4th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 4:26-34
Perhaps one of the shortest parables that Jesus tells about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. I consider this parable, if I were to Americanize it because that’s what we proud red blooded americans do. If I were to Americanize this I would call this the Johnny Appleseed parable.
The kingdom of God is according to Jesus as Johnny Appleseed. Now if you don’t know about Jonny Appleseed it’s main premise is that a man from the Northeast, Massachusets to be exact named John Chapmann had a love for apple trees. He started out as an apprentice to an orchardist and looked to go west around the 1792. As he traveled he planted trees, particularily apple trees as he traveled. Johnny Chapmann became know as Johnny Appleseed. He planted trees randomly wherever he went. Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia. I always had the image of a man, who apparently wore a tin pot as his hat just walking spreading seed everywhere and orchards of apple trees sprouted forth. A traveler who didn’t stay in one place too long but in good American fashion he traveled free as the wind and was only concerned with planting trees.
Well the image is mostly correct except that Johnny wasn’t so random as it sounds. According to legend he also built fences around his little orchards where ever he planted. I mean, you can’t just plant seeds and they take off and grow. Well maybe if you are my mom or sainted grandfather Papa Harold, you can grow anything anywhere. But really this is where the Johnny Appleseed folklore is somewhat inaccurate because, well we all know you can’t just scatter seed and expect it to be successful.
You have to water. You have to watch. You have to protect, build fences, keep rabbits out. It is a constant battle against nature to protect that which you have planted. In fact, if you neglect your plants the plants will shrivel up and die. You and I don’t make our living by farming and we know this simple fact, seeds don’t just succeed without much effort, time, money and stress. We know it, your relatives who are farmers know it. Johnny Appleseed knows this too. But even more, how about Jesus’ audience who hear this parable? Certainly they know it as well.
What do you mean Jesus, the kingdom of God is as a man who scatters seeds goes to sleep, rises, and doesn’t know how it sprouts.” We know how seeds sprout. What do you mean the kingdom of God is like a man who is an idiot?
We find this parable today in Mark among the Parable of the Sower who scatters seeds carelessly among all different soils. Foolishness, you don’t scatter seeds where you don’t have good ground. Jesus speaks about putting a lamp under a basket. We hear Jesus preaching and speaking about the power of his word. How it goes out and will do what he sends it out to do. But we, know how plants sprout and how they grow. It takes work. We like to get our hands on God’s word and think we know how it should work because God’s word needs our help.
Who wouldn’t think this though as they stand and look around at the condition of Christianity in the united States? This last week I with Dick and Mary Lou Schminke were at the Texas District Convention. We heard reports on the condition of the church through the last few generations. We heard from the Synodical President, Matt Harrison a few statistics. How in the next generation we are forecasted by secular sociologists to lose another 500k members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Out of every three confirmands the last 20 years only one remains in the church into adulthood. One in three. Sounds like we have a problem to solve.
So now we have folks who will be glad to help you figure out the problem. We have those who claim to be a modern day Johnny Appleseed. Invite them to analyze your church like some business, change your approach. They will come and give your church a business makeover. Get your pastor a new haircut, add some more gel to his hair. Get him a tanning salon frequent flyer card. Get him a Porsche a mountain side cabin for retreats. Hey this doesn’t sound so bad…maybe these guys know something! Wait, no… Change this, update that. Your church is shrinking because of closed communion. Your church is dying because you don’t ordain women. Your church is dying because you make people study their catechism. You tell them to come every Sunday. You are the problem. If you would just get with the program.
And so the song and dance goes. This way, that way. It’s obvious to anyone who takes a look at the numbers of the Christian church in the USA we could sure use a Johnny Appleseed to help us out. The world calls us to forsake that which we have believed in from the scriptures. The future for the church looks bleak, we certainly appear to be an underdog.
I was watching a World Cup Soccer match this week, it was Iceland and Argentina. I was certainly going to root for Argentina because that’s where my mom was born. I want to be a good son so I root for Argentina. Argentina has won 2 Cups and is one of the most successful teams ever. Iceland, well, they’ve never even placed in the tournament. But as the game was progressing I found myself, don’t tell my mom, I found myself cheering for the underdog. I began to cheer for Iceland. Everyone likes an underdog story. It may appear to us that the church is an underdog, that we’ve got an uphill climb. But that’s not true!
We are not the underdog. Jesus has defeated death! What more is there to fear? It may look like we are underdogs but what do we have? We have the word of God! We have the seed. We have that which will grow without our great ideas. We’ve been given the Word of God that is more powerful than the dead dirt you see all around you. The dirt that will cover your casket when you die. The dirt all around us makes us think that the church is getting buried. However did you hear the parable?
When everything looks as if it is dead. When the seed is buried, no matter how deep it is covered, no matter how dark things look to our eyes, listen to Jesus’ word, “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Dear brothers and sisters, only don’t neglect this seed! Don’t pull the seed out of the soil. Don’t close your ears to God’s word. Don’t keep the seed from your kids. Don’t let the dirt remain lifeless! We’ve all done our fair share of neglecting the seed of God’s word and thought the church is maybe a waste of time. Or perhaps there were greener pastures in the pleasures of this world. We’ve all done a fine job every once in while of even trying to bury the seed as it sprouts. We’ve maybe doubted God’s promises to take care of us. To protect us even in our times of illness. We’ve looked with our eyes seen the decay around us in the soil we’ve done opposite of what St. Paul says, “We’ve walked by sight and not by faith!”
Turn from unbelief and repent. Live by faith in Jesus. Your sins are forgiven. Sins of doubt and anguish. Sins where we think life is apart from the seed of God’s word. For Jesus was buried. Jesus was crucified, dead. He was considered the least. He was considered as good as dead. He was cast away from God’s sight and upon him our sins were placed. He is that which is planted in the ground and from his resurrection there is life for all of us. In his tree we rest. From his burial and resurrection our life is now one of constant death to what we see around us and a resurrection being raised in our baptismal promises.
The parable today isn’t about finding the right solution to stop or change the direction of the church according to measurable practices, that’s up to God. The parable is about the power in the word of God for his people to find rest in. The parable is about the seemingly small and insignificant ways that God brings his life to us. What a joy to be a part of the church! To be given this seed of hope and assurance.
Mark Twain was in London in 1897 and someone who read a report that he had died came to him and asked him what he thought of the announcement of his death. Twain replied, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Anytime anyone says the church is dead or dying or needs to change to get with the time, I’m reminded of this quote. President Harrison ended his report on the state of the church with these words, “It is a great time to be in the church because Jesus is here for you. His word is for you. His promises of forgiveness for you. Baptism, for you. The Lord’s Supper for you. All for you.” Jesus is no respecter of man, he gives out his forgiveness, he spreads his love indiscriminately. Jesus with his word like a modern day Johnny Appleseed only don’t let him pass you by without receiving his life.
Christ Our Lord invites us to come along side of him, he planting the seeds of his work, us not anxious about performance but trusting in his forgiveness. We cannot lose! Jesus has already won! The life of the church, your life as well. The life of Christ Jesus sprouts and grows in you and even though you die, buried by dirt, yet shall you live.
God has not divorced us but comes to us in truly miraculous ways forgiving our sins and restoring us to his royal family.
- it is easy to get caught up in the miracle of the disciples speaking in langugaes they didn't know. However to get caught up in the miracle of moment is to miss the bigger miracle, the content of what they were saying. That all people's sins have been forgiven, Jews and Gentile alike and God has not left us.
