Signs Are Meaningless – A Sermon on Mark 13

November 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Every generation believes that they are, more likely than not, the last generation. That is, the generation who will see Jesus’ return. The apostles believed that they would see the day. The martyrs of the early Church were sure that they would see Jesus’ glorious return with their own eyes before they died. The Church Fathers, in the midst of dealing with false teacher after false teacher felt Christ’s return was imminent. Luther, in his prologue to Revelation, believed that the Papacy was the last sign before the eschaton. Entire denominations, as well as cults, started in the 19th century, all around the assumption that the end was within their lifetimes. Hal Lindsey wrote the end times thriller, “The Late Great Planet Earth” 46 years ago, claiming that it wasn’t fiction. Twenty one years ago, Tim LaHaye did the same thing with “Left Behind.” Saying that maybe the characters are made up, but the events would be true, and happen before we knew it.

Every single generation believes they will see Jesus’s return before they die. Every generation believes that the wars, the tension, the natural disasters, the outrageous sin, and the abominations of man are all signs that the end is imminent. We read Mark Thirteen on the last two Sundays of the Church year with the theme “End Times.” If you open up your Bibles to Mark Thirteen, there’s a helpful heading above the text, “Signs of the Close of the Age”. We all read these words as if Jesus were telling us exactly what to look for in order to know if that the Last Day is right around the corner. All this despite the fact that Jesus Himself says in this very text that these are absolutely, unequivocally, NOT signs of the end. “These things must take place, but it is not the end. These things are but the beginning.

Just what is it that does this to us? What is it that makes us read Jesus’ words as the exact opposite of what they actually say? So much so that we have institutionalized our misreading. And not just us, but almost everyone. And don’t think I don’t realize how dangerous it is to say so many good and faithful Christians have read this wrong. Yet, it is written, “Let God be true though every one were a liar.” I can only say the same thing as the text says. And the text plainly says that all these things are not the end.

The problem arises because of the disciples themselves. When Jesus tells them the temple will be destroyed, they assume that the only way God’s Holy Temple would ever fall would be on the last day, when the entire old heavens and old earth would give way for the new heavens and the new earth. The disciples think they ask only one question of Jesus, when in reality, they ask two. “When will these things be?” That is, when will the temple be destroyed? And “What will be the signs when all these things are about to happen?” That is, what are the signs of the Last Day.

Notice, Jesus splits His answers into “Those Days,” and “That Day.” Jesus lets His disciples know the signs of those days, so as to know when the temple is going to be destroyed. “But concerning that day,” that is, the Last Day, “no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” “You do not know when the time will come.” It’s like a man not telling his servants when he’ll be home, but they better be ready whenever he shows up. Elsewhere, Jesus will say it’s like the coming of a thief in the night. There are no signs. There is no warning. There are no precursors. There are no events that say that day is close at hand. If you cannot know the day nor the hour, then you also cannot know the year, nor decade, nor century.

But that answer is not satisfactory to us. Because we need wars to be a sign. We need turmoil to be a sign. We need disasters to be signs. We need the abominations in this world to be signs. Because if they’re signs, then that means we’re part something big. If they’re signs, then what we do matters. If they’re signs, then we mean something.

I don’t know if we realize just how badly we need to have meaning in our lives. How badly we desire our hard work to really make a difference. Why do you think Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, sold millions. To Christians. We are that desperate for it. And what greater meaning could we have than to be confessors of Christ on that Last Day?

But if these are not signs of the end. If this war is not the final war. If this Paris attack is not the trigger to get The End started. If these disasters aren’t news of the coming apocalypse. If these abominations aren’t the ones that bring Christ from heaven on the clouds. Then what are they? Why must we endure them? What meaning do they have? Can we take another meaningless war? More meaningless turmoil? More meaningless disasters? Even more meaningless abominations? Isn’t there anything we can do? Because if none of the things I have to go through in this life have any meaning, do I myself have any meaning?

Do you know what the wisest man who ever lived, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit had to say about everything we could ever do? Anything that we could ever be a part of? Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless. That’s the entire point of the book of Ecclesiastes. That’s the one thing Solomon got across loud and clear. And life itself echoes that refrain.

What good did it do to gather into barns? What good were the plans of princes? What good is it to gain the entire world? What good is it to succeed? What good is it to have purpose? You personally might be remembered in this world for three or four generations after your death. Then all memory of you on this earth will be gone. So much for living on in people’s hearts.

All wars are meaningless. All turmoil is meaningless. All disasters are meaningless. All abominations are meaningless. All the things I do in this life are meaningless. All the things I suffer in this life are meaningless. Nothing horrifies the Old Adam in us like those words. We want to spit them out. Throw them away. Deny their very existence. Because if those words are true, then our Old Adam, our corrupt sinful nature has no hope at all. It screams out, “Why bother, then?! Why even live?” To be meaningless is a scandal of the highest order.

And the one behind the scandal is Christ Himself. He is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.

