Monday, February 4, 2013

Epiphany 4 of Series C (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the prophet Jeremiah. Dear friends in Christ, have you ever heard talk about the ‘call of God?’ So often when we hear of it, it is some abstract idea, it is spoken of as something inward that we must discern. Christians ask themselves, ‘what is God calling me to do?’ and they search inside for the proper answer. But when we only look inside of ourselves for the calling of God, we are looking in the wrong place, for God calls us externally, just as He called Jeremiah. “Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” The Word of the Lord comes from outside of Jeremiah and calls him, in fact declaring that he had been appointed a prophet from conception. The word translated here as ‘consecrate’ has the sense of being called to be set apart for a purpose, the purposes of God. Jeremiah was called out of all of his people from the womb to be their prophet. In the same way, on the day that you were brought to the baptismal font, God consecrated you, He called you out of the midst of all people and set you apart to be His child, to be covered with the blood of Christ, to be one of his disciples in this world.

In a real sense God is not doing us any favors by calling us through Baptism. Through that washing, we have been given a legion of enemies, all seeking to destroy us. An unbaptized person is a friend of Satan and the world, he has nothing to fear from them. But you and I who are baptized, we are called out of the midst of Satan’s friends and allies, and now we are his sworn enemy. I am convinced that we do not think about this nearly often enough, for if we did, we would truly be terrified. Satan is real, and he aims to carry you, me, and every one claimed by the waters of baptism down to hell with him. What Jesus says to Peter at the end of Luke’s Gospel is also true of us: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” In our culture today, and especially in Christianity today, it is popular to ignore Satan’s existence, but he is constantly working through our sin and the sin of others to destroy our faith. In fact, he is quite satisfied with being overlooked, for he has a powerful ally in our world, which is no friend to us, but instead despises our faith and wishes to lead us into the gutters of sin. Satan can threaten us much more effectively under the cover of the world’s agenda. He has convinced our world that unborn children are not human, that sex, marriage, and family have no connection, that sin is really no big deal, but simply a matter of personal choice. And Christians have played right into his hand by overlooking our enemy. But make no mistake, you are under attack, and your enemies are playing for keeps.

Jeremiah did think about what we too often refuse to, he knew the terrible forces arrayed against him, and he was petrified. “Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’” Even at that young age, he knew the cost of God’s calling, he knew that he would have a persistent enemy, seeking to destroy his faith in his God. He knew that he would be sent as one man against a nation, calling his people to repentance, declaring that their sin was about to lead to catastrophe. He knew that he would call out the people where they were most sensitive, going after their many sins. He knew that men would hate him for his message, because his message would be the Word of God. He knew, and he was terrified.

“But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a youth;” for to all whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.’” We have much to fear with a world that hates us and an enemy that will not quit, but the Lord does not leave us in fear. He instead delivers us from that fear by taking on the powers that threaten us. He promised Jeremiah that “I am with you to deliver you,” a promise that was only completely fulfilled when He became man to dwell with us, and He dwelt with us to deliver us. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, was born of a virgin and walked this earth to do battle with our enemies. He drove Satan from people, destroyed the effects of sin as He healed disease, just as we heard in our Gospel lesson today. He was our brother, bearing our flesh; He was the presence of God with us to deliver us.

The word ‘deliver’ in our text for today has almost a violent sense, the idea of God tearing us away from the clutches of our enemies. Satan thought he had us right where he wanted us, in the clutches of sin, condemned to death, with no way out. But Jesus Christ came to rip us from those that held us captive, and He did this by submitting to our penalty in our place. He let our enemies rage against Him, for while they had no hold over Him, He had taken on all of our sin and guilt, all that Satan wished to accuse us of, and He took it all to the cross. There He crushed Satan’s head by shedding His Blood for you and me. And when He rose again on the third day, He rose victorious over our enemies, and He tore us out of their clutches. We no longer have to fear Satan and this world, for Christ has triumphed over them, He came and fulfilled God’s promise through Jeremiah: “I am with you to deliver you.”

God did not only speak these words of promise to Jeremiah, He confirmed them with a touch. “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth.” When Isaiah cried out to the Lord about His sin, God removed his sin with a touch. In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus heals with the power of His word, but He also heals with a touch. “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them.” God knows that we are fleshly creatures, we crave the assurance of physical contact, we cannot subsist on words alone. This is one of the reasons He took on our flesh and blood in the first place. But now that he has ascended into heaven, how can we receive this assurance in a world filled with our enemies? We know that they have been defeated by Christ, but how can we endure their continual onslaught alone?

God touched Jeremiah to assure him of the promise, but also to place him in the office of proclaiming that promise. “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’” He was to proclaim God’s word to His people, to embody that word as God’s called and appointed prophet, his task was the proclamation of Law and Gospel: “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Today, God continues to appoint men, to call them out from the midst of their brothers and sisters to proclaim His word to His people. And those men are placed into the pastoral office with a touch. At ordination, other pastors lay their hands on a man, declaring that God has placed that man into the office of preaching, the office of administering the sacraments, the office of caring for the flock entrusted to him. Ordination is the assurance to you, me, and all Christians that God has called this man and appointed him to bring the Word of God to you, to proclaim that Word in the midst of a world that rejects it.

Therefore, the only task of a pastor is to bring the gifts of Christ to His people- it is not about him, in fact, he cannot let himself get in the way of what Jesus has given him to do. Our Lord knows that we cannot endure in the midst of our enemies without a constant shower of forgiveness and love, the deliverance that Christ won through the cross and empty tomb. And it is no surprise that Christ delivers those gifts through a real, fleshly person, one whom He has appointed for the task. Jesus heals through a touch, the touch of water as it is poured upon your head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the touch of His very Body and Blood given upon your lips, hidden under bread and wine, which cleanses you from your sin. The touch of a hand, as in private Confession and Absolution Christ’s forgiveness is spoken to you once again. Each and every time that you gather here for the Divine Service, God once again does what he did for Jeremiah. He speaks His word of comfort and peace, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord,” and He acts, “Then the Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth.”

In the midst of this sinful world, a world filled with those opposed to the Gospel, Jesus Christ provides to us the gifts that He won for us. He does not leave us alone, but instead comes to us with His forgiveness, physically touching us with His salvation. On this very day, Jesus Christ comes to you to touch your lips with forgiveness, life, and salvation. You dine with the Lord of heaven and earth this day, who has defeated your enemies and will continue to strengthen you until that Day when He delivers you from this veil of tears and brings you into the eternal glory He won for you, Amen.

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