PDF Print E-mail

the sermon for

the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

28 January 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
It's the word that creates the heeding;
not the heeding the word!

01282018Well, there you have it, center and front...

The LORD your God will raise up a prophet; and you shall heed!

The prophet speaks; the people listen! Listen closely! Listen carefully! And then, they do what the prophet tells them! Simple as that! And if you don't, if you won't, if you can't? Well, there's always the next verse!

Between you and me, what that seems to be saying is that when there are problems here in the church, y'all are to blame. You're just not listening! You aren't heeding like you should, heeding like you ought. Because if you were, if you did, well, there wouldn't be a problem! Everything would be so much better. Membership. Attendance. Offerings. If only you took seriously what you hear from the pulpit, what a difference it would make! In your commitment! Your dedication! In our life together! The LORD your God raises up the prophet; and you listen! You heed!

It's like that joke. A new pastor comes to a congregation. The first Sunday, he gets up, preaches a sermon, and everyone loves it! Second Sunday, he does the same thing, same sermon! Third, fourth, fifth Sunday, it's the same. After eight or so Sundays, the people are getting angry. The president of the congregation goes to see the pastor. "Pastor," he says, "when are you going to preach another sermon?" The pastor says, "As soon as you get the first one right!" It's your fault! You're to blame! You just aren't heeding!

Polls, pretty consistently, show that seventy-five to eighty percent of the Lutheran Church across this continent disagree with or don't understand the basic teaching of this church. We're shrinking, turning grayer. And it's because you're no heeding! Not listening, not hearing, like you should! If only! Become better disciples! Become the Christians you were meant to be! Read your bibles! Say your prayers! Come to church! And of course, give! Tithe! It's nothing you haven't heard, before. Nothing new. In fact, for a decade-and-a-half, that's been the litany we've been offering up throughout Northern Texas and Northern Louisiana. And the whole time, it's been you! All you!

The LORD your God will raise up a prophet; and you shall heed!

You shall heed! All the while, we the prophets, we the preachers, have told you to change! To do things differently! And you know, I don't remember hearing anything about us! The prophets! The preachers! About us or about our message! And that - THAT – is what Moses is pointing to, this morning! The listening, he's telling us, the listening is only as good as the speaking! The heeding only as effective as the word spoken! "Anyone who doesn't, who can't, who won't, I'll hold accountable. But the prophet who speaks in the name of another god or who presumes to speak in my name a word I have not spoken, that prophet shall die!"

Here, in this place, speaking and heeding are two sides of the same coin. But it's not a chicken-and-egg kind of thing. The speaking always comes first! The speaking always has priority! And the heeding forever follows! In fact, it's the speaking that creates the heeding! It's what's spoken that determines who we are, that decides what we become. It's the word that makes it all happen! Just like in the beginning! The word of the prophet! The word of the preacher! Creating! Inspiring! Shaping!

But, truth is, sometimes... sometimes the word a prophet speaks isn't the word of god! Sometimes it's not the message god wants given! Sometimes it's, even, the word of another god! The congregation still listens! The congregation still hears! It still heeds! But it shrinks! And it turns grayer! Because of the word, the message, that was spoken. In the end, three-quarters to two-thirds of the church disagree with or don't understand. Not because they haven't heeded, but because of the prophet, because of the preacher, and what he or she has said.

We are a church anchored, rooted, in proclamation. We believe the church is the people of god among whom the gospel is proclaimed in its purity! We believe that because we have seen what happens when the gospel is proclaimed reluctantly, unenthusiastically. The message spoken has implications, has repercussions. Especially for the listener, for the hearer, the heeder! Like three-quarters to two-thirds of us disagreeing, three-quarters to two-thirds of us not understanding, all because we never heard the message plainly and simply, never heard the message loudly and clearly. Sometimes, we don't talk about Jesus with our family and friends not because we don't want to, but because we just don't know what to say. We've never been told! At least, not in the way god meant for us to hear!

Some Sunday morning, when you're not able to get here. Too wet! Too cold! Or if you, simply, want to spend a Sunday morning like the people around you. Taking your time drinking a cup of coffee and reading through the paper. When you do, do me a favor. Turn on your television, tune in to any prophet, and listen. Listen and see if they speak gospel. Listen and see if they proclaim good news. Anything about god's loving? Anything about god's forgiving? Anything about Jesus? The cross? What the people hear, they heed. It's just that the word they hear and heed, more often than not, isn't the word god asked to be spoken. It's a word; it's just not god's word! It's a word; it's just not Jesus!

"In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake, God forgives!" By grace, for Christ's sake, through faith! That's the gospel! No warnings! No threats! No ultimatums! No sulfur and smoke! No retribution or wrath! Just love! Charity! Grace! Pure! Unbounded! It that word, if that message, isn't spoken, the people – y'all – still heed! But the fruit of that heeding isn't the love! It isn't the love! You're still disciples, just not disciples of the gospel. And the church continues to get smaller and smaller... and continues to turn grayer and grayer...

Thirty-some years ago, when I was ordained into the ministry of word and sacrament, the bishop asked me four questions. Unfortunately, I forget three of them. The one I remember was this: Will you preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures and the creeds and confessions? Will you preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures and the creeds and confessions? I heard him ask, Will you preach and teach the gospel in its purity? Words have consequences. They have repercussions. And what is spoken, here, now, matters. Matters in the here and now. Matters in the forever after. It makes us who we are. It establishes what we become. Forming and reforming. Shaping and shaping again. Heeding is important. But speaking is essential.

We don't come here to be entertained. We're not here to be amused. We're not here to be poked and prodded. We aren't here for someone to make us do what we'd rather not. We're here to hear. We're here to listen. To the words god wants spoken. To the message god wants proclaimed. To the words of grace and mercy! To the message of forgiveness and love! We are here to listen to the words of god's commitment and to hear the message of god's compassion! And then, to be carried along on its current! To be carried along in its wake! For that, that is what it is to heed!

The LORD your God will raise up a prophet! The LORD has already raised up a prophet! And you shall heed! You shall heed! For in hearing, you can do nothing else! In hearing, you can do nothing less!

Copyright © 2018 Midland Lutheran Church , 2705 West Michigan, Midland, TX 79701 (432) 694-1373
RocketTheme Joomla Templates