One of the ways God showed his presence in the OT is by fire. You can remember the fire that came down from heaven called down by Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Remember God leading the people of Israel by fire in the night. Also recall how God came to Moses as fire in the burning bush. Moses was perplexed and thought he should go check that miracle out. The bush is on fire but doesn't burn. God shows his presence many times by fire. Perhaps it is the uncontrollable nature of fire that God likes us to see in relation to his power. This might make sense as to why people think "speaking in tongues" is some uncontrollable utterances by people. God is some uncontrollable force that we cannot limit or grasp. That is true but is that what Pentecost is about? That the speaking of the Holy Spirit is an uncontrollable force that our earthly languages can't contain?
This is wrong because God has always spoken to us in languages that we can understand. Even in creation before there were humans God spoke in intelligible sentences and words that make sense. Let there be light. God is above our language and intelligence but that doesn't mean he wouldn't humble himself to come to us in languages we can understand. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control. So anytime someone says they have lost control and are speaking in tongues, you can be sure it is not of the Holy Spirit. One characteristic of God is he desires us to know what he is saying. And the witnesses at Pentecost tell us they understood what was being spoken, verse 11 we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.
God wants us to know what he is saying but the miracle is not that he can speak to us in intelligible ways. The true miracle is what God actually says to us, "Your sins are forgiven." This is the miracle. This is the mercy of God. This is the mighty work of God, that your sins would be wiped away. This is more glorious than any fire that might come down from heaven. The content of what God says far surpasses the glory of men speaking in languages they have not been taught.
In case you've been living under a rock, there was a royal wedding taking place this weekend. Prince Harry is marrying an American celebrity of some sort. I don't know what Megan Markle is known for or why she is a celebrity, but a royal wedding always gets a lot of attention. I heard that the royal family plans to spend 40 million on the wedding. 17k on the cake alone. It is easy to get caught up in the details. The dress, the family situation, the fact that a commoner, an American commoner with no royal lineage is marrying into royalty. There is a lot of fireworks going on. However what seems to get lost in the mix is the fact that two people are being joined together in a holy union. If marriage has been treated as a holy thing by the two engaged is another question. All the pomp and circumstance is to reinforce what is taking place before God and all those present. Too often though the important and main reason for marriage gets lost in all the fanfare. The fact that two sinners can stand before the altar of God and not be cast out, thrown into hell for their sins, but instead be blessed by God in faith in Christ is more of a miracle than a dress that cost more than many people's first home.
So too on Pentecost. Many times we too are preoccupied with the fireworks. The flames resting on the disciples, the speaking in languages they don't know, the great wind. These are important, just like the wedding vows are important, but what do all these things point us to?
These miraculous things are to get our attention that we would hear what is being said by the apostles. The apostles are pointing us to Jesus. The holy spirit is pointing us to Jesus. Just as on the day of Pentecost Peter quickly turned everyone's attention from what was happening to the word of God. Peter goes straight to the promises of God! That God has not left his church without a husband.
God who has every right to divorce us for our failing to keep our end of the deal. For our sins against a holy and righteous God who has proposed to us, has brought us into his house. Who has put a ring on you in baptism. Who has given us his name, we have not kept his name holy. We have chased and pursued so many other suitors, particularily that enemy who seems to work against us at every turn. That one who just seems to enjoy cheating on God. The one who promises to lead us to a greener grass. The one who makes sin sound so easy even no strings attached. Or even not to see all our sins against Jesus. The one who's words sound so inviting, calling us, tempting us.
That one you might think I am describing is the devil and you would be half right. But how often does the devil stand before you and push you into sin? He doesn't need to. You may think im just describing the devil, but I am indeed only putting a mirror up before you and describing your own sinful nature.
Yes it is as if we work against ourselves. Who needs an enemy like the devil when our sinful nature follows his footsteps without need to be pushed?
Jesus has ascended into heaven. He left the disciples visibly. It makes sense. A husband who has been mistreated, cheated on, lied about, even murdered and killed by the ones he was courting. He promised salvation. He promises forgiveness. Like a royal husband proposing to commoners, promising a wedding of a lifetime and a dwelling place with the king. Yet they murdered him desiring their own way. Don't desire your own way. Jesus still calls us to repent and believe that for his sake your sins are forgiven.
Easter he was raised! Our greatest sins, our most unholy and wicked desires, thoughts words and deeds were not enough to keep him from loving us. Jesus raised from the dead, ascended to the Father. He was brought back to the heavenly court. Jesus became a commoner, became us, became our sin to bring us back into a holy and royal family. This is what Pentecost is!
The preaching of Jesus crucified for your sins and raised for your justification . You are forgiven. Your baptism a royal name. His body and blood, a royal feast he does not turn the broken hearted away. Those who's hearts haven't been broken by an unfaithful king, but those who have broken their own heart by their sins. A table set by servants calling you to repent and leave your sinful garments at the door and by faith be dressed in Jesus' holy name. Receive the forgiveness of your sins, his body, his blood, bread and wine. A wedding feast.
This is Pentecost, the risen and ascended Lord has not left us but sends the Holy Spirit. The kingdom of God has not been defeated. God has kept his promise to not leave us but defend us from all foreign invaders including your sinful nature that still pulls at you and will until you die. Don't listen! Turn from your own desires to sin. Fight against sin as you would for a king who has already given you the victory and says go. You cannot lose. God says, I will not forsake you.
Pentecost is the recognition by faith that the Holy Spirit through the preached word and sacrament bestow upon us the royal gifts of God. The forgiveness of your sins. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Can you imagine being brought into a royal family and the gifts you would receive?! The royal gifts of God far surpass anything that lures your eyes in this life. So look with your ears. Follow the Holy SPirit leading who leads you by God's word and the holy sacraments, the true and enduring fireworks of God. The gifts of a royal Father, joining us to his son by the holy spirit. Amen.
Easter 6B - John 15:9-17 - God gives in Christ Jesus that which he demands.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
These things I command you, so that you will love one another. Jesus commands us to repent and believe in him, from this faith flows love. God gives that which he demands from us. So if we are to love one another, we must first believe that for the sake of Jesus we are loved by God. We are saved by faith.
Perhaps if we were to ask Jesus to edit some of the bible this verse might be at the top of the list. Sure maybe the one about cutting off your hands or poking out your eyes if they cause you to sin to be pretty high on that list. But today I think we just might wish that I stopped reading at verse 16 in our Gospel reading. So that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give it to you. Yes that’s a much better way to end the reading. But no Jesus goes on to say, These things I command you so that you will love one another.
But Jesus you’ve never been to a church council meeting. Jesus you’ve never had to deal with a church construction project. Jesus you’ve never had to sit across the table from them. You haven’t had to clean up their mess. You haven’t had to deal with their embarrassing habits. Jesus my wife always argues…my husband is unbearable. You Jesus don’t know what it’s like.
Jesus doesn’t say like. Jesus doesn’t say tolerate. Jesus doesn’t say go along to get along. Jesus says love one another. That’s quite different than like. Ask any college age sweetheart whose boyfriend or girlfriend broke up with them by saying, “I like you but I don’t love you.” And they will tell you love is worlds apart from like. Jesus says, These things I command you so that you love one another.
Jesus is speaking to the disciples, to you and to me. The world can tolerate liking one another, although our political discourse is making this more difficult each day. But Jesus’ teaching is far away much greater than anything the world would teach us about love. The world can teach us to like, but knows nothing of the love of God. This is what is different here in this room, yes even through the whole Christian church, we don’t like one another, we love.
