06 August 2017

Just another

Ho hum Sunday at St. Paul's... NOT!!! 

Bach's Auf meinen lieben Gott for Prelude... the lovely Divine Service 3 reverently sung and prayed... during the offering, J. Walther's Ich sterbe täglich... postlude Erhalt uns Herr by D. Buxtehude... and then this STUNNING homily by Pr. Gleason:

Sermon for Trinity 8 2017
Matthew 7:15-23 • Rev. William Gleason
God's word to us this Sunday is filled with serious warnings. "Do not listen to self-proclaimed prophets," He cautions. "God's wrath and anger will go forth because of them." "Watch out for ravenous wolves who will not spare you," He warns. "Beware!" of all these deceivers. I think alarms and air horns should have gone off before each reading to wake us all up to our Lord's great concern in this matter of false teachings.
Not that such a clamor would affect most people in this sleeping world. It would be like car alarms going off in a parking lot. Who listens or cares about those anymore? We just keeping moving on, ignoring the noise. That's pretty much the way people hear God's word today. It's just more annoying prattle to put up with.
Besides, they'd ask, what's the big deal? If somebody has a new religion or way of life, who cares? Maybe it's a better way. Isn't "diversity our strength," including religious diversity? [No!] Besides, who are you Christians to say what religion or philosophy is true or false?
Of course, it isn't we poor sinners who make that judgment, but the Author of the one, true religion: Christ, our Lord. And what is the big deal our Lord is concerned about? Well, He tells us through His prophet Jeremiah, "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes." Let the gravity of those words sink in. The problem with false prophets, of any stripe, is the futile hope they proffer in their words.
Doesn't that address so precisely the dreams of people throughout the ages, but maybe especially 21st century people? The desire for some kind of hope? Hope for such simple things as prosperity, or employment, or better health. Hope for loftier things, too, like freedom and world peace. Why, our last U.S. president campaigned on that one desire: HOPE.
There is certainly nothing wrong with hope. In 1 Corinthians 13, hope is listed as one of the abiding virtues of Christian life along with faith and love. St. Paul wrote that "hope does not put us to shame" (Rom. 5:5) and that we ought to "rejoice in hope" (Rom. 12:12). Hope is a vital part of our Christian religion.
The very serious problem God warns us about are vain hopes, and the words men use to fill our hearts with such hollow dreams. You've heard it many times. "This product guarantees you cleaner bathrooms, whiter teeth, slimmer figures, happier children, and guilt-free desserts." "If you will only believe, and support this healing ministry with a small donation of $1000, you can be well again." "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan."
Those examples are ones that most people won't fall for, at least not all of the time. The empty promises of hucksters, faith-healers, and politicians are usually easily seen. The more difficult to identify, and the most tempting, are promises made by self-proclaimed prophets. Their words appeal to the soul's desire for God, and for justification of its mortal, desperate existence. The human soul seeks the divine. The human heart desires the eternal things are out of its reach. And the prophet that dangles before the eyes of longing, spiritually hungry people is sure to find someone to listen…and who will get caught up in his false dreams. Just like a wolf that skulks around the edge of the sheep fold waiting for a wandering lamb to come its way.
This is what Jeremiah, Paul, and our dear Lord Jesus are warning us about: vain hopes. And not just hopes that only disappoint us in this world, like fad diets and lottery tickets, which only rob us of our pride and a few bucks. God wants us to beware of the vain hopes that rob us of our soul and eternal life with Him.
The motive and the manner of these prophets are described clearly in our lessons. Paul warned against men "speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them." Jeremiah was stronger in his admonition. The false prophets not only filled people with "vain hopes," their lies were to make people "forget [God's] name by their dreams…even as their fathers forgot [His] name for Baal." And Jesus pointed out how deceptively convincing are these prophets; they will say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" In other words, they will sound and look like pious, godly men; but, inwardly, they are ravenous wolves drawing people away from God's sheepfold.
And if the motive and manner of these liars doesn't cause you to fear, then the result of their preaching should: God's anger, wrath, and eternal rejection of these "workers of lawlessness" and those who follow them.
So, what is the difference between the vain hopes of the false prophets and the true hope that St. Paul wrote about? Very simply, it is the living hope we have in Christ Jesus, our incarnate, crucified, resurrected and ever-living Lord, God and Savior. Our gracious, heavenly Father who created us is also the merciful, loving Father who redeemed us through His Son.
What God knows, and the false prophets don't, is that man cannot redeem himself, no more than he can create himself. The hopeless vanity of man-made dreams and promises stems from our utter inability to justify ourselves and our actions before God. Man's desire for the divine, his hunger for a holiness alien to him, cannot and will not be satisfied by human works. And to hold out the hope that men and women can and may do so is, indeed, vain. It is, as the Spirit said through Jeremiah, wicked.
Furthermore, the anger and wrath that is the just reward of all sin and lawlessness is not part of the false prophet's preaching. Quite the contrary. The sanguine message of the phony prophet is as Jeremiah wrote: "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.'" And, of course, that is exactly what the self-justifying sinner wants to hear.
God's anger and wrath must and will be "burst upon the head of the wicked." But, that word of the Lord condemns every sinner that ever lived, lives now, and ever will be born. How can any man, woman, or child ever find hope to escape the "whirling tempest" of God's just wrath?
Well, our only hope is found in what both Jeremiah and Paul called the "council of God." Jeremiah foretold, "The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly." What are the "intents of [God's] heart" that we will understand in the "latter days"? It is, as Paul said, the "word of His grace." It is the "council of God" by which the Holy Spirit gathers God's Church, "which He obtained with His own blood." The "council of God" is the Gospel of forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus Christ.
The opening words from the book of Hebrews say, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son." These are the "latter days" that Jeremiah referred to. And God's Son is the one that makes us understand the "intents of [God's] heart."
God's intent was to turn His anger toward His Son. To "burst upon His head" all of God's wrath toward the wicked. Jesus, the holy, pure, and innocent One became for us the most wicked and lawless One by taking on the sin of the whole world. He "was made sin" for our sake. And by this inscrutable wisdom of God, He redeemed His fallen creation. Only through the atoning death of God's Son, did God obtain His Church with His own blood. This is the message that gives true hope and eternal life. The cross of Christ is the "healthy tree" that bears the "good fruit" of forgiveness of sins, freedom from death, and the hope of salvation.
And, on the Last Day, Christ will judge the living and the dead. And, for those who "despise the word of the Lord," it will definitely not be well with you. And "everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart," great disaster will definitely come upon you. But for those who "do the will of [Jesus'] Father," there will be an eternal kingdom to enter in and be welcomed. And the will of the heavenly Father is simply this: to believe on His Son, whom He sent to atone for all of our sins, and to hear and abide in His word. Amen.
... so yeah, we are major blessed in both musician and pastors. Together they served us up some rich and wonderful fare this day. Thank you, kind Father!

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