Saturday, September 26, 2015

Sermon for 18th Sunday after Pentecost

18th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 9:38-50 - September 26th/27th

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Man, you thought it couldn't get worse for the disciples. It's been a rough day for them that we've seen our last two weeks. First you've got the 9 disciples who can't cast out a demon, then you've got them arguing about who is the greatest - they have been failing and knocking each other down a peg. Horrible. And then today, it gets even worse. Poor John gets nominated as the disciple who has recently annoyed Jesus the least to pipe up and give Jesus just a bit more information, a bit more context to flavor the day. John said to [Jesus], "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."

Oh. So, disciples, on the day you had that episode where you couldn't cast out a demon, you also tell Jesus that you were trying to stop some other fellow from casting out demons in Jesus' name. And why? Was he a charlatan who wasn't really casting out demons? Was he demanding money and bilking people? Was he also invoking Zeus and Ba'al and stuff? No. He wasn't following... whom? He wasn't following... us. Did you hear it? Power and authority have gone to the disciples' heads. Hey there bub, we're Jesus' disciples, and *we* didn't tell you that you could do that, so cut it out. Do you hear the ego, the pride, the vain glory in what the disciples did? It is horrificially dumb and wrong - and it will be the occasion for Jesus to teach both the disciples and us a bit. Let us learn.

But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in My Name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For the one who is not against us is for us." Now, here I suppose I should quickly address that idea of "in My Name". We don't generally think this way, but a person's name, a person's title designates their authority. When Celia Beck became Celia Brown, she suddenly had access and rights to all my stuff - she can walk up to me and say, "I need you to write a check for ____" and I will, because she's made whatever deal in the name of the Browns... the rest of y'all just don't get to do that. She has my name, she thus has the authority to act for my family and use the family resources. Or if you like cop shows, you have the old fashioned cops who will yell, "Stop in the... name of the law". Not stop because I, Bob, said to stop, but stop because I have the authority to exercise the law as an officer of the peace, so if you disobey me you aren't merely disobeying me, you are disobeying the state, the government, the law. And so Jesus makes the point - this fellow is using My Name, My Authority, he is tied to Me. I've got everyone and their brother complaining about Me, scribes, pharisees, priests, crowds that don't like this or that - some guy casting out demons in My Name isn't going to be complaining about Me since he's relying upon Me, so leave him alone. Make sense?

And then Jesus shifts gears to lay into the disciples a bit. Let's talk about how authority works, how it flows. "For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward." Did you catch it? Not because "you follow Christ" - not because "you are so awesome and do good works" - but rather because you belong to Christ. See, the disciples were thinking that this Jesus thing was going to work like like a ponzi scheme - where you've got the guy at the top, then the second tier... and then a third tier, and hey there bub, you ain't no second tier, we're second tier, you've got to get in down the line, serve us. We'll be the teacher to you and you can be our disciple, and right now bub we say shut it. And Jesus cuts across that - there aren't going to be any tiers in Christianity - rather this. You all, all Christians, belong to Christ. You all share His name and His authority. One baptism (into His name), all of us brothers and sisters... not I'm a brother but you're a third cousin twice removed. And indeed, we are all given to call upon the Name of the Lord - What is the second commandment - You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God (and note, that implies that you have the right and duty to use the name) - what does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. See - call upon the Name in every trouble. Put it to use. And you foolish disciples, there was a man calling upon My Name when there was trouble, demonic trouble - and you told him to stop. He at least understood that demons could only be cast out by prayer, something you lot had forgotten. Do you see how foolish and dumb you were? You told him to stop praying.

