Watch out for false prophets, says Jeremiah. And Jesus repeats the message in our gospel lesson for the eighth Sunday after Trinity. Wherever there is God’s truth, the evil one tries to drown it out with lies and half-truths. And if we are honest with ourselves, would we have wanted to listen to Jeremiah prophesy the doom of Jerusalem, or would we have hoped that those false prophets might be true, that we would all be okay just continuing to live like we always had?
It’s hard to seek truth when it is like a double-edged sword, and the lies are soft and comforting. How can we escape the lies we like to tell ourselves? Only by the grace of God and His Holy Spirit, as Paul tells us in Romans this week. May we let God, our loving Father, take away our fears that we may rest in Him. Then we do not need comforting lies to soothe our fears – for we have God’s peace that passes all understanding, and the genuine security that comes with His truth.
The Old Testament lesson is from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 23, verses 16-29:
This is what the Lord Almighty says:
“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you;
they fill you with false hopes.
They speak visions from their own minds,
not from the mouth of the Lord.
They keep saying to those who despise me,
‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’
And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts
they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’
But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord
to see or to hear his word?
Who has listened and heard his word?
See, the storm of the Lord
will burst out in wrath,
a whirlwind swirling down
on the heads of the wicked.
The anger of the Lord will not turn back
until he fully accomplishes
the purposes of his heart.
In days to come
you will understand it clearly.
I did not send these prophets,
yet they have run with their message;
I did not speak to them,
yet they have prophesied.
But if they had stood in my council,
they would have proclaimed my words to my people
and would have turned them from their evil ways
and from their evil deeds.
Am I only a God nearby,”
declares the Lord,
“and not a God far away?
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.
“I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the Lord. “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”
The Epistle lesson is from Romans, chapter 8, verses 12-17:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
The Gospel for the eighth Sunday after Trinity is from Matthew, chapter 7, verses 15-23:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, from Religious Emblems, by William Holms, William Barber, and John Warner (1851) [Public domain]