Or maybe we change it from a command to a suggestion, “These things I suggest to you, that you love one another.” Like a waiter would suggest the soup de jour. But no, Jesus’ word doesn’t change on a daily basis, the grass withers and flowers fade but the word of the Lord endures forever.
Notice how Jesus starts off in v9. The love that Jesus is speaking about is the love that the father has for him. In this love there is no compromise. In this love there is no one-upmanship. In this love there is no jealousy. In this love there is no pride. In this love there is no looking and pointing out the other’s weaknesses. There is no taking advantage of the other. So what does that look like for us?
If you notice we don’t have an old testament reading for these Sunday’s after Easter. The reason for this is that the church uses the Easter season to reflect on the events immediately after the resurrection and how this focused the church on life together. What does the life of the church look like since Jesus is risen from the dead? These things I command you, so you will love one another.
Up until this point the sermon was pretty easy to hear. The love of the father. Ask whatever you want. You didn’t choose me, I chose you. This is all well and good but love one another?
Last week Jesus told us to abide in him. He is the vine we are the branches. We are to receive everything from him. He gives us all we need. Abide in him. Keep his commandments. What does he command?
Believe in me. Repent of your sins. Trust in me. Forsake yourself. I am the vine, I will give you forgiveness and righteousness just as the father anointed me and gave me all things so too I will give to you. Abide in me. Then what does Jesus say? These things I have spoken to you because I want you to be miserable. No. Jesus speaks these things so that his joy may be in us and our joy full. Why are we full of joy?
We are full of joy because by faith we receive all love and joy from Jesus. Forgiveness we know that in Jesus we can love one another.
We are to love others as he loved us. He says abide
When Jesus shed his blood on the cross he was the fount of all Christian love. Jesus picked up his cross and the love of God was shown. Every single one of your sins is forgiven already. Jesus became the very source of love. The cross was the headwaters of a love that flows to you and me. Forgiveness for all your embarrassing habits. Forgiveness for all your sins. For God knows all your sins and imperfections more than you, more than anyone and he does not cast you away. He does not excuse your sins, “Oh she doesn’t know any better.” He doesn’t huff off and say, “Oh well I’ll just put up with his awkwardness.” Jesus doesn’t see you in his church and go the other way or put on a nice face while inwardly despising you, that's what Judas does. He wants to forgive you, not make excuses.
Jesus is the vine. Forgiveness flows from him. Life itself flows from him. Abide in the cross and you know you are forgiven. Do not look to your own strength but hear his word.
These things I command you. Jesus points us to faith in his promise of forgiveness of sins so that we may have joy. So that we may love one another. So there is someone you have difficulty liking. Liking someone requires you to find something in them that brings you happiness. Sometimes that is very hard. Loving someone may seem impossible but with God all things are possible. Loving someone requires you to look to Jesus and from him the Holy Spirit gives you love. That is what Jesus commands us to do. Not so that we chaff and burn under his commandments. His commands are not hard nor are they to hurt us but to show us true joy.
Yes Jesus says that when we abide in him we will love one another. God gives that which he demands, perfect righteousness. Perfect forgiveness.
Is the church perfect? No it’s not. But after Easter we hear how the church’s life is to be centered around the forgiveness of sins. This was what Jesus died for and why he was raised from the dead, for us to come together around forgiveness. To love one another. Not excuse sins. Not to just get along. Not to tolerate one another. But in the cross together, repenting of the same sins receiving the same forgiveness. Yes we who have chosen to wander. We have chosen to ignore one another. We have chosen to gossip. We have chosen to build ourselves up instead of repenting. We have chosen to neglect to abide in Christ. Christ says, I have chosen you. I have chosen to abide in you. I have chosen to call you friend and lay down my life for you. Before you even understood what was happening to you I chose you in the waters of baptism and when you chose to sin and be lost, I sought you out. I came to you. Even now as you have worried this week. As you have forgotten all that Christ has said he bids the repentant, not the strong, to come. To come to his altar. To dine with him, to abide in him as his very body and blood abides in us. To sit with all those we love. And when you find it hard to love or even like don’t run from Jesus but repent and run to him.
It is impossible to love without faith in Christ. He who knows not God knows not love. It is impossible to love when we think we will eventually be strong enough to love one another. It is impossible to love when we think someone else will eventually be good enough for us to love them. However with our eyes of faith focused on Christ and the love that comes from his cross, the unlikeable become loved and the imperfect perfected in Christ Jesus loved by the father.
The Resurrection of Our Lord - 2018
Easter2018 - God always keeps his word. This is good because we, like Peter, do not.
Just as he told you.
I like this angel. I kind of like his sense of humor. He had the appearance of a young man dressed in a white robe and they were alarmed. He was a young man. Usually you look at Hallmark or on valentine cards and angels are young babies. Fat little chubby kids with a bow and arrow. Nothing intimidating or scary about them at all. This angel was young, but a young man and he caused the ladies to be alarmed. But this young man is a likeable guy. Why? Because like any typical young man he loves to correct the adults in the story. I can almost hear the teenage sarcasm in his voice, “Go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him just as he told you.” I’m not saying, I’m just saying. Like dugh, don’t you remember?
And the angel was right. How many times had jesus told them that he would be raised after three days? God always keeps his word. But you see the ladies who went to the tomb didn’t believe Jesus was going to be alive. They didn’t believe that Jesus would keep his word. How easy it is to doubt God’s word. How easy it is to think that death would have the last say. That’s what we’re use to. Death having the last say is what makes sense because that’s what we see with our eyes and experience in our lives.
It seems death has the last say in our experience. Friend after friend, loved one after loved one, God forbid a child. Death kind of has a way of getting us to listen to him. If you are anything like me you don’t like to be told what to do. I don’t like changing my plans, I don’t like being told where to be at what time. Death though is able to enter our calendar and force us to change our plans. I was at a funeral yesterday, a beautiful Spring Saturday day in Texas. As I sat in the pew I couldn’t help but look around and realize none of us would’ve been there except for that one unwelcomed visitor death told us all to leave our plans for the day behind. You will leave the boat in the garage, you will cancel the out of town plans. Death commanded us, you will all sit side by side. You will all remain quiet, you will wear death’s favorite color black, for death has spoken and we were all at attention, just as he told you. And we are the ones who invited him in! The wages of sin is death and we have all sinned.
In our lives it is a sad reality we really only listen and are wrangled by death. People who would hardly be caught driving the speed limit fall in line behind the hearse and drive like perfect citizens not going above the speed limit, just as he told you.
It’s kind of hard to not listen and remember what death says. His lessons are hard and they are heavy on our hearts.
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome, they knew death demanded them come to the tomb. We know how the ladies and the apostles felt those three days, just as death had spoken in the past and kept his word, so he spoke that Friday when they saw Jesus die. Who could argue with death’s sentence.
But you see on Good Friday there was one small difference that makes all the difference in the world, Jesus wasn’t told what to do. Pilate tried, “speak up, don’t you know I can free you?” The Sandhedrin tried. They all tried to tell Jesus what to do, don’t face death. They tried to make a claim on him but Jesus wasn’t being held contrary to his desires. This plan for Jesus to die had been from all eternity, God always keeps his word. It wasn’t as if the men in the Jewish councils and the people in the crowd were somehow the ones in control. Well they were in a sense but only because God had laid himself bare before them and placed himself in their hands and death did what he normally does, he steals away life. God makes himself vulnerable and this world is not kind to the weak and vulnerable.