Who do you think has sent all the meaningless things in this life? Who has sent the things that tear the meaning out of our everything we do? Who has broken every one of our actions in which we put our trust and hope? Jesus has given that meaninglessness for our good. Because on that last day, all the things you did in this life will not matter. The only thing that will matter is what Christ has done for you.

That’s what the Old Adam doesn’t understand. That sinful part in us judges our worth on what we do. Whether for God, or for our neighbor, but mostly for ourselves. Making it on our own is an idol to which we have no problem giving our all. And so Jesus breaks that idol. Again, and again, and again. And this is love. He will not let us follow the path to our own destruction while we tell ourselves that it actually is good.  That is why everything in this world fades. Even the good things. So that it is taught to us again and again, not to put our trust in our things. Not to put our trust in our works. Not to put our trust in ourselves. We do not judge how much we are worth by looking there.

Whether you matter or not has nothing to do with how good you are. Nothing to do with if you did the right thing at the time. Nothing to do with how well you handled life. Nor your success through tough situations. Nor that you made a difference. Nor that you did the best you could. Our worth comes solely, and only because of what Christ did for you. You matter. Because Jesus brought your fleshly existence into the Trinity. You matter because Jesus was born and lived here with us. You matter. Because Jesus was baptized on our behalf. You matter. Because Jesus shed his blood for your forgiveness. You matter. Because Jesus died for you. Was buried for you. Rose from the dead for you. You matter, because you matter to Christ. And that’s the only thing that counts.

All our idols. All our goods works. All our earning our own place. It is all crushed by Christ’s heel. So when the very worst things happen in our lives. Things that we cannot handle. Things that, in the end make everything meaningless. We can have the assurance that Jesus is right there in the midst of them. Freeing us from the chains security, the chains of success, the chains of being self-made. Because on that last day none of those things will matter at all.

Heaven will be full of people who both provided for their families, and those who couldn’t. Full of people who succeeded at what they tried and people who failed. People who suffered much, and people who didn’t suffer nearly so much as that. People who went through meaningless wars. Endured meaningless turmoil. were struck by meaningless disasters. Faced meaningless abominations. None of which signaled the end. None of which make them better or worse than anyone else standing there that day.

So wake up. Let what happens in the world be as meaningless as it truly is. Don’t find your worth in what you do. Or what you succeed at. Or what you accomplish. Even if it’s for God’s kingdom. Do not take what is good and turn it into an idol. Your meaning isn’t found there. Your meaning is found in Jesus Christ. In how much He gave up of Himself on your behalf. You have meaning, because you mean everything to Him.

Everyone has meaning. And that meaning is found in Christ. Whether on that last day, or here in this one. We live our lives as Christians in that knowledge. In that hope. Because when we know that all those other things are meaningless, then we can see the hope we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus clearly. For us. For our loved ones. For the people we run across in our lives. And that kind of meaning frees us to not hold on to the meaningless things in this life any more. We can let them go. And let them be used to help our neighbors who are in need. That the world is meaningless is the greatest of freedoms. It releases us from the idols our Old Adam can’t bear to give up. That’s the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes. That’s the good news for today. That’s what Jesus has done for you. And we don’t have to be the last generation for that to be true. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

An Eternal Gospel – A Reformation Sermon on Revelation 14:6-7

October 24, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As we look around our world today, it’s easy to get discouraged. It’s not just that people don’t care about anyone else but themselves. It’s not just that morality is optional. It’s that people will hate you because you’re a Christian. Whether it’s the conservative Muslim in Isis, or the liberal atheist at the university. Jesus is the only four-letter word left out there that offends anyone. And the state of our world is deplorable.

But, when we look in here, inside Christ’s Church, does the news really get any better? Churches of every confession are shrinking. They all are seeing mostly white hair in the pews. They all are wondering where the young people went. And getting a neighbor to even talk with you after you mention Church is a challenge all its own. Adding to that is the fact that there are a lot of places that call themselves Churches where the Gospel isn’t proclaimed each and every Sunday. You might hear how to get control of your finances, or how to improve your marriage, or how to live a virtuous life, all without ever once mentioning Christ and His Cross. It’s not uncommon to hear from Christians I meet out there that they believe that we must be right at the very end of the world, because it’s never been this bad before.

How short our memories are. October 31st, 1517. The day we celebrate today as Reformation Day started when a monk chided bureaucrat for making salvation about money instead of works. The day we wear red for didn’t even have the Gospel. Now, it started the path towards rediscovering the Gospel, to be sure. And in some places, it had never left. Thank you Jan Hus. But we have NEVER had a Golden Age of the Church.

Twelve years after the Reformation, when Luther had very much grasped the importance of the Gospel. When he had written about it in books, talked about it in sermons and lectures. When the Reformation was really in it’s heyday. Luther wrote these words. “The deplorable, miserable conditions which I have recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me… How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: The common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach.”

This wasn’t just some well learned man making insults at uneducated folk. Not that I would’ve put that past Luther, mind you. But they knew nothing about the very basics of the Gospel itself. That Jesus had died for them. That Jesus forgave their sins. That Jesus rose so that they too would have life.

All that was pretty bad. But the Reformation was a huge success, right? So it must have gotten better later on. Except that when Luther died in 1546, Lutheranism fell apart. Everyone went their own way. Phillip Melanchthon, who had written the Augsburg Confession and it’s Apology, the very confession Lutherans hold to today, went back and started rewriting it. All in order to made new friends in high places. And so denying the Lutheran confession altogether. By 1577, all the battles that they had fought with the Pope and with Emperor Charles V over what the Bible said had to be fought a second time. All while still under the risk of arrest by both the state and the Roman Church. There’s your glory years right there. Illiterate laity. Incompetent pastors. Defecting leaders. And in the midst of it all: The Gospel.

John wrote in Revelation, “And I saw another angel, another messenger, flying directly overhead, with an eternal Gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.” It’s the Gospel that is eternal. Not today’s world. Not today’s issues. Not today’s pains. Not today’s fears. In fact, no thing on this earth is eternal.

Now, that might be disconcerting. There are some things we really love, and want to have. There are things we’re not willing to give up. And they’re not bad things at all. And yet, can anyone point to the church building Jesus grew up in? Or the one Peter preached in? Paul wasn’t a pastor in Ephesus forever. Neither was Titus who took over after him. Congregations are born and die, just like people. No one is in one congregation forever. All to show us not put our hopes in those things. We do not hope in peoples, or powers, or buildings, or in anything else that will pass away. We hope in the eternal Gospel. And the Gospel alone.

Because no matter who preached in Ephesus after Titus, the Gospel was there, brought by an angel. Brought by a messenger, which is what angel means. No matter how bad things were at the Reformation, the Gospel was there, proclaimed by its messengers. Which is what Luther came after Hus. And why Chemnitz came after Luther. Because the Gospel is eternal. That’s why Luther’s answer to the deplorable conditions of pastors and laity was to write the Small Catechism. To give the Gospel to them. Because ignorance and incompetence aren’t eternal. But the Gospel is.

That eternal Gospel isn’t just for today. It isn’t just for this life. For Jesus was crucified from before the foundation of the world. Before time even existed. And that death and resurrection will be just as good of news in eternity as it is now, and was then. It doesn’t matter what nation you come from. It doesn’t matter what family you have. It doesn’t matter what language you speak. It doesn’t matter what sin you have on your conscience. Jesus died and rose for you. He has won forgiveness for you. He has given you His life. He has made you holy.

That’s quite a statement right there. Jesus makes you holy. Makes His whole Church Holy. Perfect. Blameless. And while we daydream about what the perfect Church might look like. Imagine what the perfect Church has in membership and amenities. Fantasize about what a perfect Church could do out there in the world. While we do that, we find that we regret the deplorable condition we find ourselves in. We regret that we are not more than we are. We regret that we have not made ourselves better for Jesus.

But Jesus already sees the perfect Church. A Church made perfect by His blood. A Church where sins are forgiven. A Church where the Gospel brings you into eternity. We look around, and that’s not what we see. But that’s Jesus’ privilege as the Church’s bridegroom. What we cannot see, He does. And Jesus’ perfect Church looks exactly like this, warts and all. This is where the eternal Gospel is proclaimed by the angel. And that Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Jesus for you. That’s all that was ever needed. That’s what reformed the Church. That’s what Jesus continues to give, even today. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

There’s More Than One Way to Get a Camel Through a Needle – A Sermon on Mark 10:23-31

October 14, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text today is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus astonishes His disciples by saying, “How difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle….”

We have always known that the Christian faith is difficult to live. That there is a great deal of sacrifice that come with bearing God’s name. Today’s text reminds us of that fact. While the rich young man goes away sad, Peter is quick to point out what all they have given up to follow Jesus. And Jesus backs Peter up. For many have lost family, property, their livelihoods, and their very lives for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. So, yes, being a Christian is hard.

But it used to be even harder. Around 33 AD, when Jesus ascended into heaven, and the disciples were sent out on Pentecost to preach the Gospel to the world, they could not count on it being safe. Their reputations were destroyed, their freedoms were trampled, their lives were in peril. To proclaim Christ was to give up everything that made this life comfortable. Ever being a normal part of a Jewish society, or even a pagan society was something they would never have. They would always be outcast. They would always be shunned. They would always be persecuted. And it was all worth it. No matter what was taken away. Because they had the promises of Christ Jesus.

That’s pretty tough, though. There aren’t a whole lot of people that can give up quite that much. The Christian life is hard, but does it need to be that hard? Because life was difficult enough in that day without all this other stuff added on top. What if there were a way to give up everything, like Jesus says in our text, and yet not risk your life?

Around the Third Century, when Roman persecution of Christians was getting even more intense, some Christians opted for what we today call Asceticism. It’s the giving up of every worldly possession, just like what Jesus called the rich man to do. But instead of following Jesus in the towns and cities, you followed Jesus out in the desert. Because who is going to bother heading out into the desert to arrest or execute someone? It was all the sacrifice of before. There were still plenty of risks. But now your life was safe from the authorities.

