Text: Jeremiah 23:16-29
Date: Pentecost XIII + Proper 15 + 8/14/16
What’s all this? Casting fire on earth, distress, no peace but division, divided against each other? ‘Sounds awful. Today’s lessons sound like reading the newspaper with all the world’s daily tragedies, turmoil, desperation and death. Then Jeremiah’s report of false prophets and the threats of “the storm of the Lord,” wrath, a whirling tempest, the anger of the Lord. “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” It’s bad enough having to endure the criticism and persecution of the world each day, but in line with the Gospel, today’s Introit says we will continue to have troubles and divisions even within our closest relations, even in the Church of all places. “It is not an enemy who taunts me—then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng” (Ps 55:13-14).
God’s Law does not speak only to the world around us then to be completely silenced as soon as you darken the doors of the Church where all is suddenly sweetness and light, love and joy. No, rather it is only in the Church, only in the family of the baptized that both God’s Law and Gospel can do their proper work. The world wrongly thinks that everyone who enters the door of a church are such good people or more disparagingly at least hypocrites. And maybe even we can deceive ourselves into thinking that we as Christians are pretty good compared to the general population of sinners. But God’s Law and Gospel will not allow us to be so deceived. For the Gospel of God’s love finds its home only in the hearts and minds of sinners who admit of their unworthiness, sin and enslavement to our fallen condition. So it is lest we forget or treat our sins lightly that God’s Word of Law is like fire, like a hammer, for it uncovers and shows that our sinful condition persists as long as we are in this world.
The world doesn’t think in terms of sin or guilt. Short of denying God’s existence altogether they ask, “what gives Him the right to judge me?” Rather we take the judgment into our own hands and find and declare that we’re a pretty good fellow, at least compared to the worse examples around us. But if you really are a pretty good fellow, not in need of God’s forgiveness or deliverance from sin, then you don’t need God’s Gospel, don’t want it, and won’t hear it. “Don’t bother me.”
The Gospel of God’s love finds its home only in the hearts and minds of sinners, those who know their need of God. In today’s Gospel Jesus warns that the division and separation caused by sin will even happen in our closest relationships, that is the family. Today the Prophet Jeremiah warns the family of God’s people, the Church, to be especially aware and watchful against the most destructive thing to God’s Word and our life together, namely, false doctrine.
There were false prophets “who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” In Jeremiah’s day they were giving the people the “okay” to dabble in the popular alternative of Baal worship. Besides that the priests and prophets were doing their own dabbling into all sorts of immorality.
I remember a pastor from my youth who always appeared in the pulpit with a big smile, a grin, really. His message? How glad he was to see us. Then he’d change the subject to the news of the day, the Viet Nam War, equal rights and the like and I wondered if Jesus had anything to do with it at all. I wonder if the false prophets in Jeremiah’s day grinned as they lied to their people, saying, “It shall be well with you,” and, “Don’t worry, no disaster shall come upon you.” That sounds like Gospel, but it’s not.
Of these false prophets the Lord says, “I did not send them, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.” A true prophet, as with a true priest or pastor must be called and sent by God not on their own initiative or imagined call. The prophets and apostles were, of course, called directly by God Himself revealing His Word to them. Their words and acts testified to their divine call because they spoke the truth in line with God’s revealed word and will. Ever since then priests or pastors first discern whether they are really being called by God by the study of God’s Word, the certification of the whole Church, and a divine call issued through the Church.
Still there are self-sent, self-determined preachers to this day verifying their claim to be called and sent by God, in the words of God through Jeremiah, saying, “I have dreamed. I have dreamed!” And I guess we shouldn’t be surprised how many people become their followers in hopes of finding answers. In the end God calls all self-invented religion “straw” having nothing in common with the finest “wheat” of God’s true, powerful word revealed and proclaimed through the inspired prophetic and apostolic scriptures.
The whole Bible and the entire history of the world are replete with departures from the truth and the promotion of false doctrine. So are we called to be ever vigilant and not afraid to be watchful against false teaching.
The threats we hear of today of fire and hammers, wrath and whirling tempest come to us, of course, as metaphors for God’s Law sent to wake us up to our need, to repent of our sin. But it was no metaphor when the climate literally changed that Friday to darkness over all the land in the middle of the day (Mt 27:45) when all of God’s righteous wrath was brought down upon the only One who could bear it, the only One sent by God to suffer the judgment and punishment we deserved. In Jesus’ death on the cross, His cruel, innocent suffering there, He fulfilled the Law for us and became the Gospel for our forgiveness and life. There He destroyed the power of death bringing life and salvation to everyone who believes.
Let us gladly hear, read, mark and learn God’s Law and Gospel, our lifeline to the great deliverance of God.