Stop; Close Your Mouth, So You Can Hear The Gospel

Text: Romans 3:19-28

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

One of the traits of a narcissist is that they talk about themselves a lot.  Now, just in case you don’t know what a narcissist is, a narcissist is someone who thinks they are the most important and special person in the world.  And so, a narcissist will often seek attention and praise from other people while not being very interested in other people’s feelings or thoughts.  And so, to the point, wherever you find a loudmouth individual frequently focusing on themselves, typically, you will find a narcissist.  Indeed, narcissists are me-centered and self-focused.  The world always revolves around a narcissist.  

But this begs the question – why are we human beings so narcissistic?  Why are even churches easily seduced into narcissism?  Why is it so easy to focus on the unholy trinity of ‘me, myself, and I?”  

Dear friends, narcissism is seductive because it is a way in which we can obtain validation, attention, control, and dominance from other people.  But again, this begs the question – why do we so badly need validation, attention, control, and dominance?  Why are we so inclined to narcissism?  

The simple answer is that we want and need constant recognition of ourselves.  Indeed, it is true; we need to be confirmed by other people.  In fact, we need this so much that we coerce other people to give us a glance, a word, or a reward.  And to do this, we will often use our loud mouths.  

However, what can happen is that in trying to get the attention focused on us, other people may criticize us.  Indeed, in this life, people will complain about us, spread rumors about our personal lives, criticize our behavior, question our motives, and so forth.  As a result, we will end up talking not less but even more.  You see, when we are criticized, we are pressured to justify our actions.  As a result, we will use more words than before. And so, while we are trying to get attention on us with our loud mouths, we are simultaneously trying to explain our actions, rationalize our behaviors, and provide reasons for our motives with many words.    

This brings up another interesting point: can a church become ensnared in this narcissistic trap of running its mouth for attention and self-justifying?  

Back in the 1500s, the church was very loud-mouthed.  For example, there were self-serving religious duties and prayers.  There were indulgences and penance.  There were monastic vows.  There were pilgrimages.  There was saying the mass.  There was severe discipline and so forth.  In other words, the church’s mouth was not shut but wide open.  Again, the church was very loud.

Tragically, though, we aren’t much better than the church of the 16th Century.  Today, one does not have to look too far to hear Christians talking about how they have successfully surrendered to God or how they have re-dedicated their life to God.  Indeed, we hear about how people have made a serious commitment to follow Jesus.  We hear about the good works of Christians – how well we pray, how pious we look, how godly we sound.  On social media, we hear about different successful programs in the church, how much money we give, and how successful our mission projects are.  We hear about how full the churches are and how well we sing songs really-really-loud to show how on fire we are for the Lord.  Now, I am not talking about humbly rejoicing over good works done amid the church but the boisterous kind of chatter that is narcissistic to the core.  The kind of chatter that seeks attention; the kind of news that desires to make the front page of the news, as they say.  Sadly, we often hear too much about the Christian and not enough about the Christ.  Tragically, whole churches can become trapped in narcissism as the conversation shifts away from the goodness of Jesus to the greatness of the local church and its members. 

And so, it all really boils down to this – is your mouth open or shut?  And for us at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, is our mouth open or closed?   

Dear friends, in the reading from the Epistle of Romans, the Apostle Paul tells you and me that under the holy Law of God, every mouth should be shut – silenced. That is to say, none of us are super-special before God's holy Law.  No one lives right, not even one.  Before God’s holy law, we’ve all taken the wrong turn and wandered down blind alleys.  Indeed, no one is living right, not a single one of us.  And to make things worse, all of our justifying and narcissistic-attention-seeking is tinged with poison.  The bragging words that we speak pollute the air. Frankly stated before God almighty, there is only one option – a closed mouth.  Before God almighty, every single one of us is a sinner – we are all in the same sinking boat with everybody else.  And so, a narcissistic and self-justifying loudmouth doesn’t make sense before God almighty.  And it especially does not make sense for us as a church.   

During the 1500s, it has been stated that the Reformation was a time when the church discovered the Gospel – the work of Christ for sinful mankind.  While this is undoubtedly true, the Reformation was also a time when the church came to understand just how much humanity was stuck in sin.  And so, in simple terms, the Reformation was about the church learning to shut its mouth so that it might hear the Gospel.  Simply stated, the Reformers of the 1500s began rejecting all the loud chatter of the church.  They did away with noisy indulgences, loud monastic vows, and deafening works of penance.  The Reformers told the church to shut up.  Indeed, mouths needed to be shut before almighty God so their ears could hear the Gospel.

Dear friends, if we can learn anything from the Reformation and our reading from the Epistle of Romans, it is this: Christianity is quite simple.  Before God almighty, we are not able to run our mouths.  We don’t have any right to be loudmouthed.  Narcissism and self-justification have no place before God almighty.  They have no place in this Christian faith. If we talk at all, it is only to confess our sins.  But other than that, our mouths should be shut.  They need to be shut so that we can hear the good news of the Gospel: God did it all for you.  Out of sheer generosity, He put you in a right standing with Himself.  This is a pure gift for you.  The mess you are in with your sin – He gets you out of it and restores you to where He has always wanted you to be… with Him forgiven in Christ.  Indeed, He has done this all for you through Christ Jesus.  

Yes, with shut mouths and open ears, hear: your Jesus was sacrificed on the cross to atone for your damning sins, so that you do not have to confess your puny-so-called greatness but confess His profound greatness on your behalf.  

Baptized Saints, in Christ, there is no need to promote your greatness with many words.  The Christian faith is not about you, but instead, it is about the Christ who is for you.  Indeed, there is no need to seek validation, attention, control, and dominance with a loud mouth.  And there is no need to self-justify with an open mouth.  The reason why? In Christ, you already have full validation.  In Christ, you already have complete justification for all your sins.  And so, in Christ, you don’t need to run your mouth or blather away about yourself.  You don’t need to explain your actions, rationalize your behaviors, and provide reasons for your motives to obtain justification before God.  Instead, close your mouth and listen to the Gospel that is for you.  

The Reformers were right.  This Christian faith is relatively simple.  We stand before God with a closed mouth and open ears to hear the Word alone.  We stand with our mouths closed and ears open to hear about Christ and His Grace alone.  We stand with our mouths shut to receive - by faith alone – forgiveness, life, and salvation accomplished in Christ and by Christ alone for you and for me.

…And if there will be any talking on our behalf, well… it isn’t about us or this church. Instead, any open mouth and any talking that we do as Christians is about the goodness of Christ, who is for us.    

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

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