The Tenth Sunday after Trinity, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
I realized something in preparation for this sermon. As a non-native Illinoisian, I’m unaware exactly how the name of this state is to be pronounced.
Are you from Illinois? Or Illinois?
That’s the kind of thing that interests me but is of no real use. I was not a good student of history, because I care about truly insignificant details.
So, are you a good student of history?
What about Bible history?
Jeremiah prophesied against Judah, saying, “They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return…Everyone turns to his own course…My people know not the rules of the Lord…” (Jeremiah 8:5,6,7).
If that could be said about us—what do you think we should do? Perhaps we could deal honestly, pick up our cross and follow Jesus, and know the rules of the Lord.
Jeremiah’s words not only could be said to Judah—they were. And they were true.
And what did Judah do? She didn’t listen.
Today, we hear Jesus prophecy against Jerusalem, saying, “The days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44).
What did Jerusalem do? She didn’t listen.
In 587bc and 70ad, Jerusalem was destroyed.
If they wouldn’t hear the Word of the Lord, they had to hear the sound of their temple, every stone, crashing down around them.
Have you ever read an account of the destruction of Jerusalem?
Did you know—until at least 1905, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod included an account of the destruction of Jerusalem in every hymnal?
Part of our history as Christians is to remember when God destroyed what was held most dear to so many.
What’s the saying, you know, about forgetting history? Of all the sayings about history, that’s a good one to remember, because those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.
The point that Jesus makes, and Jeremiah too, is that with the Word of God, those who don’t have it—as well as those who do have it—and forget it—they’re doomed.
As it was in Jeremiah’s day, just so in Jesus’ day, when God speaks against the state, the state seeks to destroy the speaker.
The state doesn’t listen.
“The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy [Jesus]” (Luke 19:47).
But the hatred of the state for God doesn’t change the message.
Of special note, thus says the Lord to Jeremiah: “But you…say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:17-19).
If the account of the destruction of Jerusalem should be read in the Church, it should be read today (the Tenth Sunday after Trinity):
Jesus weeps over a great and powerful city and nation from whom the things that truly make for peace have been hidden.
In the One Year Lectionary, we hear this lamentation every year, and every year, any year, its message is the same and necessary: God is with us in His Word, by His Word. Only in His Word. And if we forget that—it we set aside God’s Word for our feelings or what’s popular—if we imagine that God speaks to everyone in many and various ways as He spoke to the prophets (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2)—we’re doomed.
In Jeremiah’s day, God wasn’t with the people because of the nation of Israel or Judah. God wasn’t with the people because of the Temple or even because of the sacrifices.
He was with them by and according to His Word.
When they forsake His Word, saying, “We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us,” Jeremiah responds: “But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:8-9).
Having forsaken the word of the Lord, no wisdom is in them.
In Jesus’ day, the Jews thought God was with them if they were the flesh and blood of Israel, children of Abraham, or, at the very least, if they worshipped in the correct place—Jerusalem instead of Mt. Gerizim.
When Jesus says, “You did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44), He’s referring to the fact that He is Immanuel, God With Us, visiting His people to redeem them—and—they reject Him.
God was truly with them in His Word become flesh, and, not knowing that the hour of their visitation had come, rejecting the Word of God, they sought to destroy Him—because He called them to repentance.
As it was in Jeremiah’s day, just so in Jesus’ day, and in ours: God is with us, not because of the State of Illinois, not because of the U.S. Constitution, not because of the flag, or the pledge, no.
God was with the people of old, because His Word was held sacred and gladly heard among them.
The Church has always been—and will always be—those, wherever they are, who gather around the Word of God and the Sacraments.
That’s the Church—because those things, the Word of God and the Sacraments, are how God delivers salvation to us.
God is with us now, because we gather in His Name, according to His Word (cf. Mt. 18:20), as He teaches, to receive what He gives—forgiveness, life, and salvation.
The reason it’s important for us to remember all this, the reason, if there is one, to read in the Church the account of Jerusalem’s destruction, is that you need to know that God has, in history, brought about the destruction of nations who forgot who God was.
At the very least, is the writing on the wall?
Would you, could you, still be a Christian in America if America were a muslim nation or a nation actually hostile to Christians?
Our answer to that question comes from, what else, the Word of God.
Jesus asks His disciples, “‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’” (Mt. 16:15-20).
The Church stands only on the Word of God, the confession of who Jesus is and what He’s done to earn and give our salvation.
The Church doesn’t fall.
Throughout history, including captivity in Egypt and Babylon, including times when to be a Christian was a crime punishable by death, and that still includes today, through all that, the Church stands and the gates of hell do not prevail.
That’s because of the Word of God—not because of the state.
It’s a false claim that we worship the one, true God because we happen to live in a country with the freedom of religion.
I hope you don’t come to church only because you’re free to do so. Though I am, of course, glad when people who are free to come to church do so.
No, I hope you come to church to hear the Word of God proclaimed—because you know Jesus has the words of eternal life. And since that’s the case, where else could you go?
I hope you come to church to hear Jesus—whether He’s legal or not!
It may not make much obvious sense to talk about all this, but included in our Confirmation vows is the possibility to suffer death for the sake of the faith.
If you’ve been confirmed in a congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, you’ve agreed to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith.
If you only mean that when you live under the promise of the freedom of religion, then you don’t mean that at all.
Sometimes, the faithful response to persecution is to remain faithful and endure persecution.
Because the Church’s one foundation is not the Constitution, the flag, or democracy.
The Church and even this congregation could still stand—even without another Voters’ Meeting.
Because the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord, who suffered. And as no servant is greater than his master, we shouldn’t be surprised when its our turn to endure persecution for a steadfast faith.
The Church is filled with elect from every nation, not just this one.
The Church shall never perish, because the Lord defends, guides, sustains, and cherishes her.
There’ll most certainly be those who hate her, and “though she have false sons in her pale, against both foe and traitor, she ever shall prevail!” Those are words from one of the original stanzas to the hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.”
It is most important for us to remember our history.
Remember that, whether the state protects us as Christians or not, we are purchased and won not by the silver and gold of the US Treasury but by the holy and precious blood of Christ—sacrificed, crucified, dead, buried, and risen!
For all the Baptized, you are God’s own child it! “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rm. 8:1).
You will live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives, and reigns to all eternity.
It can never be the state—the county—the nation that we cling to, because only the Word of the Lord endures forever.
That is our history.
And it is most certainly true.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!