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The straw and the wheat

Sermon Pentecost 11C Sunday August 15, 2010.

The straw and the wheat Fire and Hammer Jeremiah 23:23-29

As you probably know, I am a bit of a “culture watcher”. As I read various people’s comments on how things are today in the spiritual arena of life, there is this unanimous opinion that we are living in times in which anything goes and it is very much about the individual.

God calls out to people seeking spiritual connection and declares that he is more than any human spiritual seeking or dreaming.

Am I a God nearby, says the LORD, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the LORD.

God interrupts the human search for spiritual connection and meaning in all kinds of places these days, with a striking truth. He, the beginning of all things is very close and yet, in the same breath, very far beyond. He is minute and massive at the same time – intimately aware of me and yet far beyond me. (Jeremiah 23:23-24)

In the days of Jeremiah, when the nation was under the pump economically, politically and even militarily, the people who once believed that God was indeed beyond and close gave this up and satisfied their anxiety, doubt and fear by seeking other things. They sought the visions and dreams of each other, or of the people judged to be “spiritually connected” or wise or gifted in the mysterious world of dreaming and seeing things.

When you think about it, this is easier in a way. If I seek God, he might tell me what I don’t want to here. If I seek a dream or vision of a guru – even a Christian guru, then I can more easily take my pick among the dreamers and hear what I think I need and want to hear anyway.

The leaders of Israel were hearing the guru’s say that everything will be alright. Everything will be fine. We can get ourselves out of these troubled times ourselves. Do some deals. Make some relationships, take some shortcuts to power and even spiritual experience – consult a medium, see a seer – everything will be alright….

The cost of course was ‘minor’. Just a few Ashoreh poles to worship things of stone and wood. That is no big deal is it?

Jeremiah finds himself totally marginalized by proclaiming that faithfulness to the Lord’s word is the ONLY thing that matters, and the only thing that will keep the community united and strong.

And like now, that word was an unpopular word. God dares to suggest that the only way a human being can find the only spiritual connection that really counts and that can really make all the difference to ones present and future well-being is his speaking, not human striving or even dreaming.

I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD. Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:25-29)

The “weeds and the wheat”. The weeds which are here today and gone tomorrow with no lasting value to human beings are the dreams, visions, and mystic experiences of human beings. The wheat is the solid, already spoken word of God which is the lasting thing, the thing of great benefit to people because it is truth and it actually gives life to human beings.

We know this. We have heard it and thought about it countless times. For many reasons, not the least of which being that we are products of our own individualistic and “anything goes” culture, we don’t know how to hear God’s spoken word much or don’t actually think we need to.

For this reason God uses his Word like a hammer. God’s word is a hammer. It needs to be in order to crack open our stone hearts at times. Stone, because we are busy, we are focused on ourselves, because we are faithless at times. We are unsure, wounded, angry, hurt, and a million other conditions! But maybe the worst “condition” we have is our self-righteousness. We have this ability to revel in our own goodness. As someone once said, it is not until we repent of pride in our own good deeds that we will experience the joy of Jesus’ forgiveness. We all expect to confess our bad bits, but what about our pride in our good bits? God speaks his word of Law to our stone hearts, says Luther…

Hence God says through Jeremiah (23:29): “My Word is a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces.” For as long as the presumption of righteousness remains in a man, there remain immense pride, self-trust, smugness, hate of God, contempt of grace and mercy, ignorance of the promises and of Christ. The proclamation of free grace and the forgiveness of sins does not enter his heart and understanding, because that huge rock and solid wall, namely, the presumption of righteousness by which the heart itself is surrounded, prevents this from happening.

Therefore this presumption of righteousness is a huge and a horrible monster. To break and crush it, God needs a large and powerful hammer, that is, the Law, which is the hammer of death, the thunder of hell, and the lightning of divine wrath. To what purpose? To attack the presumption of righteousness, which is a rebellious, stubborn, and stiff-necked beast. And so when the Law accuses and terrifies the conscience—“You must do this or that! You have not done so! Then the heart is crushed to the point of despair.

Therefore the Law is a hammer that crushes rocks, a fire, a wind, and a great and mighty earthquake that overturns mountains. (Luther’s Works, vol 26, 19)

If anyone felt the crack of a hammer in the body and in the heart it was Jesus of Nazareth in his “baptism of fire”, as Luke records in the gospel word for today. 49″I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Luke 12:49

He was distressed and he completed it for you and me! The hammer of God’s law struck him and he bled, until enough human blood had been spilled. But it was not his self-righteousness and sin that was being struck. It was mine. It was yours. He took the hammer of God’s Law in full and the Law was completely fulfilled in the perfect and innocent human being – the close and yet mighty Son of God. As that beaten body rose in joy from the Law’s end – death, the harvest began and it still going.

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”, says Jesus the King. If this God is my God and this Jesus is the One that has taken the consequences of my self-righteousness and in its place given me a home where I belong, in God’s family and made God’s beloved friend, then I must know him.

The truth is that I can know him because his Word is here for me. It is the wheat. Speculation, dreams, visions, may be part of our journey, but nothing comes close to the Word of Jesus in that thing we have been gifted, the Bible.

It is him here and now. We could do a lot of seeking in the dreams, visions, opinions and lives of others and still only come up with an all together too small God, or an altogether too big God. Either way it would not be the only living God. We could, on the other hand, seek our spiritual connection where God promises to be heard – in the wheat, the hammer and the fire of his given word.

Let the hammer fall, O God. Break this stone heart of mine. Take my self-righteousness into yourself and grace ne with you love and kindness that I may live and move and have my being in you and find my rest in you. Amen.

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