There’s not a lot of Gospel-sounding words in today’s Gospel lesson, but I’m going to do my best.
Would anyone like to eat some rat poison?
Not a lot, mind you, just a little.
What if we feed rat poison to the whole world?
They would eat and be satisfied. That’s good, right?
We could water it down. Surely, we’ll build up an immunity to it by ingesting it carefully and in small quantities. A little dab’ll do ya, right?
Advertise it as all-natural, non-GMO, vegan rat poison, since that’s the thing to do.
Or sweeten it—no one would ever guess at the bait and switch.
Of course we’ll charge a pretty penny for it, and imagine all the good we could do with the money.
Guys, I’m tellin’ ya, this is worth a shot.
You may not know it, but I just described every tent-revivalist and false prophet and nearly every science textbook that exists.
Some rat poisons are made of 99.995% inert ingredients. That means 99.995% of some rat poisons do nothing. They probably taste and look great.
But it’s not the 99.995% that kills you. Or the rat.
It’s the .005% poison and false doctrine that does the killing.
A science textbook that’s 99% observational science and 1% “We evolved from nothing when something eventually happened to the nothing” is rat poison.
A biology textbook that’s 99% observational science and 1% “Gender is a fluid, social construct” is rat poison.
In the Church, teaching that is 99% true and 1% false is rat poison, no matter how much you love the 99% or the person speaking.
False doctrine satanic, blasphemous rat poison.
If I serve up 100 of the best chocolate chip cookies, and I say, “Only one of them is laced with enough rat poison to kill you.” None of those cookies will be eaten.
But, in American Christianity, if your shepherd calls your attention to theological rat poison, the response isn’t “Ew. Gross. Let me eat somewhere else and better” but rather, “I’m sure he means well, and he’s done a lot of good in the world. Who are you to judge?”
I’m not talking about accidental theological rat poison that’s soon enough repented of. In the manuscript of last week’s sermon, I forgot the word “not,” so it read something like “God wants us to hurt people.”
This happens when your describe God as immoral instead of immortal or when you’re reading the Christmas story and call Joseph just a man instead of a just man. I’m not talking about that kind of rat poison.
Or the incidental stuff that’s dropped as soon as it’s noticed. In the Altar Guild Manual that CPH sells, it says specifically that plastic cups should never be used. It’s easy to read a CPH published, Commission on Worship approved statement like that and change what you do.
But I’m not talking about that kind of rat poison. I’m talking about persistent adherence to false doctrine, teaching in word and deed that is contrary to Christ.
Like publishing the Altar Guild Manual and selling plastic cups.
It’s my God-given responsibility to say true things and, teaching the truth of the Word of God, to warn you of the wolves dressed as sheep.
Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
He says, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” meaning, “Beware…of the teaching of the Pharisees” (cf. Matthew 16:11-12).
We don’t ignore them completely. Jesus says, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice” (cf. Matthew 23, esp. vv. 1-2).
“You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), Jesus says.
By their teaching and works. By what they say and do.
You will hear and see and judge—according to the Word of God—whether “Thus says the Lord” or not.
And if you find .005% poison in what is otherwise a fine meal, do what you would do in all other cases.
If one pill in a hundred will kill you, you’d call the doctor or the pharmacy, you’d ask a question, you’d confirm and have the bottle refilled.
If one cookie in a hundred will kill you, you’d easily refrain from eating those and happily eat what you know for certain is meet, right, and salutary.
The doctor may be supremely popular, incredibly kind, or, as they say in Boston, “Wicked smaht.” But he, the pharmacist, or whoever, can still make mistakes.
And unfortunately does.
Has anyone here been given the wrong prescription?
As soon as you realize it, you take action.
You don’t keep taking it.
You don’t gamble with your life—and you shouldn’t.
Not with pills. Or cookies. Or false doctrine.
This is my paraphrase, but St. Paul says in the book of Acts: “I will not shrink from declaring to you the whole council of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves. God has obtained the Church with His own blood, but fierce wolves come in among you and seek you out. From among your own selves arise men speaking twisted things, to draw you away” (paraphrase, cf. Acts 20:27-30).
If only 99% of the sermon is faithful, biblical teaching, you need to sit down with me and show me the 1%.
And I need to listen and correct it.
If 99% of what Billy Graham said is faithful, biblical teaching—that’s great—insofar as he taught the truth when he taught the truth.
But when and where he didn’t teach the truth, be honest about it and move on.
Billy Graham said this about Baptism: “Baptism is a conclusive act of obedience and witness to the world that we are Christ’s.”
Be honest. That’s the .005%. That’s false doctrine. That’s as far from what Scripture teaches as you can get.
That teaches that faith must pre-exist Baptism, which is contrary to the Word of God.
That teaches that Baptism is a work we do rather than a work God does, which is contrary to the Word of God.
That teaches that Baptism is worthless in terms of salvation which is contrary to the Word of God.
St. Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).
St. Paul writes, “[God] saved us, not because of [obedient] works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (cf. Titus 3:5-6).
Baptism is one of the means by which God saves us.
That’s what the Bible teaches.
And any teacher that teaches otherwise and remains in that false teaching is a false prophet.
We recognize them by their fruits, their teaching, what they say and do.
This last week, I attended a conference in Wisconsin. One of the sessions I attended identified false doctrine as a form of persecution.
Not so pastors sit in self-pity, but so we all recognize who we’re up against.
I heard it, immediately recognized it as true, but I also realized that I couldn’t have articulated it that way myself. I rejoice to learn.
False doctrine is persecution.
When doctrine is attacked, it’s the devil’s work.
He does not want to let God speak.
Consider all the times when what you know to be true according to God’s Word is attacked in front of you.
It’s no longer socially acceptable to assert the truth of the Word of God over and against homosexuality, divorce, premarital sex, or pornography—and I don’t mean the pornography that everyone hates, I mean most daytime tv shows designed for children, I mean that kind of godless pornography.
Christians won’t condemn what is clearly condemned in the Word of God without first listing all the exceptions to the rule.
We don’t want to offend.
But the Gospel is offensive—if you believe it.
Church is a rather uncomfortable place—if what we say is happening is actually happening.
This is the Gospel: in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, all sin is forgiven. And all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
For you to benefit from that, you have to call yourself a sinner, first. You have to agree that there’s a right and a wrong and that you are by nature sinful, unclean, and in the wrong.
That’s offensive because it’s so alien, so strange to us who are definitely used to justifying self.
But there is peace for you if you confess that you cannot save yourself, that God saves you, not by conclusive acts of obedience or outward expressions of an inward grace but by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
Church is, for a time, a rather uncomfortable place, because you—a sinner—are in the presence of God.
Have you ever listened to the words of the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”?
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence / And with fear and trembling stand; / Ponder nothing earthly minded, / For with blessing in His hand / Christ our God to earth descending / Comes our homage to demand” (LSB 621:1).
Coram Deo, in the presence of God, if you’re not humbled by the fact that God’s Body and Blood is truly present—you’re probably already dead and this is Weekend at Bernie’s.
Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
There’s not a lot of Gospel-sounding words in today’s Gospel lesson. I’d say about 99.995% of them are Law.
But .005% can do a lot.
Not everyone who publicly, loudly, and successfully-in-the-eyes-of-everyone-else says “Lord, Lord…” will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Not everyone who pontificates and prophesies with passion will enter the kingdom of heaven.
But you will.
Because you hear the Word of God and do it.
Even when you don’t want to or no one does.
Even when it hurts, or is scandalous to the world, drawing its ire.
You recognize good fruit and rejoice in it.
With blessing in His hand, Christ our God to earth descends, come at last to save all Man.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 8 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt