The Eighth Sunday after Trinity – Historic Lectionary – Matthew 7:15-23 – August 6, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today, our Lord calls us to judge, to hold nothing back, to let everything be put on display.
We are to judge the prophets. We are to judge pastors and the ministry of the church.
And to be fair, we probably don’t need to be told this, we do more than enough judging already.
Every time you walk into a church, listen to a sermon, read a devotion, even view a parish website, you make a judgment, and Jesus even says that you are called to this.
Indeed, we have no problem judging, what we have a problem with, is judging the right things.
Jesus tells us that a prophet is to be recognized according to his fruits.
This isn’t all that hard for us to understand.
To put it another way, a heart surgeon is recognized according to the success and fruit of his surgeries.
If the death count is overwhelming, or the bodies butchered as a result, we would rightly not judge him to be a very good, or a very true heart surgeon.
It wouldn’t matter if his bedside manner were excellent, or if he gave most of his income to charity, a heart surgeon is judged by his fruit, by the results of his work.
It’s the same with most everything else, whether you work in heating and air, any kind of engineering, IT, research, medicine or the military, for the most part you are judged according to the results of your work.
Your personality is usually secondary. If the fruit of your work doesn’t work, it doesn’t usually matter how fantastic your personality may be, the worker is judged by his fruit.
The same is true of the prophets. Their personalities are secondary, their gentleness and their own good intentions are not the issues at hand.
But the reason that we don’t usually judge the prophets, that is preachers, pastors and the church rightly, is that we do not usually recognize what the fruit actually is.
The prophet is judged according to his preaching. He is judged according to whether or not his words are true, whether they agree with the Lord or not.
That is the fruit. But it is not the effect or the result of that Word on the people around him.
He is not judged on whether or not the congregation hears it, whether or not the world believes it.
For that is not his work, it is in fact, no man’s work, it is the work only of the Holy Spirit, to create and establish faith, to call and lead to repentance, to bring the fruit of salvation to the hearts of men.
This is exactly the issue in our reading from Jeremiah. The false prophets who were not sent by God, whose words did not agree with the truth of God, were not judged by Israel according to the truth of their preaching, but rather the effects of their preaching, that is, if it made them feel good, if it was a word they wanted to hear.
And so in this world, the false prophets appeared good, they had a large following, they lived abundant and successful lives. And on the other hand, the very prophets that God actually did send, were rejected and ridiculed, they were stoned and put to death. In the eyes of this world, they were not very successful, or as we might say, good at preaching.
We are not called to judge according to appearances, but according to truth. The Christian must live through the Word of Christ alone, for he has no life outside of that word.
He should not be distracted by large followings, or even by his own good feelings, but according to whether or not this Word is true.
In the same way, this also means that orthodoxy should not be judged by the opposite effect of false prophecy. You will be no closer to truth if you judge a church as right only because it is small, and mean, and unwelcoming.
The prophets are judged by their Word. Nothing else.
And today, our Lord proclaims that as the Baptized, you do not have the option of not judging.
You must judge if those words are in accord and agreement with Holy Scripture or not.
And that is not all, our Lord keeps the judgment going today in Matthew 7.
For not only are there false prophets, but there are also false sons.
Jesus continues, “Not every one who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Not every person who does the mighty works of God, not everyone who bears the name Christian will be saved.
And on this, you are not called upon to judge them, that is your brother or sister in the church, but you are rather called upon to judge yourself. Holding nothing back, letting everything be put on display.
Are you a worker of lawlessness?
Are you a bad tree?
Have you indulged and engaged in your sins thinking that the Lord would accept you despite this?
Or, have you thought that your works, that your life, that your pure doctrine would impress God and make Him love you?
We must repent. That is not a suggestion, but the reality and truth of the Baptized life. We must repent.
We are up against a very capable and clever foe.
Satan is smarter than us, and we need to come to grips with this.
He’s been watching you for a long time, longer than you’ve been watching yourself, and he knows what you want, and he knows how to lure you away. He will tell you what you want to hear. And that is what makes this so difficult.