But this man Jesus is a little different. We begin to hear of some suspicious happenings. He healed sick people. He walked on water. Then on Good Friday death didn’t tell him when he would breathe his last but Jesus said, It is finished and he gave up his spirit. It is finished. Death’s regular story was changed. Death’s demands and hold on humanity had been broken.
As Jesus breathed his last, death thought, same ole same ole. Another one on the tally board. Notify the family. Get everyone together. But not this time. Death creeped and Jesus’ body became cold. However, as we heard today in our Gospel reading it wasn’t death that would have the last say. As Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days Jesus would be dead three days. But then like the great fish, death spit Jonah out. As death made it’s demands on Jesus, Jesus said no and the grave spit him out.
When death though he had one more victim Jesus turned death on itself. By dying God tricked death into defeating itself. When death claims a person we can do nothing against him, but when God lays aside his majesty and becomes human so that he can die death’s hold on humanity is broken. It is no longer just like death told you, but now the smart-alic angel reminds us, “He is not here he is risen, just as Jesus told you he would but that’s none of my buisness.” IT was no surprise to Jesus that he would keep his word.
So now death is not the one who preaches the loudest. Now death does not have the last word. All the graves you’ve stood at. The late night phone calls you’ve received. The long years of suffering where it seems death is just waiting, no, it is not as it appears nor is it as your feelings and broken heart tell you. Not since that first Easter morning but really Christmas day death began it’s death rattle. When God became human he was inviting death to take the bait and he did. Jesus took your sins upon himself and claimed them as his. Jesus became your sin and he died with them but he was raised. Jesus did this to show you your sins will not hold you either. The sins you’ve committed singing the song of death, those many times you promised to be a better Christian. Those times you said, like Peter, Lord I will always follow you. But then you don't keep your word. You fail. You sin. Jesus breaks that stranglehold we call death, just as he told you. What you think your sins are so bad? Well they are, but look at our second reading, St. Paul said that Jesus died for our sins. St. Paul included himself, a persecutor of the church, he included himself with us and our sins. That means that no matter what you’ve done, even worked for death. That even if you have teamed up with the devil, Jesus has broken deaths grip on you.
So yeah, now when a friend or love one dies we clear our schedule and go to funerals. Not because death demands our attention but because we know we need to hear Jesus and he has promised to be in his word. WE can clear our schedules to carry one another’s burdens in our time of need but not as if we have no hope. We have eternal life. We go to funerals but it isn’t death that demands our presence but the voice of Jesus calls us to listen to him.
Death does not force us to go to church, death did not force you to come here this morning, maybe mom or dad said you better come and yeah sometimes mom and dad threaten you with death, but this Easter Sunday is no different than every other Sunday. Jesus is here bringing life to people who know they’ve acted as though they are ruled by death and the devil. But Jesus is here, just as he told you, to forgive your sins. To remind you, you are baptized. You’ve been buried with Christ and raised with him. And when we gather here on Sunday mornings there is a little funeral. Every Sunday we gather and we bring our death, we bring our sins and we confess them. Jesus takes our sins, he takes our death and gives us life. Even his very body and blood. When death swallowed Jesus it could not hold him. Now Jesus now gives himself for us to eat his body and drink his blood and death cannot hold us either for Christ lives in us. You, like Jesus our Jonah, actually taste bad to death and as the grave vomitted Jesus from the grave, so to you will be spit out. Just as he told you.
Jesus’ burden is light. And yeah maybe there is a relatively young guy standing here wearing white, who's kind of a smart-alec, reminding you, "Jesus always keeps his word." Jesus doesn’t demand us to follow him and then force us to obey, but he invites us to see what life to its fullest is like. To follow him. Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest. When you are with Jesus death cannot demand anything of you. So cast your cares on him. Jesus will keep his word to give you what you need in this life. When death seems to shout the loudest, when it seems like death is everywhere you look, look to Jesus’ word, There you will see him just as he told you. Alleluia, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!
Palm Sunday 2018 - Psalm 118
I love irony and sarcasm. One of my favorite movie scenes reflecting my kind of irony is from the movie Fury. This is one of my favorite movies. It has Brad Pitt cast as a tank commander in WWII who is stone cold in his leadership and battle tactics. The tank crew he commands face impossible situations but somehow manages to escape multiple battles. They see death, feel fire and the inside of a tank is never comfortable. They are in a rolling death trap. After numerous battles whenever the crew would make it through an intense situation where they thought they would certainly die they would exhale and say, “Best job I ever had.” The men didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when they cheated death but they went to their possible deaths each battle with full confidence with minds focused and set on their objective, kill the enemy before the enemy kills you and they trusted their commander.
The approach to death is one place where irony can be appreciated the most. Last meals requested from death row to be delivered from McDonald’s. Irony at death can either show a person is confident or also when a person has given up all hope. As one goes to death an appreciation for irony can only be received when one has a firm and confident grasp of the situation. Best job I ever had.
Today’s reading from Psalm 118 was penned by King David. David wasn’t facing death when he wrote this psalm but as we reflect on this Psalm on Palm Sunday it brings to light some of the irony of Jesus’ ride through Jerusalem. Although David does know what it feels like to be pursued and people hungry for your death, David wrote this Psalm to invite all those who went up to the Lord’s Temple to rejoice with him, “Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.20 This is the gate of the Lord;
bthe righteous shall enter through it.” David was giving thanks that he was to enter into Jerusalem into the courts of the Lord’s house. David was giving thanks for the bringing of the ark into the city. The ark, the presence of God coming into the city of David and David says rejoice.
Open to me the gates of righteousness, I will go through them and I will praise the Lord. As David enters the gates of the temple he knows that only the righteous were allowed in the temple courts. The uncircumcised, the unclean, the foreigners were not permitted to enter. David can demand for the gates to be opened not because he hasn’t sinned, but because he comes in faith trusting in the mercy of God, that God is his salvation. He sees the presence of God in the ark and rejoices that God invites his people into his presence.
The ark was God’s presence for the Israelites. God said he would be located in the ark for his people to find him. The reason this psalm is used on Palm Sunday is because there is a hint of irony in it. As David describes the ark coming into Jerusalem he says this is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it. We hear this psalm read as Jesus enters Jerusalem on his way to his death. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Irony of the best kind.
The people wave palm branches. They say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." They say it as if it is a good thing to come in the name of the Lord and it is. However, the irony is that coming in the name of the Lord for Jesus ultimately means he will be crucified. And this psalm is about Jesus. David pens it but the psalm is preaching Jesus and how he will be the fulfillment of David coming to Jerusalem. Palm Sunday will be the presence of God coming to his people. Yes this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice. However for Jesus, the day the Lord has made means he will be beat, mocked and crucified.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, Ephesians and 1 Peter, verse 22 of Psalm 118 is quoted in relation to Jesus. One of the most often quoted psalm verses I regards to Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone that has been rejected but ironically enough this rejected stone is the chief cornerstone. A turn of events. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords up to the horns of the altar.
