4th Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C - LCMS Revised Readings)
Saturday, January 31, and Sunday, February 1, 2004
Sometimes I have to admit that I am afraid to preach. I get scared about being up here in the pulpit and saying what needs to be said, saying what is in God’s Word. When I get nervous, when I get scared, when I get terrified about speaking God’s Word to you, I spend the last few minutes before the service pacing back and forth. Pastor Miller can always tell when I’m nervous. I pace back and forth. I sit down for less than 10 seconds, and then I’m back up again. And in that moment, I feel like Jeremiah. Terrified about being God’s prophet. Terrified to speak God’s Word to the people.
What does God tell Jeremiah when he gets scared? God says, “Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.” Jeremiah’s thinking—but yeah, God, that’s the problem. I don’t think they’ll like what you have to say, and I’m pretty sure they’ll attack the messenger. But God goes on, “Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kinds of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you.”
Jeremiah can go out, speak God’s Word, speak an unpopular message of judgment on sin, of repentance, of the people needing to come back to their God, Jeremiah can go out to preach knowing that God’s wall of protection is around him. God is putting His full strength around Jeremiah, and while Jeremiah may suffer at the hands of people who don’t want to hear the message, God is saying, “No one will destroy your soul. I am with you. I will rescue you. I will be your wall of eternal protection. I am giving you strength and protection so that you can go and preach my Word.”
Robert Frost said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” We can change that a little bit to see that “Good walls make good servants of God.”
(leave pulpit) I’ll admit it; I need God’s wall of protection when I preach His Word. I need to know that He gives me strength. I need to know that He will guard me against people who will get upset, who don’t want to hear His message. I need God’s wall of protection. (roll out a wall made of blocks)
When I am nervous to speak God’s Word to you, usually it is because I have to point out some sin in our lives, some in our life as a congregation, some sin in your individual life. But when I am afraid, I need to remember that God stands guard.
God’s wall gives me courage today, Super Bowl Sunday, to say how much it disturbed me toward the end of the football season when it seemed like the Green Bay Packers became more important than anything, more important than church or even God. (duck behind wall) A few of you have heard me talk about this already, but it upset me because I saw how easily the Packers can become an idol. While we have freedom in Christ, I couldn’t believe that people actually told me it was wrong for the church to plan anything at the same time as a Packers game. Worship, youth events, meetings, whatever, the church should never dare to keep to our calendar if it means that the Packers are on at the same time. That’s an idol. I don’t know how else to tell you that, and I am certainly nervous about telling you this. But God’s wall of protection gives me courage.
God’s wall gives me courage when I have to speak tough messages that are God’s Word but make people mad. It is a sin to live together before marriage. (duck behind wall) Your faith in Jesus is in danger if you don’t come to church. (duck) Getting drunk goes against how Jesus teaches us to live our lives. (duck)
I speak those difficult words, words of God’s Law, I speak remembering God’s wall of protection which gives me strength. Good walls make good servants of God. But the thing about God’s protection, about God’s wall, the wall stands open to allow you to come into His protection. I speak His Law not to keep you out, but to bring you in. Jeremiah preached against the people not to judge them to death but to cause them to come back to their God. I speak the Law, but then the wall moves out, inviting you to come inside, to come into the protection of God’s fortified city, come into God’s love and forgiveness and mercy.
Jeremiah proclaimed God’s judgment on sin, but then God also gave Him this message in chapter 3: “Return, faithless Israel, I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful. I will not be angry forever.”
So I stand preaching God’s Law (behind the wall), “Don’t let the Packers be your idol!” But I also stand here to say that if they have been your idol, if you have let football become more important than God, then come back, come back into God’s protection. He will frown on you no longer, for He is merciful. He will not be angry forever. He will forgive your sin in the Name of Jesus.
Are you living with someone who isn’t your spouse? Confess your sin, make changes in your life, God will frown on you no longer. Have you been avoiding coming to church? Come back into God’s protection, for He is merciful. Do you get drunk? Tell God about your behavior. He will not be angry forever.
