Does the American Church Have Loose Ears?

Text: James 1:22-27 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Perhaps we Missouri Synod Lutherans are justified in condemning the garbage from most pulpits these days. On the one hand, pick any ELCA Church or Mainline Church, and there will be a good chance you will hear some kind of sermon on social justice, gender, or diversity. Tragically, there is not much difference between the messages coming out of these churches and what you hear on liberal television networks. On the other hand, pick any American Evangelical Church, and there will be a good chance that you will hear some kind of sermon on better tips to live a successful life or sermons on better sex, better finances, and more well-behaved kids. Tragically, there is not much difference between the messages coming out of these churches and what you hear on Dr. Phil. As one Missouri Synod District President once lamented, 

“In the American church, we have a famine of the Word of God.” 

For the most part, we Missouri Synod Lutherans can lament about this famine of the Word in America while priding ourselves that most of our churches are teaching correctly. 

However, it must be noted that good teaching is only one-half of the issue. In other words, while it is important to condemn loose teaching and preaching, we must also condemn loose hearing.  

In our reading from the Epistle of James, James addresses the problem of loose hearing. He condemns you and me for letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. But we don’t do that, do we? We sure do.  

Dear friends, how many times have you read the liturgy, heard the prayers of the church, sung a hymn, and then two minutes later have no idea what we just spoke, sung, and prayed? How many times do you find yourselves moving your mouths in the Divine Service while thinking about the upcoming Sunday afternoon football game, your upcoming work week, or a recent discussion with your friends? How often do you look at someone else in the pew to compare yourself with them or make silent judgments about them while moving your mouth to the Creed? 

We pastors have a saying, 

“When you are tired, just read the black and do the red.”  

In other words, to lead a Divine Service, all a pastor has to do is read the black words in his liturgical book and then do what the red words have told him to do (say this; then do this action). We, pastors, are just as guilty of loose hearing as parishioners.

It looks like pastors and parishioners alike are guilty of forgetful and vain hearing. Our ears are loose and lazy.

But this is where we must be very careful. You see, too often, when pastors and parishioners struggle with the sin of loose hearing, instead of repenting of our sluggish and lazy ears, we put the blame on that which is spoken and sung. We say, 

“If we didn’t have rote and repetitive liturgy, we would listen more.”

 “If the music was a little more upbeat and not so dirgy, I would remember the meaning of the song more.”

 “If the pastor was more relational and the sermons were more entertaining, I would be less drowsy and sleepy during the sermon.” 

Just like a lazy employee blaming a boss for getting fired, well… we too will blame the message for our lazy and slothful ears. And unfortunately, without even realizing it, we in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod can change our services and sermons to accommodate lazy and slothful ears rather than confronting our lazy and slothful ears. Mark this; in the end, if we do not confront lazy and slothful ears but accommodate lazy and slothful ears, we are no different than churches that withhold the Word of God from their churches. Lord have mercy!

Dear friends, the problem is two-fold. The church must preach and teach the Word when it is popular and when it is not. The Word is to be preached with intensity, simplicity, and faithfulness, even when people will have no stomach for solid teaching but instead will want to fill up on spiritual junk food. And at the same time, we, the church, have ears, and these ears need to listen. Because if we don’t listen, well… the Word will go in one ear and out the other, resulting in the Devil sweeping the Word away from our hearts, leaving us just as famished as those in the ELCA and those in any number of big-box churches.  Please hear this loud and clear. A slothful, lazy, and deaf church is no better off than a heretical-speaking church – both are experiencing a famine of the Word. 

Baptized Saints, you, who have ears, listen up! You do not come into this sanctuary to get a mere pep talk. You are not even in this sanctuary to be entertained with stories from this pulpit. If you need entertainment, you are better off going to a movie than coming into this sanctuary. And if you need a bit of a pep talk with life hacks… you are better off searching for 7-minute videos on Youtube to find yesterday’s life tip. But rather, you are in this sanctuary to hear the Word of God. And the Word of God is not just any word.  

Keep in mind that this very world that we live in – along with all the stars and planets – was created not by some big bang, but the Spoken Word created it. God spoke, and everything was created from nothing. Also, that same Word that created the world in six days put on human flesh and walked among us. Jesus – the spoken Word – spoke to wind and waves, and they obeyed. He spoke to disease, death, and demons, and they shuttered. And that same Word that created the world and that same Word that spoke to obeying wind and waves and that same Word that spoke to disease, death, and demons is spoken to you right here in this sanctuary. So, why do you not listen to this Word? Why do you and I let this creating and powerful Word go in one ear and out the other? Why do we so quickly forget this Word or not value this Word of God? The answer is simple – we have loose ears. We have lazy ears. We have slothful ears.  

And so, dear friends, it is clear this morning that you and I must repent of hearing the Word and then two minutes later having no idea what was said. We must repent of our dull minds and our lazy-lethargic-apathetic-sleepy ears. Furthermore, while we are at it, we must also repent of believing that what we hear from the liturgy, readings, and sermons is some flimsy and weak religious-sounding sentiment.  

Baptize Saints; listen up! You are not in this sanctuary for your ears to hear some plastic and empty religious-sounding garbage to make you feel warm and fuzzy. But instead, you are in this sanctuary because you have ears that need to hear the Word of God – the Word that created this world and sustains reality. You are in this sanctuary so that you can hear, beyond all reasonable doubt, that your Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected for you. You are in this sanctuary so that you can hear – despite what you feel from your guilty conscience - that your sins are truly forgiven in Christ. You are in this sanctuary so that you can hear - despite the aches and pains of death in your body - that you will be resurrected on the last day. Baptized Saints, you are here in the sanctuary so that the Word of God can deliver truth into your ears and defines reality for you amid a very confused world that we find ourselves in. 

Baptized Saints, those with lazy ears do not abide in the Word, do not know the truth, and are not set free. But, you, who hear the Word, have Jesus. And when you have Jesus through the Word, you have truth poured into your ears – truth that sets you free in this world of deception.  

Lord God, create in us a clean heart; give us ears to hear. Lord God, implant your Word of truth in us. Break the silence of our deafness, give our dull minds understanding, and set us free in You.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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