A sacrifice must be made because God’s law has been transgressed. A people that God rescued and called his own has committed treason against him. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the altar. David rejoices in this psalm because God has provided the sacrifice for the people. So too Jesus will be bound. He is the final festal sacrifice. He will be led to the altar/cross but first he must come on the donkey. As the rest of the city is rejoicing, waving palms and thinking how glorious it is that the king of Israel has come, Jesus knows what is coming. Jesus knows what happens to the festal sacrifice. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus knows what awaits the sacrifice, death. And yet he goes to Jerusalem, he rides the donkey without wavering. Jesus will not flinch.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem knowing full well what it means for him to come in the name of the Lord. He is troubled, but not in the sense that he isn’t going to complete his task. When you and I are troubled it is from unbelief and doubt. Jesus is troubled because of the pain and suffering he is to endure and for what? For us to be wish wash in our faith? Does Jesus endure this to give us reason to doubt him? Absolutely not.
Jesus doesn’t flinch because he trusts his father to save him. Jesus knows he has not sinned and that he will not be left in the grave, but more Jesus goes confidently because he knows that at the completion of his task you and I will not be left in our graves. Jesus is the gate of righteousness.
So like a warrior who fearlessly faces his enemies Jesus comes to face the devil. Except in the irony of all ironies Jesus wins by dying, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit.
Jesus says, best job I ever had. To die so that we would win with him. Jesus dies to forgive you for not following your king. Jesus’ dies to forgive you for not going into each battle you face fearlessly but sometimes scared. Jesus goes so your sins are not held against you and for God to be glorified. He comes like King David, but he is not here to kill and take prisoner. He has not come to take people hostage and to conscript us in war. Jesus is coming as a king but not to put us under his finger, nor has he come to be served as a normal king demands. Jesus comes to serve us. Jesus comes to give his life.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Jesus bearing the name of the Lord means certain death for him but for you and I wearing the name of the Father, Son and Holy Sprit in baptism means certain life. The reason irony is such a powerful tool in movies and literature is because at its core it teaches the gospel. The ones who should lose win and the powerful in the end lose. Be careful though, once the Gospel loses its irony you are in danger of losing your faith. You either think you deserve the forgiveness of sins or you begin to think it is not so valuable. Jesus wins, he is raised but let us this week as we approach Maundy Thurs and Good Friday slowly and intentionally reflect on what our freedom cost our Lord. For in seeing the lengths to which he will go you will see that he will not abandon you now in your time of need. Do not fear, you can trust your king. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
One criteria that makes a movie good is that it has a really good bad guy. A good…bad guy makes for a good movie. The worse the bad guy is, the better the hero is for stopping him. Emily and I saw the movie 15:17 to Paris. Seemingly ordinary men skyrocketed to fame for defeating a very bad terrorist bent on murdering many people. How about Heath Ledger as the Joker in Batman. Hanibal lector Silence of the Lambs. Cruella Deville in 101 dalmations. Lex Luther. There is no shortage of good enemies. A good enemy makes for a good plot.
Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. Consider the enemies that have been at the top of the headlines these last few weeks. The murderer in Parkland Florida who murdered 17 people at a school.
Or how about the man who murdered the Richardson police officer two weeks ago? Well today our readings teach us who it is that is the enemy of God and what he does about it.
First consider our Gospel reading. Here we have someone who we might not consider such a good villain. It is Peter. At first Peter is seen as a hero! Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do yall say that I am?” Peter steps up, answers for all the disciples, he’s not afraid to play the part of spokesman for the apostles, Peter stands up, “You are the Christ.”
This is true. Even the devil confesses this. It is an accurate answer But Jesus takes it further. Jesus begins to teach. Jesus begins to answer the question that I drill in my confirmand's heads, “What does this mean?”
The disciples knew who Jesus was, but what does that mean?
Jesus begins to teach them “that vthe Son of Man must wsuffer many things and xbe rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and yafter three days rise again. 32 And he said this zplainly.”
There he is. There is the enemy. The elders, chief priest and scribes! They must be the enemy.
Peter speaks up again. Matthew tells us Peter says, “No Lord this shall not happen to you.” Peter rebukes Jesus. The enemy cannot win Jesus! They cannot kill you. You are too good. You are the hero not the villain. You are the Christ! The chosen one. The anointed one. We just saw it at the Transfiguration. We heard it. We know you were baptized by John. Not possible Jesus. You don’t know what you are saying, death is for the villain not for you.
In Peter’s opinion, Jesus makes for a pretty poor villain. No one would cast him for such a role. Yet this is what he is to do before his father in heaven. Jesus becomes your sin. Jesus, one who is no villain, in fact he is perfect, tells us and the whole world what it is he has come to do. Jesus becomes the worst villain in order to save you.
But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, a“Get behind me, Satan! For you bare not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” The brave Peter is now called Satan by Jesus. Peter was teaching the wrong doctrine. Peter was misusing God's word. Peter was breaking the 2nd commandment.
You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man. Now consider what Jesus is saying is the mind of God. The mind of God is for Jesus to die. To die, not for himself, but to die for the sins of the world. The sins of the elders, chief priests and the scribes. This is the mind of God. In death is victory.
If you could take the lethal injection for Nicholas Cruz to be spared would you do it? Would you take his place and die for your enemy?
No you wouldn’t. Neither would I. We do not have the mind of God.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him cdeny himself and dtake up his cross and follow me. 35 For dwhoever would save his life4 will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake eand the gospel’s will save it. 36 fFor what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For gwhat can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For hwhoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this iadulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed jwhen he comes in the glory of his Father with kthe holy angels.”
We do not have the mind of God. The cross, our crosses are not our joys. Jesus went to the cross and it was his joy to endure the cross. To die for his enemies, for while we were enemies we were reconciled to Go dby the death of his son.
Son dead. Enemies saved. The perfect movie. The perfect director. The perfect writer, but this show won’t ever win an Oscar. The one who would be the worst choice for a villain in the history of the world turns out to be the best one cast for roll of Savior. For he comes to rid himself of all his glory so he could take your sin. All the times you have not desired to die to your selfish wants and would rather other people cater to your whims.
Jesus came to play your part as enemy of God, taking your sin of not having the things of God on your mind. Instead your mind is more content to think of how bad everyone else is. Perhaps you’re more content to whisper and gossip rather than speak openly with a fellow Christian. Maybe it is easier to not have devotions at home as you teach one another and bring your children up in God's word, but it certainly isn't faithful to Christ. Yes those sins of thoughts, words and deeds. Our villainous past laid upon the back of Christ. Yes we would be the better choice for villain, enemy number one. So we repent. For that is when we do not role play. That is when we speak the truth. When the Holy Spirit opens our lips. When we confess our sins. When is a liar telling the truth and not playing a part? When he says, “I am a liar.”
When are enemies of God no longer enemies? When God declares us forgiven for the sake of his son Jesus. You. You my dear friends are forgiven. Sins gone.
Are you an enemy of God? Yes my fellow sinners we are. But thanks be to God we are precisely the ones Jesus has come for. In his cross we are declared forgiven. In baptism that declaration of God’s forgiveness becomes personal. Do you still sin? You want more forgiveness? Good. For here in his supper he forgives you again. Personally. Again and again. Jesus’ body and blood seals his promise to you every time you eat and drink. In that declaration of God you receive a promise that you sins are forgiven and he will always take care of you.
This is where our OT lesson comes into play. Consider Abraham. God promised him a son in today’s reading but Abraham didn’t see this promise come true for 24 years. 24 years. It didn’t look good while Abraham was waiting, our crosses never do look good. So we too the church. The same position as Abraham. We trust in God’s promises. Even though it looks as if villains and enemies will win the day. Even those crosses that seem like enemies, crosses of sickness, cancer, bodies failing. Crosses of taking care of kids, taking care of parents, taking care of spouses, working at a dead end job, not finding a spouse, these crosses are crosses that God has put upon you. The cross is the enemy of our sinful flesh. He brings these crosses and he knows for how long they will weigh you down for it is only in these times we begin to die to our selfish desires and call out to him for forgiveness.