That’s still pretty tough, though. And in the years after Christianity was legalized by Constantine in the Edict of Milan, there wasn’t quite the pressing need to escape the state. Still, the fact was that Christianity required sacrifice. That had not changed, even if the world had. And so in the Sixth Century, Benedict founded an order of Monasticism. Monastacism had all the sacrifice of worldly possessions of Asceticism. But no longer did you need to flee to desert alone for safety. Rather, you joined together with fellow Christians who likewise had sacrificed all they had and you all followed Christ together.

That worked well for a while. But as Christianity spread across Europe, Christ was confessed by peasant and nobleman alike. And, as time passed, things just weren’t the same as they were back in Jesus day. It had been one thousand years since then. A lot had changed. A rich man couldn’t just sell all he had. With the way feudalism worked, if a noble gave up his land, it destroyed the lives of all the people who lived on that land. And while it’s okay to sacrifice your own things, it’s not good to sacrifice your neighbor’s things. Your neighbor’s livelihood. After all, one of the two greatest commandments was to love your neighbor as yourself.

But the Christian life still needed to be one of sacrifice. And so the church found other sacrificial services for nobles to render. Whether it were pilgrimages to holy places, or serving in armies to free Christians who had been conquered in other lands. I don’t think anyone else calls it this, but I call it the age of Actionism. Where sacrifice came in the form of active service. And that sacrifice did sometimes still mean losing one’s life in the name of Christ. But if you notice, every step we take away from Jesus, the sacrifices we are expected to give get easier.

Time had redefined what true sacrifice was. And by the time we get to the 1500’s, there was a push to bring sacrifices down to just giving up money. John Tetsel’s cry throughout Saxony was something along the lines of, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” After all, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter into heaven.” So just give up your money, and heaven will surely be yours. And indulgences were the way to do just that.

Of course, this is when it all went too far, too fast. Remember Monasticism? It was still around. In fact, all the -ism’s I bring up today are still around in one form or another. But Luther published his 95 Theses precisely because this salvation, this Indulgism, was too easy. There wasn’t enough sacrifice. It would still be a few years before Luther quite got the Gospel. But October 31st, 1517 was the day that showed just how much sacrifice Christians were willing to give. And it wasn’t the same across the board.

Time would still march on though. And the sacrifices would get easier with each passing century, In the 1600’s, headed by Phillip Spener, the Pietism reduced the sacrifice further. Money wasn’t the issue, just making sure you do enough good works to prove yourself faithful. That was sacrifice enough. In the 1700’s Rationalism, voiced by Immanuel Kant, traded in right works for right thinking. In the 1800’s, with Charley Finney, right thinking made way for right feelings, giving birth to Christian emotionalism.

And now today, the eye of the needle that Jesus talked about in today’s text has been reduced to an old gate that you can totally fit your camel through. Riches are now a blessing, not a hinderance. And they are very useful to the kingdom. Now, the only sacrifice you ever need to make as a Christian is to simply say, “I believe.” Why would you ever forsake your house? Why would you ever forsake your brother, or your sister, or your mother, or your father, or your child? I mean, seriously? Forsaking your own children? That doesn’t even make any sense to us today.

At least it didn’t to me, until about two and a half weeks ago. A shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon killed nine people. But he only killed them if they answered the question, “Are you a Christian?” with a yes. I cannot help but imagine myself there. Thinking, “Who will take care of my family if I die here? Who will be a husband for my wife? Who will be a father for my children? Do I forsake them, along with my life? Is that a sacrifice I can make? Can I say that I believe with that much on the line?”

You see, it doesn’t matter how easy we make the sacrifice. It doesn’t matter how much we tone down the dangers. It doesn’t matter how accessible we make it. It doesn’t matter how attractively possible we can make it sound. Jesus’ words still stand. How difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! With man, it is impossible. Because even if we were able to sacrifice it all. Sacrifice the riches. Sacrifice the house. Sacrifice the family. Sacrifice our entire lives. It would still not be enough. Because it’s not about grinding the camel into hamburger fine enough to squeeze a needle’s eye. It’s not about our giving enough to God. Or giving up enough to be worthy of God. We cannot pay our own way into the kingdom of God by any means. And Jesus has to break us with the Law in order for us to finally get that.

But if it’s not up to us, who then can be saved? With man it is impossible, but not so with God. For all things are possible with God. Because what must be done for us to enter the kingdom of God is so difficult, that it would be easier to march a thousand camels wide through the eye of an actual needle than do this. What must be done is for God, the creator of life itself. Whose very name Yahweh means existence. Who has no beginning and no end. This is the one who must die.

How difficult indeed! And that’s exactly what Jesus tells His disciples must happen. “the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

This one sacrifice is worth more than every sacrifice that could ever be made added all up together. Jesus died to forgive our every sin. Jesus died to conquer the devil. Jesus died to overcome death itself. Jesus died on our behalf, so that we would not have to face the eternal consequences of the Law we broke. Jesus died to be with us, no matter where we are. Even when it’s the grave. Jesus died so that you can do the impossible. No matter if that is facing a world that is out to kill you for your belief. Or if it’s to simply say, “I believe.” Because, in the end, they’re all the same thing.

