2 July 2017†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† St. Athanasius Lutheran Church
Pentecost 4††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† Vienna, VA
ďWhat Do You Want to Hear?Ē
Text: Matthew 10:34-42; Jeremiah 28:5-9; Romans 7:1-13
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes people just tell you what you want to hear. It could be because they just donít care. Sometimes theyíre being condescending. Or maybe they want something from you, and think theyíll get it by telling You what they think You want to hear. And if you know that, if you know thatís what theyíre doing, it makes you angry. Itís belittling. It means you really donít matter; theyíre the only ones that matter. Youíre just being used, abused, ignored, or pushed aside.
Sometimes politicians do that in order to get votes. Not all and not always, but it happens. The last election cycle was interesting because it was noted that people who were answering polls were telling the pollsters what they thought they wanted to hear instead of what they really thought. And so some of the polls were very wrong.
But itís not just politics. Sometimes children do it to their parents, spouses to each other, friends, too. Just say what they want to hear . . . It can even get absurd. Like when we tell the doctor that everythingís fine when itís really not. Maybe we do that because itís what we want to hear; what we want to believe. We donít want to deal with the truth.
Today we hear the truth from Jesus. We always get the truth from Jesus, but today it is a truth that we perhaps would rather not hear; that we would rather not believe; that we would rather not deal with. That the Christian life is not all candy and roses. In fact, the truth is that following Christ and His Word may put us at odds with the world, divide families, and even lead to you losing your own life. Clearly, Jesus is not fishing for votes here.
This is what the prophet Jeremiah also was dealing with in his day - some 600 years before Jesus came. And he was not the first. But at that time, there were other prophets - one we heard about today was named Hananiah - who were not speaking the truth, but were just telling the people what they wanted to hear. And in Hananiahís case, he was telling the people of Judah that everything was okay, they were okay, God was not unhappy with them, and in fact, was about to restore them and their kingdom and all that had been taken from them. And the people liked hearing that. They didnít have to repent or change; they were all good.
Jeremiah, on the other hand, was speaking something quite different. That the people were not okay - they were being unfaithful to the Lord; that God was not okay or happy with that; and that there was not restoration coming, but another military defeat and the people being hauled off as prisoners of war.
Of course, the people wanted to believe Hananiah. They liked his message better. But, Jeremiah said, which is the truth? The true prophet is not one who says what the people want to hear, but the one who speaks the truth. And not many years later, it was Jeremiahís word that came true. The nation was defeated in battle, the people taken as prisoners, and they lived as exiles for 70 years.
The Christian life is not easy because the truth of Godís Word goes against our very nature and what we want to be true. For the truth is, we, too, like the message of Hananiah more than the message of Jeremiah. We like those who tell us weíre okay just the way we are, that we donít have to change, that God likes us and will bless us and protect us because weíre pretty good people, try hard, and do our best.
But thatís not only not what Jeremiah said, itís also not what Jesus said today. For who of us lives up to His standard? Who of us is worthy of Him? Remember what He said? Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. If Jesus were living today, those stunning words would have been caught on someoneís cell phone video, played over and over again on the news, and His Messianic career would be over. Not what we want to hear, Jesus. Not what we want to hear.
Well, not just today. Then, too. Words like this from Jesus are what got Him put up on the cross. He didnít try to say what people wanted to hear. He didnít try to save His life, so He lost it. Brutally.
But because He did, there is life for us. Because He spoke the truth, we know the truth, unpleasant as it may be: that weíre not worthy of Him or eternal life. We do love others more than Him. We love our stuff more than Him. We love ourselves more than Him. And we try to save and hang onto what we love the most - our lives and reputations and activities and stuff, more than Christ and His truth. You can see it when we say things like: I know I shouldnít say this, but . . . I know I shouldnít do this, but . . . I know this is wrong, but . . . Weíre. Not. Worthy.