In the midst of your suffering and crosses you have peace with God. He gave his son up for you so that he would not give you up. The villains will not win. The enemy within your own heart won’t win, your sins have no claim on you. Jesus doesn’t just play your part, he has become your sin, taking your crosses and shown you how he is victorious. He becomes you in order for you to be sinless child before the father. What a script! What a show, but this is no movie. It is real. Real enemies. Real sinners, a real Savior, for you. It turns out that Jesus is the perfect villain, for he becomes our sin before God. He takes our place and we who were former villains, enemies of God are made perfect children by faith in Christ. Amen.
Lent 1B Genesis 22:1-18; Mark 1:9-15; James 1:12-18
Suffering is God pleasing when it points us to the promises of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus.
To many people, including ourselves, too often the greatest problem in life in our eyes is suffering. IF you want to convince someone to buy a product or pass legislation appeal to a part of their life where they are suffering in some way. Euthanasia and Dr assisted suicide is growing in popularity faster than any time in history. Just stop my suffering. Death even begins to look like a friend. People who suffer from chronic pain of some sort have a special cross to carry in this life. It’s hard to just function in life. Something just doesn’t look right.
Now consider Abraham. God called him to seemingly inflict one of the worst kinds of suffering in this life upon himself. Sacrifice your son. This was a dreadful command not because it caused so much suffering but because we can imagine Abraham saw the suffering that was to come for the rest of his life. But Abraham goes and he takes Isaac.
(We must first immediately address the question of whether God speaks to people telling them to murder their children. The answer is no. God does not speak to us apart from his word. Hebrews teaches that God spoke to his prophets of old in many and various ways, but now he speaks to us by his son. This is especially true when it comes to how we live our life in regards to our neighbor. God does not and will not ask us to murder anyone. In Isaac's case, God had attached a promise to this child. That from this child will come the Savior of the world. The temptation for Abraham was to worship this child. Not only that, but remember Abraham and Sarah pleaded with God for a child but they were barren. Then God came and told them they would have a son by his hand. So we can imagine the temptation to turn this child Isaac into a false idol. God tested Abraham because of the promise attached to Isaac. God does not attach promises to our children. Therefore this instance will never happen again. But Abraham even trusted in this instance. He knew God would raise Isaac. Abraham lived by faith. God does not ask us to take our children's lives but commands us to give our life for his children.)
Isaac’s name means he will laugh, there was not much laughing going on those few days between when God came to Abraham and they arrived at Moriah. Abraham was steadfast, not a time for grins and giggles. Neither did Isaac laugh. Isaac was a young man, he was not a toddler, he was not a boy. The youngest most commentators think he was is around 20. We many times just consider Abraham in this story but today let us also reflect on Isaac, he will laugh. Something just doesn’t look right.
Abraham was tested as was Isaac. I am always reminded when I hear this reading of Jesus’ haunting words Matthew 10:37, “If you love mother or father, son or daughter more than me you are not worthy to follow me.” Isaac didn’t need to be bound to follow his father. The young man at the peak of his physical stature Isaac followed. Abraham was no spring chicken either at over 100yrs old. He commanded his son and he followed. We think of trying to convince 20 yr olds to finish school work or not waste their lives. It would've been no contest with the old man and the young buck.
Isaac carried the wood up the mountain. Not only did he carry the fire for his sacrifice but he also willingly let his father Abraham bind him up when the time came. Isaac was silent as a sheep before the slaughter. Both men were being tested. It was a prayer, a petition that Isaac asked his father for clarification, or perhaps it was to confirm what he had already realized in his own mind as he saw it unfold, “Where is the lamb?” If it possible father take this cup from me. Something just doesn’t look right.
There is no easy answer for this story and I believe that is part of it’s purpose. God’s word doesn’t explain this story as much as we would like. All we know is that Abraham did this by faith in God’s promise. How does this make sense? But isn’t that precisely what we say when we face such a situation in our own life when we are tested? Why am I suffering so much? Why do I see my loved one suffering? We are tempted because we forget God’s promises to get us through.
God’s word is plain and simple, however it doesn’t always seem that way to us. Abraham could have certainly said, “Well God must just be speaking figuratively.” But no, Abraham trusted and believed what God had clearly called him to do. It seems wrong to us, but Abraham knew by faith it was right to obey God. Abraham did not doubt God in this instance. Abraham was willing to trust in God despite the suffering he saw coming. Isaac was willing to trust in face of suffering. Abraham knew that God would raise his son because he had a promise that from Isaac would come the Savior, Jesus. We though too often think our suffering is unjust. We do doubt. That we should for some reason be sparred suffering. That we don’t deserve it. That it is God who is wrong. That God has shorted us. It just doesn’t look right from our side of heaven. We demand some sort of perverted justice, we shake our fist at God and demand to be treated as we deserve. Thank God he doesn’t listen when we tempt him.
Contrast this with our Gospel reading that reminds us that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. What had he done to deserve this? Jesus was true man. He could be tempted but it wasn’t as if he doubted. He went out to the wilderness to be tempted. To be brought low. To hunger. To be left alone but not to fend for himself but so that all he had was the promise of the Father spoken to him at his baptism, You are my beloved son. This was all he needed because there is nothing greater to have than to be promised to by God. He was satisfied to only have the promise. We desire when we are tempted because sin in us creates desire for more than God’s promises. We demand proof.
If you are on a diet rice cakes smothered in dirt and sewage is not all that appetizing. We aren’t tempted by that gourmet offering because we know it is disgusting. In past times this analogy would work, but today we are seeing people eating Tidepods so I don’t know what to say. I guess it is beyond any reasonable explanation…I think my parents said that about me once or twice but I digress. But we have no desire for things that are disgusting. Jesus was without sin and so he knows how disgusting sin is. Jesus suffers in his temptation. He is hungry. He is weak and yet even in this weakened state he does not desire to sin. Jesus does not desire to sin when tempted because he sees sin for what it truly is, rebellion and unbelief in God. Every sin is the middle finger to God. It is disgusting. It is vulgar. Yet when we are tempted, sin begins to look desirable because we doubt God and temptation turns to sin. We don’t think sin is disgusting. We are blinded by sin itself. We somehow legitimize sin, we explain it away.
Some animals will eat their own. Fish and other species somehow see fit to eat one another, it is strange and disgusting to us. However we humans in our fallen condition think it acceptable to eat one another in gossip and speaking ill of one another so we don't have to confess or repent to one another. "But pastor, It’s a dog eat dog world." but let it not be so among you Christians. Contrast this with Jesus going to the cross. Who considered it joy to endure his cross so that we would live. He gives up his life, willingly that we would live.
Consider this in light of Isaac who carried the wood. He bore his cross as did Abraham but Isaac is more of the Christ figure. Both Isaac and Abraham trusted God when things did not look right but knew that God would keep his promise. It was a promise that Jesus would come. Jesus tells us in John that Abraham saw him and here is where Abraham saw Christ’s day when he saw the lamb caught in the thicket.
Even in this instance Abraham never bragged about his willingness to sacrifice Isaac because he wasn’t doing it to earn God’s favor. Abraham did it because he knew God was faithful. Abraham didn’t fear suffering, he feared, loved and trusted in God above all things. And yet Abraham’s faith was still tainted by his flesh. Abraham still yet faltered in his perfect trust of God. This example dwarfs any victories in our own life we might be tempted to lift up before God. We are humbled by Abraham’s example and yet it was still not without sin.
