PENTECOST 3, A – June 25, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 56; Jer. 20:7-13; Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 10:5, 21-33

     Everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.  (Matt. 10:32-33)

 

Ah, June 25th. Finally, it’s summer! It is a relaxing time, a time to kick back and take it easy. In the Church it’s time for familiar, easy-to-sing hymns and comfortable sermons and air conditioning and relaxing visits on the porch after the Service. It might even be time to take a Sunday off now and then to sleep in, or to enjoy a relaxing breakfast and an extra cup of coffee at home. So… why did I have to ruin it today by adding lengthy statements from the Augsburg Confession to our liturgy?

 Don’t blame me. It’s our heritage: that’s the problem! We’re members of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, so called because in the early 1830’s a group of Lutherans in Germany left their homes and familiar country, sailed across a dangerous ocean – one of their five ships, with all on board, was lost at sea – and settled in Missouri. They did this because they wanted to be able to worship God and teach His Word in the way they believed was right, which their ruler in Germany was not allowing them to do. So: they were stubborn Germans, those founders of our Church body! That’s why we can’t relax and take it easy in our faith!

 Oh, it goes back farther than them. The followers of Martin Luther’s teachings were willing in June of 1530 to have their heads cut off rather than keep quiet about them and worship in the Catholic way, as King Charles V had ordered them to do. As they knelt before him and offered their heads to his sword, he backed down. The next day, on June 25, he allowed them to read to him a summary of their faith, the Augsburg Confession. More stubborn Germans!

 The real reason, however, that we cannot relax and take it easy in our faith and worship and keep things simple and general and comfortable is not stubborn Germans but stubborn Jews, such as Jeremiah. He rebukes his people for a lazy faith that did not clearly confess their God alone but included other gods:

“Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their Glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:11-13)

Jeremiah is scorned and threatened even by his closest friends for his harsh words, which he would have preferred to not say. “[But] If I say, “I will not mention God, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jer. 20) Faith in the one true God is more than a gentle comfort. It is a burning fire that cannot be kept in.

 But frankly, the demand for a clear and certain confession of faith in the one true God comes from the stubbornest and most confrontational Jew of all: Jesus. He’s not content with being accepted as a well-known Rabbi, or even a great prophet. He has the audacity to say, “Everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” He speaks as if going to heaven depends upon confessing Him! Who does He think He is: God? Yes, He does! And you’d better believe that, too.

 We live in a day of lazy faith; lazy, not necessarily in its works – every religion encourages helping the homeless and needy and doing other such good and worthy works – but lazy in its content. This was expressed very clearly to me at the luncheon after Freddie Van Orsdel’s funeral on Thursday. Commenting on my sermon, in which I praised Freddie for her strong faith in Jesus as Lord, a man said to me, “Oh, every church loves to say that they have the truth. Yes, there’s only one God. And He’s called Mohammed, or Allah, or Buddha, or Jesus. It really doesn’t matter!” Bull crap!!! Listen, Freddie’s maiden name was Adolph. Do you think that if, in the 1940’s, someone had snapped a stiff-armed salute and said, “Heil!” to her, she would have laughed and been ok with that? Isn’t it just a name? Her response may have been more than “Bull crap!” Even more offensive is it to Jesus when He is not differentiated from, or even equated with, any other so-called god, for He is vastly different from them. It’s not just lazy. It’s offensive, and He will deny before His Father in heaven those of such lazy faith!

 The fear, of course, is that a certain faith, a faith that not only names the one God but denies other gods, will result in arguments and angry responses and even violence. It might. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master,” Jesus says. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul [the devil], how much more will they malign those of his household.” The difference with Jesus, however, is that He calls us to speak with gentleness and to endure attacks without responding in kind. He even tells us to pray for those who persecute us. Faith in Him is to be strong and sure, but also gentle and loving.

 For Jesus is gentle and loving. He willingly hid His glory and power and set aside His holiness to take upon Himself the sins of all people, become the worst of all sinners, and lay down His life to save us all from God’s judgment for our sins. He endured the judgment and speaks peace to us from God, forgiving our every sin, no matter how great. Eternal life with God is a gift from God in Christ alone, and a gift received by faith in Him alone. In Him God looks upon you with gracious love, not critical judgment! In fact, He watches over your every day and hour, and even numbers the hairs on your head.

 And so, do not be afraid to boldly and confidently declare your faith in Him as the true God and only Savior. Nothing happens apart from your heavenly Father’s knowledge and will. If He allows you to be spoken against and mistreated for your confession of Jesus, remember: Jesus will be speaking of you before His Father. You – your life and your ways – will be before Him always. You are of infinite value to Him! He will never allow you to fall.

 Let us, then, confidently say with God’s faithful confessors throughout the ages the words of the Psalmist: “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 56:10-11) To the praise and honor of Jesus, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, the one God, now and forever. Amen.