Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego 92114
Pentecost 12A, August 31, 2014
NOTE: The congregation has just listened to this little ditty from Hee-Haw: Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me! Click here to listen.
Many of you here this morning most likely immediately recognized the song we just heard as one of the many ditties made famous from the 1970’s Variety Show, Hee-Haw! And in your minds eye, you probably saw 5 or 6 men sitting down together in bib over-halls, wearing straw hats, with moon shine jugs in their hands, complaining about how terrible their lives are. Now as funny as that idea is to us, it also is steeped in historical truth in our own lives and the lives of faithful men and women who went before us. In our Old Testament lesson [Jeremiah 15:15–21], we find the prophet Jeremiah caught in the middle of a funk; a pity party so to speak. And if we are honest, if we allow God to teach us this morning, we can see both our individual lives within that conversation between Jeremiah and God, an indeed our congregation. Let me show you what I mean by that.
“Oh LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach.” Yes, of course He knows you, but do you truly understand what that means? He knows all about you, both the good and the bad. And as long as we’re talking about good, didn’t our Lord teach us that there is no one good except God? So isn’t it fair to say that what ever goodness is in you, it is God’s goodness? Well, I think you know where I am leading you with that thought, so for now let’s just agree to say, “Let’s not go there” ok? Good, so let’s move on.
You have asked God to remember you and visit you, right? Well that is a statement that operates under the false assumption that God has left you, or forgotten you; He has not! Doesn’t His own Word assure you that He will never leave nor forsake you? So, if you can’t find God’s presence in your life, then granted someone moved out, but I assure you that it was not God!
Now, it’s what you say next that amazes me; you asked God to not only return to you but to take vengeance for you, against those you have named as “your” enemies; do I have that right? But right after that you ask for His “forbearance” or rather, you ask for mercy for yourself. Now, do you understand the duplicity in that request? You are asking God to give you grace, an unconditional pardon for your sin, but for those who stand against you, you want Him to wipe out! And as long as we are being honest here, if you have truly been serving God and not your own interests, and if you are experiencing turmoil in your life simply because you are a “good” Christian, aren’t your supposed enemies really attacking God and His expressed will through His Word; a Word that you are only repeating and living out? Well, let’s move on…
Next you rightly state that His Words were found by you, and you ate them, and that His Words became a joy for you, in fact, how did you put it, oh yes, you said that they were the delight of your heart. Something strikes me as odd here. Why are you talking in the past tense? Am I to assume that the scripture, which states clearly that faith comes by hearing the Word of God, no longer is true for you. Am I to understand that not only do you find God’s Word ineffective in your life, but in fact you no longer need the gift of faith that comes through that Word? Now I am only asking because right after that, you said with a degree of pride I might add, that you are called by God’s name.
You say you are a Christian, right? Because if that is true, then I will go back to the truth that I pointed out a moment ago, you are talking in the past tense; as if eating, drinking, and living out God’s Word is what you use to do. Now, if you have given up your reliance on God’s Word, to claim that you are still a Christian is quite frankly a lie. You see, God did not call you into faith out of the thin air and neither does He sustain faith that way, but instead He uses the means, or actual methods that He chooses, which exist in this world that we live in. And His Chief Means of Grace is His Word. It is called the chief means of grace because the other two are totally dependent on His Word. Baptism is also His means of grace, but without HIS Word, it is just a washing. The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace, but without His Word it is just a snack.
Let me sum everything up for you. You didn’t sit in the company of blatant and public sinners and join in with them, because God’s Word was protecting you from the final result that comes from living under those things. You weren’t ever voted most popular by that group, because God’s Word led you to live a life separate from their blatant sinful life style. You see don’t you, that God was using you for a higher purpose, right? Ok, if you can see that then what you say next, or rather what you ask next, simply baffles me. How did you put it? Oh yes, “Why is my pain unceasing (and) my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” Do you hear yourself? My pain. My wound. So, is this all about you now? What happened to your belief and allegiance to your favorite Bible verse, John 3:16? “What does that have to do with it?” you ask. Good question. Well, if you believe that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” is true, then maybe this pain you feel, this wound you perceive has very little to do with you, but it is in fact something bigger, something very much beyond you? Now we’ll flesh out that idea in just a moment, but there is one last thing you said that must be addressed by God Himself.