So Abraham looked forward to Jesus’ day and he saw it. Abraham called the mountain, “the Lord will provide.” It is future. Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Jesus is led to this mountain to be sacrificed. He carries the wood for the fueling of the fire of God’s wrath and on his altar with the wood he carried he was slain.
The one who avoided all sin even in the face of temptation takes our sin upon himself. We demand justice, we demand God give an answer for all the wrong things in this life and he does. He gives his son to end all suffering and the son willingly is bound, nailed, crucified. Jesus answers for all the times you have doubted. Jesus stands up and quietly goes to the cross carrying your sins. On his back he receives the just reward for your sins. Isaac was spared but Jesus is not. You are spared because Jesus was caught up in the bush of God’s wrath. Jesus endures your death for your rebellion. The father does not hold back his hand and his son dies for you to be spared. Jesus knew the suffering he would endure. The physical side of it was only half the pain. There was also the injustice of an innocent man suffering and dying for sins he did not commit. You are forgiven all your sins.
Suffering is not our worst enemy, unbelief is. Like Abraham and Isaac we see suffering coming but we do not lose heart. We’ve seen God’s faithfulness so we have no reason to doubt. So we willingly suffer if that means our faith is strengthened. We suffer scorn for believing that in baptism we are forgiven our sins. We are laughed at for believing that the Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ body and blood. We suffer for being faithful. We suffer now during Lent as we avoid certain pleasures so we can spend more time praying. Perhaps you avoid sweet treats but do so not for the smaller waste line but to tame your desires so when you are tempted you can withstand the attacks of the devil. Our lives are not lived with the goal of minimizing suffering but our lives are lived with the goal of faithfulness. we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been poured out upon us generously in baptism.
4th Sunday after the Epiphany - Mark 1:21-28
- Today God is revealed to us as a God who is not out to get us but desires to proclaim his forgiving word to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God desires his word to be proclaimed. He spoke at Sinai, he told the Israelites that he would be on the mountain and speak to them from there. Today he speaks in the Gospel. He goes to the synagogue, a new Sinai where God speaks to his people and he taught. The location was right. The people expected to go to the synagogue to hear God's word. They gathered on the Sabbath to hear and God would speak from his word. This was common. However, as Jesus comes something uncommon happens in what should have been a common Sabbath. He teaches as one with authority. A new type of teaching.
It is always nice when a preacher can bring something new. I too, even as a pastor am always interested when a preacher teaches something new. It's exciting. However, new doesn't always mean good. Today's new is tomorrow's old. There is a part of us that is always looking for the newest and greatest. The newest iPhone, newest home, car or even church. "Have you tried that new restaurant?" You don't need to read a lot of reviews of a restaurant before your interest is peaked. The fact that the restaurant is new is enough to get you a little excited. IN our gospel reading people expected to hear God's word and receive teaching, it is also why you are here today. It should be anyway.
However, our text tells us something is new and different in the synagogue. A new teacher. A new message that will never become old. One who teaches with authority. Not exactly a kind of new teaching we in the good ole United States really like to hear about. We have a certain bias against authority. Speed limit 55, I'll go 59. Authority? No thanks. We’re the land of the free. James Dean, tattoos, rebels without a cause. We don't like authority because authority implies accountability.
We want to be left to be our own authority. To be the one responsible for our own well being. Therefore, Christianity that neglects the church and talks about me and Jesus only, is so popular. We don't need any authority thank you very much. Can't you hear in the demon's question that little voice in your head, "Who do you think you are God, meddling in our business?" Who do you think you are God causing my life to not go as I planned? Delaying surgery. The Flu. Slow healing. Why don't you make my kids listen? Why am I stressed at work? Why is the building project not going as we had hoped? What God do you have to do with us? Have you come to destroy us? To toy with us? To play with our feelings? To torture us? To lift us up just to let us down?
Why yes as a matter of fact that is what he has come to do. To mess our lives up. To cause us to stop. To cause us grief in this life. For you see this is precisely what he did to the man with the unclean spirit. He interrupted his day. And how ironic it was at the synagogue! And so, Jesus comes.
Jesus does come to afflict us with suffering. He has come exactly to mess up what we think are our perfect lives so that we do cry out to him. For you see it is only in these times that we realize, we need someone who has authority. That we do realize that we are indeed sinners in rebellion even when life seems to be going just fine. God comes and intervenes. He stirs our life up. He visits us in his mercy.
The demon was just fine without Jesus coming. But here comes an outsider. A visitor. And the demon is right. "Have you come to destroy us?"
Jesus, the holy one of God has every right to destroy. To destroy all evil. To destroy us. To sweep us away as in a flood. This is why we fear so much in this world. Why at night when there is a sound and immediately we think, "Someone is here to do me harm." How often when you hear a strange, unusual sound do you think, "Huh. Someone is here to give me some Blue Bell ice cream." No. We know deep down that we deserve destruction. Like Adam and Eve, we hear God and hide. Like the Israelites at Sinai, "Don't speak to us God."
But you see we need God to speak. We need the creative ordering authoritative word of God to come to us because we are in chaos. The devil has his way. Demons run rampant. Death seems to be victorious all around us. Evil seems to be winning the day and too often we are the ones going right along with it in our sin. But a foreigner comes. A prophet like Moses. A Hebrew among Egyptians. A holy man among sinners such as us. He comes as a stranger and does not come to destroy us, but to destroy sin and the devil. He by his word casts out demons. Defeats the devil.
Jesus comes and teaches his word. He speaks again and a new creation comes. A prophet is one who speaks. Who brings God's word. God will not stay silent. For he will come and be the authority he is. He will be held accountable, but not for any sin he committed, he doesn't sin. God comes to be held accountable for your sin.
Jesus doesn't come to the synagogue and offer a new way to God. Jesus doesn't come with new techniques to avoid sin. Jesus doesn't come to dazzle with miracles that are only there to get your attention and impress. Jesus doesn't come just to itch the ears of people who are just looking for the newest thing. Jesus comes and teaches with authority. He speaks and breaks the darkness.
Besides the same old song and dance, he brings a new song. A song of deliverance. A song of forgiveness. A song of authority. A song of the father's love for his fallen creation where he comes not to destroy but to save. He saves by giving himself for you. That God is not coming to destroy you. God does not afflict you to destroy you but to save you. To turn you from unbelief that God is angry and ready to kill you to see his Son Jesus dying in your place on the cross.
The people heard Jesus teach as one with authority. With authority comes accountability and he holds his son accountable for your sin.
God comes to us not to put us to death but to put to death your sins. Your guilt is gone. God comes in the night, the middle of our dark, silent night and brings the light of his forgiveness and promise of eternal life.
God is not out to get us. We see from our reading today. The man overcome by the demon is not destroyed by Jesus but rescued. No word of rebuke from Jesus to the man. No, it’s too bad you really should get your act together. Jesus doesn’t come to destroy the man but to save him. Jesus knows how powerless we are against sin and death so he comes to save us. And he comes among us here, a new Sabbath, in his father’s house just as he came that Sabbath day. He is here not to scare you into submission but to free you from your demons. Those sins that seem to have authority over you. Though you try and try and try he speaks and you are clean. Forgiven. It turns our sin and death does not have authority over you.
