Text: Jeremiah 23:23-32
This past Monday, when I was praying Matins and Evensong on my day off, I was struck by a sense of relief. For the first time in about three months there were no special opening sentences, no extra antiphons or Collects, no midweek Propers, no Proper Prefaces, no breaks in the the regular course of Scripture readings. It was frankly, quite nice to be praying a rather vanilla Prayer Book service. I felt like a weight was lifted and I had some breathing room, liturgically speaking.
All that is to say, welcome to Trinitytide, our Post-Trinity season! Some of the more recent liturgical resources call this “Ordinary Time.” Or, as we’ve jokingly called it when doing some planning, “the long green mile.” This is by far the longest season of the Church year, when we do indeed vest in green. It takes up about half of the year. We will be in Trinitytide all the way until Advent, right around Thanksgiving weekend. And I’m sure that by the time Advent rolls around, we’ll be happy to mix in some changes!
But in the meantime, we use the next several months to focus on growth in the regular, normal life of the Christian walk. We won’t be looking so much at the various events in the life of Jesus and the Gospel story as much as focusing on living out our rather ordinary calling as Christians.
Our Collect for the this First Sunday After Trinity helps to set the stage for this season of walking and growing. We prayed:
O God, the strength of all those who put their trust in thee; Mercifully accept our prayers; and because, through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of they grace, that in keeping thy commandments we may please thee, both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here we see a great summary of our basic duties as Christians: prayer and keeping God’s commandments. We worship God, we talk to him, we engage with his word, and then we do what he says to do. But we also see another key element of the Christian life: the need for repentance. We acknowledge the weakness of our flesh, our inability to please God without his aid, and our need for his grace. We cannot live out our Christian lives without God’s constant and active assistance and involvement.
The main Old Testament reading assigned for this Sunday illustrates what happens when we try to do it on our own and when we place our trust in something other than God and his Word. Please turn in your bibles to Jeremiah 23 beginning at the 23rd Verse Page 610:
 “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away?  Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.  I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’  How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart,  who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal?  Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD.  Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?  Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who steal my words from one another.  Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the LORD.’  Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the LORD, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the LORD.
Here we have a contrast between the dreams of the false prophets and the word of God. This has been the main problem addressed in much of Jeremiah, but particularly in this chapter. The chapter opens with God declaring
 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD.  Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD.
In our passage we see two ways that the false shepherds and false prophets have been working: in the past, they were leading the people to forget God by turning them to Baal and other false gods. Now they’re speaking lies in God’s name. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, we see that the main way they spoke lies was by telling the people that God was pleased and that everything would be alright, despite the people’s sins and idolatry. And when God would send warnings through his word and through legitimate prophets, the false prophets would downplay the coming judgment. They presented God as a doting grandfather that could never be angry with his people.
How does God answer? He begins by reminding them that he is watching. “Am I a God at hand and not a God far away?” For those who were leading God’s people away from him, there would be nowhere to hide. God was coming for them, and he knows what they were doing.
And the same is true today. Christian leaders who promote their agenda or the agenda of greater society over God’s word will be held accountable by the Lord. We all know how parts of our own Anglican Communion have been promoting an unbiblical view of human sexuality and blessing activity and relationships that Scripture considers to be sin. The Archbishop of Canterbury has recently released a letter denouncing the Provinces and Primates who refuse to fellowship with the bishops that are promoting these things, calling their stance for biblical sexual ethics unbiblical and schismatic. Our Primate and others rightly called him out for such hypocrisy.
Alternatively, we have Christian leaders who say that God told them in dreams or prophecies about all sorts of things that don’t come to pass. For example, there were numerous leaders who supposedly were told in dreams and prophecy that the last Presidential election would have certain results, when the results ended up going the other way. When these false prophets were called on their false prophecy, they doubled down, saying they must’ve misheard what God said rather than admit they they were speaking their own wishes and opinions rather than the word of God.
And then we have all the times that Christian leaders have abused their authority to satisfy their own egos and desires rather than taking care of God’s people.
Be assured: God sees and God will hold the shepherds and prophets responsible. There will be a reckoning. And that should make all of us, clergy or laity take care, for we all represent the Lord Jesus. Though not everyone is part of the ministerial priesthood, all Christians are part of the general priesthood of all believers, and woe to us if we cause the little ones to fall away.
God doesn’t only warn that he’s watching, but he also reminds the people of the power and truth of his Word. Verse 28: “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” In the end, it is God’s Word that will triumph. “What has straw in common with wheat?” It is God’s word that has the power to transform us. It is God’s word that has the power to save us from our sins as well as from the false shepherds.
You see, the Holy Scriptures tell us what God is really like. The Holy Scriptures tell us what is good and what is evil. The Holy Scriptures tell us what God expects of us. The Holy Scriptures give us the message of God’s grace and of our salvation. We don’t need any new revelations. We don’t need special dreams and visions about our national politics. We don’t need to figure out if the Spirit is doing a “new thing.” No, God’s word is constant, powerful, and sufficient. That doesn’t mean that the Church is irrelevant or that pastors and priests aren’t needed. It doesn’t mean that the Bible will tell you which shirt to wear, which car to drive, or which taco to have for breakfast. But it does mean that God’s word is our ultimate standard. It is the norm for everything we do, say, preach, and believe as Christians. It is effective and sufficient for all matters of faith and morals. As we read in Article VI of the 39 Articles of Religion:
Holy Scripture containers all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby , is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, ot to be through requisite or necessary to salvation.
Because God’s word is definitively from the Lord himself, because it is stable and unchanging, because it is sufficient for faith and morals, the Holy Scriptures have the final say. Woe to the one who echoes the Serpent asking “Did God really say…?” to obfuscate the Holy Scriptures. Woe to the one who declares “thus saith the Lord” when the Holy Scripture says otherwise.
Our passage concludes with God denouncing the false shepherds and false prophets. Verse 30:
 Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who steal my words from one another.  Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the LORD.’  Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the LORD, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the LORD.
God cares for his people. When the false prophets lead God’s people astray, God’s wrath is kindled. Today is Father’s Day, and God’s anger in our passage shows his Fatherhood. As a good Father, he fights for his people. He protects his people. He comes against the wolves who would devour his flock. And he provides a rescuer. If you back up in our chapter to Verse 5, we find a passage that may be familiar, as it is the “for the Epistle” reading on the Sunday Next before Advent:
 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
The ultimate answer to bad shepherds is to send the righteous Branch, the heir of King David, the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. Even the most well-meaning of earthly leaders cannot do good in their own strength. Each one of us will fail you and fail the Lord in one way or another. Our fallen mortal nature is weak and infected by sin. So we need God’s grace. We need the Lord Jesus, the Word Made Flesh. We need him to teach us, to live for us, to die for us, and to raise us with him. We need him to save us. Only then can we be empowered to follow the Good Shepherd. Only then can we walk in God’s strength. Only then can we hear from his Word and keep his commandments. And the Good Shepherd, our Prophet, Priest, and King, will indeed execute justice and righteousness in the land, saving us, and making us dwell securely.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.