Monday, June 23, 2014

Proper 7 of Series A (Jeremiah 20:7-13)

“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.” O Lord, you lied to me, you tricked me, I was betrayed. I heard your preachers, on TV and in best-selling books, talking about the victorious Christian life. They told me that being a Christian meant going from glory to glory, living the good life, the life of one who had the God of the universe on his side. Christianity had all the answers, all that I needed to be prosperous and secure, to live my best life now. I’ve been set free, free from my shackles, free from the slavery of sin, but life was better when I was bound. My chains are looking awfully enticing now, because freedom has given me nothing but trouble. Being a Christian was supposed to make life better, but my life has never been worse. “I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.” O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. I was tricked by your commission. You told me, you told the entire Church that all authority belonged to you, and now it was our task to go forth and baptize all nations, teaching them to obey everything you have told us. It seemed so easy; what could be simpler than taking the victory of the crucified and risen One into the world He rules over in majesty? The God of the universe, the Lord of heaven and earth, is supposedly on our side, but I’m not seeing it. You have abandoned us, you have left us; if you are with us, why do we suffer so?

“O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.” The task you have given to the Church, the task you have given to me as a Christian, is impossible. Didn’t I tell you I was unworthy? I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” I told you I couldn’t do it, that I would be a failure, but still you sent me into this world. How can I, a sinful, weak human being, bring your Word to sinners? Do I have any credibility? I can hear them saying ‘hypocrite’ from a mile away! I know myself, I know my own sin, my own weakness. I know that I stumble with words, that I choose the wrong times, that I miss opportunities. You are going to let your mission to the world rest upon my shoulders? You’ve chosen the wrong man, given him the wrong mission, you tricked me into an impossible task with sweet words.

O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. I never knew that it would be this hard. I never knew that doors would be shut in my face, that people would refuse to listen, that some would hate me and speak behind my back. “For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and a derision all day long.” You have saddled me with the task of speaking a Word that the world hates, a Word that calls the world to repentance, that condemns the sin of those around me, and—big surprise!—people don’t like that one bit. They want nothing to do with hearing their behaviors called ‘sin.’ And that’s even before I get to the Gospel. Far more offensive and hateful is the message of the cross, that only through you, Jesus, is found deliverance from sin.

The world hates me, the world hates the Church, because it hated you: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his own household?” They hated you because you pointed out their need for salvation by preaching the Law; they hated you because you pointed to yourself alone as that salvation. They hated you so much they plotted against you and put you to death. And as I know very well, a disciple is not above his master. “For I hear many whispering. Terror is on every side! ‘Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ say all my close friends, watching for my fall. ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we can overcome him, and take our revenge upon him.’” All around the world, Christians are taken from their homes and forced to flee, they are even killed in numbers that are staggering. Every day, your words come true: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Speaking the Gospel in some parts of the world is a death sentence; that is why so many come here, where we still have freedom.

But freedom cannot protect me from the insults of others, the rejection of the world because of you. I speak the Law to a friend, concerned about the path they are on, and they don’t repent, they stop talking to me. I speak the Gospel to a family member, inviting them to come to worship with me, and they roll their eyes, they harden their hearts, they whisper about me. The Word of the Lord is a burden upon my shoulders, and it becomes heavier with every family member that doesn’t want anything to do with the Church, with every friend who insults me behind my back, with every moment of rejection.

And so I’ll refuse to speak it anymore. If your Word carries such a price, then I’ll refuse to pick up the tab. O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived, but no longer. I will shut my mouth, I will be just like the unbelieving masses all around me. Then my life will be better, I will live at peace with the world, but not with my heart. “If I say, ‘I will not mention Him, 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.” Your Word will not remain trapped inside me, it must get out, it must be proclaimed. Your Word is not meant to be trapped and hidden safely away, it is meant to be preached, to be spoken and taught to the world around me. It will not let me get away with being a private Christian. I now understand what Paul said: “If I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Your Word is always a burden; it is a burden if I speak it and face the wrath of the world, and it is a burden if I refuse to speak.

For the Christian is called upon to speak of Christ. There is no other way. Your Word will not long remain in one who traps it within his own chest. You call on me to speak that Word no matter the consequences, no matter what this world does to me. “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” You have not called me to a personal, private faith; you have called me to a faith that trumpets itself loudly throughout the world, speaking with boldness to those who will listen and those who refuse. You have not called me to an easy path; you have called me to give up of myself, to lay down even my life if necessary. But you have not called on me to do this alone.

“The Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.” I am not alone. Though this world rages against me, still will I stand confident, for I know the future of those who attack the Church. My persecutors will stumble, they will not overwhelm me, for I have One on my side who has already conquered them, who has passed through death and the grave on my behalf, triumphing over all those who attack me. The Lord is on my side as a dread warrior; He carried the fight to the enemy, and He defeated sin, death, and the devil, the instigators of my suffering in this world. The victory has already been won; I can say with the psalmist: “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Man has no claim upon me; God does, through the death and resurrection of His Son. This world can harm my body; it can insult me, persecute me, even put me to death, but it has no power over me. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” My Lord is the One who has delivered my soul and defeated my enemies; there is no need to fear, I am not alone, and I will never be alone. One day, O Lord, I will see you uplifted in triumph far above your enemies, far above my enemies. “O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” O Lord, my sufferings in this world are real, but they have a termination, they will end, for you are with me, you have defeated my enemies, your resurrection is the proof that all you said is true, that you will never leave me nor forsake me. What can man do to me?

I shall not be afraid of man, for they cannot take away my salvation. In the midst of my struggles in this life, in the midst of opposition to the Word I carry within me, I will rejoice, I will sing praises to you, O Lord, for you are with me for salvation. “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” My life has been delivered from the shackles of sin, the penalty of death. You are with me, Immanuel; you are with me as a dread warrior, fighting on my behalf, fighting to defend me, to deliver me. The fight is yours, for the victory is yours, won when you laid down your life into death and then took it up again in triumph.

The task you have given to me and to all the Church is impossible for us to accomplish; we can’t do it alone. But you have not left us alone; you are with us as a dread warrior, and the mission of the Church is your mission, it is your task. You guarantee that your Word “shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” It is your mission, your task, and in your grace, you use me and a host of other sinners to accomplish it. Yes, I am unworthy and ill-equipped for such a great task, but you have forgiven me; the contradiction of a sinner proclaiming Law and Gospel to other sinners is resolved only in your cross. The grace that has forgiven me and the grace that I proclaim is the same grace. I am a beggar telling the other beggars where I found a loaf of bread. And that bread is the Bread of Life, it is you, Lord Jesus, and with you beside me, what can man do to me? The dread warrior is on my side, and He has the victory. “Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For He has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” Amen.

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