And with that we flow into the next verse - a verse that sometimes just gets pulled out of context. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea." Sometimes if we just jump in at this verse we will throw in any particular sin that we happen to be annoyed with that day, particularly if it's something our neighbor has done, and we lambaste them. Not the point. This isn't the pappy looking at the his daughter's date on prom night and saying, "remember, a shotgun works as well as a millstone around the neck, boy!" Well, not directly. What Jesus says here is much more direct. The sin in question, the sin that sets up this whole discussion, is 2nd and 3rd commandment stuff - it is telling folks to not call upon the Lord, to silence the Word of God rather than gladly hearing it. You disciples just told a guy not to pray - you caused him to sin. Jesus is leveling a harsh accusation at the disciples - you messed up big time.

And the rest of the lesson flows from there. "And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire" - and likewise your foot or your eye. And here Jesus is making a simple point - if any of us were to go into the hospital and the doc says, "there's gangrene in your hand, we have to amputate or you die" - well, you amputate. And that's just to avoid death in this life - that's saying nothing of unquenchable fire for eternity. And so, disciples, you were messing up big time in telling that guy to stop calling upon My Name. What drove you to that - what led to you think that? Was it your hand or your eye? No. Now, was it your pride and ego - then you better cut off your pride and ego lest that pride and ego get you tossed into hell. What is it that makes you hate your neighbor and despise him so - well, cut it out.

Now, dear friends, it's time to turn away from the disciples' vileness, and consider our own. In order to apply this lesson to us, let me ask you a question. Who do you not want here? In this place, in this church - who do you not want to be here? Dimes to donuts every one of you has someone whom you wouldn't want to see here. Maybe it's family history and bad blood, maybe there's a jerk from school or work? Someone who has hurt you in the past and you have a grudge against them? Someone who wanted the church to do X when you wanted it to do Y? Or even maybe they just have the wrong skin color, eh? Maybe they just happen to be a bit too poor, come from the wrong side of the tracks - just enough to make you uncomfortable and you're glad folks like that aren't around here? Fight those feelings down, smack them down, crucify them, repent of them. Cut them off. Because - they - are - bad. Evil. Millstone around the next bad, worm does not die and fire is not quenched evil.

You see, for the disciples, Satan attacked them via their pride - they wanted everything done their way, they wanted power and control. And let's be honest, Satan probably attacks some of you the same way, in your pride - where you want the congregation to ask how high when you say jump. It happens. That's not good. That, in fact, drives people away from the Church - because you've taught them that opposition to any of your tomfool ideas is opposition to Christ Jesus and His forgiveness. But we really need to expand this out because Satan attacks more than just pride. Anything in us, anything that would drive sinners who need Jesus away from this place needs to be repented of - and please note, I don't mean drive away in some milquetoast modern way - where it's "we can't talk about this sin because it might offend people". No, this is a place of God's Word - full bore Law, full bore Gospel. The question now is what makes us want to separate people from hearing that Word of Law and Gospel, from calling upon the Name of the Lord. No, we will call sin a sin here -- but sinners are welcome here, to fight against sin and to receive forgiveness, even the sinners we really don't like. So whether it's pride, or ego, or hurt feelings, or being grossed out or any -isms that we deal with, we need to beat that down and repent of that.

Jesus wraps up the section with something that is a bit cryptic at first. "Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." At first this seems like a bit of a shift - but this is the idea - you are the salt of the earth... in Christ. In Christ Jesus you have been made salty, you've been filled with His life and forgiveness and salvation, life, forgiveness, and salvation that you freely share! And what happens when you look and find out that... eh, with this fella over here, I'm not really being very salty, am I... I'm not really wanting that forgiveness or life or salvation to flow over towards him? How are you going to be salty again? Cause if left on it's own - salt that has lost its saltiness is worthless... and you, in your sin, are weak and powerless. Christ Jesus, though, is not weak and powerless. There was a big word there in that last sentence - "and be at peace with one another". Peace - that's the big word - Shalom, it's peace, forgiveness, love, joy, everything put back right again. And Jesus is the one who does it... because He forgives you. When you find yourself running a bit low on love, a bit frugal with your forgiveness - come here, come here to this place - and what happens? Here in this place, God gives you His peace - communion Sundays, we hear the peace of the Lord be with you always. Be salty, take and eat, take and drink. Or even today in Matins, which really is a lovely service. What do we hear? So, you had a hard time showing love, didn't want to call upon God's name, wanted to cut other folks off. O Lord, open my lips, cause You've got to be the One to do it -- and then my mouth will declare Your praise, even to that person my sinful flesh doesn't like. And make haste, hurry up and deliver me, help me - for my own flesh is frail and I am weak. And He does. He gives you grace, He gives you forgiveness. Everything that Christ Jesus did upon the Cross, every drop of His death and resurrection is poured upon you here in His Word, and so you are forgiven, you are salt again - because He is merciful and good to you, and His prayer from the Cross "Father, forgive them" has great power in its working upon you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Mark vs. Mercy

