St Matthew 7.15-23 Trinity 8
St John's Ev LC, Victor, IA 2013.7.21
In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A few weeks ago you were up on the Mount with Jesus, and He was preaching to you His Sermon on the Mount: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” Jesus said, “you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven,” remember?
Yes, and last week you were back up on that mount with Jesus, this time to be fed by Him in that miraculous meal of the Feeding of the 4,000.
This is the Christian life. You need instruction / and you need sustenance. Jesus will be your teacher / and He will also be your Cook, of sorts. You listen to Him and you eat from Him. That is what happens on the Mount of the Lord. That / is Sunday morning.
But it can't stay Sunday morning all week (not yet at least). Monday morning must come and you must get off the mountain of the Lord and be sent off to your various duties in life: the laundry must be done, the farm needs tended to, the kids need to eat and play and grow, you need to go off and bring in the bacon so that the family can thrive and the bills get paid, you must interact with your coworkers and family and friends and enemies, in other words, you have a daily life to live. Rest is for the mountain; work is for the week.
But work is dangerous, it is risky that our Lord would release you out into the realm of the prince of this world. On the mountain / is truth and peace and life; it is heaven on earth. In the world / it is sweat and tears and sacrifice and lies and deception. In a sense you are operating in two different kingdoms, two different worlds, diametrically opposed to one another. And yet, heaven and earth are still somehow / connected.
The Church has given us this Gospel Reading today, I suppose, to teach us about this connection of heaven and earth, to teach us that what happens on the Mountain of the Lord on Sunday, has a direct link to your life in the world. Jesus said, ““Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Heaven and earth are connected / because God's work is done in both. As we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The fruit from God's tree (the Tree of Life and peace and holiness) that righteous fruit is given both in heaven and on earth, it is the fruit that heals and harmonizes. And what does it heal, but sin, death and all evil, everything that is opposed to God's will and His work. God's fruit heals the effects of the bad fruit and connects the good of heaven and earth.
So if there is one thing that God condemns through Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament reading it is the notion that one can be at peace with the God of Israel and at the same time be at peace with the sin and wickedness of our lives. In Jeremiah's day (as in our own) the false prophets were going around telling the people: “It shall be well with you” and they were promising this to people who “despise the Word of the Lord” and “stubbornly follow their own hearts,” as Jeremiah said. You cannot cozy up to sin and cozy up to God. You cannot nurture the rebellions of your heart and still retain saving faith and a living relationship with the living God. You cannot produce bad fruit / and still somehow think that you are still attached to the One, Good Tree.
So don’t for one second imagine that it is possible to live in peace with both God and sin. To be at peace with something means that you do not struggle against it. It is good to be at peace with God—meaning that you do not struggle against Him, that you let His Word and will, His love have its way with you. On the other hand (and in opposition to a peace with God) to be at peace with sin means that you do not struggle against it, you just let sin have its way with you and you take no intentional fighting actions against it. Do you pray to overcome sin and evil? Do you fast to overcome sin and evil? Do you make extra effort by giving to the needy not only out of your abundance, but also out of what you need? These are ways that you participate (as St Paul says) “in the bodily training toward godliness”, these are general ways that you intentionally fight, that you struggle against sin. It was (and is) only the false prophet who suggest such ungodly truces between God and evil.
Now these truces are mostly personal things, stuff that you just let slide in your life, but they don't necessarily have to be. There are truces that we make publicly as well. One such truce that has been brought to my attention recently is the truce that some so-called “Christian” ministries are making with the proponents of same-sex marriage. This is what I read in a recent Theological Journal article: “[A certain so-called Christian group] issued a statement declaring that the current culture war over so-called same-sex marriage needed to be brought to an end, and that both sides needed to join together to defend marriage generally—whether traditional marriage or what same-sex couples and their fellow travelers say is marriage.”i
A political move, with eternal consequences. This is the lawlessness that Jesus condemned. That which is evil from the beginning has no dealings with that which is perfect and holy from the beginning. In the words of Scripture, “what fellowship does the light have with the darkness?” None, but to drive the darkness away. How silly to think that darkness and light can exist in the same place at the same time. And yet, this is what these “Christians” are aiming for; these are the modern day false prophets.
And as opposed to these belly-servers and deceivers, Jesus continues the teaching of the true Prophets, declaring to the false prophets and to you: “Listen, you who thought you could serve sin and rejoice in it and still enjoy my presence: Do you not understand, I am the Destruction of sin. I came to free you from its chains, not to strengthen its hold on you. I went to my Cross bearing the full load of your sin so that it could be forgiven before the presence of my Father. I blotted out, at the cost of my own blood, the handwriting that was against you. I have set you free from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for you. All this I did for you to set you free from sin’s power! Indeed, I have obtained you as my own flock with my blood, the very blood of God. It's that important; you are that important to me.”
Dearly beloved, if you’ve been playing with sin...if you’ve been toying with it, serving it, living in rebellion against God...if you’ve been holding a grudge, slandering, committing sexual sin, being disobedient to the authorities God has established...if you’ve been a slave to food or drink..if you’ve been thinking that you can indulge your sinful passions and still somehow enjoy the forgiveness and grace of God, then hear the Word of grace spoken to you today!
You cannot have both, but the incredible good news is that God still wants you. No matter how defiled. No matter how rebellious and sinful. He calls you to Himself, the Crucified One, that He might wash you from your sins and begin to set you free. He comes to you today anew at this holy Table, the One who is the destruction of your sin and Who is the death of your death, He is here for you, available, always available, always inviting. He calls you to come to Him and let Him give you His forgiveness, to speak over you an absolution that can begin breaking the chains of sin, covering you with His righteousness and uniting you to Himself, pouring out into you His good Spirit. The Spirit which unites heaven and earth. Which brings both kingdoms in glorious harmony, the same Spirit which makes the mountain of the Lord and the Valley of the earth into one, smooth, accessible plain for all, for you. And it is in this new reality that your work and your rest are joined together by the one working of this gracious God. In other words, in Christ, having been on His mountain to receive His righteousness in Baptism (a righteousness that far exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees), and taking these many trips back up His Mountain to be sustained along the way by His Holy Supper, in Christ you bear the recognizable fruit of the Holy Spirit. And it is by this fruit, this holy fruit, that you will be recognized—by your fellow man, perhaps, but first and foremost by your heavenly Father; He will see that you do His will when the Spirit of God is producing fruit, not only in a confession of the lips, but the confession of the heart, that is faith in His Son, Jesus, who with the same heavenly +Father and Spirit live and reign, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
iWhitehead, Kenneth D., 'Feint of Heart; on a So-Called Truce in the War Against Marriage', Touchstone; A Journal of Mere Christianity, July/August 2013, pages 19-21