Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sermon for Eighth Sunday after Trinity - Jer 23:16-29

          Trinity 8
                                                                                                Jer 23:16-29

            During the last two weeks or so I have started to use Twitter.  Twitter, for those of you who do not do much online, is a very popular social media platform. It is in some ways similar to Facebook, but since you are limited to 140 characters per post – or “tweet” as they are called – they are far shorter and concise. 
            Now I have had a Twitter account for some time and if you look you will see that I have made 4600 “tweets.”  But in fact almost none of those occurred on Twitter itself.  In order to get my blog out in the cyber world a Lutheran pastor had shown me how to set it up so that certain kinds of items posted on Facebook also get posted automatically on Twitter – and vice versa.
            I have started using Twitter more because I have found that it is a great way to get current news and commentary from interesting people.  It works on the basis of “following” and “followers.” You set it up so that “follow” someone, and thus all their tweets appear in your feed.  The number of people who have done this is the number of “followers” you have. So I have 222 followers.  President Harrison has 1300 followers.  Taylor Swift as 61 million followers.
            I have been interested to learn, however, that not everyone on Twitter is real.  In fact it is estimated that at least one in ten Twitter accounts is fake.  There is a whole industry that produces, sells and runs automated Twitter accounts called “robots” or “bots.”  People purchase the service of these robot accounts – tens and hundreds of thousands of them. They do this so that their “followers” base looks bigger. This makes them they look more popular and also influences the way their account gets promoted on Twitter.  So if I wanted to pass President Harrison I could buy 1500 of these robot accounts.
            But that’s not the only kind of fake Twitter account.  There are impersonator accounts that parody real people.  This is legal, as long as the title has something in it to indicate it is not the real one.  And while I use the word “parody,” much of what goes on is not funny.  In fact Tony LaRusse tried to sue Twitter over a vulgar account like this.
            And then there are occasions when someone sets up an account and pretends to be someone else. This happened to a writer named JoBeth McDaniel.  She realized one day that there was someone using an account that had her name and picture.  The impostor was tweeting rambling statements about eating pizza and smoking marijuana.  And it turned out that the fake JoBeth had garnered more followers than the real JoBeth!  The problem was that the real JoBeth was in the process of applying for a big new job, and the last thing she wanted was for the prospective employer to search the internet about her and find these tweets that she certainly did not send.
            In our Old Testament lesson today, Yahweh uses the prophet Jeremiah to condemn prophets who were speaking in Judah with messages that he had not sent.  They were speaking lies that were misleading the people into disaster.  Instead of calling people to repentance they were leading them further astray.  The prophet’s words remind us this morning that speaking God’s Word is no small thing. We are called to listen to what God actually says, and to share this truth with others.
            The prophet Jeremiah wrote at the beginning of the sixth century B.C. and lived in the southern kingdom of Judah.  Judah was all that was left of God’s people. The northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and the entire population had been taken away into exile.  In their place, the Assyrians had brought in peoples from other parts of their empire as part of the “population swapping” that they used to control conquered peoples.
            Now, Judah faced the threat of the Babylonian Empire, the new superpower in the near eastern world who had taken out the Assyrians.  Yet if the external situation was bad, the internal one was even worse.  The people had been carried away in the worship of false gods from the surrounding pagan peoples.  In fact, the images of false gods had been brought into the temple itself in Jerusalem.
            The people who were supposed to teach the nation about God’s will which had been revealed in the Torah, were not doing it.  Instead they themselves were living in sinful ways.  Just before our text Jeremiah wrote, “Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the LORD.”  He went on refer to the past about Samaria, the now destroyed capital of the northern kingdom and said, “In the prophets of Samaria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Baal and led my people Israel astray. But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.”
            In our text this morning, Yahweh’s instruction is very clear.  Jeremiah writes: “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. They 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.’”
            The prophets were speaking their own word, not Yahweh’s.  They were telling people who despised God’s Word and followed their own sinful heart: “No problem.  It’s all good.”  God says the problem with these fake prophets is that they have not stood in the council of the Lord to hear the real word of God.  If they had then things would be very different.  He says in our text: “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people,
and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.”
            As we listen to our text, it is hard not to think about the world in which we live today.  The problem was that the false prophets were not speaking the word of the Lord to the people. They were not saying the hard things.  They were not saying that Yahweh is the true God and that every other one is a false god – is a nothing.  They were not confronting sin and calling people to repentance.
            If you have been paying attention at all, you will notice that what I just said describes a big chunk of Christianity in America.  It describes a big chunk of those in the United States who identify themselves as “Lutheran.”  There is a refusal to say that Jesus Christ alone is the only way God has revealed by which sins are forgiven and a person can have eternal life with God. There is a refusal to call sin a sin – especially if it has anything to do with sexual activity.
            The root cause of this is a matter of how people view God’s Word – the Scriptures. Is it the authoritative Word from God that determines how life is to be? Or is it a word from man about God which we can sift and sort for the parts we keep based on our desires and wishes? You know what Jeremiah’s answer to that question was.
            Yet the truth of the matter is that you can’t get away from the question that easily.  For you see it is one thing to say it is the authoritative word from God that determines how life is to be.  It is another thing to acknowledge that it determines how your life is to be.  In our text Yahweh says, “Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”
            You don’t want to face the hammer of the law.  God’s word confronts you with the things you put before God – the things you show that you value more because you give them more of your time, attention and money.  It confronts you with the ways you love yourself more than your spouse, your sibling, your family members.  It confronts you with the ways that you nurse anger and hate in your heart, and then look for opportunities to act upon it.
            God’s Word is a hammer that breaks rocks into pieces. It shatters the way you want to do things and calls it what it is: sin.  But it is a word that God means for your good.  It is a word that calls you to repentance.  It is a words that forces you to confess your sin and all of the ways that you have no righteousness.
            Martin Luther called this work of the law God’s “alien work.”  By this he meant that God does not desire to judge.  He does not desire to condemn. Instead, over and over in the Old Testament we hear the words that the Lord is “gracious and merciful, slower to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  Being gracious and loving is what Luther called God “proper work.” It’s what he really wants to do.
            And the evidence of this is our Savior Jesus Christ, who in fact appears in the same chapter of Jeremiah as our text.  For earlier in chapter 23 we read: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.”
            Those who have been in Bible class will immediately recognize that this is a promise about the Messiah descended from King David.  God sent his Son into the world as the incarnate One, Jesus the Messiah.  He came to offer himself on the cross as the sacrifice for your sin and then to rise from dead.  He is your righteousness because he has taken away all your sins.  Baptized into his saving death you have been clothed with Christ and so now he gives his righteousness to you.  He gives you the ability to stand before God – not on the basis of what you have done but because of what he did for you.
            The message about God’s love in Jesus Chris is Gospel – it is good news.  And who doesn’t want to focus on good news? Who doesn’t want to speak about love?  It is easy to speak about God’s love.  But God’s love comes in the shape of a cross.  And where there is the cross there you have sin in the picture.  This means that as Christians we can never stop speaking the hard things; the things people don’t want to hear – because they are true things. They are true because they come from God. We can never stop speaking them to one another because it is in repentance and faith that we stand forgiven.  And we can never stop speaking them to others because it is only in the recognition of sin that we can understand the depths of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.


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