Sunday, June 25, 2017

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 91:1-10 (11-16)
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Everyone therefore who confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven.

Henry VIII did not like to receive bad news; he preferred hearing good news and he was likely to punish the messenger if someone told him something that he did not like. Men and women were cast out of his court when he did not like what they had to say. Those around him learned quickly never to say something that he would not like. It is natural for people to prefer good news. None of us like to hear that our plans have failed or that we have done something wrong. We donít like to hear that we are going in the wrong direction. Unfortunately, ignoring the truth always leads to deeper troubles.

Unfortunately, the people of Israel in Jeremiahís time were much like Henry VIII. They preferred good news. The self-proclaimed prophets of the day learned quickly that they would do much better if they gave the people, especially the kings and leaders, words that they wanted to hear. If they thought the king wanted peace, they spoke of peace as if it were coming right from the mouth of God. If they thought the king wanted to go to war, they promised that God was behind the war and that they would be victorious.

Jeremiah had no good news for the people. As a matter of fact, the words which God had given him to speak were hard for the people to hear. The words were so hard that Jeremiah was persecuted. It is impossible for a man to speak such truth when there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others making false prophecies and promises. They believed the warm fuzzies because they make them feel good. Besides, isnít there truth in numbers? Surely the majority is always right!

There are times when a majority is right, but we have to remember that there are consequences to our choices. Claiming peace when there is no peace means that weíll be shocked when something happens that is no peaceful. Unfulfilled prophecies and broken promises will cause doubt and rejection of God. Warm fuzzies of falsehood will never keep you warm on a cold winterís day.

When God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, Jeremiah surely had no idea how hard it would be. It would have been much easier for him if he could have been a prophet like all the others, speaking warm fuzzies to the kings and the people. He was shocked at how hard it would be to be the one who spoke the truth. The reality made him angry with God. The New International Version translates the first line, ďO Lord, you deceived me.Ē Yet, despite Jeremiahís hard words against God, he still had faith. Despite the persecution, Jeremiah still believed in Godís grace.

He would have preferred to give up his role as prophet. Isnít that what we would rather do? Like the courtesans of Henry VIII, it is much easier for us to just remain silent. We prefer, particularly in this world which demands our silence, to keep our faith to ourselves. We try to be faithful in the privacy of our own homes or in the comfort of our Christian congregations. We choose to allow others to continue to live their lives as they want even if we know that they need Jesus. After all, who are we to tell them what religion is right and what is wrong? It is even worse when it seems that we are speaking against the majority that insists we coexist. We donít want to suffer the persecution, so we simply remain silent.

Yet, God calls us to be His voice in this world; He sends us to tell people about God and their need for Him. We want to ignore the call, but we canít. Thereís something within us that demands our faithfulness to God. Jeremiah cried, ďIf I say, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name, then there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with forbearing, and I canít.Ē Jeremiah knew there was no way he could stop speaking Godís word to the world. In the end, his terror gave way to praise because he knew that whatever God planned would benefit His people in the end.

Can we truly praise God in the privacy of our homes and the comfort of our congregations when He is calling us to go out in the world to speak His Word to those lost in sin and darkness? We might avoid persecution, but are we being faithful and obedient by being silent?

We donít have to be afraid of the persecution. In the Great Commission which Jesus gave to the disciples at the end of their time together, which we heard several weeks ago, Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations and that He would be with us wherever we go until the end of the age. During the season of Pentecost we will be reading through the center chapters of Matthewís Gospel, watches as Jesus teaches the disciples how to do the work He is calling them to do. In this text He tells them not to be afraid of those who can cause harm to the body because He can save the soul.

We may suffer for speaking Godís Word into the world. Unfortunately, Christians are being persecuted. Some are being beheaded. Others are losing their children as enemies kidnap them or governments take them away. Yet others are having their reputations and businesses destroyed. Churches have been burned. Too many have been led down paths that seem faithful but do not remain true to Godís Word for the sake of tolerance or acceptance. Anyone who speaks against this way of faith supposedly does not understand Godís unconditional love; they are rejected for standing true to Godís unwavering holiness.

There are people in this world who are willing to risk their own lives to do what they think they are called to do, which is to kill their enemies. The terrorists and extremists believe that death will lead them to a promise and they are willing to do whatever is necessary to be obedient to their beliefs. They promote their religion with fear and demand complete submission. The consequence for those unwilling to surrender is destruction and death. We are not called as Christians to kill our enemies in the city streets, but can you imagine the world if we were as bold with the mission we have been given?

We are called to speak the Gospel, to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are given the power and authority to cry out for repentance and to invite our neighbors to experience the forgiveness that God has promised. We are called to invite our neighbors into the Kingdom of God so that they might die to self and live for God. If we were as bold as those terrorists, fearlessly preaching the Gospel even when we know that they will reject us and possibly harm us, then many would come to faith. See, for every person who rejects the word of God, there are more who hear and believe. Godís Word does not return to Him void, so while there are those who will reject the reality of their sinful nature so that they might be forgiven, others will see the truth and the truth will set them free.

We donít do it, do we? We live in a world that has decided that it is wrong, perhaps even unchristian, to convince people that they need Jesus. We arenít supposed to tell people they are sinners. We are supposed to tolerate everyoneís point of view and accept everyoneís gods. So, instead of taking the Gospel to all nations, we conform to the world. We embrace the fear and reject the One who has saved us from real harm. We hide in the privacy of our homes and the comfort of our congregations.