But since Jesus has done the impossible for us. Since the one who has no beginning was born. Since the one who has no end died. Since the one who created life rose from the dead. Since He did this all for you. Now the kingdom of God is yours. The camel has gone through the needle’s eye, and yet lives. Not just because you were able to do something really difficult. After all that’s Christ in you who does it all. But rather because Christ has done the impossible for you.

And now, in Christ’s Church, we have brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and one Father. God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. With persecutions, yes, as Jesus says. But they have already been overcome. Overcome along with death itself. And it took no easy sacrifice to make this happen. It was the impossible sacrifice, which has already been made with Christ and His cross. But now, because if that sacrifice, there is nothing that can ever be permanently taken away from you. There is nothing that Jesus has not already restored. And soon, the last day will come where we will all be raised together unto eternal life. With a house that is a mansion. With a family that is larger than we ever imagined. With a God who loves us enough to do the impossible so that we can be with Him forever. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Law Impossible – A Sermon on Mark 10:17-22

October 10, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where Jesus is asked the question all of us want to know the answer to. “Good Teacher, what must I do?” Every person in the world asks this question of their god, whether it be Allah, or Vishnu, or my own self. Just what is it that I have to to do to appease my god? Christians ask that question too. What does Jesus want me to do? What can I accomplish that will make Jesus happy? How should I act if I want to stay on Jesus’ good side?

Congregations still wrestles with this question today. Because none of the answers people have given to those questions throughout history have been able to satisfy our hearts. The people who came before us often look like hypocrites in our eyes. Not able to live up to their lists of things to do or not do. We’ve seen the mistakes of those long dead, and know that we don’t want to be like them. Just like the young man in today’s text knew the grumbling of the people of Israel in the desert for forty years. And knew about their later failings in the time of the judges. And knew their hypocrisy as they entered into exile. Which is why he, after learning from all their failures, could now stand before Jesus and say that he had indeed kept all the commandments, even from his youth.

We do the same. We say things like, “It’s not about what you do, but who you are.” “Don’t just transform your behavior, but transform your heart.” “It’s not about being right, it’s about what you believe.” And all those things sound great. Except that what you do defines who you are. Except that your behavior is a mirror of your heart. Except that we believe it because it’s right. And it wouldn’t be worth believing if it were wrong. We ask Law questions. Should it surprise us when we get Law answers?

So when this man in our text today runs up to Jesus, falls down on his knees, ands asks, “what must I do?” Is it any surprise that Jesus goes straight to the Ten Commandments? Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not Steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud. Honor your father and your mother. We scoff at the man when He answers, “All these I have kept since my youth.

In our hearts, we say, “No you didn’t.” We say that because we know that we haven’t. We’ve heard Jesus talk about these Commandments. We know that a sight or a feeling is enough to break them. So there’s no way he could have ever kept them all. Or any of them. We chalk him up as just one more hypocrite we shouldn’t ever be like. Maybe we can come up with a new platitude. “It’s not about lying about how good you are, it’s about being humble.” Even though as long as we still have our Old Adam, pretending that we’re humble is exactly lying about how good you are.

You might expect Jesus to tell this man off for claiming to have kept the Commandments. But he doesn’t. Even though Jesus has been blasting the Pharisees throughout His ministry for making that claim. I mean, what if this man weren’t lying at all? What if he really were that good? When Jesus looks at this man–and loves him!–does Jesus then pat Him on the back? Does Jesus say, “That’s what I wanted you to do, that’s what makes me happy”? Does He tell him, “You did the very best you could, so now I’ll handle the rest?” No. Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus makes the Law even harder. Makes the Law even more impossible to follow. So much so that the man went away disheartened and sorrowful. Or perhaps also translated as he went away appalled and insulted.

Ask a Law question, get a Law answer. But, as our text says, Jesus does this out of love. In love, Jesus breaks his heart. In love, Jesus sends him away frustrated. Because that is what the Law must do to the Old Adam in us that is still here. Any time we come away from the Law with the idea that, hey, we can do that, then the Law hasn’t done it’s job. The Law is there to kill the idea that it’s up to you. It’s there to kill the hope that we can make it on our own. There to destroy the idea that there is something we can do in order to inherit eternal life.

In next week’s Gospel lesson, this is going to absolutely floor the disciples. They’re going to hear this and say, “Then who can be saved?” They’re concern is echoes by every other world religion. By every other spirituality in this world. By every other philosophy. And by every other way of life. And that’s the point. “With man, it is impossible, but not with God.

Because what makes Christians different from everyone else in the world is not the Law. Everyone has the Law. And everyone comes up with they’re own unique twist in order to justify themselves before the Law. But the final goal of the Law is to prove there is nothing we can do. To drive us to say to God, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” Because when we have nothing left to hide behind, nothing left of our own to hold up, then the Gospel’s true value is finally revealed. The Law is impossible for us. But the Gospel is not only possible, it has been done by God. This is why Jesus has spent all this time talking about children. Infants, even. In order to even enter the kingdom, we have to be as helpless, as useless as a baby. And be carried the entire way. To children such as these belongs the kingdom of God.