You said, and I quote, “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” And to that God’s Word violently slaps you across the face and says… REPENT! Turn away from your inward thinking, because it is not about you, and it never has been; it is about saving the world… every sinner that will turn to God’s only means of salvation. If you turn to this one thing needful, then God will restore you; you will stand before HIM comforted and strengthened. If you truly do consume His Word and allow it and only it to fill you, you will be able to speak precious promises of faith and not this kind of dribble, which in the end is worthless. If you allow God to strengthen you, then all of these trials and tribulations that you have allowed to consume you and snatch your faith and joy away from you, will be of no threat to your relationship with the God who called you out of darkness into His light. And that now takes us to the pain you feel and the wound that you say is incurable; it takes us to God’s only means of salvation for the world, and for you. And that of course is…
The Cross of Jesus Christ. [Matthew 16:21–28] God does indeed love this world of sinners very much, and that includes you. He loves us all so much that He did the unthinkable, He sent His Son to live among us and die for us. The Father gave His Son upon the cross; the cross of pain and unspeakable suffering. Peter and the apostles didn’t understand, and I am afraid we still don’t understand the necessity of Christ’s death. You see the incurable wound and unspeakable pain that we along with the prophet Jeremiah see as our own, are really those of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Through His Word you have been unexplainably intertwined with Him in a way, that His own identity becomes your identity. By His stripes you have been healed. Through His painful and atoning death upon the cross you have been saved. By the washing of the water and His Word you have been cleansed through recreation. Through His holy supper, at His table, you are refreshed and strengthened by His very body and blood.
From our perspective, looking back from today into yesterday, we can intellectually say a hardy amen to Christ passion and death upon the cross for us sinners. Peter did not have our perspective. He couldn’t see how a suffering Savior would help them in their time of need. He wanted a Savior who would ride into Jerusalem as a conqueror and punish all the wrong doers right then and there. But that was not the mission that the Father Sent His Son to complete. So when Peter had his heart set on a bloodless and “cross-less” way of salvation, Jesus responded to him in the same way He responded to Satan who tempted Him with the same offer in the desert, “Get behind me Satan.” That is, “Get out of my presence with that talk of glory.” Repent.
This morning, God’s Word calls each of us to turn to His cross, the place where He made atonement for the sins of the world. It is there at the cross where we find not only Christ’s passion, suffering, and death, but we are also reminded in His Word, which recreated us within the waters of our baptism, that on the third day, He rose from the dead and ascended into His glory! So…
If you wish to follow Christ into eternal life, He says to you this morning, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Do you hear the answer to your song of “gloom, despair, and agony?” You must deny yourself completely; not just a part of yourself, some fault, some problem habit or desire, or some outward practice, but all of yourself. You must die to your natural sinful tendency to protect your self-interests, which are things of this world and not the things of God. A great illustration of this self-centered life style can be found in how Peter later disowned Jesus by saying, “I never knew the man (Jesus)!” But we are called to do the opposite; we are called by God to declare that we disown ourselves, completely. Now we aren’t talking about a self-denial in a self-righteous sense of the word but instead, a true conversion, a complete recreation of ourselves, the very thing that God declares was done for you in your baptism.
Your baptized new nature sees all the sin within you and all of the damnation and the death bound up in that sin and it instinctively turns away from it crying out to God for rescue and salvation through Jesus Christ alone. So, by a work of God alone through His Word, your sinful nature is cast out by you every day, and Christ has entered into your heart and stays as your eternal Lord and Savior.
So now, through the work of the cross and the washing of your own baptism, you live in this world, not for yourself, but for Christ who died for you. And the life you now live as one who has been crucified with Christ, is a resurrected life that daily dies to those old self-centered desires and rises up in new life to live to follow Christ where ever He leads, for His glory.
And as we follow Christ, everyday we are called to “take up our cross.” And the cross that we bear, are those sufferings we experience because of our faithful connection to Christ. And what we find is that each of us as Christ’s disciples will have our share of suffering.
In our minds eye we see Christ, carrying his cross, leading the way with all of us disciples following behind Him, each bearing our own cross, like men and women being led away to be crucified.
But our journey does not end with suffering and death, just as that was not the end for Jesus Christ the Son of God. Where He goes we follow; we follow through the suffering and like Him, our final destination ends in glory; it ends in God’s love for redeemed sinners.
Dear friends, even great men of faith like Jeremiah fall prey to doubt and despair. They are examples for us. If they fear, if they doubt, if they need encouragement, if they need admonition, if they need help, if they need the preaching of the law and the repeated assurance of the promises of God, how much more do we!
We may all expect to drink some of the same bitter cup as did the prophet Jeremiah. We all will need to be shocked out of our sinful stupor by God’s call to repentance. But with the Lord’s help we will find our way back to him, as did Jeremiah. From these experiences, both Jeremiah’s and ours, we are made more ready to be shining lights to others who also drift into the fog of gloom, despair, and agony. We have been there and have returned, so we may be able to help them return to God through Christ’s cross of love too.
The gospel promises of peace, comfort, and glory are not allusive nor is God’s Word a deceptive brook, as Jeremiah believed in the middle of fear and dark worry. But rather, it is a glory that awaits each of you saints as you trod along following the footsteps of your Savior. For sure there will be good times and bad times in this life. But in the end, on the day we leave this veil of tears in a Christian death, we will discover the truth and certainty of Christ’s promise that was given to the thief on the cross: “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” AMEN!
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN!