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Jeremiah

23:15-29

 

Thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets: "Behold, I will feed them with bitter food and give them poisoned water to drink, for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone out into all the land." Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall come upon you.'" For who among them has stood in the council of the LORD to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened? Behold, the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his heart. In the latter days you will understand it clearly. "I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds. "Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.

 

I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, 'I have dreamed, I have dreamed!' How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (ESV)  

 

 

 

The Voice Behind the Mask

Tuesday of Pentecost 17 

17 September 2013

New Orleans is a city of masks. Everywhere, the masks of Melpomene and Thalia, the Greek gods of tragedy and comedy, are displayed. Melpomene and Thalia are street names in the city. Mardi Gras is a welter of masked entertainments, balls, and parades. Everyone has more than one costume and any excuse will do to don one. Masks hide identity. They change into another character. By wearing a mask the everyday world is left behind and one becomes a princess, pauper, or king. The mask is the hardware of escapism. Sometimes escaping provides a harmless entertainment, a way to let off steam or to be released temporarily from the duties required by our station in life. Sometimes, however, the mask hides the truth from those around us, and even from our deluded self. I remember reading of Mardi Gras revelers who, disfigured by Kaposi sarcoma, looked forward to donning a costume and mask to hide for a few days the signs of their disease. Hiding such a fact could have deadly consequences for those who would dare the perverse contact indulged in by some revelers.

 

There are other kinds of masks; some good, some bad. A father who struggles with his role as a parent, might well work hard to be a mentor and role model for the benefit of his children. Such a mask helps his children who need his parental leadership. God gives us those masks in the stations of life in which he places us. We are all capable of role-playing for the good of others and at the command of God. For example, He has established the role of mother and father in the fourth commandment in which He confirms the family and its structural outlines: "Honor your father and your mother." Our church leaders, such as pastors, also have a God-given mask and are to be honored for the sake of the role God has given them as proclaimers of the law and the gospel. They dare not betray that role. They will wear the signs of their office and calling. Their outward vestments are the accoutrements of the church and her ministry.

 

Sometimes, such outward vestments are not matched by the proclamation and preaching that come from the one who is so clad. They become a divinely-given mask that covers over impiety and false teaching abusing a divine gift. Therefore, we never believe mere appearances, as important as they should be as signs of the deeper things covered by them. We should not believe what comes out of a mouth because the mouth is beautiful (think: Hollywood). We should not be taken in by a voice whose words mislead because the sound of that voice is attractive. No, we should listen only for the voice of the good Shepherd, whom we will recognize by its content from Scripture. While our pastors may look like sheep, if their speech belongs to the snarling hound of hell seeking whom he may devour, then we must not listen to him. He needs to be swatted on the nose with the Word of God.

 

Before processing into church with children to be confirmed in their baptismal faith some years ago, I prayed a prayer for them asking their heavenly Father to bless them on that day of their confirmation and in the rest of their life. After I had finished, one of the confirmands asked very sincerely, "Do you have a bunch of prayers you memorized so that you can pray that way?" I was quizzical, "What do you mean by 'that way'?" He said, "When you pray it sounds like the Bible." Feeling Socratic, I asked him, "How did you learn to talk? I mean what did you imitate to learn speech?" "I tried to repeat the sounds my parents made." "Yes, if I want to speak to my heavenly Father in prayer, where else would I learn how to speak to Him?" The light went on for the boy, "Oh, I see! You learn from the Word of Your Father how to speak to Him." Delighted by my pupil I reminded him of a fact that is so important to me, "Prayer is just saying back to God what He has already said to us." When we listen and hear from a mask something that is not from Christ we should decline to listen to it. Let's listen for Christ's Word behind the mask.

 

Martin Luther

 

"Now, who is able to recognize the wolf under the sheep's clothing and defend himself against him (Mt 7:15)? I reply that the only advice I know is that everyone should see to it, above all, that he is sure of his cause and of the teaching. In his heart he should be so well grounded in it that he can stick to the teaching even though he sees everyone on earth teaching and living contrary to it. Anyone who wants to move along in safety simply dare not pay attention to any of the outward masks in Christendom and guide himself by them. He must pay attention only to the Word, which shows us the right way of life that avails before God. For example, you must hold on to the chief part, the summary, of Christian teaching and accept nothing else: That God has sent and given Christ, His Son, and that only through Him does He forgive us all our sins, justify and save us. Then if you open your eyes, you will see all sorts of differing situations and ways of life-men and women, masters and servants, princes and subjects, rich and poor, and whatever stations and offices there may be in the world, all so intertwined that nothing about them makes any special impression on me. But since I am so well grounded and know the chief part, which includes everything, my heart draws this conclusion: 'Whether, as it pleases God, I see a married person or a single person, a master or a servant, a learned man or a layman, gray clothes or red, fasting or eating, a sour face or a smiling one, what do I care about that? In other words, the differences that I see among them are all identical to me. For I have come to the insight that a girl in her red coat or a prince in his golden spangles can be no less a Christian than a beggar in his gray coat or a monk in his shirt of wool or hair. With this insight I am safe against all kinds of outward masks.'"  

 
Martin Luther, Sermons on The Sermon on the Mount, 7.15 
 
Prayer

Lord Christ, You have ordained our pastors to speak Your holy Word that we might always hear Your voice through them. Strengthen them in their resolve to speak for You. Keep them from impiety and doubt. Help them to be Your mouth in the world that we might always hear the good news that You have died for sinners like us to free us from our sin. Amen.

 

For the Praesidium of the LCMS, which is meeting today and tomorrow, that the Lord Jesus would grant them His strength and steadfastness

 

For all those who travel, that they would be kept safe in their travels and experience joyful homecomings

 

For all college students, that they would find delight in learning for its own sake
Art: Eyck, Jan van  The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429) 

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Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057