While God’s wall of protection gives me the strength to preach His Word, I am certainly not the only one who gets to have God’s protection and love and mercy and forgiveness. God calls on me to speak the Law, and then to invite you into His protection. When we realize we are sinful, it is then that we realize that we need God's invitation into His kingdom, that we need God’s mercy and forgiveness. I spoke the Law today by the strength of God, and now the wall stands open. Come into God’s protection. (push wall forward)
(back in pulpit) Now as a Christian, as a citizen of God’s kingdom, He calls on you to speak His Word too. And just as sometimes I am afraid to speak God’s Law to you, I’ve realized that sometimes you’re afraid to speak God’s Law to me. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed that people really want to avoid telling me when I’ve done something wrong. If you’ve ever felt that way about me or Pastor Miller, then I invite you to hear God’s Word to Jeremiah as His Word to you: “I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall.” God’s wall of protection is for you too.
What is it that you’re afraid to tell me? Frankly, I often don’t know. A lot of times I only know third hand or fourth hand about a mistake I made, a sin I committed that someone noticed. What is it that you need to say from God’s Word to me? Perhaps it is the way I might not have been sensitive to your child’s needs in our DJ Program, the Confirmation program. I need you to tell me how my words or actions were hurtful. Perhaps it is a sermon that ended up being way too much about Law and judgment on sin, and not enough about the Gospel, forgiveness in Jesus. I need you to stand behind God’s wall of protection and point out my error. Good walls make good servants of God.
It takes courage to tell someone how they have sinned, and for whatever reason, maybe it takes even more courage to tell your pastors how they have sinned. But God’s wall of protection isn’t just for me so that I can preach the Law to you. God’s wall of protection is for you, so that you can tell me my sins, tell me how I have failed to live up to God’s ways, tell me how I have not been a kind shepherd.
But I also hope that when you stand behind this wall of protection to speak the Law to me or to Pastor Miller or really to any brother or sister in Christ, I hope that you too will stand behind the wall remembering that the wall is open. God’s wall is open, welcoming in the sinner, bringing sinners back into His forgiveness and love and mercy. I need to hear the Law and how I have sinned against you, but I also need to hear God’s mercy. Pastor Miller also needs to hear God’s mercy. I have heard of way too many congregations torn apart when either the pastor or the congregation members were far too willing to speak Law, without ever speaking Gospel, without ever speaking forgiveness, without ever moving towards healing and resolution. May this not be among us.
God’s wall of protection gives you the strength to speak God’s Word, even God’s Law against sin, and when you speak His Law, He also gives you courage to invite the sinner back into God’s Kingdom. Good walls make good servants of God.
(leave pulpit) So that brings us all inside God’s wall of protection, and now we stand on the doorstep, looking out at our community, the world around us. (move wall by the windows). Have we been afraid to speak God’s Law to people out there? Have we been scared to tell our friends or neighbors that getting drunk is wrong? Have we been terrified of having to tell a loved one that living together before marriage is a sin and sets them up for a higher divorce rate? Have we been nervous about telling people when they have hurt us, when their faith is in danger because they don’t go to church, or when they have been unforgiving? If we have been afraid of speaking God’s Word to this community, either as a congregation or as individuals, then God’s Word to Jeremiah is here to remind us: good walls make good servants of God.
(back to pulpit) People may fight against us, fight against what God’s Word says, but they will not overcome us. That is God’s promise. He says that He is with us and will rescue us. He comes with salvation. He comes with protection and strength and courage.
And even while we move out into the world behind God’s wall of protection, even while we speak difficult words of judgment against sin, even then the wall stands open. We speak God’s Law to the world around us hoping that they will come inside, they will come into God’s protection, they will come to know the forgiveness and salvation found in Jesus.
So, got something to tell me? Got something that you’re upset about? Do you need to tell me how I have sinned? Then stand behind God’s wall of protection and tell me. Call me, email me, talk to me today, and let’s find a time to sit down and talk. I need to hear God’s Law; I need to admit my sins; I need your forgiveness. I’m going to put this wall out in the lobby as a reminder on your way out. It will remind us all that we have God’s protection when we speak His Word and that His wall of protection moves out into this world with love and mercy for everyone. If it is any easier, drop a note in the top of the wall, tell me that you need to stand with God’s protection and tell me my sins, and I’ll give you a call. I promise to hear what you have to say. I just hope you’ll also speak the Gospel, the Good News in Jesus.
Good walls make good servants of God—prepared to speak His Word—Law and Gospel, the Word of salvation in Jesus Christ. Go, you are a fortified city, an iron pillar, a bronze wall; go and speak His Word!