Summer Preaching Series
August 11, 2019
“To Destroy…To Build and to Plant”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
Some Sunday’s it doesn’t pay to go to church. Last Sunday was one of them.
Last Sunday I saw people deeply affected by worship. Some had tears. Some just had red eyes. Some didn’t stay for the entire worship. Last Sunday I had asked Pastor Kelly Crabbe to preach the first of our sermons on “The Christian and Homosexuality.” I asked him because his daughter is gay. He could speak in a way that I could not. And I overheard quite a few of you as you greeted Pastor and his wife Melanie in the Narthex following the service, that their story is also yours. One of your children, or grandchildren, a niece or nephew, a dear co-worker or a best friend, is also gay.
Last Sunday was hard. This Sunday may be hard, as well. The topic, for a second week in a row is “The Christian and Homosexuality.” When I asked for topics to preach on, the one that got numerous requests was this one. One of our folks wrote, “We have a grandson who is gay. He has been baptized and speaks of his Christianity and faith and prays often. Just a fine, intelligent, outgoing young man. After he informed his parents, one of his biggest concerns was ‘how will grandma and grandpa handle this information?’” Margo Pasha said, “Pastor: I’d like to know how we. as Christians (or even humans) are supposed to react to gender neutral, gender fluid, transgender, transsexual, bisexual…letting children decide what sex they’d like to be, or their sexual inclination? How do we interact with them? What do we tell our children?”
Within a few months of coming to Ascension one of our old timer’s said he and his wife wanted to take me out to lunch and they would pay!! I couldn’t wait. The topic of conversation? Homosexuality. They have a grandson who is gay. They had some questions, “What do we do?” “How do we react?”
But I know of a number of our parishioners who stayed away from church last Sunday (and probably this Sunday) because they have had enough of this subject. They can’t wait for the regular season of the Broncos to begin and I’ll start preaching about football once again.
After late service, last Sunday, I told Pastor Crabbe that I appreciated him coming and speaking. He told me that when he got my e-mail asking him to preach about the Christian and Homosexuality he was mad. He was angry at me. He had never been asked to come to any church and talk about something so personal and painful. His initial reaction was that we could two weeks of Larson on that subject. But I’m so thankful that he changed his mind and came.
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to go to church because we talk about stuff that is hard or painful or difficult. I selected the opening chapter of Jeremiah for our text because Jeremiah is called to do some very hard things as he speaks God’s words to his people. “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:10)
Some of his words were going to ‘uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow.’ God’s words can hurt. God’s words can be painful. Later God says to Jeremiah, “Is not my word like fire and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)
We live in a world that celebrates gayness. Millions of people march in parades every year proclaiming the joy of being gay. Everything you see on TV and movies, in magazines and in most newspapers, speaks about how this type of sexuality makes our world better and stronger. If anyone speaks against homosexuality they are accused of hate speech, are bigoted or homophobic. I expect this wave to continue within our society.
But when the Scriptures list sins, many sins, one of the sins listed is homosexuality. It is not the only sin. It is not the greatest sin. It is not the unforgiveable sin – as Pastor Crabbe told us last week. But it is sin.
So Jeremiah is told that he is going to speak and when he speaks he is going to speak something that is quite unpleasant. “To uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow.” I bet there was just a little bit of pushback to all of that!! Jeremiah, just 20 chapters after having this great calling placed on him, told God how he resented what he was asked to do. “O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.” (Jeremiah 20:7-8) Lord, thanks, right?
But Jeremiah’s job was not just to destroy. He was called to build and plant. That’s the better job. Within the first few months of being a pastor I had a number of people walk out during my sermon. I offended them by what I said. I served two rural churches where most of the congregation were related to each other in some way, or another. The members knew things that were going on that I hadn’t learned yet. The folks who walked out thought that I was attacking them, personally, from the pulpit. When I saw a number of folks talking in the back of the church following the service when some folks walked out I asked, innocently, “What happened?” “Why did they leave.” I got the scoop. And then, Ken, said of it all, “If the shoe fits…” He wasn’t too sorry that they had walked out. He thought they were getting what they deserved.
Is that the purpose of preaching? To inflict as much pain as you can? To embarrass people? Make them squirm? No. Jeremiah was told “To uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” If anything is opposed to the will of God in our life, including the actions of our sexuality, then it is time for such things to be uprooted and destroyed. St. Paul, who had a few things to say about purity of life wrote, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Corinthians 10:5)
The purpose of preaching is to lead people to Jesus Christ. The purpose is to build and plant and make life and faith grow. When Jeremiah was told that he was appointed a prophet of God he didn’t like the calling. “I do not know how to speak, I am only a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6) He was inexperienced. This task of speaking to others in God’s name was beyond him. But do you remember how God fixed that? “Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:9) It reminds me of what happened to Isaiah. After he had seen God on His throne his reaction was, “Woe to me! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) But the remedy? The angel flew with a coal from God’s altar and seared his lips with it. “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:7b)
God’s purpose in life is to save us, forgive us, give us a new life. He wants to touch our lips, put new words in our mouth. I liked what Pastor Crabbe said, “Homosexuality doesn’t get me into hell just as heterosexuality doesn’t get me into heaven. It’s WHO my Savior is that gets me anywhere.” Last week our epistle from Corinthians destroyed and built. Listen to these great words, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
Jeremiah, known as “The Weeping Prophet”, was called to build and plant. He speaks words of life to a hurting people when he speaks God’s words directly, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to come to church. We talk about some hard things that are difficult to understand. Some of what I said today may have hurt you. But that is not my ultimate intention. My intention is to lead you to the fullness of God’s love shown in Jesus. My intention is that you would find new life through Jesus. My intention is that every thought, even on these hard matters, would be captive to Christ.
Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to come to church. But sometimes it does. God speaks to us. Directs us in a new way. Forgives sins. Gives new life. May He do that today. Amen.