1. The time before this global pandemic struck feels like ancient history—doesn’t it? Life was much different four months ago. It was much better, if we’re being honest. We didn’t have to social distance and wear these masks! We could go where we wanted to go, do what we wanted to do. We had that freedom to pursue entertainment. Money was stable. But then, March 15th happened. Covid-19 came to the US, and very, very quickly life changed dramatically. Many of us and many of our loved ones started experiencing financial stress. Jobs were lost. Paychecks decreased. Bills were coming due. For many of us, the financial stability that we thought we had and we thought we could trust in was revealed to be exactly what it actually is: a fraud. Financial stability can’t provide fulfilment in life. But financial stability wasn’t the only thing lost because of this pandemic. Much of
our entertainment and our ability to go where we want to go and do what we want to do has been lost. These things, which have become so much a part of our cultural striving for fulfilment, have also been revealed to be a fraud as well—they can’t provide fulfilment and ultimate happiness for us. And so, maybe the one good thing that has come from this pandemic is that it has forced us to cling to the one thing we have left: each other—well, social distantly, at least. But we’ve been able to turn to one another for help and support—phone calls with friends, FaceTime with family, social distant conversations across the driveway with neighbors. This pandemic has showed us that we can rely on, we can trust in each other…But then, May 25th happened. You remember what happened—in Minneapolis, MN, an innocent, African American, Christian man was brutally murdered by a police officer. And since the murder of George Floyd, riots have ensued, distrust is on the rise, people feel like they can no longer trust the people are supposed to protect them. And now, it’s becoming quite clear that the very thing we thought we could trust—each other—is a fraud as well. We can’t trust each other to provide for our contentment, fulfilment, and peace. We live in a world filled with frauds. And in this world filled with frauds, we’re helpless to find true peace and fulfillment.
2. The world of Jeremiah wasn’t a lot different. It was filled with frauds too. We see that quite clearly in Jeremiah 28, part of which was our Old Testament reading. But to get some context, I want to go back a chapter. In chapter 27, Jeremiah was told by God that King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was going to come and conquer the kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah’s job was to warn the king not to resist. If Judah complied and served Nebuchadnezzar, then they would be able to stay in their land. But if they didn’t, if they resisted, then they were going to be punished and carried off into exile. So, Jeremiah told this to King Zedekiah. But the trouble was, there were many false prophets around—frauds—who were telling the king to trust something different. Hananiah, the false prophet we meet in our reading, was doing exactly this. He was telling the king the exact opposite of what Jeremiah was. Jeremiah was saying that hard times were going to come—that’s a result of sin. But, if God’s people were faithful, if they trust in him, one day, after many generations, he would rescue them and bring them true peace. But Hananiah said that God was going to bring true peace much sooner. He said it was only going to take two years. (You know how well it usually goes when people try to put a date on God…it doesn’t usually work out well.) And that’s where our reading comes in. Jeremiah says in response to Hananiah, Amen! May the Lord do so; may the Lord make the words that you have prophesied come true, and bring back to this place from Babylon the vessels of the house of the Lord, and all the exiles (Jer. 28:6). In other words, he’s saying, “I hope you’re right, Hananiah—I really do!” But then Jeremiah continues and basically says, “But don’t count on it.” He continued, The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence (that is, plagues) against many countries and great kingdoms (Jer. 28:8). See, Jeremiah’s world was filled with frauds. And this fraud, Hananiah, was promising that true peace would come if the people would just hold on a bit longer and trust in what seemed right to them. But Jeremiah knew the truth. Jeremiah knew that he was living in a world filled with frauds, and that he was helpless to find true peace. But Jeremiah doesn’t give up hope. Despite the frauds around him, despite the instability and uncertainty, Jeremiah had hope. We get a fuller picture of that hope in chapter 29. But in the final verse of our reading, we see a glimmer of that hope. Jeremiah says: As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet (Jer. 28:9). Jeremiah placed his hope & trust in the true prophet that God would send to bring peace to his people.
3. Now, it shouldn’t be surprising to a good group of Lutherans, like you, for me to say that Jesus is that true prophet who brings peace. On most days, you’d probably take me at my word on that. But then, there was our Gospel reading from Matthew 10. Jesus said, right at the beginning, Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt. 10:34). Yikes! What are we to make of that? Well, I’d like to draw your attention to three significant words in this verse. Jesus said: Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. He’s talking about the world, not necessarily you and me. He never says anywhere, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to you.” Quite the opposite—in many places. Jesus statement is simply recognizing and reinforcing what Jeremiah spoke of—hard times are all around us. And we know about that all too well. They had wars; we have riots. They had famines; we have food shortages (or toilet paper shortages, as it were). They had plagues; we have pandemics. Jesus is simply recognizing that those things happen in a sinful world. But part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus is to take up our cross and follow Jesus (c.f. Matt. 10:38). He even says, Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt. 10:39). In other words, hard times will come, but Jesus is God’s true prophet who brings peace to his people. That’s true even if the peace Jesus brings doesn’t always come in the ways we would like, expect, or even hope. It requires us to lay down our expectations and hopes and to trust in him—that’s how we find that true peace.
4. See, we would like Jesus to bring us peace by eliminating Covid-19, to get rid of the need to wear these masks and social distance. We would hope that he would remove the racial divisions from our world and the riots and unrest that have happened as a result. We often expect Jesus to bring peace in those ways. But Jesus calls us to lay down our expectations and to echo Jeremiah and say, “I hope those things happen…I pray that the Lord does those things. But I’m not going to count on it. At least not yet.” See, God works by the power of his Spirit in his own way and in his own timing. But in the meantime, he has given us Jesus. We can trust in Jesus. We can cling to Jesus—no social distancing required. He is not a fraud—he’s the true bringer of peace. And we find that peace in the very places Jesus promises to meet us: in his Word and in his Sacraments. See, Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament to enable us to trust in the peace that he gives. And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to plead with you today. As this congregation prepares to say goodbye to a beloved, faithful pastor in a few months. As we begin to open a new chapter together, boldly stepping into the future that our Lord has for us. As we do that together, I want to plead with you not to give in to the frauds of this world—don’t put your trust in them. They will always disappoint. Put your trust in Jesus. Trust his word. Read it. Study it. Gather together with others around the Scriptures here or elsewhere. Put your trust in the Lord’s Sacraments. Remember your baptism—how Christ claimed you as his own in those waters. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper here as often as you can as we are brought into deeper fellowship and one another, and more importantly with our Savior who feeds us his body and blood at this altar for our forgiveness, for our life together, and for the assurance of our eternal salvation. Trust in Jesus. He is God’s true prophet who brings you peace.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
EXCELLENT SERMON I look forward being present in the Congregation of my fellow SAINTS.
A very lovely and meaningful sermon, Pastor Aikens. Peter and I found it to be so supportive though these troubling times.