This is also what Paul was explaining to the people in Rome. This is the reason God gave the Law. That sin might be shown to be sin - in us! - and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. Sinful beyond measure. That we be shown to be not just a little sinful, but thoroughly sinful. Sinful through and through. Not one part good and one part bad. Sin-full. Sin-filled. Un-worthy. Of life or anything else from God. That may not be what we want to hear, but that is step one in receiving life from Jesus - knowing the truth about ourselves.
But unworthy does not mean unredeemable. Jeremiah spoke the truth and Jesus spoke the truth so that we would not only know the truth about ourselves, but so that we would know the truth about Him. That we would not look to ourselves for our hope, but look to Him. That we know the only way to worthiness is through Him. And specifically, His cross.
For, the apostle Paul said today, you are unworthy because you are obligated to fulfill Godís Law - all of it, perfectly, through and through - and you donít. And so you deserve death and eternal dying. And the only way to be set free from that obligation is to die. Because once you die, the Law doesnít have any control over you anymore. Paul uses the example of marriage - that once your spouse dies, you are free to marry again; youíre set free from the laws of marriage; they donít apply anymore.
So . . . notice whatís being said there. If we do not fulfill the Law perfectly weíre going to die, but the only way to be free from the obligation to keep the Law is to die, so weíre going to die either way. So why bother? Just do whatever you want. Donít worry about right and wrong. Because it doesnít matter if weíre all going to die anyway. And some people do live like that.
But what if there was a way to life? A way to die and be free from the obligation of fulfilling all the Law, and then live in that freedom from the Law? Wouldnít that be something? Wouldnít that be something worth knowing and living? So that we donít just live for a while and then die, but now also die and then live?
So Jesus said thatís what He came to do. Not just die on the cross, but die and then live. So that we can die and then live.
Or think of it this way: a knife in the hands of a criminal is a weapon of death. But a knife in the hands of a skilled doctor is transformed; it becomes an instrument of life. That is what Jesus did with the cross. For the cross wielded by Rome was a weapon of torture and death. But the cross with Jesus on it is transformed into an instrument of life. For on the cross Jesus gives His life to death, into order to take His life from death again. And in taking His life back again in His resurrection, provide that same life from death for you, too.
So on the cross Jesus becomes the unworthy one, Jesus becomes the sinner, Jesus takes the sword and division and loses His life. He takes all that your peace-shattering sin can throw at Him, and He dies for it. But because it was all thrown against Him, it is not thrown against you. Which is what He wanted. So that when He rises from the dead with new life, there is now nothing to throw against you. He already took it all. All those threats and stones and arrows of the Law satan was ready to hurl against you . . . are gone. He used them up on Jesus. So that you can have peace. Peace now, and peace forever. A new life now, a new way to live, a new hope and freedom.
And you get that now when you die and rise with Jesus now. Thatís baptism. For in those waters you donít do anything; but in those waters Jesus makes your sins His and His forgiveness yours; your death His and His life yours; your unworthiness His and His worthiness yours. That you come out of those waters a new person, with a new life, a new way to live, a new hope and freedom.
And thatís what happened to you. And itís what continues to happen to you also when you repent and receive absolution; when you repent and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus; when you read and hear the Word and promises of God in His Word and cling to them by faith. Life happens. You get the righteous oneís reward. You get the prophetís reward. New life. Gift life. Bonus life. Life from the dead. And youíre no longer living to die, but dying to live.
So while Jesus doesnít tell us what we wanted to hear, He tells us what we need to hear, and it turns out that thatís what we really wanted to hear all along - we just didnít know it. He doesnít tell us weíre okay, He tells us weíre forgiven. He doesnít tell us weíre good, He tells us that He has goodness for us. He doesnít tell us how to overcome sin and death, He tells us that He did it for us. So that we can now live. A new life. A new way to live. Not for ourselves, but for others. He lived for us, to set us free to live for others. A freedom even greater than our country celebrates this weekend.
So in Jesus, what we want and what we need is what we have. And if you disagree with that statement, think again . . . about what you really want and what you really do need. And that - just maybe - that really is what you hear and receive here. In Jesus.
In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.