Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sermon for July 4th Weekend

Mark 6:1-13 - 6th Sunday after Pentecost - July 4th/5th, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
One of the sad realities of our day and age, is that in our country respect for Christianity is currently on the wane. Being a Christian isn't as popular as it used to be 20 or 40 years ago - and in fact, in many circles today being a Christian is viewed as a bad thing. Now, for the younger folks among us, this is normal, but for the - I'm not going to call you elderly, I'll just say for the folks who have been around longer than me, this is a strange and shocking turn of events. But sad to say, it's actually the one that historically is typical - in fact, the Scriptures teach us of this opposition and warn of us it - especially our own Gospel lesson today. Listen again and hear how the reactions to Christ Jesus Himself start to wane.
"[Jesus] went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. And on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?' And they took offense at Him." Well, there you go. Think on that - Jesus returns to His hometown, and He preaches a humdinger of a sermon. And the people grouse. Not just people - people He's known all His life. People who would have no reason to think ill of Him or look down upon Him. And note - I'd contend that the questions they ask aren't to be viewed as just simple, honest questions. They are offended, they are put out. It's not just "I wonder where He learned this" - it's "Where does this carpenter get off feeding me this line of bull? Acting like he's so great - his brother owes me five bucks!" He is utterly rejected.
Think on that for a moment. Utterly rejected. This is one of the major themes of Mark's Gospel - Jesus' family thinks He crazy, the Scribes and the Pharisees complain, and even the folks He grew up with. Rejection. Dismissal. Disdain. They were offended - the Greek is Scandalized. They saw Him and said, "We want no part of it." Utter rejection. Now, ponder your own life for a moment. Have you long thought that being a Christian would mean that people in the world like you, or respect you, or even praise you? Those days are passing. The kids here, they will probably never know them. Instead, what we can and ought to expect is an increase in rejection - and increase in the times where if we confess what the Scriptures teach - whether it's what the Scriptures teach about the value of human life, or that sexuality is a gift to be given to your spouse - husband to wife and wife to husband, or even about sin and forgiveness - we can expect the world, we can expect more and more of our neighbors to reject it. This this the reality - it is politically correct to paint the white house in rainbow colors, but politically incorrect to put up a nativity. Well - way to preach a patriotic sermon there, Pastor Brown! Oh well, it's the sad reality - even as we confess and rejoice in what a blessing our country is to us, the folks in that country confess less and less that their blessings come from God, confess less and less their need for a Savior, much less that Christ Jesus is that Savior.
So then, how does Jesus react? To His rejection in the text, how does Jesus react? Is there anger? Does He whine and lament the good old days? No. He sees things Scripturally. "And Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor, except in His hometown and among His relatives and in His own household." In the good old days of the Old Testament, the same thing happened to the prophets and preachers. You don't see what is going on here people -- and the people miss out. "And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief." Think on that. Jesus comes and says, "Today I am here with healing in my wings!" And most of the folks shrug their shoulders... a few sick folks take a flier and are healed... and still, no one believes. For the first time in the book Jesus is left alone - and by folks who should have believed. And Jesus marvels - He has that dumbstruck sort of look of wonderment. Even healing folks doesn't get a stir of interest. Again, this is just one of those things - unbelief is blindness. Whereas the believers would see and understand that this is the Messiah doing awesome things - the unbelievers just don't see it. Likewise, even today, we see and understand the blessings that we have are from God, we understand the dangers of sin, we know the power of forgiveness - but the unbelievers don't.
Again, what is Jesus' reaction? Anger? Punishment from above? No. "And He went about among the villages teaching." He goes elsewhere. He teaches elsewhere. You guys don't want Me here - have it your way. And so what of us here today, in America? Here I would quote Martin Luther and an admontion he gave to his own day and age: Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history. If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been. It has been with the Jews, but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have nothing. Paul brought it to the Greeks; but again when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the Turk. Rome and the Latins also had it; but when it’s gone it’s gone, and now they have the pope. And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year.” And he was right. And in our day we see great love for the Gospel in Africa, in Asia. Ten million Lutherans in Ethiopia. Astonishing... and in our own country, we seem not to care. So, what is our reaction to be? Anger? Shaking fists at the bad people who are ruining our nation? No. We let the past go. We pray for strength so that we ourselves would remain steadfast in the Word even while so many around us forsake it. We rejoice that the Gospel flourishes elsewhere. And if the world around us is filled with ingratitude and contempt, so be it.
Because, after all, ingratitude and contempt should not surprise us. Jesus then sends out the twelve disciples - and note what He warns them. "And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." If Jesus warns the twelve to expect rejection when they are healing the sick and casting out demons, what are we to expect when we all we have to offer is the forgiveness of sins to a culture that is more and more denying that anything is sinful? What is our response to be? The same thing it always has been - to preach Christ and Him Crucified for sinners, in season and out of season.
Luther made a distinction between what he called a theology of glory and a theology of the Cross. A theology of glory thinks that being a Christian should make everything better - more money, more wealth, fame and respect. That's been a popular theology in America - it's almost part of our very blood, where we expect that "good, Christian people" should do better than non-believers. But it's a false doctrine - it's a false misleading dream. God's way is the Cross. Christ Jesus wins us not earthly riches and power, but forgiveness and salvation and eternal life with the His death upon the Cross. And He tells us not to hop in our spiffy new Mercedes Benz and follow Him - take up *your* cross and follow Me. And so - will we see less power and might socially and politically in the days to come? Probably - but you know what? This will be for our good. If you do not believe me, believe St. Paul. "So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.'" Paul suffers, and when he wants relief, God says no. Why? Here's your lesson, your reminder Paul - My grace is sufficient for you. Paul, you don't need earthly power and success, you had enough of that in your Pharisee days and it went to your head. Paul, you need forgiveness. In fact, did you note what God says - His power is made "perfect" in weakness. And we miss it in English. Another Greek lesson for you - and this is vital - in Greek the word for "perfect" and "complete" and "finished" is all the same word. God's power is made... the same thing Jesus says from the cross when He dies - It is finished. It is finished, it is made perfect in Christ's own weakness, His own death. It's not about your best life now, It's not about worldly success or fame. It is that Christ Jesus has died for sinners. And thus Paul - Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." It's not about my strength, my fame, my repute - it's not even about whether or not my neighbor has a clue - it is about what Christ Jesus has done for me. "For when I am weak, then I am strong." Then I am strong because I rely solely upon Christ Jesus for my strength and salvation and not myself.
So then - does the world around us reject Christ? Is there a bit less pride in our country and its direction than there has been fourth of July's past? Indeed, are our bodies weaker and falling apart, do we have our own thorns of the flesh to deal with, are temptations swirling around us, is there rejection and dismay? Yeah. So what? None of that changes the fact that Christ Jesus still has died for you, He has risen for you, that He forgives you all your sin, indeed, that He gives you His own body and blood here today at this rail for the forgiveness of your sins. Indeed, in the face of all this decay, societal decay, moral decay, even the decay of our own bodies, we eat this Bread and Drink this cup and defiantly against the World proclaim the death of Christ Jesus until He comes again to bring us unto life everlasting. You, my dear friends, are called by God. You are the baptized; you belong to Him. Nothing we see in the world changes that. Are you looked down upon, made to feel small? So be it. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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