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand? 

 But with you there is forgiveness,    that you may be feared.  - Psalm 130:3-4

Let's talk about something that goes on in the Lutheran Internet community, shall we?  There are, shall we say, those who like to keep record and track stuff - who sort of play the angry vengeful Santa Claus -- making their list, checking it twice, going to catch the folks who are naughty and not nice.

And, of course, the semi-new schtick is to do so under false pretenses - whip up a face account or what have you (I don't mind long-term psuedonymns - not knocking you here, Carl V) to sneak on in and keep tabs on all the folks you don't like.


Really, really?

Okay - putting aside all the 8th Commandment in the LC don't condemn if you aren't called to condemn stuff... why?  Why would you sneak around and try to get dirt on folks -- or I should say, "For what Christian and Godly reason would you sneak around and get dirt on folks?"

I mean, if you want to call someone to repentance - call them to repentance.  You don't need to sneak around for that.  And that deals directly with the person, is for their benefit.

... of course, that might be the rub there.  Do you want to be a benefit for these people, or do you want them punished?  Do you want to see their fall?

Well, in that case, you have stopped thinking like God -- you are no longer having the mind of Christ among you.

Say it out loud - you desire their fall.

Who desires the "fall" - that a Satan thing or a Jesus thing?  Strengthen the weak and feeble knees, or get the dirt to sweep the leg.  Which is the Jesus thing?

Tell you what - God doesn't keep the record of sins... instead He shows mercy, and thus He is feared, worshiped, and praised.

If you want to keep a record so that you can be feared rather than God... you might want to do a bit of soul searching there and repent.

It's okay - repent... for God is merciful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness... because He really, really has no interest in keeping a record of sins.

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 +

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Sermon for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost

16th Sunday after Pentecost - September 12/13, 2015 - Mark 9:14-29

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
When Moses had gone up onto Mount Sinai to get the Law from God, it went poorly for the folks down at the foot of the mountain. He took too long, they made a golden calf, had a wild party - it's so bad that when Moses comes down and sees it, he breaks the 10 commandments, literally. He throws the tablets to the ground and shatters them - it's a mess. Now - just before our Gospel lesson, in the beginning of Chapter 9 - Jesus had been talking with Moses on a mountain - it was the transfiguration. Jesus was on the mountain and He glowed, shown forth with holy light - and Peter and James and John were there, and they saw Jesus talk with Moses and Elijah; they heard the voice of God. Well, what happens when Jesus, Peter, James, and John come down the mountain? They come across chaos.

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw Him, were greatly amazed and ran up to Jesus and greeted Him. They get to where the other 9 disciples were, and it's a free-for all. There's shouting, fighting, crowds pressing in to see - it's a mess. And why? A fellow brought his son, who was possessed by a demon, to the 9 disciples in order to cast it out... and they couldn't. And when they couldn't, the scribes attacked, mocked, in your face, disciples. And when the argument starts, an even bigger crowd gathers - it's like a fight at the schoolyard, folks gather around, whoop and holler. Which is why Jesus, who just gets more and more consternated as Mark goes on, says, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? Bring him to Me." Good night, they still haven't learned. I'm getting ready to go to the Cross, and My disciples don't get it, the crowds don't get it, and the scribes certainly don't get it. So Jesus shifts the focus back where it should be - onto Himself and what He will do - not upon how great or lousy the disciples are, not onto fights and arguments - but let's look at Jesus.

