6th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB # 912, 704, 729
Text – Jeremiah 17:5 & 7
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man & makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.”
CURSED OR BLESSED
Are you cursed or are you blessed? PAUSE
“The Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock & above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, & dust you shall eat all the days of your life.’” (Genesis 3:14 ESV) That is a verse familiar to many who follow Jesus. Cursed by God, Satan is, because he tempted Adam & Eve to sin.
‘Cursed’ is a strong word when used by the Almighty God, & He uses the exact same word in reference to any man who trusts in man. By definition, that means anyone whose heart turns away from the Lord is cursed just as Satan is. Strong language that is, the kind frowned upon in our culture especially when spoken from a religious context.
People who practice religion are supposed to be nice & kind & gentle & certainly not at all judgmental. And yet, the Lord God wants to know how you answer this question, “Are you cursed or are you blessed?” The Creator of heaven & earth is asking because He loves you, & because He is concerned about the state of your soul.
Satan wants you to believe that God does not have your best interests at heart. Satan wants you to feel like God is only concerned with judging you. The devil wants you to ignore or to discount the fact that Yahweh sent His only begotten Son to die for your sins. Lucifer wants you to forget that there is now nothing separating you from your heavenly Father.
The great deceiver knows that faith in Jesus as Savior is always imperiled on one side by despair & on the other by optimism. Of the two, optimism is the more dangerous. Optimism & self-sufficiency go hand in hand. Optimistic people believe in their nation, in their culture, in the goodness of people. They believe in the capacity of human reason for infinite growth. They believe in the scientific progress of mankind & in the human ability to shape a government or civilization that will be free of evil. Human pride is one root of human failure.
Cursed are those who trust in people, even if they are pious people. Cursed are those who trust in the visible church. Even God’s people are sinful & the church they build is always a very fallen human institution. The visible church is directed by the sinful ambitions & the faulty insights of people just like you & me – sinners struggling with being forgiven.
“Are you cursed or are you blessed?” Even for children of God, the answer seems to be yes. Suffering under the burden of sin certainly feels, on many occasions, like we are cursed. The good that we want to do we don’t do, & the evil that we do not want to do that we keep on doing. And our despair in that, can certainly endanger our following of Jesus.
However, we now live in a culture that knows nothing of sin as the heavenly Father defines it. In general, the people of our nation no longer consciously fear God. Our culture is living in optimism when it comes to the spiritual realities of life. Again through Jeremiah, this is what the Lord says to His people about mankind’s spiritual optimism:
“…Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; & to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” (23:16-17 ESV)
Satan wants you to believe that we are blessed no matter what we choose to do. Jeremiah tells us honestly where some of our choices will leave us, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man & makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, & shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” (Jeremiah 17:5-6 ESV) Our culture tells us that we are free to choose & no matter the choice all will be well. The reality – our choices have consequences, not just for us, but for our neighbor as well.
Any choice that involves trusting human beings over God will always have negative consequences. Adam & Eve chose to trust in themselves rather than in their Creator & the entire creation was brought to ruin. Two years ago, when churches across the United States closed due to the pandemic, it was a choice based upon human wisdom.
For a time, it was reasonable given our complete lack of knowledge about the new virus. Within months it was obvious that trusting in the wisdom of God was far better than trusting in the wisdom of man:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love & good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, & all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV) Meeting in person in churches, has not caused the deaths of thousands of people.
Ultimately, even the virus must surrender to the sovereignty of God. We find these words in the 14th chapter of Job: “How frail is humanity! …We blossom like a flower & then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, & we are not given a minute longer.” (14: 1-2, 5 NLT)
Yahweh has created us, for a time & a place. When our purpose on earth is over, He takes us home, unless we refuse to be with Him. Nevertheless, our days are numbered & no mask or vaccination or quarantine, & no amount of science, will lengthen those days. Do you remember what the Word of God tells us on that? “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men…” (1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV) In other words, even if God is playing the fool He is still far wiser than any human wisdom, & He is in control of whether we live or whether we die. That truth doesn’t bother someone who trusts in the Lord, but it certainly does bother anyone who trusts in man.
Remember the strong words of the sermon text? “Cursed is the man who trusts in man & makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5, ESV)
Our culture, & our sinful nature, want people to believe that we can be self-sufficient when it comes to the spiritual realities. When it becomes clear that we need help all too often we then turn to other human sources of wisdom. In the worst case scenario we just end up digging the hole deeper & deeper. It’s a long & winding road to actually turning to God.
As we heard in the Gospel of Luke, “…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn & weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (6:24-26 ESV)
Often, in our sinfulness, we go through a long & winding road of woe before we finally turn back to the Lord for guidance, comfort & strength. Yet, in this morning’s Introit we heard: “Blessèd are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessèd are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart.” (Psalm 119:1-2 ESV)
That is good news because the Son of God took on human flesh in order to live the blameless life here on earth that we never will. Jesus kept the Lord’s testimonies perfectly & sought His heavenly Father with His whole human heart, because He knew that we never would. Then, all of Jesus’ perfection is credited to us in Baptism & Holy Communion & in the Word.
Through those means of grace, the Holy Spirit reconnects us to the holiness that we lost
at the Fall into sin. The Holy Spirit puts us back into a forgiven relationship with our Creator. The Holy Spirit strengthens us to keep our trust in God against all the attacks & temptations of Satan. Yes, we still sin even after Baptism & Communion & hearing the Word of God, but our saintly nature, kept alive by God’s Spirit, turns back to Him in repentance.
Our heavenly Father sends curses upon us in this life, not to damn us to hell, but to wake us up & to turn us back to Him. As we turn back we receive the blessing of forgiveness & healing from the effects of our sins.
If you’re following this, you may be thinking, “Then we’ll need to repent a lot of times.” That is certainly true. Martin Luther believed that the essence of the Christian life is to be one of repentance, constantly, because that is how often we sin. The forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross is unlimited. When God dies for sin that covers it all.
“Are you cursed or are you blessed?” As Lutheran pastors discuss that sort of thing, we often say, “The answer is yes!” Both are true, but in Jesus Christ we have life for eternity, & once we get to heaven, there will be only blessing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined with the light of grace that issues from Your holy face. Remove the power of sin from me & cleanse all my impurity that I may have the strength & will temptations of the flesh to still. Create in me a new heart, Lord, that gladly I obey Your Word. Let what You will be my desire, & with new life my soul inspire. Amen. LSB 704:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet