September 23 2012 Sermon
Jeremiah 11:18 The LORD made it known to me and I knew; then you showed me their deeds. 19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” 20 But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.
The Lord made it known to me and I knew. They devised schemes saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off form the land of the living…” But “I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.” A lamb is seen as peaceful and gentle; a little cuddly fur-ball.
A lion, on the other hand, is strong and proud. He is a hunter who crouches, calculates, waiting for just the right time to pounce on his pray. Then he springs out, he attacks, he grabs his pray by with his powerful jaws and tears him apart. From this description which Jeremiah gives us here, “They devised schemes against me to cut me off form the land of the living,” and “I was a gentle lamb going to the slaughter,” we can draw an analogy of a lion and a lamb. Here we see the contrast between the gentle lamb and the devouring lion. Now, it is pretty obvious to us who live in the New Testament era that the gentle Lamb was Jesus Christ. Our Gospel reading points this out, that they were plotting and scheming against Jesus to kill him, yet he went to the slaughter as a gentle lamb.
But, who is the lion? Who is it that devours the lambs? James, in our Epistle reading talks about Christians who “… have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts.” He is talking about people in the church here. Turns out that we are the lions. He goes on to say that where jealousy and ambition exist there will be disorder and vile practice. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Your passions are at war within you. You desire and do not have. You covet and cannot obtain.” So you fight and quarrel. Then Mark records for us an argument among the disciples of Jesus. They were arguing about who was the greatest among them. This was not the only time they argued about the same thing. Luke tells us in his Gospel, that they argued about the very same thing while they were still at the table with Jesus when he instituted Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday evening. Can you believe that? On that solemn and holy night that Jesus was betrayed, when he instituted the Lord’s Supper and they received the body and blood of Jesus for the first time, an argument broke out among them while they were still at the communion table?
Now things are starting to come a little closer to home. We usually don’t quarrel at the communion table, but you have come to the table still holding grudges and harboring evil thoughts about others. You come to the table to seek forgiveness of your sins without having forgiven others, sometimes those sitting at the table with you. It usually doesn’t take too long after the service is over to notice tensions and resentments. Most of the time we keep them buried inside so that on the outside there is a veneer of cordiality, but the heart is full of evil thoughts. As James says, there is jealousy and selfish ambition in our hearts. There are quarrels and fights among you. You covet and desire power, authority and control. Like the disciples who fought about who was considered the greatest among them right at the communion table, you all want to be the most important. Even if you don’t say it out loud, it doesn’t matter, because Jeremiah tells us, “the Lord of hosts judges righteously and tests the heart and the mind.” Your thoughts, your attitudes, your desires, your pride, your selfish ambition, your jealously are all visible and known to God and are just as sinful as external deeds and actions.
That’s the way it is with us humans. Even as believers in Christ, we are still drawn by our sinful nature. We are adulterous people. We become friends of the world which is enmity with God. Selfish ambition still exists. We still want to be the most important, and we think we are the most important. Sin permeates our nature and everything we do. We all want to be top-dog. We all want to be the greatest, the most important. We all want to be on a higher level. That is, in fact, the essence of sin. That was the very sin Adam and Eve committed in the garden when they were tempted to “be like God.” They wanted to elevate themselves to a higher level. To be more important than what they really were. And so our entire life, we are burdened with the desire to be more than we really are, and the illusion of being someone more important than we really are. We become competitive, feel threatened when someone else seems to be better than us or competing for our position. So we argue, quarrel, and bicker. But, such things ought not be among the children of God.
When the disciples wanted to know who was the most important, Jesus stood a child in their midst to show them. That’s right. Learn the lesson. We who sometimes look down on children and don’t think they have a place in the church or worship service. A child is more important in God’s kingdom than all of us in high positions of authority. By using a child he includes all those who are poor, weak, sickly, elderly, dependent, who need a helping hand. These are the important ones. For “God opposes the proud.” He “scatters the proud, …brings down the mighty,…and sends the rich away empty.” (Luke 1). Jesus says, “anyone who wants to be first, he must become last and be the servant of all.” The last, the least, the servant, the one in the lowest position, that is the most important one.
“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves to God… Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord,…” (James 3). What all these sayings mean is repent! For we are all sinners condemned to hell…
Apart from the Lamb. You, by nature, are on the road to hell, if not for the lamb who stood in your place. The Lamb who went to the slaughter in your place so you won’t have to go to the slaughter. So in the end, being the lion and devouring everyone else only gets you condemned. It is the Lamb, the gentle, the peaceful, the humble who becomes the most important. It was Jesus who humbled himself before God in order that you might be exalted before God. This same Lord who scatters the proud, exalts those of humbled estate. He who sends the rich away empty, fills the hungry with good things. (Luke 1). Christ Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he emptied himself, by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That is what Jesus did for you. He was God. He sat on the throne of the entire world in all glory and power and might, but he left it all behind and became a humble servant. He took on human flesh and blood. He became your brother. He took off his outer garment and used it as a towel to wash his disciples feet. He served those in need, the sick, the lame, the crippled, even touched the leper. He humbled himself to shame and disgrace, the shame of the cross, and he died for your sins and went to hell in your place. He humbled himself so he could take your pride to the cross and crucify it. There you are forgiven. There he reconciled you to his Father and made you children of God. Jesus humbled himself to make you children, children of God. So that now you can be humble by the power of the Holy Spirit and live in humility like a child, serving one another in love.
Because he humbled himself to the cross, you have been elevated as God’s children. “By good conduct show your works in the meekness of wisdom.” “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” You have been declared the sons of God. God gives you his grace. So when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, he will vindicate you. And as you await that Day when he comes for you, put away all bitter jealously and selfish ambition. Seek the wisdom from above in word and sacrament; for that wisdom is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Those who make peace will have a harvest of righteousness.
Persevere in the faith and in love so that on the Last Day you shall stand upright and take possession of the promised land where your dwelling place will be with God forever. This life is filled with tears and trials, with afflictions and anguish, but those who persevere to then end in faith shall enter into the land of promise and live eternally with God your Father. Amen.