Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10 & Luke 4:43
Date: Epiphany IV + 2/3/13
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. He is blessed because He has come for us and He has appointed us to proclaim and to preach His coming. Jeremiah said, “I must preach” (Jer 1:7). Jesus said, “I must preach” (Luke 4:43). St. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). And I say today, “I Must Preach.” Speaking for all, we “must preach” because we have been called and sent by God to preach, to announce, to proclaim, to evangelize, to declare with all the baptized the wonderful deeds of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light; to announce the light of the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by faith in Christ. This divine “must” is compelling. Who knows how it comes to a person? It came to Jeremiah through “the word of the Lord.” It came to the man named Saul of Tarsus through a vision, a miracle and instruction. It comes to men today in many and various ways by means of the Spirit of God calling and forming and sending through the Church. It comes to all in Holy Baptism. It comes to us because Jesus has come. Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.
I must preach. The emphasis, however, is not on the “I,” the identity of the preacher. Jeremiah complained, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” Paul said, “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor 15:8-9). So it must be in all humility that we say, “I must preach.”
Last Sunday was, officially, “Life Sunday” as the Sunday following the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973 legalizing the abortion or murder of now fifty-eight million unborn children. Sticking with the lectionary for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, however, it was difficult to work in anything more than a mention in the sermon and in the prayers. When I read the beginning of the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, on the other hand—“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”—well, I decided we need to do a better job of speaking to the issue of life, and so today is “Life Sunday II” or, if you will, “Super-life Sunday.”
Those words spoken by the Lord to the man named Jeremiah were true for more than just him, but for everyone. It is true of every human being in the world, regardless of religion, parentage, place of origin or any other distinction that you were formed in the womb by God. “I formed you in the womb.” That is to say that human conception and birth is not and never has been the result merely of the physical facts involved that we know and can be explained. Who is it that put those facts into being in the first place? It is God the Creator who said to our original parents, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” (Gen 1:28), and to Noah and his sons and their wives after the flood the same command, “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Gen 8:17). So the Bible tells us, lest anyone forget, that every human being is created by God and without Him there is no creation or procreation. The Lord said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
Every person is created not only with a body but also with a soul, a personality. Those involved in abortion counseling report that the vast majority of women considering an abortion do not question whether the fetus is human. So that is not the question we need to address as much as other issues involved, whether it be of health, economics, family status or even convenience. So two questions for us today: what must we preach and to whom?
You Lutherans have a track record of being very good at, as C.F.W. Walther called it, the proper distinction between Law and Gospel, that is, knowing whether to proclaim God’s Law in all its severity or the Gospel in all its gentleness to whom and when it is appropriate.
I would have you notice that Jeremiah was being appointed as “a prophet to the nations.” The Lord said, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms.” Then follows an interesting list of “law and gospel.” The first four terms are Law, “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow.” The two terms at the end of the list are Gospel, “to build and to plant.” I would infer from this that whether we emphasize Law or Gospel depends on the audience, to whom we are speaking.
It is the same in today’s Gospel. Jesus “rebukes” three times. He rebukes the unclean demon in the man at the synagogue. He rebukes Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever. And He rebukes demons in those who came to Him when the sun was setting. That’s three strikes of the Law. Only at the end does Jesus say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns,” the Gospel.
We have done a respectable job in our preaching to the baptized, those who know repentance and faith, confession of sin and reception of forgiveness. Although even there a certain level of “political correctness” (or should we say “pastoral timidity”?) seems to influence our preaching so that we do not offend people too much. Even in church we tend to tone down the severity of the Law, God’s fifth commandment judgment against abortion and all murder, many times ostensibly for the sake of those who may have been personally involved with or affected by the sin of abortion. As in every other issue of sin and grace, however, “softening” or minimizing the Law may have the effect of also weakening the Gospel. Here, surrounded by God’s Word, gathering for God to serve us with His life-giving Word, this is the place to be honest, to confess our sin and to receive absolution and new life, new strength to live as God’s people even now in this dark, broken world.
And the world is broken. Yet, where we have not done a very good job until recently is in preaching to and addressing the nation, the general public. We have been slow to acknowledge that the Church does have a responsibility to preach, to speak and influence public opinion and morality and the governing authorities. Jeremiah was to preach to the nations. We pray in the psalm, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame” (Psalms 119:46). Jesus told His disciples, “you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:12). Martin Luther famously demonstrated this when he was ordered to appear before Charles the Fifth, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Our synodical President, Matthew Harrison, has recently also demonstrated this in his appearance before the congressional committee on the question of the freedom of religion in relation to the government’s demand of insurance coverage of contraception and abortion even by the Church.
I must preach. Under the compulsion of the Word of God I must call sin “sin,” immorality “immorality,” transgression “transgression.” For forty years the United States of America has officially encouraged what is sin in the eyes of God. Oh, it’s not the only sin. But it is one of the greatest, most egregious sins of our time.
So we speak the judgment of God’s Law where sin abounds extending the hope that is found only in the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. And we speak the beautiful Gospel to those who despair, who repent, who turn to God in hope, telling people in no uncertain terms and in no understated words, “There is no unforgivable sin!” In fact all sin has already been punished in the Body of Him who came to take away the sin of the world, Christ the crucified one who in victory is risen again and lives and reigns to all eternity. By faith in Him:
He lives to silence all my fears;
He lives to wipe away my tears;
He lives to calm my troubled heart;
He lives all blessings to impart.
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I [too!] shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there. (LSB 461)
With the prophets and apostles and with our Lord Himself we say, “I must preach.” We are compelled to speak the truth of God’s Word so that sinners may be delivered from their sin. We are to speak to one another and those who dare to gather in God’s presence in the Church, and we are to speak also to the public square and the governing authorities. We speak to bear testimony that abortion is the murder of beings as human as we whom God has created. We call the nation to repentance and repeal of this godless intrusion into a citizenry gathered around the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Lord, have mercy on us.