Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost

17th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 9:31-37 - September 19/20, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Before we dive into the text, I want to say a bit about the Gospel of Mark in general. I would hope that by now you've seen and heard just how intense this Gospel can be. Things are violent, the disciples frequently mess up, there's mobs and fights; it's a mess. There's a good reason for that. Most folks assume that Mark is written in Rome near the end of Peter's life - that it's basically a recording of what Peter taught in Rome... when the Church is Rome was being persecuted by Nero. Now, when there is the thought that the soldiers might break down those doors in back and take us away to the lions, you don't sweat the small stuff. You don't dance around things or sugar coat them. Instead, you get to the point - you see how utterly stupid the things we typically worry about are, and instead we are focused upon Christ Jesus who dies and rises to save us - because we sure aren't going to be able to save ourselves when they kick down our door. Christians in Syria or the Sudan today aren't having big arguments in their congregations about the color of the carpet - they want to hear Christ Jesus and His forgiveness and life proclaimed. And that's what Mark is doing - this Gospel shows Christ Jesus triumphing over both our worst folly and the worst circumstances we find ourselves in - and reminds us that we should be focused upon Christ. Mark does this again today. So, let's dive in.

The disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. And [Jesus] did not want anyone to know, for He was teaching His disciples. Alright, so basically after last week's debacle where they didn't cast out a demon, Jesus pulls His disciples aside - take a walk with Me. Even today we'll have those father son chats that are done on a walk - well, in Jewish culture if the Rabbi was going to be intensely teaching his disciples rather than the crowds, this would often be done walking. And this was for the disciples' own good - because you might be needing to lay into them a bit, to reinforce things they were messing up on - and you don't do that in front of the crowd. You pull them aside. So Jesus pulls the disciples away from the crowd and gives them this to chew on: "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, after three days He will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.

This isn't the first time Jesus has told the disciples plainly and clearly that He was going to die and rise. That happened in the previous chapter - it was part our readings skipped, but you know the story. Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds say that He is - Peter confesses "You are the Christ, the son of the living God" - Blessed are you, you get the nickname Peter now. And right after that, Jesus tells them that He, since He is in fact the Christ and the Son of God, is going to suffer and die in Jerusalem and then be raised. And that's when Peter pulls Jesus aside, you don't want to do that, and Jesus says, "Get thee behind me, Satan." That's what happened the first time Jesus tells them about this. And when He tells them again, they still don't get it. Even though they just saw Jesus fight that demon in the little boy and raise him, even though Peter and James and John had seen the transfiguration, heard the Father's voice boom out "listen to Him" - they still don't get it. It's not how they want the story to go. And more over - they are afraid. Afraid to ask. Afraid that they might get smacked down like Peter got smacked down last time, afraid because they couldn't cast out last weekend's demon, afraid because what if Jesus isn't joking and they are actually going to kill Him?

You see, to sinful man, this idea of death and resurrection, of dying and rising is utterly terrifying. We don't want anything to do with it - we don't want the Cross - we want fame and power and earthly glory - not the glory of the Cross. We think following Jesus, being a good little Christian, should mean that we are wealthy and famous - Jesus should have lots of earthly power, so we should have lots of earthly power and might too! And then Jesus talks about dying - about every single drop of our earthly power going away. That's not what we want - we want power and glory, we want to be accounted the greatest - that's something much more comfortable to talk about.

As evidence of that, consider what we hear in the text. And they came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, "What were you discussing on the way?" But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. So, Jesus had just told them that it will be about death and resurrection, and this makes them bitterly uncomfortable. And He lets them ponder that. So what do they do instead? When we hear that they were arguing about who was the greatest, we think that this sounds terrible, how could they even think that! Actually, it makes perfect sense. Remember what has just happened. The 9 couldn't cast out a demon, while Peter, James, and John got to witness the transfiguration. You think that they aren't doing a bit a trash talking to each other - it's what guys do, especially when they are nervous. "Heh, if I was there, I would have cast the tar out of that demon." "Yeah, sure you would have... but at least the Teacher didn't call me Satan like he did you, Peter." They are gabbing, they are reestablishing the disciple pecking order - we find out next week that basically John "won" their argument because he's the one who pipes up to Jesus with the disciples' question. But do you see the contrast - Jesus has spoken to the great spiritual truth of death and resurrection, and instead the disciples go back to what is much more comfortable. Power plays and ranking.

