Sunday, July 13, 2008

Today's Sermon - Trinity 8

Trinity 8 – July 13th, 2008 – Matthew 7:15-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
We live in a depraved society, we live in a culture that is full of wickedness and evil. And woe to anyone who points it out. According to American culture today, the worst thing any of us could to is to say that something is wrong. How dare you judge me, how dare you criticize. If we say that something is wrong, we are mean, spiteful people. But, of course, this is true even of ourselves – think on the times when you have been criticized – is your first thought to think whether the person who is criticizing you is right – or is your first reaction to be offended – to want to lash back against whoever would dare to speak against you? In America, to say that someone is wrong is considered the worst thing that a person can do.

And yet, what does our Lord say to us this morning? Beware of false prophets. False prophets. Jesus says that some people, some so-called preachers, some people who claim to speak for God are false, are wrong – and in fact are something we should be wary of, something we should seek to avoid. How this flies in the face of American culture today! Listen to how people speak, especially on religion. They will say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe something.” “Oh, all roads end up in the same place – Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, what’s the difference?” These are the thoughts that are prevalent in our culture, our society today. That is what you will see when you turn on your TV. That any religion is just fine – and it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe something.

This is not what our Lord teaches. Our Lord proclaims that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no man comes to the Father except by Him. If Christ is the Truth – then those not preaching Christ are false. If Christ is the Way, then there are people who teach not the way to heaven, but rather the way and path to hell. Religion is a serious matter – a matter beyond mere life and death, but rather eternal salvation or eternal damnation. But we live in an age that is by in-large indifferent – oh, just believe something, and whatever you do, don’t tell someone else that they are wrong.

Do you hear how insidious that is? Do you hear Satan trying to pull the wool over your eyes as he has pulled the wool over so many other pairs of eyes? What you believe matters! The Truth matters! And you, O Christian, are to strive to hear and receive God’s truth, to be those who are attached to the truth, to live and receive the pure streams of God’s Word. You are to listen to preachers who are not false, but who are true and teach rightly.

So, how do you know, how do you recognize a false preacher? Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. It’s not mere appearance. It’s not just if they look nice and smile, it’s not just if they have the nice suit and perfect hair and would look great on TV or a billboard and everyone thinks that they are wonderful. A big ole smile doesn’t mean that one comes from God. Any kid who knows the story of Little Red Riding Hood can tell you that – and sometimes those big, teethy smiles ought to let you know that they are planning on devouring you, bilking you, and leading you away from Christ. We cannot judge on appearance, on how one looks or sounds, if a person is dynamic or energetic. Wolves are all those things, too. That will not let you spot a false preacher.

No, our Lord instructs us how to spot a false teacher. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. So, we are to recognize them by their fruit. What fruit do we look for? What is this good fruit? What does it look like? Christ tells us at the end of our Gospel lesson – 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 I will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.” The fruit that Christ bids us look for isn’t about power. Look at the power I have – I can cast out demons. So what? I have done many mighty works in Your name? Might? Eh. Not the right fruit. I’ve preached and preached in Your name – but that doesn’t mean you preached rightly. The fruit Christ would have us see from our preachers aren’t works of might, aren’t displays of power. The sign of a good preacher isn’t more wealth or a good harvest or even healings or anything showy like that. Rather this – it is that they do the will of our Father who is in heaven.

So then – what is that will? What is this fruit that a true preacher will bear? We are told by Paul that the fruit of the Spirit is as follows: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. What do all these have in common – what binds all these fruit into one thing? They all describe and flow from one simple thing – forgiveness. That is the will of the Father, that sinners be forgiven. That is the fruit by which you will recognize a true preacher – if the focus is on forgiveness and the fruits that flow from that. Love? For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. Love is all about forgiveness. Joy? Think of the joy of the father in the parable of the prodigal son – and our Lord says that there is more joy in heaven over 1 sinner who repents than 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. Peace? John 20 – My peace I leave with you – now go forgive people and share that peace. Patience? When your focus is on Christ’s forgiveness, can you not bear with more things, are you not more patient? Kindness and goodness? Does not that flow from forgiveness? Gentleness and self-control? Does not a focus on forgiveness teach us to be gentle, teach us to keep our anger under control? The fruit that is born by the Christian isn’t any sign of power, it isn’t thunder and might, it isn’t speaking in tongues or even moving mountains – for you can have all these things and be absolutely nothing – unless you have the love of God. And God shows His love for us in this – that while we were yet sinners Christ, died for us. It’s all about forgiveness.