And they brought the boy to Him. And when the spirit saw Him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. When, when the demon looks at Jesus, the demon is none too pleased. And please understand, think in your head just how violent this is. This isn't a girl sitting in bed with green pea soup - this is violent. This is truly freaky and terrifying. Yet, Jesus is calm. He turns to the dad and asks quite simply, "How long has this been happening to him?" You guys have been to the doctor - you all know what Jesus is doing. Just quite calmly going about making His diagnosis - any recent change to the symptoms here? And the dad answers... maybe a little more than he should. "From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Did you hear it? Oh faithless generation! If? IF? IF YOU CAN? That's doubt. That's unbelief, right there. Guy forgot who he was talking to. You don't throw "if you can" questions at God. It's never a question of if God can do something, it's a question of His will being done - what is His will. This is why we pray "Thy will be done" and not "If you can, help a brother out." And poor, exasperated Jesus - "If you can! All things are possible for the one who believes." You're dealing with the might of God - not the strength of man. This is a Divine thing, a holy thing - of course God can do it. Why are you acting like it would be impossible!

And then we get the crux of this section. Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief." And there, there we get a beautiful statement of faith, of the reality of our faith and life in this sinful fallen world. I believe, and I also struggle with unbelief and I need you to help me with that Jesus. One of the things that Luther noted is that as Christians we are both sinner and saint at the same time - as Paul writes in Romans we are at war with ourselves - our lives are a constant struggle against sin and unbelief and hatred and all that other junk. Even James in our Epistle marvels at this - with the same mouth we bless and curse - this is where Paul would say "wretch that I am, who will save me from this body of death?" I believe; help my unbelief. That's an interesting word there - help. It's a bigger word in Greek, a military word - it's not an "I'm five cents short on buying this candy bar, can you give me a nickle" sort of help. It's the "help" he asked for his demon possessed son - it's help that breaks a siege in war, it's help that rescues. You could have translated this "rescue me from my unbelief." I'm in a bad way Jesus - just as my son is hounded by a demon, I'm hounded by unbelief, and I can't do anything about it. Rescue me. Deliver me. Free me. And my son as well. It's a beautiful statement showing the sad reality of our lives.

And then Jesus gets it in gear. And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together (because this surely will be interesting and the crowd wants a spectacle) He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, "You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." Jesus doesn't want a mob around - so He just dives in. You, you're gone. Get out, never come back. And what happens next is horrific, horrifically violent. And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. You know what - the crowd might be right. Kid might just have been dead. That's how violent this was. But living or dead, either way, Jesus walks up to him, picks him up, and he - arises. Did you hear it? That's the same word for the resurrection, the kid "rose again - arose". Because that's really the great big point of the text - was the kid hounded by a demon? Yep - but the story ends with Jesus defeating the demon and the kid rising. That's what Jesus' help, that's what His rescue looks like. Oh, and by the way, dad - that's what your help and rescue will look like as well. Jesus' help, ultimately looks like death and resurrection. Because that's ultimately what the cure is - death and resurrection.

