magus (his name gives us the word “magic”), who wanted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit.  The spirit of Simon lived on to the days of the Reformation, when wicked bishops practiced what was called “simony,” that is, they bought their way into positions of authority in the church.  

False teachers come as angels of light, with big smiles and private jets.  They might call themselves “bishop” or “prophetess.”  They often yammer on about being “anointed,” when they really should talk about being “greased.”  They lie to people to gin up their own wealth, and they prostitute the faith by being those very ravenous wolves that Jesus warns us about.  “You will recognize them by their fruits,” he says.

“Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs, or thistles?”

The most popular religious figures today are people who tell you what you want to hear: Oprah giving away cars, Joel telling you that you can live like a tycoon just like him, Jesse and Kenneth and Creflo with their gaudy jewelry and fake gold dust, Joyce with her confession that she left the Lutheran Church because she is not poor, she is not miserable, and she is not a sinner.

Being wealthy doesn’t make you a false teacher.  Being on TV doesn’t make you a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  But, dear friends, Jesus says, “Beware,” indeed, beware when a religious teacher is very popular, when he or she implies that if you follow his or her formula, you will get rich, people will love you, and you will lead a charmed life.  Beware when there is plenty of talk of money and precious little of Jesus, of Holy Baptism, of sins and their forgiveness, of eternal life, and of bearing the cross.

Beware when teachers emphasize the Spirit over and against the Son.

Indeed, what does St. Paul teach about the Holy Spirit?  “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him.”

“Provided we suffer with Him.”  St. Paul is not talking about the suffering of private jets and Rolexes and palatial homes.  He is talking about the suffering that Christians have always faced at the hands of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature.  He is talking about Asia Bibi and our other brothers and sisters facing prison and death under the tyranny of Islam.  He is talking about the suffering of having one’s life ruined for the sake of confessing Christ instead of worshiping the government and its evil decrees to allow the baby to be killed and to force the cake to be baked over and against the God-given liberty of conscience and of doing what is right.

We suffer on account of sin, and we suffer on account of telling the truth about sin.  We suffer because we Christians are countercultural.  We suffer because people hate us.  Our Lord Jesus Christ had no Rolex and no private jet.  Instead, He had a crown of thorns and a cross.  And He calls you to come and follow Him, dear friends, follow Him, taking the narrow road, the road that leads to Golgotha, and the road that leads to the tomb with the rolled away stone.  For St. Paul says that the Spirit bears witness, and we are heirs, “provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

“Glorified with Him,” dear friends!  Jesus was glorified by doing His Father’s will, by dying for us in a life of love and service.  And He was glorified and vindicated, destroying death  by rising from death in the body.  Jesus calls us to be baptized, to give up any prideful boast of salvation by works, to renounce Satan and his works and his ways, to be in the world, but not of the world, to store up riches in heaven, to worship Him alone, to confess our transgressions, for we are indeed “poor, miserable sinners,” and to rejoice in the body and blood of Christ – through which we are saved, by which we have communion with the One True God, and in which we find belonging with our dear brothers and sisters in the Holy Church, the Bride of Christ – not some traveling circus with fake healings and tawdry parlor tricks that serve only to mock our dear Lord and His Word.


Indeed, “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.”  Take the Ten Commandments seriously!  Confess your sins and be forgiven!  In gratitude, participate in the work of the church to which God has called you, in whatever holy vocation you find yourself.

Don’t be like the fraudulent TV preachers, dear friends.  Don’t lie to yourself.  Don’t think that you are good enough and have no need to examine your life, to repent of your sins, to recite the catechism, to read the Holy Scriptures, to assemble together and partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Don’t think that you already know it all, as though you are saved by facts alone.  You don’t, and you’re not.  Don’t think that you are a good person, as though you are saved by your own delusion of your own goodness.  Don’t think that you are exempt from bearing the cross, as if you were better than Jesus Himself.  For indeed, we are not.  And a false prophet will not tell you that.

For even those who claim to be prophets, who claim to cast out demons, and who claim to work miracles in the name of Jesus will be cast away, thrown into Hell: “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness,’” says our Lord.

When people claim to have seen visions, when they claim special “spiritual gifts,” when they purport to be blessed by being rich, when they tell you what you want to hear, such as, “no disaster will come upon you,” or “you can have your best life now,” or some other such sugar-coated garbage, beware, lest these bottom-feeding charlatans drag you down to the pit with them.  

“I did not send the prophets,” says the Lord to Jeremiah, “yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.”  Beware of self-proclaimed prophets.  Beware of the prosperity gospel.  Beware of the “charismatic movement.”  Beware of the feel-good religion of niceness.  For hear the word of the true prophet Jeremiah: “But if they stood in My council, then they would have proclaimed my Word to My people, and they would have turned from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”

Dear friends, the true “prophet” of our day does not send himself; rather he is called through the Holy Church – even as the apostles did not choose themselves, even as Simon Magus could not buy the authority to preach and teach and baptize and absolve.  The true “prophet” of today does not say, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” but rather speaks the Word of the Lord faithfully: the Word that is Holy Scripture.  For “what has straw in common with wheat?”  We are not here to cozy up with the world and store up treasures on earth.  We are not called to tell people what they want to hear.  We are called to proclaim God’s truth: the Law and the Gospel, and to draw people into the Ark of the Church, to be forgiven and redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and to be willing to suffer with Him for the sake of the truth: the saving truth, the truth that sets us free: free to love our neighbor and to praise God, not free to strut around like a peacock aping the worse scoundrels of the secular world.

Indeed, dear friends, “Beware!”  “You will recognize them by their fruits.”  “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons.”  Take comfort in your Father who art in heaven, in the truth of the Word and in the proclamation of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who loves you enough to warn you, and to die for you, and to carry you, in truth, to life everlasting!  Amen.

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

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