Spotting a false preacher is as simple as that. Do they preach the forgiveness of sins, or are they trying to sell you something else? Like Paul are they determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified, or do they lead and point to something else? Our Lord says that He will say to the false preachers, “I never knew you.” Does the preacher proclaim Christ the Crucified and desire that you know His forgiveness – that you learn that His forgiveness is the heart and center of your life as a Christian, that it is what shapes you and forms you and makes you who you are to be? If not – if they diminish our Lord’s forgiveness, if they belittle it or cover it under bushel or (puff) it out – they are a false prophet – beware of them.

But lest this be a sermon just on how preachers can mess it up, lest y’all think, “Boy, I hope Pastor Brown is listening to this one” – I am, but the same ideas also apply to you. Now, none of you are called to be preachers, to be those who publicly, up in the pulpit preach. But each of you does teach privately. Each of you does have the opportunity to speak of Christ to your friends, your families, your neighbors. So, apply these words of Christ to yourself, check yourself by them. Does forgiveness rule your life? Does it shape the way in which you deal with others, the ways in which you speak to them? Are the words on your lips, words of Christ’s forgiveness, or are you a noisy gong and clanging cymbal?

You see, we must never forget that Satan is active in this world, and by the false teachers that are out there, Satan is leading people astray, leading them to hell. The reason you, as a Christian, are to be able to spot a false teacher is not simply for your own sake, but also for the sake of your neighbor. If you were in a park and saw a wolf coming, would you not also warn the other people there of it as well? Would you not cry, “Look out”. The same is true of what you ought to do spiritually. Warn people, and lead them to the safety of Christ’s forgiveness here in His Church – defend them against Satan’s attacks with the Word of God, which is sharper than any two edged sword.

Now, this is not as daunting as it sounds. This is what you have been trained for. When you receive Christ’s forgiveness, you are filled with Christ’s love – you simply are to give what you have received. But what if they ask questions – well, that’s why you were supposed to memorize your catechism, which has the answers to the majority of simple questions – and even if you don’t have it memorized word for word, at least you should know what it says. And if it goes beyond what you can answer, point them to one who can – which is part of my duties as the Pastor here. But 98% of the time, it’s not that complicated. The key for this is that your focus is to be on forgiveness, and to invite them here to receive forgiveness with you. When your life is shaped by forgiveness – when your plans for the week are shaped by the fact that, oh yes, Sunday morning, let’s go receive forgiveness – when you are constantly and continually in the Word of God, receiving His forgiveness, when you are made healthy spiritually by Christ – you’ll bear this good fruit, you will be able to speak out forgiveness. Our Lord tells us, A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit – and why? Because it has been made healthy by Christ, and where Christ is present His love and forgiveness will flow. All this comes from Christ, from His forgiveness abounding richly in you, shaping you, and flowing through you. This is what happens and will continue to happen when your life is one of receiving forgiveness.

And so, beware of false prophets – of people who fail to speak of Christ’s forgiveness, people who keep Christ’s love for you for the forgiveness of your sins from being the center of all things. And keep a watch on yourself, lest you too forget that Christ’s forgiveness is the center of your life as well. And in all things, be eager to receive the mercy and love of God, that through His Word He might give you the most precious treasure of all, the forgiveness of your sins and life in His name. Christ has gone to the cross and with His death destroyed your sin. Rejoice in this truth over and against all falsehoods and lies of the devil. Amen.