So to the one who is greedy, he says, “You are not greedy, you are prudent, you are frugal, you are a good steward of your money.”
And so if you consider yourself to be wise in the ways of the world, and good with money, and frugal…Beware.
Who exactly is telling you these things?
And to the one who holds grudges and refuses to forgive others, he says, “You are not unforgiving, you want justice, you want what is right, you want the truth.”
And so if you are looking around and think that you are surrounded by foolish people, if you are outraged constantly at the behavior of other people, you ought to know full well that Jesus does not whisper in your ear, ‘Everyone else is a fool’.
This is an arrogance that is self-righteous, and thinks that you are better than other people, you are smarter, you handle your life better, you have more common sense.
That is the path of destruction. It is engaging in sin and self-righteousness, it is the path of the Pharisees.
And still, the devil keeps going.
To the one who despises his wife and lusts for another, the devil says, “You are not out of line or out of control, indeed, this is true love.”
In all these ways, he tells us what we want to hear, he lures us away from repentance and confession and faith, so that we harden our consciences and place our souls in constant danger.
We must repent. And we must not underestimate the enemy.
We have taken the bait, all of us, we have failed.
None of us can say that he has fought temptation with everything he had, that he has resisted even to the point of suffering and blood.
How then can we be saved?
Quite obviously by God’s grace. There is no other way.
The Lord leaves us with no other options. That’s the point.
It is God who is faithful, not us, that is the truth.
It is God who is merciful, not us, that is the testimony of the Word.
The Scriptures are insistent that we trust God, and no one else.
Beware the church leader or the pastor that says, ‘Trust me’.
Don’t trust me, trust God’s Word, trust God’s promises, He is faithful, He does not lie.
How then can we be saved? How then do we enter the kingdom?
Jesus tells us, ‘The one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’
Don’t get lost, don’t get confused, just hear the words themselves.
For what is the Will of the Father?
What does God’s Word say is His gracious and eternal passion and will?
It is that He has sent His Son for us, that He has judged the good and righteous tree to be bad and condemned in our place, that he has covered the bad and diseased tree of your sin with the good fruit of His Son, He has done it, that is His will, He has brought it all to you, all through His Son, all by His Word.
The tree is passive. It doesn’t choose to grow fruit, it happens because it is a tree, it is cared for and tended not by itself, but by the gardener, by the Lord of the harvest.
The will of the Father is this. That in doing his will, you would actually be receiving His will done to you and for you.
That you would be Baptized and so planted not in a desert, not by yourself, not alone, but into the body of Christ, the garden of His righteous Kingdom, that you would be tended and nurtured by His Word, His care, and the fruit of His passion alone.
That you would be fed and filled up at His table, living and judging from what He declares, the body given up for you, the blood that covers you, the tree that bears you good and righteous fruit.
That you would hear and receive the word of Christ, through His prophets, by His pastors, and springing forth from His pure and Holy Word.
I do fear that we have slowly grown to despise the Word of God beyond recognition. That we don’t even know that we’re doing it. That we are not judging ourselves rightly, nor are we judging the true promises of Christ’s Word for what they are.
How many Christians think of the Church’s Bible Study as merely an extra, a bonus to the life of the Church? That it’s only for some people?
How many of us think of hearing the Word in our homes, whether privately or as a family, as too much of a burden? Too much to ask, too much to do?
Do we know what we’re saying? Do we even know what we’re talking about?
The Lord has given His Word to us as pure gift. It is not a work, it is not an extra, it is life and the fullness of what it means to cared for and tended by the True Shepherd and the Tree of Life.
Indeed, we must repent. That is our life, it is to judge without holding anything back, to hear and allow the Father’s will to have its way with our sin and death.
For the Will of the Father is judgment, He has seen our disease, He has found our tree lacking good fruit, but His judgment is found finally in His Son, He has judged us righteous, He has promised us life in His Word.
All of this, by holding nothing back.
Indeed, let us repent, let us return to the Lord our God, for He gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, He will refresh and lift us up, He will plant us again, His fruit will abound and spring forth out of this faith.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.