And we are carried. We are carried by Christ. Who right after this will for the third time tell us where He carries us through. Not once. Not twice. But three times, Jesus tells them about His death and resurrection. This last time He says, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

This is what Christ carries us through. We’re up there on His shoulders as He walks right through all the condemnation. Right through all the mockery and spitting. Through the flogging and even the cross itself. Yea, though I go through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me. Jesus walks us through the very place where all our sins are forgiven. And all the way through the grave, and to the other side. To the resurrection of our bodies. To the end of death itself.

When the Law is proclaimed to us, in all it’s perfection, it’s there to show us that we cannot make it on our own. Because the sin we were born, the sin we have committed ourselves, all of it together still clings to us today. And it will cling to us until the day we die. The scars that sin leaves behind will continue to ache, and there is no way for us to overcome it on our own. The Law is there to remind us that it is in fact impossible for us. But it is not impossible for Christ. So Lord, have mercy on us. Lift us up onto your shoulders. Carry us into your kingdom. For you alone, O Christ are good. Not us, but you. And in your love, you have endured the cross. You died and were buried. And on the third day you rose. All on our behalf. You have given us the faith to trust in you. And you always keep your promises. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

Three Little Words, I Can Explain – A Sermon on Mark 10:2-16

October 7, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning, the morning after four incredibly busy days at the fair, is the Gospel lesson. Seriously? This text is a real challenge for pastors to preach on a normal Sunday. Not because Jesus says something all that difficult to understand. But that’s exactly the problem. Jesus speaks all too clearly. So what we wonder if anyone is still listening after He says it. Of course, the Law of God needs to be preached in every sermon. Whether that’s by speaking of God’s commands, or reflecting on the consequences of our sin, or facing death itself. And usually, each Sunday, it’s a law that can be applied to all of us. Both you and me. But today, Jesus gets specific. And singles out divorcees. And it’s at this moment, if we have been through a divorce, or are close to someone who has, that our ears stop listening.

If it had been a more generic Law, we wouldn’t have had this problem. At least not as badly. For example, in Matthew’s Gospel, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” We’ve all been angry with people. We’re all therefore guilty of murder according to Jesus. But since everyone is in the same boat, we nod our heads, shrug it off, and move on. Or how about when Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We’ve all looked lustfully at someone we’re not married to. We’re all adulterers according to Jesus. But since everyone is, we nod our heads, shrug it off, and move on.

But when Jesus hits us directly with the Law, we’re not so eager to nod our heads. For we can’t just shrug it off. We can’t move on. Because now that sin isn’t just generic. It isn’t just everyone’s. Jesus had a target. And he hit that target square on. Today, it’s divorce. Tomorrow, it will be another sin. And whenever we find ourselves face to face with the Law of God in a way that singles us out from everyone else. Or singles out someone we care about, everything changes. Our ears stop listening, our walls go up, and we speak up in defense. Even as your pastor, the temptation for me to do that is high. Both for my own sin, and for yours too.

And so we all speak three little words, that should get God, and anyone else off our backs. Three little words that should stop the accusations in their tracks. Just three words that should protect us from ever being hurt again. “I can explain.” Because if God only knew the situation. If He only knew what I or they were going through. There’s no way He would ever find us to be in the wrong on this. I can explain. The situation demanded that the Law be broken. I can explain. That one sin had to happen, in order to truly love the neighbor. I can explain. Ethically, there was no other choice.

But in today’s text, Jesus doesn’t leave any room for explanations. There aren’t any ways out. There aren’t any exceptions to the rule. And in the context around these verses, which we have gone over these last few weeks, our explanations just don’t hold up. It’s as if Jesus had said, Really? You can explain? Can you explain why, when last week, I said it was better to cut off your hand or your foot. Better to pluck out your eyes or be drowned in the sea with a millstone hung around your neck rather than fall into sin? Can you really justify yourself that well?

Maybe you can. Maybe your explanation is really good. But do realize that those three words, “I can explain,” essentially tell God that “I don’t need forgiveness for that.”

That’s why as your pastor, I have to preach the Law in all it’s fullness. That’s why if I soft pedal your sins, I do you no favor. That’s why, even though it’s the Sunday after fair, and Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable, we’re here in them anyways. Because forgiveness is the reason Jesus proclaims His Law in the first place. The Law of God shows us our sin. Every last dirty rotten bit of it. It shows just how much our Old Adam still rules our lives. The Law always accuses us. And in our sin, we stand guilty under it. Not just generally. Not just in a “Well, everyone’s a sinner” way. But specifically. Whether that is divorce as in our text. Or any other sin that singles us out. Any other sin that accuses me, and not someone else.

But Jesus doesn’t accuse us in order to drive us away. Or in order to tell us to not even bother. But rather so that He can announce His forgiveness to us. Because when we sin, forgiveness actually means something. When we sin, that means we’re someone for whom Jesus died. When the Law convicts us of our sin, it’s not an indication that we have no value before God anymore. Just the opposite. It means you matter. You’re worth fixing. You’re worth investing in. You’re worth dying for. Because if you weren’t, God wouldn’t have bothered to tell you of your sin in the first place. And so, here, at this very sin, this is exactly where Jesus is going to work in you.