Understand this - it's all about Jesus' death and resurrection. He's not just play acting there upon the cross - rather He is changing the way the world works. See, the way it used to work was... you died. That's how the story goes. Genesis is great for this - you have the genealogies - they all end "and he died." It's the refrain, over and over and over. It's why Matthew and Luke include genealogies in their gospels - they are lists of people whose apparent story ends "and he died." And then comes Christ Jesus into the world, and He goes to the Cross... and He dies. But that is not it - on the third day, He rises. The story now goes "and He died and then He rose." It's what we see with the kid - fell down, good as dead, and then Jesus comes in, picks him up, and He rose.
This is why Jesus says "take up your cross and follow Me." That's not primarily a call to hard work - it's reality. Yeah, you're going to die, but because I have taken up My cross, and because I will rise - take up your own - you're going to die, but you are going to rise. It's what Jesus means when He says that He is the Way - how do you come to the Father - no way but by Christ... and His way is to die and to rise. This is even small catechism stuff, Lord's Prayer stuff. But deliver us from evil. What does this mean? We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end (that is, a blessed death) and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. Death and resurrection guys, that's how it's going to be. While you live, it is going to be a struggle - you are going to have to put up with sin and doubt and all that junk. But the reality is this - Christ has changed the world. The only certain things in life are no longer death and taxes -- now its death, taxes, and resurrection. Because Christ has risen, and He's going to raise you. That's just how it's going to be.

And then, our text ends with a poignant point, that we can miss the point of. And when He had entered the house, His disciples asked Him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?" And He said to them, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." Oh, my dear friends, this is one of those verses that gets twisted into an ego trip - you got to pray hard, and if it doesn't work you've got to pray harder and harder and harder... poppycock. The disciples are a bit forelorn, sheepish. When they get Jesus alone - why couldn't *we* cast it out? Do you see their focus? We? Me? What *I* do. There's no focus on Jesus - and that had been the disciples problem. You weren't focused upon God - you didn't leave it up to God's will and God's timing - you made it about what *you* did. So no, Jesus is not telling us that if we just pray the right way we can do anything - He had just gotten mad at the dad in the text for the "if you can" question. If and can aren't the right things to ponder. Rather this - when will God work? When will Jesus act? When will God's will be done? And the answer is in God's good time - so rather than trying to control everything or thinking it's about how wonderful and powerful you are - commend everything to God in prayer, because it's about what God does, not what you do, disciples. And if you think that perhaps I am pushing a point I shouldn't - let me note one thing. Jesus says, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer." Did Jesus pray when He cast the demon out? He prays often before miracles - He prayed in our text last week before healing the deaf guy - He prays at the feedings - but he doesn't this week. No prayer - just "get out, don't come back." Why? Because Jesus is God. He's God Almighty - and the point is He does it, He fixes stuff - not us. Jesus doesn't have to call upon God to act, because He is Himself God. Now, He will teach *us* to pray - because we aren't God. It's not about what we do - it's about what God does for us. Jesus is saying, "Don't you see, disciples - it's not about you and what you do, it is what I do for you and for the whole world -- and this is I die and rise so you will too."

Heady stuff, eh? This text shows us what our life and salvation is. In this life there is fighting, struggle, temptation, unbelief - a mess. But down comes Jesus, and He enters into this fallen world... and He doesn't stop all this junk right away. Rather - He gets in the middle of it - even to where He Himself is beaten, suffers and dies. But then He rises. And because of Jesus, so shall you. Jesus brings resurrection and life. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 5, 2015

15th Sunday after Pentecost

15th Sunday after Pentecost - September 5th and 6th - Mark 7:24-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
For the last six weeks our Gospel lessons, ever since the feeding of the 5000, have been full of people giving Jesus a hard time. The disciples don't understand the feeding and freak out while He walks on water. Then, when they get to the other side of the sea, the crowds complain about Him being the Bread of Life, and lots of folks get huffy and leave. Then the Pharisees and Scribes come up, and they give Him a hard time, and the disciples are still clueless. And so today we hear, "From there Jesus arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon." That's it - I want a break, cause these folks are crazy - so off He goes to a foreign land - over by where the pagans, the old enemies of Israel live. Give Me a break! Yet even there: "And He entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet He could not be hidden." Even there, they know who He is. But you know what - it goes better for Jesus.

