photo credit Sonja Clemente, 2006

 

Not for Itching Ears:

A Collection of Sermons

By the Rev. Ronald F. Marshall

 

Introduction  

 I call this collection of sermons, “Not for Itching Ears.” This title comes from 2 Timothy 4:2-5 in which the Apostle Paul tells the young preacher, Timothy, to “be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort.” This is because his listeners won’t want to “endure sound teaching, but having itching ears will… wander into myths…. to suit their own likings.” So Timothy and all preachers will have to push God’s holy Word – since it goes against human wishes and the sinfulness that infects us all.  

Being Offensive

Preachers of Christ therefore must never forget that Jesus came to his own and they “received him not” (John 1:11). That he offended those who first heard him (Matthew 11:6). That his words sounded too hard for them to bear (John 6:60). And that his way, from the beginning, was hated by the worldly because it ran counter to their will and ways (John 15:19).

       I have therefore tried in these sermons to smash the myths St. Paul condemned, present sound teaching with urgency, and box our itching ears which lead us so easily astray. In short, I’ve tried to tell the gospel truth rather than what people want to hear (Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).

      I have not done this gladly. I take no delight in being confrontational – or preaching, as Stanley Hauerwas has said, “as though I had enemies” (First Things, May 1995). Nevertheless I have tried to do this following St. Paul who said, “be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).  

Preaching Conversion

An evangelist? Am I doing the work of an evangelist in these sermons preached in church? Yes, indeed, I am, for Christians also need to be converted over and over again. Christians need evangelizing just as much as unbelievers do! [see my “Deathly Evangelism,” (1995) at google]. We can’t rest back on our laurels – thinking once we’re saved, we're always saved. For we can and do “drift away” from so great a salvation (Hebrews 2:1-3). 

Lutherans therefore reject the popular view that the “godly cannot fall again” [The Book of Concord (1580) ed. T. Tappert (Fortress 1959) p. 35]. So that drift has to be stopped. And this can only be done through the preaching of the Word of God. This in large part is what I have tried to do in these sermons – asking God to help and guide me.  

The Three Part Format

The format of these sermons comes from the Lutheran Confessions. They say “the sum of the proclamation of the Gospel is to [a] denounce sin, to [b] offer… righteousness for Christ’s sake…, and to [c] lead us as regenerated men to do good” (BC, pp. 185-186]. So in my sermons I follow this three step format – and in the order specified. This classic format is nearly gone from American churches today. So hearing these sermons will be a strange and foreign experience for most.  

       But I hope it will also become salutary, refreshing and edifying. I hope its formulaic structure will not bore you but help you understand God's word and what to expect from it. I also hope it will assure you of hearing "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).

 Quoting Martin Luther

I also quote Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his followers throughout these sermons. That's because in the Lutheran Confessions he is said to be our “most eminent teacher” (BC, p. 576).

       And it was Luther, by the way, who said Christians must be converted over and over again. Most famously he says this in his Large Catechism (1529) when he argues that baptism is a “daily” affair (BC, p. 445) (see also Luke 9:23) something that we have to go through again and again.

       But he also makes this point more fully and more exactly in his Isaiah commentary from the years 1527-1530. There he writes that as it is “Christ’s business always to forgive, so it is our business, as we are engulfed by daily cares, to be converted day by day [quottidie converti]” (Luther’s Works 17:117). Only those Christians who think they are floating into heaven on velvet cushions (LW 23:362) and not bitterly engulfed in temptations, will shamelessly oppose this quottidie converti! I have explored this costly error more fully in my article, “Poisoning Baptism” (The Bride of Christ, Lent-Easter 1991 and on this webpage under Baptism). 

Further Reading on Lutheran Preaching

If you would like further information on why I preach the way I do, you can read my articles on “Somber Lutherans,” Lutheran Forum, Spring 2004 (and on this webpage under Publications); “Preaching Against the Cross,” Lutheran Partners, September/October 2003; “Christ as a Sign of Contradiction,” Pro Ecclesia, Fall 1997; and my booklets The Fatal Vice: Standards for Judging Lutheran Pastors (2006), Kierkegaard on Preaching for Salvation (2004), Kierkegaard’s Year 2005 (2005) and Making a New World: How Lutherans Read the Bible (2003).  

My Map

One may still wonder why I've gone to all this bother. There are so many other more famous collections of sermons already available in English. So why add my little series of sermons to this already very long list of sermon collections? Well I do this first because they are my best written witness to Christ Jesus, and I simply want to get them out as part of my personal obligation (Acts 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15). I post them then for all who have "ears to hear" (Matthew 11:15, 13:15, 43). And I do this knowing full well that I may be like those famous donkeys on the Greek isle of Patmos , braying at the dark night sky with none interested in listening to them. But on the outside chance that there actually are interested readers, I offer them up them most gratefully (Ezekiel 2:3-7, 3:4-11, 16-22; Mathew 10:16-23). Like Luther who thought his Postils, or collections of sermons, were among his best writings (LW 37:147), I hope the same for my collected sermons.

         I do this also because I think these sermons are fairly out of the ordinary. I think they're some of the clearest, most pointed and accurate accounts of Christianity and the Christian life I've seen to date – largely because of what I quote in them. And I thank God for that, knowing he has helped me with this (Mark 13:10-11). Included in these quotations are passages from the Lutheran confessions – something rarely, if ever, seen in sermons today.

