Sermon for Lent 2C, preached by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich on Sunday, February 21, 2017.
Have you ever seen a young child deliberately ignoring their parents’ directions? They look at their mother as they slowly grab that forbidden cookie. Do you know of a teenager who’s broken the house rules? They quietly sneak in an hour after curfew, trying not to wake mom and dad. Or have you been with an adult who knowingly broke a law; even one may seem small? Driving past the 35 miles an hour speed limit sign, they accelerate to 40.
Of course, all of us can answer “yes” to these questions. We all know of people, both young and old, who’ve ignored and rejected the words of those who’ve been set in authority above them; and when we look at ourselves, we see that we’ve done the same, in our younger years, and even today.
We do this because we’re by nature a rejecting people. Because of our sinful nature, we don’t like being told what to do and what we can’t do. We reject the authoritative words of others, and in their place, we follow after our own words. We want to decide moral right and wrong for ourselves. We want to decide what to do and when to do it.
There’s no authoritative word that’s rejected more than God’s Word. Ever since that day when Adam and Eve rejected God’s Word and instead followed Satan’s word and their own desires, God’s Word has been rejected by us each and every day, over and over and over again. The world’s history is filled with us humans, God’s creation, rejecting Him and His Word. We hear of this rejection in our readings today.
In the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:8-15), we hear that the priests, prophets, and all the people wanted Jeremiah killed because he proclaimed God’s Word. God sent Jeremiah with this message, “Thus says the LORD: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth” (Jer 26:4-6). The people of Jerusalem didn’t like this message, so they rejected it and rejected the man who brought it. They grabbed hold of Jeremiah and said, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city: (Jer 26:11). They wanted the messenger of God dead because he spoke God’s Word, and they didn’t like what God’s Word said. And this is the same for us.
Now I hope none of us have ever tried to kill anyone who’s spoken God’s Word, but there are times when we reject them. We hear a pastor speak the Law and we hate him for it. He points out our sin and we turn on him. We call him names and we talk about him behind his back, criticizing everything that he does. We attack this messenger and reject the message he speaks. We say, “Well Pastor, that’s just your opinion.” Or we claim that God’s Word was only relevant for 1st century people because we’re more educated and knowledgeable today. We deny that Scripture is still authoritative and still applies today. We ditch it for other words, words that we consider more acceptable, pleasing, and right.
Jesus laments over our rejection of God’s Word, just as He lamented over Jerusalem’s. He cried out over the city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken” (Lk 13:34-35a). The people of Jerusalem were notorious for rejecting God’s Word. Over and Over again they turned their backs on it. They rejected the prophets who spoke it, like Jeremiah, and now they were rejecting Jesus, the true Prophet, God’s Word made flesh.
Christ lamented how the people of Jerusalem refused to be gathered and brought back to God under the protection of His Word. Repeatedly, God sent prophets to call the people back in repentance, and repeatedly they refused. And then He sent His Son to speak, to gather His people, and they still rejected Him.
And this is the same for us. God continually calls us back, wanting us to be gathered under the protective wings of His Word, but instead, we run away like baby chicks with our heads caught off, going this way and that. We refuse to be gathered into His church where we are protected with His true Word and Sacraments. Instead, we follow after false words that say we can find Christ anywhere. We reject God’s definition of marriage and life and we accept the world’s. We deliberately ignore His commands and do the opposite.
All this rejection isn’t without its consequences. Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem was a lament over her sin; but it was also a lament over the destruction that awaited her for it.
Our rejection of God and His Word leads to our destruction. St. Paul puts it like this, “For many...walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Phil 3:18-19). When we reject Christ, when we refuse to listen to God and His Word, when we resist being gathered under Jesus’ protection, we’ll receive the destruction of hell. When we seek instead after our own thoughts, when we listen to ourselves and make ourselves gods, we’ll eternally suffer with no hope of relief. We’ll receive an everlasting death, we’ll be forsaken, just as the city of Jerusalem was.
And we certainly deserve this. We rightly should be punished for our continual rejection of God and His Word. If someone refused you over and over again, you wouldn’t give them the time of day. But God doesn’t do this. Even though we repeatedly refuse Him and reject His Word, He still comes after us. He still calls us back in repentance. That’s why He sent His prophets over and over again. That’s why He sent Jeremiah, so that the people would hear God’s Word and mend their ways and their deeds (Jer 26:13). And that’s why He sent Jesus, His only Son, the Word incarnate, so that He might overcome our rejection of Him.
God saves us from ourselves, He overcomes our rejection by rejecting His own Son. As Jesus hung on the cross He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34). God the Father turned His back on His Son, He rejected Jesus because Christ was carrying the sin of the whole world. Jesus took all sin, He took your sin, all your rejection, and on the cross He suffered your destruction. In the ultimate turn-about, God forsook Christ so that you might not be forsaken. In love, grace, and mercy, God sentence Jesus to death on the cross in your place, so that you might be gathered under the Jesus’ protection, so that you might be saved from destruction by Jesus’ blood.
And this sacrifice of Christ on your behalf is acceptable to God. Instead of being rejected by Him, you’re brought into the kingdom of heaven. You've been made a citizen of the new Jerusalem. Paul writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21a). Right now, we live in a world filled with sin, rejection, destruction, and death. But this earthly life is only temporary. Our true citizenship is in heaven, paid for by Christ’s blood. And when the time comes for us to be called home to our true city, we’ll no longer experience the sin, rejection, destruction, and death. Instead, we’ll be under God’s protective wings and we’ll rejoice in His Word forever.
During this Lenten season, we contemplate our rejection. We examine ourselves and repent of all the times we’ve refused to be gathered by Christ, for all the times we’ve ignored God’s word. During this Lenten season, we look to the cross where Jesus sacrificed Himself, where He endured the Father’s rejection, so that He might save us from ourselves and destruction. During this Lenten season, we thank God for continuing to seek after us, for continuing to send messengers with His Word, for gathering us into His church, and for making us citizens in heaven. In Jesus name...Amen.