Those three words, I can explain, actively and purposefully push Jesus away from that spot. They cry out that I don’t want to be fixed. I don’t want the ones I love to be made well. We’re not worth it. I don’t want Jesus’ death and resurrection here. And that’s why in our text, Jesus leaves no room to escape His words. No room to run. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” And this is why Jesus doesn’t leave room when talking about other sins either. Because now, when we stand before Him we must say, either of ourselves or our loved ones, “ I can’t explain. At least not well enough.” And His answer is, “You don’t have to. For I have forgiven your sin.”

Forgiveness and explanations are two totally different things. Explanations only cover up and hide away. But underneath, they’re still there. Behind the mask, they’re still ours. Forgiveness, on the other hand,  moves the location of our sin. Christ’s forgiveness means that the sin is no longer in us, but it is now in Him. He has taken it to the cross. And that sin is now located there. Our sin is buried with Christ. And a new creation rose with Him instead.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the effects of that sin in this life still. Sin leaves scars. Scars which Jesus Himself still bore when He rose from the dead on the third day. Sin doesn’t leave our lives the same afterwards. And the effects of sin crash down all around us. But in the middle of it all is Christ Jesus. Not looking for you to explain why. As if you could ever really know. But to say instead, “Here I am. I forgive you.” Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we no longer have to justify ourselves. We no longer have to say, “I can explain.” Instead, we receive His justification. We receive His place. Not because we were so good. But because we are so loved. And you are worth God giving both His Law and His Gospel to. And it’s in that promise where we find our rest. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

What’s in a Name? – A Sermon on Mark 9:38-50

September 27, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning is the Gospel lesson, where John tells Jesus about someone going around in Jesus’ name. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare has had a profound impact on our world. His play have shaped the way we speak. Shaped the way we think. If you’ve ever had nothing to lose, or had a method to your madness, you got it from Shakespeare. If the world has ever been your oyster, if you have seen better days, you got it from Shakespeare. If you are eaten out of house and home, or you have worn your heart on your sleeve, you got it from Shakespeare.

And if you think names just really aren’t that important, you probably got that from Shakespeare as well. Juliet’s words might as well be our own. “Deny thy father and refuse thy name. Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love. And I’ll no longer be a Capulet. ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title.”

Likewise, does the name of Jesus really matter all that much? It was a common name in Jesus’ day. It’s a common name today. I’m sure you’ve met a Jesús or a Joshua or two. Jesus wasn’t even the first person in the Bible to have that name. Yeshua is the name of the guy the sixth book of the Bible is named after. So it’s not like that name is all that special. What’s special isn’t the name, but who Jesus is, right? What He did for us. And whatever you call His name doesn’t really matter.

And Scripture tells us the same thing, right? Sure, the demons recognize the name of Jesus. But that alone isn’t enough. In Acts 19, the Sons of Sceva call upon the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches in order to better drive out demons. The evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 

It takes more than just saying the name of Jesus to do things in the name of Jesus. Jesus Himself says that very same thing. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven… On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ So how can the name be important? When what we’re really looking for is who Jesus is and what He’s done on our behalf.

That said, our text today seems to attach a great deal of importance to names. John says to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 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. 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.

Jesus sure speaks well of people doing things in His name. Giving out a cup in Jesus’ name comes with the promise of a reward. In last week’s text, receiving a child in Jesus’ name is to get Jesus too. Elsewhere, praying in Jesus’ name is to have our prayer answered. Two or three gathered in Jesus’ name is to have Him here among us. The Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name. And don’t forget, the one who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. That’s a lot of promises attached to Jesus’ name. That’s a lot of promises attached to something that we don’t think matters all that much. Not to mention Jesus is very protective of His name. After all, the second commandment is about just that. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.

But that’s a very different way at looking at a name than we’re used to. For us, the sight and smell give the name of ‘rose’ meaning. In the ancient world, in Scripture, and in God’s way of doing things, the name ‘rose’ gives the sight and smell of that flower its meaning. And you can see it even in Shakespeare. Despite being willing to throw away the name Montague, Romeo is still defined by it. Montague means he must revenge Mercutio. Montague mean he must kill Tybalt. And Montague means he must kill Paris as well. Despite Juliet’s wish, Romeo cannot help but live up to his name. Because his name is what gives meaning to his every action.

That is what the name of Jesus is so important. But not the proper name ‘Jesus,’ per se. But rather the name that belongs to Jesus. The name that, as Jesus tells us, is also the Father’s name. It’s the one name found all over Scripture. The one name the Jews were afraid to even utter out loud. The one name that we end up translating as Lord, even though it’s something else completely. The one singular name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The divine name. Yahweh. The one who is.

That’s the name at which every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Yahweh. That’s the name that gives meaning to everything Jesus does. The one who was, the one who is, the one who is to come. The one who exists outside of time itself. The one who has no beginning and no end. This one is born and dies for you. Without that name, would those events have mattered? With that name, they are significant beyond measure.