Time for Jesus to get them back on track. And [Jesus] sat down and called the twelve. And He said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." Now, understand, what Jesus says is crazy talk. If you walk into the White House, you don't find the President scrubbing the public toilets after visiting hours. 99% of the time, the CEO ain't taking a pay cut to save some entry level clerk's job - nope, it's time for layoffs. And why? Because in the world, we want power, we want to be first, that way we have power to cover our backside and make other people do the dirty work. But that's not what Christ does. He is first, He is the Ruler, He is God. Yet what does He do? He comes and serves all. He suffers, yes, He even dies. And if you want to know how His kingdom works - well, you too are going to suffer for the sake of your neighbor - that's just how it goes. To our flesh - crazy talk. But also our salvation - or as Paul puts it in 1st Corinthians - For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. This is something important to remember - let what Jesus says about the faith seem silly and foolish to the world - because it is to the sinful world.

Jesus gives us another example of that - And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, "Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me." Okay - let's see how crazy this sounds. Remember, the disciples had just been talking about who was great, who got to be in charge, who got to be high and mighty - and who will thus get lots of earthly power and might and stuff. And then Jesus drops a toddler in front of them. A toddler's not going to give you earthly might. You know what a toddler gives you - a booger and a full diaper. Alright, you want to serve Me, you want to serve God - here you go. Diaper detail. Luther plays off of this idea in one of my favorite quotes: "When a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other menial task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool…God with all his angels and creatures is smiling." This is Christ's point. It's not about your best life now, or money, or power, or wealth. God gives you people to serve - and you know what - when you serve your neighbor, this is good. So, in other words, quit your yapping about power and might, disciples, and instead, so show some love to your neighbor - especially ones who can't pay you back.

And to tie this all up nicely with a bow - go love your neighbor, because it's not about power and glory - rather, it's about death and resurrection. It's about going and suffering now for your neighbor's sake, and looking forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. You disciples need to learn to die, you need to learn humility, you need to learn to break your pride. Have a diaper. Because death is not proud - so you need to learn to be not so proud.

In fact, I will point out something about our service, about our worship that may not be obvious. It's all teaching us how to die. That's what the entirety of the Christian life is in fact - preparing for death so that we die in faith in Christ and are raised to new life. It starts with baptism - what does such baptizing with water indicates - it indicates that the Old Adam should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and... die. Oh. And how does the service start - The invocation - in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit - the very words used at our baptism - and as soon as we remember our baptism... we confess our sin. We exercise a bit of that daily contrition and repentance. We admit that we deserve not praise and honor but punishment - the confession ain't just whistling dixie. And then we get to the readings and the sermon, and part of that is God's Word of Law. Folks, if there isn't a point in the sermon where God's Law doesn't make you squirm a bit, it means I've wussed out and haven't done my job that week. Daily contrition and repentance. Training to die - so that Christ raises. In fact, even the Supper is a training for death - as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. We proclaim His death, and we look to His return when He will bring resurrection. As Christians we live not seeking glory here, for we know that is fleeting and empty. We sing of a different glory - "Lord of Glory, You have bought us with Your life blood as the price/ never grudging for the lost ones (that's us) that tremendous sacrifice." We see in Christ the crucified our salvation, so we sing "Now no more can death appall, now no more the grave enthrall". Let death come - for we are forgiven by Christ and we will rise.

My dear friends - it's not about rank, it's not about prestige or glory or earthly power or money or any of the other stupid things we are tempted to focus on. Christ Jesus has died, He has risen - and so you are forgiven and so you too will rise. This is truth. Until then, go show love, confident in the love that God has for you on account of Christ Jesus, for Jesus serves you well. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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