The new thing today is that because of Jesus’ death on the cross you are considered as new before God and that never wears out. That Jesus’ death on the cross was for you, for you to be baptized into. This is what our ears should be itching to hear and receive from God. Your old sins are gone. Our ears should itch to hear and our tongues pant to receive in his body and blood shed on the cross. Because of Jesus’ authority over sin and death he comes to free you from your guilt that you would live by faith, to live without fear of the devil nor of the evil in the world and our own flesh.
We have a right fear of God. The Psalmist today echoes that passage we all remember from Proverbs, "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."We are not afraid of him as the demons are, but we do fear him rightly. The difference is like this, being afraid is fear that God will come to us. True fear of God is fear that he will leave. It is not enough to know God, even the demons do that. Faith is trusting that since Jesus’ death was for our sins, that in all things God works for the good of those who believe.
3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
Jonah 3:1-5; 10 Mark 1:14-20
Growing up on the playground, at a time when we got together with our friends at recess to play sports and not sitting in front of computer screens, there was always the liturgy of picking teams. You had team captians who would choose according to who was the best at whatever sport the playground mob chose at the time. Skills became the basis for choice because you always wanted to win. Our readings today reveal to us that God desires above all things to save us. To forgive us. To teach us his truth. For us to hear, because faith comes by hearing. God's goal is not to win but to give his life as a ransome for all and teach us so that we would endure to eternal life. God desires all to be saved. So one might wonder if God is so set on saving us why is he so backwards sometimes?
Take for example our Gospel reading. Jesus is choosing his team of apostles. His representatives. His first shepherds. Jesus who had his choice of all people chose today Peter, Andrew, James and John. Fishermen who were just doing their jobs. They weren't that great at fishing anyway, remember they were skunked a number of times fishing having empty nets. Their fathers perhaps were good fishermen, they had fishing buisnesses, but we have reason to believe the apostles weren't that special. So why did Jesus choose them?
These men weren't always so personable. Peter when questioned by a little girl at Jesus’ trial cursed her in front of people when she asked if he was part of Jesus' band of rebels. James and John argued over who was the greatest. None of these men we would probably choose to be part of our team however our Lord is not interested in the same things we, nor the disciples often are. If anything our Gospel reading starts out quite appropriately to warn us to not make too many assumptions about being someone who follows Jesus, "After John was arrested."
John the Baptist, the greatest one born of women, arrested. The one who had the priviledge of announcing that the Lord is nigh, arrested. Imprisoned. Probably scorned by passers by when they see him in the jail, parents telling their kids, "Don't be like him.” I think there is a song somewhere in Jerusalem, Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be prophets.”
John was arrested and what does Jesus say, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” The kingdom of God is at hand and the number two guy is thrown in jail. Some kingdom. Is this what it looks like when the kingdom of God comes? Even John the Baptist sends an entourage to ask Jesus, “Are you the one because it doesn’t look like it?”
Our OT lesson is from Jonah. Jonah was of such fine upstanding character when God spoke to him and told him to go to Nineveh he said, No thanks. I'll go this way. Jonah would rather be thrown into the ocean in the middle of a storm than go to Nineveh. Why did Jonah not want to go to Nineveh? Because he knew God's word works. God is no respecter of men. When GOd's word is preached people repent and believe and Jonah hated the Ninevites. He hated them because they were vicious people. They tortured people they conquored. Jonah didn't want them to hear God's word, not exactly a team player.
From our readings today it almost seems as if Jesus looks for the worst candidates for his team, the worst team players and says, “Yes these will do.” AS if Jesus asks us, “Who would you not choose?” and then he chooses those. And this is precisely why our Lord can choose as it were, losers, because it is not how good or how bad we are that gets us into God’s kingdom, but how great is his love for us.
And yet if we rightly reflect on our own lives we can see Jesus working this way in our own lives. We aren’t directly called by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t appear to us in the flesh and call us directly, but he does call us indirectly through the word. Jesus calls us to follow him through means indirectly. This is one reason we don’t throw the term apostle around. We consider the title apostle to be very special, a term reserved for those sent directly by Jesus. Apostle is a specific office of being sent directly by Jesus, but we too retain some of this office. We are sent. We are called by the Gospel. The Holy Spirit calls us into the faith and then we go to live our lives according to our callings. We are called to go forward and follow our Lord in faithfulness wherever he calls us.
And it’s never as bad as Jonah is it?
We wouldn’t be so brave as to neglect God’s instructions for our life would we? The fact of the matter is we’re pretty stubborn ourselves when it comes to getting along with people we don’t like. Jonah had the Ninevites, the scourge of humanity in his opinion and you have, them. You have that coworker, that relative, that neighbor. No thanks God I would rather not and we walk to the harbor of our own heart, board that boat pride and sail into anger and resentment for a three hour tour. And that itinerary is certain to end in a drowning of unrepentance. Do not bury your anger with one another, neither try to swallow it, repent. Confess.
The apostles this morning don’t question Jesus. Follow me. They drop their nets and go. Jesus calls us to forsake the ways of this world. To leave behind the desire to be first in all things and even to not desire to be second but to consider yourself least in all situatuations. Jesus hasn’t called us to be apostles but he does call us to come along side of him. To cooperate with the Holy Spirit and lead godly lives. To turn from temptations. To not be so angry. The men Jesus called to be apostles, they weren’t perhaps what we consider the best representatives but they did want to serve the Lord in faithfulness and they ultimately were willing to give their lives for the gospel. They could’ve given up. They could’ve given in to sin, but they didn’t and we should follow their example. To not become saddened where God has called us even if we don’t like where God has put us. Repent, for the kingdom of God is here.
“Yes pastor we’ve heard it all before. Repent, confess believe” But you see this is how Jesus says his kingdom comes. Die to your self righteousness and pride and hear the Gospel that Jesus forgives you. Again. Yes as often as you sin Jesus desires to claim you as his again and again. Calling you to die in repentance, remembering your death in baptism and being raised to life again in his kingdom.
God's word accomplishes what he desires and brings his kingdom. Faith comes by hearing. It isn't "faith came by hearing" but faith comes, continually to you. God's kingdom comes to us through his word and the visible word, his sacraments. God's kingdom continually comes to you to bring you back.
The OT lesson begins, “And God’s word came to Jonah a second time.” A second time. You see Jonah ran but God caught him by the whale and brought him back. The disciples over and over again doubted, didn’t trust and yet our Lord still called them and kept them in his possession. He forgave them and he forgives you, a second time, third and even more. For as sure as you sin, Jesus Christ has died for those sins, crucified for you, raised for you to see his kingdom cannot be shaken. For Christ did not come to win as we would consider winning. He came to die for sinners. When we would choose only winners so our enemies would die, Christ chose to die that we would all win. And yes we run to wrong way too often. Yes we sometimes refuse to leave the comforts of the life we know, but Christ has forgiven all you Jonah’s, all you Peter’s, James and Johns. Christ’s kingdom is victorious when sinners are forgiven.
Jesus can choose unimpressive apostles because it is his word that cannot be defeated. His word that even though you may feel beat down, lost, perhaps even beyond God’s forgiveness, he will not forsake you for he has already placed you in his kingdom by the word and the waters of baptism. A call to follow him in his kingdom trusting in his mercy. A kingdom not of struggling and fighting to win, but a kingdom that already has the victory and now we enjoy the spoils of his love, his protection. His promise that everything will be just fine. You are safe in his net of forgiveness caught by his apostles preaching passed down even into your ears this morning. For this is how his kingdom comes, repent and believe even as we pray, thy kingdom come.