Jesus says, ďTherefore donít be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven.Ē But He doesnít leave it there: He warns us, ďBut whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.Ē We canít simply praise God in hiding. We must boldly confess our faith before the world no matter what might happen to us. We truly show God that we trust Him when we are willing to say the words that no one wants to hear. He has promised to be with us until the very end of the age. He has promised that death will not lead to death.

We havenít been saved from physical death. There was once commercial for some fancy water. The commercial showed a man take a drink of the water and suddenly realize that he was walking on bubble wrap. The voice over said, ďIt helps protect your body.Ē So, the man went around the city doing ridiculous things, things you could not do if there were not bubble wrap on everything. He rolled down a huge set of steps. He jumped into a wall. He rode an elevator to the top of a skyscraper and jumped off. The water might have been healthy, but it would never really save a person who leapt from the top of a very large building. The water may have had very real advantages, but those who drank it would eventually suffer pain, disease and death.

We are not immortal now that we are Christian. As a matter of fact, we have died, like Christ, through baptism. We are dead and we donít have to fear death because death actually means life for us. See, death is just the beginning of the life God has promised we will live in His kingdom. This does not mean we should be like the man in the commercial seemingly seeking death by risking our lives in ridiculous ways. It means that we donít have to be afraid to do what God is calling us to do, because we can trust that God will take care of us if we do experience persecution.

We werenít saved from death so that we can hide in our homes or church and worship God privately. We are called to the life of a prophet, one who tells the world about Jesus Christ and who invites them to repentance. This life God has called us to means that we might have to speak words that our neighbors do not want to hear. We have to tell people the truth. We have to bring light to the darkness and reveal what is hidden. We have to say what the other prophets refuse to say. We have to give them the bad news. But in the end we have even greater news, ďYes, you are a sinner, but I want you to meet Jesus. He died so you can live. Believe in Him and you wonít have to pay the price for your sin; He has already done it for you.Ē

You might think that you are just an ordinary Christian, but you are a prophet; God has sent you to take His Word to His people. Being a prophet is never going to be easy. We will face the difficulties of those who want to harm us because we donít conform to their expectation. But Paul reminds us that the difficulty is not only outward. We have to face the reality that despite what Jesus did for us, we will never be perfect. We will continue to sin. We will continue to make mistakes. It is, perhaps, our imperfections that will make it most difficult for the world to believe us when we speak.

But weíve been saved for a purpose. God is with us through it all, and He will do what is necessary to make us into His prophets. With His help, we must be transformed into something new. If we lie, we must stop lying. If we cheat, we must stop cheating. If we use revolting language, we must stop using it. God will help, but it is up to us to work at not doing those things that disappoint Him. ďGo and sin no more,Ē He says. Just because we have been saved doesnít mean that God is entirely pleased with our lives. He continues to work in us and on us so that we can be all that He has created and redeemed us to be.

After all, how will anyone respond to the Gospel if we continue to let sin reign in our mortal bodies? We are under grace, and so we no longer have to let sin have dominion over us. God is with us. He will take care of us. He will help us defeat the sin that tries creeping into our lives every day. The more we are aware of our own sinful behavior, the more we can work at avoiding the things that displease God. We are slaves now to God, and as servants of the Master we are called to a life of pleasing Him. That means being obedient to all that He has taught us. That means avoiding the things that still want to enslave us, the things that make us conform to the world.

Paul reminds us that while we might have been free to do whatever we wanted before we were Christian, that doesnít mean we were free. We were slaves to sin, and as a slave to sin our fruit was not good. The end of sinful behavior and a nature of sin is death. But we have been given new life, a life of righteousness. Yes, we are now slaves to that life, but now we produce fruit that is good and God pleasing. We produce fruit that will make the world a better place. We produce fruit filled with love and hope and peace. As a slave to God and righteousness, we are embraced by His grace and continually sanctified so that on that day when we will meet Him face to face, we will be everything He has created and redeemed us to be. On that day we will receive the promise in full: eternal life. God is faithful to His promises and even when it seems like the world wants to destroy us, we know that we cannot really be destroyed.

I have to admit that I am afraid. I donít mind admitting that Iíd rather hide in my home or congregation. I even say that I am ready for the end; ďCome, Jesus, ComeĒ is my battle cry. He could come today or it may not be for a thousand years, so while we wait, we canít be afraid of those who have threaten to kill the body. We know they canít kill the soul. My fear is less of them and more that Iíll fail. How could God possibly choose someone like me to be a prophet? Iím nobody. Iím ordinary. I sometimes canít even get those who love me to listen or to understand what Iím trying to say. How can God ever think I could speak to the world?

But thatís the point of these texts, isnít it. We arenít speaking; we are called to let God speak through us. It isnít our words that matter, but Godís Word. We donít need to be afraid because we are already dead but He has promised us eternal life. When the world rejects us, even if it is our closest relatives, we can go on knowing that God can make miracles in the most extraordinary circumstances. See, every person who believes the Gospel is a miracle. They believe by Godís hand, by Godís grace, by Godís Word. And we are called to share in the making of these miracles, even if we have to experience persecution or death to do so.

But we need not be afraid. As the psalmist says, ďHe who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.Ē God is with us. Jesus will be at our side wherever we may go. The Holy Spirit will guide us in the right paths and give us the words to speak. We have no reason to fear because God is our refuge and our strength. The world may not want to hear what we say, but it truly is Good News that burns within us to be spoken. Let us boldly preach the Gospel, praising God with our willingness to risk everything to be obedient to His calling as His prophets in this world.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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