"But immediately a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of Him and came and fell down at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoencian by birth. And she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter." Now, remember, Jesus has just gone several rounds over the idea of defilement - that was the last two weeks. You know what else defiled a Jewish man - foreign women. A good, Jewish man wouldn't be caught dead alone with a foreign woman. Bad juju. And then Jesus says what might be some of His most shocking words in the Gospel. And He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." How's that for harsh! And yes, calling a woman a dog was just as much of an insult back then as it is now (don't worry, I'm not going to spell it out this week). So what in the world is Jesus doing here? I'd contend that Jesus is teaching the disciples in a back handed fashion. Is this really what you want me to be, disciples? Do you want me to rank and measure people - do you want me to decide whom is worthy of my help and whom is unclean - because that's what the defilement stuff you were so interested leads to? Is it about defilement? Is it about how great and awesome you are and how poor and lousy other folks are?

The woman answers, and answers well.
But she answered Him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." This is one of the great statements of faith in the Scriptures. Even Jesus praises it - For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter. The healing she had requested was given - the kid is healed. But let's ponder what she says. "Yes, Lord." Jesus has just called her a female dog - does she get angry? Indignant? "I came here for help and you throw that in my face?" Nope. Instead, she agrees with Jesus. Yes, Lord, yes I am. I am a lousy, no good mongrel. This, dear friends, is the picture of what Confession is. To confess literally means to speak with another, to speak together. This is why we, on the one hand, confess the Creeds - we all speak them together, we confess them. But normally when we think of confession, we think of admitting our wrong. And that is what we are doing when we confess our sins, we are speaking in agreement with what God's Word has said about us. Yes Lord, we are by nature sinful and unclean. Yes Lord, we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. You are right - but You know what else is true? What else have You said? You, Lord, are merciful. You have goodness and mercy and love to spare, even to a poor wretched beast like me. And she was right. Christ Jesus showed her mercy.

From there Jesus moves on, and this too is a happier story. Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. Tyre and Sidon was the Gentile region west of Galilee, now Jesus goes to the Gentile region east of Galilee - and once again, He is put to work. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on Him. Jesus - this guy's in a pitiful state - help Him out. Lay your hands on him and heal him, because You are great and wonderful! And Jesus does - and He does so in what I think is a most beautiful fashion. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. Now, think for a moment. The fellow is deaf and mute. He can't hear what is going on, He hasn't heard the crowd get all excited because Jesus is coming. And they picked him up from where he was and drag him to Jesus - the poor fellow probably has no clue what in the world is going on. So Jesus pulls him aside privately -- fingers in the ears. Yeah, these things, I'm going to open them. Jesus grabs the tongue - yeah, I'm going to fix this thing. And so you understand what I'm doing - and looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, 'Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." Did you note Jesus act out everything before He does it? So you know that I'm praying for healing, I'm going to sigh loudly looking at heaven first. It's just so kind and gentle. And what we expect happens. The man is healed - and the crowds cannot but help to praise Jesus, even when He tells them to be quiet. No, they sing out, "He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."

What a contrast! What a contrast from the lessons we've heard the past month and a half! There's no people grousing about Jesus. There's not any complaining. Just humble people in need who look to Jesus and receive from Him great and wonderful blessings. And our text today is fantastic, because there are many wonderful points of doctrine we see taught here. You want evidence that Gentiles are part of Christ's Kingdom - well here we see two Gentiles who receive His gifts with great joy. Are women welcome as well - you bet. Here's a great example of that! If only we had a slave show up in this section, it would have been that whole Galatians 3 "there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free" all acted out in one text. The open welcome of all, not just those who meet some artificial code of niceness is shown here in full. We could look at the creative power of God's Word. We could focus on Jesus restoring creation, or fighting off Satan. Lots of things!