        Finally, the writings of Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) are also a part of these sermons. In an 1848 entry from his journals (Hong edition, §6283) Kierkegaard writes:  

Through my writings I hope to... leave behind me so accurate a characterization of Christianity and its relationships in the world that an enthusiastic, noble-minded young person will be able to find in it a map of relationships as accurate as any topographical map from the most famous institute.

        I think Kierkegaard pulled this off quite well. I therefore have taken his map, of many thousands of pages, digested it and then condensed it for these sermons – all in the name of making his insights more accessible – and doing so without quoting him at every turn. This makes these sermons, in some sense, Kierkegaardian – which is another reason why they could be of interest.

        May these reasons peak your interest in Not for Itching Ears. May you read these sermons – perhaps even out loud to yourself or in the company of other wayfarers – and then take them to heart. That's my prayer. Soli deo gloria.

 

Table of Contents

Sermon  1   Repent!

Sermon  2   Obey the Lord God

Sermon  3   Take Off Your Shoes

Sermon 4   Leave It As Is

Sermon  5   Go to Bethlehem 

Sermon  6   Hate Yourself

Sermon  7   Extend Christmas!

Sermon  8   Praise the Intercessor

Sermon  9   Keep Easter a Close Second

Sermon  10   Receive the Holy Spirit 

Sermon  11   Glorify the Trinity

Sermon  12   Go to Jerusalem

Sermon 13   Bow Before the Almighty

Sermon 14   Love and Worship God

Sermon 15   Don't Be Deceived

Sermon 16   Soar Like a Falcon

Sermon 17   Be Like Ruth

Sermon 18   Be Clear About the Gospel

Sermon 19   Fear Not! 

Sermon 20   Humble Yourselves

Sermon  21   Believe in Jesus

Sermon 22   Practice Your Faith

Sermon 23   Fear the Fires of Hell

Sermon 24   Long for Heaven

Sermon 25   Rejoice in the Lord

Sermon 26   Don't Try to Save Yourself

Sermon 27   Don't be Surprised

Sermon 28   Hear the Law

Sermon 29   Get in the Book

Sermon 30   Hate Yourself - Again

Sermon 31   Endure

Sermon 32   Pray for Servants

Sermon 33   Take the Test

Sermon 34   Fast

Sermon 35   Trust in the Serpent

Sermon 36   Admit You're Miserable

Sermon 37   Stand Before Christ

Sermon 38   Learn from Jonah

Sermon 39   Be Like Samuel

Sermon 40   See the Invisible God

Sermon 41   Hear the Cries of Christ

Sermon 42   Follow St. Philip

Sermon 43   Don't Doubt

Sermon 44   Be Other-Worldly

Sermon 45   Honor Marriage

Sermon 46   Fight Depression

Sermon 47   Be Doers of the Word

Sermon 48   Suffer Gladly

Sermon 49   Don't Love Your Money

Sermon 50   Serve

Sermon 51   Thank God Rightly

Sermon 52   Don't Stumble  

Sermon 53   Bless St. Mary

Sermon 54   Rejoice in the Remnant

Sermon 55   See Through Your Ears

Sermon 56   Beware of Sin

Sermon 57   Prepare Yourselves

Sermon 58   Come to Your Senses!

Sermon 59   Think Alike

Sermon 60   Fear Jesus

Sermon 61   Stand Firm

Sermon 62   Welcome St. Stephen at Christmas

Sermon 63   Stick to the Bible

Sermon 64   Pray for Your Public Officials

Sermon 65   Consider Well the Earthquake

Sermon 66   Fear the Lord

Sermon 67   Defend Christ

Sermon 68   Long for Christ's Return

Sermon 69   Be Patient

Sermon 70   Don't Pull Up the Weeds

Sermon 71   Seek True Satisfaction

Sermon 72   Trust God Wholeheartedly

Sermon 73   Catch Christ in His Words

Sermon 74   Labor for Love

Sermon 75   Hunger for God

Sermon 76   Repent & Be Baptized

Sermon 77   Rejoice at Christmas

Sermon 78   Fight the Demons

Sermon 79   Do Just a Bit

Sermon 80   Do Your Duty

Sermon 81   Glorify the Cross

Sermon 82   Rejoice in Christ's Victory

 

Addendum: That Invisible Listener

"It is a risk to preach, for as I go up into that holy place – whether the church is packed or as good as empty, whether I myself am aware of it or not, I have one listener more than can be seen, an invisible listener, God in heaven, whom I certainly cannot see but who truly can see me. This listener, he pays close attention to whether what I am saying is true, whether it is true in me, that is, he looks to see – and he can do that, because he is invisible, in a way that makes it impossible to be on one’s guard against him – he looks to see whether my life expresses what I am saying. And although I do not have authority to commit anyone else, I have committed myself to every word I have said from the pulpit in the sermon – and God has heard it. Truly it is a risk to preach!…. The proclaimer of the Christian truth…. should be… true, that is, he himself should be what he proclaims, or at least strive to be that, or at least be honest enough to confess about himself that he is not that."  

Søren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity (1850),

KW XX.234-235.

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