Posts Tagged ‘Pentecost 13C’

A Gospel That Causes Division

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 13C, August 18th, 2013

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“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” [Luke 12:51]

It appears that Jesus prophecy has been proven true.  Look around; all over there seems to be very little unity, but instead there is division.  Let me show you what I mean.

Who do you support in Egypt, the supposed democratically elected militant Muslim government in Egypt or the supposed temporary Military imposed government, which only wants to bring back economic stability?  Are you a democrat or a republican?  Are you for more social “welfare” programs or do you favor “work-fare”.   Should the Word of God determine what is or is not a legitimate marriage, or is it merely a social institution regulated by government?

In case I did not peak your interest yet, let me try hitting a little closer to home.  Are you for open communion at the Lord’s table for all who are baptized, or is it something that should only be shared by those who are walking together in doctrine?  Wait, one more example if I may.  Should women be allowed to preach and teach in the church?

Now for some people, these questions are open for discussion and even vigorous debate.  For others, these things are easily answered; in fact they would say that the Word of God has already answered them.  But what do you do when there are equally sincere people, each proclaiming to have answers centered on the counsel of God.  Who do you listen to?

This morning, through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:1-29), God answers us.  Listen: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” [v. 16]

The Lord’s advice was then, and is today, direct and simple, “Do not listen [to them].” The prophets in Judah were not preaching messages from the Lord. That was plain to see, for what they were saying contradicted everything the Lord had said in the rest of his Word.  Where God demanded repentance, the false prophets had repeatedly called for tolerance of sin.  When God condemned the worship of false Gods, the false prophets instead counseled an acceptance of false worship so that peace and harmony could be sustained.  And now, here is Jeremiah prophesying the impending punishment of God; the captivity of the Jews. And how did the false prophets of glory and prosperity respond?  They accused Jeremiah, the true prophet of God as being a false prophet.  And to this conflict, to this division God proclaimed: “And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.'” [Jeremiah 5:19]

The false prophets gave false hope to those who despised and refused to believe the Lord’s Word. They encouraged the sinner to remain in his sin by making it seem less sinful. They dismissed God’s threatening judgment with the words “no harm will come to you”—hell and damnation are mere delusions of the false preacher. They were the false prophets, because they gave false hope; they left the impenitent with the impression that their sin was no big deal; God didn’t care. So, according to them, there was no need to worry about repentance.  Don’t worry, be happy!

But Jeremiah was a true prophet of God.  He had stood in the council of the Lord, and what He heard God say He was compelled to repeat.  If the people then and the people today listened to the Word of God, they would not have missed the heart of all of God’s Word, the center of all Scripture: Repent! The Lord means what he says!  Or as God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” [Ezekiel 18:4] Salvation and righteousness are found in the Lord alone and in the Word that brings his forgiveness.

So how can we take this message from our Old Testament lesson and apply it to our lives today?  What determines whether a prophet or teacher’s message can be trusted?  Well it all depends on where the message comes from.  Is it’s origin from within the desires of their own hearts or is it a message from the heart of God?

When I was a teenager, my friends and I use to be guilty of playing pranks on people.  Many of our ideas came from television programs like, “Candid Camera.”  One day, on a busy downtown sidewalk, we decided to play the prank, “Look Up!”  It went like this: One of us would stand in the middle of the sidewalk looking up into the distant sky.  Another would come and stand next to him and ask “What are you looking at?”  The first prankster would point up.  Then another of our team would join the ranks as the first two pointed up.  Then another and another.  What always happened was a gathered and growing crowd would each invite additional people into the group by pointing up.  Eventually, we pranksters would slip out of the crowd, back away and crack up with laughter as we watched those clueless people watching nothing.

So what are you looking at?  I could ask you the same question about what you think our Epistle text (Hebrews 11:17-40) wants us to look at.  Are we supposed to look at and admire those heroes of the faith, and see them as great role models?  If that’s what we are looking at then I’m afraid we are in for disappointment.  You see those great heroes of the faith weren’t any better than you and me; they too were sinners.  They too needed to repent of their sin and lack of trust in God’s care.  Moses, that mighty man of God who led God’s people out of Egypt also doubted God’s decision to use him.  David, the Lord’s mighty king who was declared to be a man after God’s own heart, was an adulterer and murderer.  The list of disappointments goes on and on through out the pages of scripture.  In too many instances to recount, the mighty people of God often had their eyes of things other than God’s call to repent and to trust in Him alone.  Instead of placing their eyes of faith on the promises of God, they had cast their gaze upon things that satisfied their own desires and wants.  Like us today, they just couldn’t find time to listen to God; they were too busy running away from things that frightened them, and running to things that promised security and peace.

So what is the point?  Well the point is to answer the question, “What were those heroes of faith looking at and trusting in?  What are you looking at?  What is it that you are trusting in?”  And the answer is of course, we must look to and trust in only Jesus!  The heroes of faith all knew and trusted the promise of God that a Savior would come to make all sinful things in this world right.  Each time their hearts were turned away from the promise of the coming Savior, God’s Word redirected their gaze back to Him and His promise of redemption.  And today, this morning, we do the very same thing.

We who are sinful agree with God that He is right and we are wrong.  We too allow the Word of God to show us our sin and we too repent.  But we do not turn to the promise of a coming Savior, we turn to a Savior who has already come and set us free. He is a Savior who promises that He will come again to take us home!  When the heroes of faith repented, they turned to God’s promise of mercy and forgiveness.  When we, who are God’s heroes of faith today, repent, we turn to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Do you want to know what Jesus was looking at when He was dying upon the cross?  He was looking at you!  Your life of faith; your struggle to hold on to Him and Him alone as your only true hope of pleasing God and knowing the promise of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  For you, and the “joy set before Him, (He) endured the cross, despising its shame, and is (now) seated at the right hand of God.” [Hebrews 12:2]

How does this change things?  It gives you hope.  Hope to continue following Jesus; hope to agree with the Word of God, even when it means disagreeing with family, friends, and even the entire community.  It means even in the middle of divisions, which the painful consequences of sin cause, you are not alone.  Jesus is watching and helping.  He cares and He will prove it to you!  Hold on; cling to Jesus.  Look to His cross and trust that His Word and His will is ultimately and always what is best for you.  Lay aside your sin that clings so closely to you and look to where He took that sin… the cross!  Look to your baptism as the day He taught you to look up at His death, resurrection, and ascension.  You are clean and free.  Run your race of faith but know that you aren’t running alone, even when the devil and the sinful philosophies of this world tell you otherwise.  Yes, Jesus is right there beside you, but then so are those great heroes of faith; so are we, the rest of the saints who agree with God and repent daily by turning to Jesus.

Who do we listen to?  We listen to Jesus even if it means division!  Yes of course we listen to Jesus, but which prophet of God is the right one?  Well, it’s the one that consistently speaks the message of repentance… the message of the cross.  The one who agrees with God’s Word in all things, and calls a sinful thing sinful, and a God pleasing thing good.  I pray that this message brings you clarity and peace, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!