But for us here today, here is what we shall ponder. Let's think about attitudes. The Jewish folks the last few weeks had been putting Jesus through the wringer - and why? Because they thought they were hot stuff, they thought they were all that and a bag of chips. Are you as good as Moses, Jesus - because we are Jewish folks and we deserve someone who is at least as awesome as Moses - never mind the fact that we've already seen miracle after miracle. You claim to be the Bread of Heaven who gives eternal life - well, what's so great about that? I don't know about you Jesus, you didn't make your disciples wash their hands the way we wanted. Think of all the nit picking and griping Jesus has put up with! And no one was happy, there was constant bickering, just a mess. Even the disciples get caught up and confused. Now contrast that with what we saw today. A poor woman just wants her daughter healed. You say I'm a wretched little dog - yeah, You're right, but my daughter still needs You. The crowds in the Decapolis - they don't find something to grouse about when Jesus shows up - instead - Old Deaf Pete, let's go grab him, we bet Jesus could help him. There's no pride, no self-aggrandizement. Rather, these folks all see problems, needs - serious problems. Not fake problems like "I ran into a sinner in the market place, oooOOOooo I feel dirty now" - not fake problems like "I have all I need but I want more and more stuff." Nope. Real problems. Possessed. Deaf. Mute. And because they are dealing with real problems they cling to Jesus really, really quickly.

There's an old saying. If you think you're just a little sinner, you're only going to think you need a little Savior. When it boils down to it, we don't need more stuff, we don't need to wine and dine the rich and powerful and have more of this or that. We need forgiveness. We need life. We need salvation. And this is because, like we confessed, we are poor miserable sinners. The problems we face, ultimately, are sin and death. We have sin in spades, and death is coming. That's the wages of sin - and the temptation, what the world wants us to do is to forget this, to act as though things will just carry on, that we all will get better with age. Except we won't.

So then, what ought our attitude to God be? Shall it be one where we nitpick and complain because our life doesn't have all the wealth and power that we might want? Shall we grouse at God because people just don't respect and understand how great we are? Shall we act like fool pharisees and sit in judgment of God and what He does? No. Yes Lord, we are sinners, but Your mercy endures forever. Yes Lord, we are sinners, and we will kneel at Your table and not receive mere crumbs, for You have claimed us though we were poor and unworthy, and You have washed us in Holy Baptism and declared us to be Your Children. You feed us not on mere crumbs, but on Your Body, the very Bread of Life. When we see and understand our own sin, its depths, it's vileness, then, like the woman and deaf man in our text, we will rejoice at the healing and forgiveness Jesus gives us. And give this He does. You are forgiven by Christ the Crucified. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. Make haste O God to deliver me, make haste to help me O Lord. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Vocation As Limits

Imagine the reaction to this scenario.  One day your nice little son or daughter comes home from school and says, "Today we learned to pray the Hail Mary!"  You see, your kid's teacher that year is a nice Roman Catholic, and as such, out of her very sincere and devout religious beliefs, for the good of the children, she teaches them the Hail Mary.

Would you applaud this?  Approve of it?  Say that it is a good thing?

No - you'd probably be really upset, and why?  Because the teacher exceeded the limits of her vocation.  In her vocation as teacher (either at a public school or even if she's a nice Roman Catholic gal with a teaching gig at a Lutheran school), teaching the Hail Mary goes beyond what she has been given to do.  It doesn't matter if that is her sincere belief - it doesn't matter if she is standing up for her faith.  She went beyond her vocation.

Vocations set limits.  They define what actions you can take and who you take them with.  I am a father - that gives me a whole set of responsibilities and duties -- but to my children.  I am a pastor - I am called to preach God's Word - a good thing.  But if I barge into a congregation not my own and demand to preach, I have exceeded my vocation - I have no call to preach there (no "diploma of vocation" there, if you will).

We forget that our vocations have limits.  If you have an office or duty - that's a good thing... but you are called to carry out the duties of that office.  And that's it.  You don't assume unto yourself duties not given to you.  That's the heart of enthusiasm, that's the Zwickau prophets and their error.  That is running when not sent by the Lord. 

This idea of vocation setting limits is all over the place in the Catechism - it's the heart of the table of duties... your station in life determines what you are *or aren't* to do.  Another application of it that I think of comes from the Large Catechism on the 8th Commandment: "Therefore, to avoid this vice we should note that 265] no one is allowed publicly to judge and reprove his neighbor, although he may see him sin, unless he have a command to judge and to reprove. 266] For there is a great difference between these two things, judging sin and knowing sin. You may indeed know it, but you are not to judge it. I can indeed see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to report it to others. Now, if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than his. But if you know it, do nothing else than turn your ears into a grave and cover it, until you are appointed to be judge and to punish by virtue of your office."

Did you see how often "office" came up?  Even when it comes to spotting sin - unless your job is to punish and reprove sin - you don't punish and reprove it.  This is why we have police - not vigilante mobs (sorry folks, but Batman is not acting in accord with good Lutheran theology... at least until the city puts him on de facto retainer with the batsignal, I suppose).  This is why we have judges. 

Thus, when looking at what you do, the question is not merely "what is right" but rather "what is my vocation?"  If you do something that is abstractly "good" or that you can argue for, but it's not your vocation... then it is fundamentally bad and should not be encouraged, even if good comes from it.

The ends do not justify the violation of ones office. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Strange Bedfellows

The 60s and the 70s were a rough time for the LCMS.  We were embroiled in the "Battle for the Bible" - basically dealing with whether or not the Scriptures are, in fact, the Word of God.  A lot of LCMS profs were saying, basically, no, it's not - at least not fully (yes, this is a gross simplification, but this is a blog post, not a doctoral thesis).  And at that time the LCMS developed a new ally, someone with whom they had never allied before - the American Evangelical.

American Evangelicalism had long been one of the bigger foes of Lutheranism.  They aren't sacramental - they think we are "too Catholic" - they lean to a lot of works righteousness - yaddy, yaddy ya.  When the first "fundamentalists" came out in the late 19th Century - we didn't really want to be associated with them - not our circus, not our monkeys.

However, when we hit the battle for the Bible, our fundamentalistic Evangelical friends had lots of stuff on that topic - so we formed sort of a enemy of my enemy is my friend sort of thing.  It was an issue of strange bedfellows - but for the time, it seemed to work.

I like that term "strange bedfellows" - because you know what happens when a couple shares a bed?  Often, something new gets born.  And the LCMS got infected with something new - the idea of trying to ape "Evangelical" styles of worship.  By the 1980s you have a strong push to downplay the idea of liturigical worship -- let's just do it the Evangelical way.  And all the worship wars since then sort of spill out of this.

The point is this:  We saw a problem, and it was a serious problem... but in fighting that problem we picked our allies poorly, and we ended up picking up a lot of their baggage.  It simply happens.  If you read a bunch of folks because they are good on topic X, it's just going to happen that often their thoughts on topics Y and Z are going to creep in unless you stay incredibly vigilant. 

So then - consider.  We've got battles for today in the US.  A lot of them seem to be social/moral issues.  And we are getting a lot of partners for the fight for a more moral America.

... just remember what picking out strange bedfellows does.

I mean, sure, the guy's a Calvinist... and while his moral stance on topic X might be really good... remember the whole Crypto-Calvinist controversy and how much other junk is bad.  (To say nothing of "Ask him about the Sacraments" - but I think that only applies to some Calvinsts)

I mean, sure, the guy's reformed... and while his moral stance on topic Y might be really good... how's his understanding of Christian obedience square with the Confessions?  Or the two kingdoms?

I mean, sure, the guy's Roman Catholic... and while they've always been our allies on Z... what about their suppositions and approach to ethics is based not upon the Word but upon traditions and philosophy?  Remember that Luther and the Reformation saw great danger in scholasticism, even though you find the scholastic useful on this point.

Fight the battles you need to now -- but remain Lutheran.  Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees... lest it corrupt you and you forget your first love.