The name of God is who God is. It is no mere identification. It is no mere symbol.  To have the divine name is to have God Himself. Therefore it is no small matter when by Jesus’ command we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism isn’t just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. And not just any Word. But one Word in particular. The name.

Names give meaning to the one receiving that name. And you have received the divine name in your baptism. You are given meaning by that name. You are defined by that name. Everything you do is only understood through that name. Yahweh. The One who is. He has decided to be with you. And to do that took a sacrifice whose value is beyond comprehension. Because it was better for God to loose a hand, or a foot, or an eye, rather than see you thrown into hell. It was better to have a millstone tied around the neck and be thrown into the sea rather than see you scandalized by the wages of sin. It was even better to sacrifice eternity, sacrifice existence, sacrifice His own life all to save you. And so the cross itself gets its meaning from God’s very name. The death of Jesus gets it’s meaning from the name of the One who is.

The sons of Sceva did not have that name. The ones to whom Jesus says, “I never knew you,” do not have that identity. But you do. You have that name. You have the one name written in the Book of life. And to be called by any other name would not smell nearly as sweet. Because that name is much more than a hand, or a foot, or an arm or a face, or any other part belonging to a man. For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. There is no other name under heaven by which we have been saved already. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

A Child’s Favorite Question – A Sermon on Mark 9:31-37

September 19, 2015 Comments off

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text this morning the the Gospel lesson, where Jesus still has His disciples confused. They’ve been confused for a while now. When Jesus told them about His upcoming death and resurrection the first time around, the disciples didn’t understand it at all. Peter was afraid someone might take Jesus’ words literally. And that wasn’t going to do. Jesus must have meant something else, right? Something spiritual perhaps. But when Peter tries to talk Jesus into saying it some other way, Jesus rebukes him. Get behind me Satan! Those aren’t good words to hear from Jesus.

But later, when Peter, James, and John walked down from the mount of transfiguration, where they had seen Jesus shining brightly between Moses and Elijah, Mark’s Gospel tells us that they still didn’t understand. How could Jesus, who was clearly divine, possibly get killed? Well, in last week’s sermon, we saw them arrive just in time to see the other nine disciples fail to drive out a demon. Jesus isn’t easy on them. Calls them faithless. Those aren’t good words to hear from Jesus either.

Well, now they’re on their way through Galilee, and Jesus didn’t want anyone to know where they were going, nor have anyone follow them. Because He wanted the disciples to understand this thing that they didn’t understand. He says it again. “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him. And when He is killed, on the third day, He will rise.” But once again they didn’t get it. But now, with the scolding Peter got for arguing with Him the last time. And with the scolding they got for not having faith earlier. They’re afraid to ask Jesus anything about this. Which could have made for a very long walk indeed.

But you’ve got to pass the time with something, so I imagine the other nine disciples asked what happened up on the mountain. Now, Jesus left explicit instructions not to talk about it. But that doesn’t stop you from saying how you felt about the whole thing. I can imagine Peter saying something like, “Jesus asked us not to say anything, but you would not believe it if I could tell you. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Maybe someday, if you’re as good a disciple as I am, Jesus will show you too.”

Well, James and John were up there as well. And later in Mark, we’re going to see those two try and take that role of Jesus’ most prominent disciple away from Peter. One asking to sit on His right, and one on His left, when Jesus enters His glory. I think that question, that argument between Peter and the sons of Zebedee starts here. Or at least gets heated up some. What we know for sure is that the disciples talk about who is greater on the way back to Capernaum. So much so, that they didn’t bother to talk about what Jesus said.

Don’t we do the same thing? Jesus is always challenging the thinking of that Old Adam in us. And even though that new creation of faith in us believes and trusts, that part of us doesn’t always understand it all either. But instead of asking why. Instead of chewing on Jesus’ Words. Instead of talking about what Jesus has said with our neighbors, and loved ones. Instead of that, we get into our own conversations about who is the greatest. Who is the greatest politician this election cycle. Who is the better sports team this year. What could be better about the weather. What it is that could be better in the news. What’s better about this place where we live. It’s not that talking about those things are bad. Nothing wrong with doing that whatsoever. But we do have something better to ask about. Something better to talk about.

But we’re afraid. Afraid someone else will think that we’re weird. Afraid we’re going to look like fools. Afraid we don’t really know what we’re talking about. Afraid we’re going to say something wrong. Afraid we’re going to say that one thing which someone will get angry and scold us about. I know this, because not only is what Peter and the disciples felt. It’s what I feel too. And I’ve heard it from some of you as well.

But then Jesus asks us. What were you discussing on the way? On the way here to church? On the way over to the social hall? On the way home? On the way with your neighbor? On the way at your workplace? On the way with your family? What did you talk about? When Jesus asks us, are we going to respond with silence too? Because I think we get it. Telling Jesus that we spoke politics, or sports, or weather, or current events, or ourselves. We know that isn’t the answer Jesus is looking for.

So, this is why Jesus calls a child into their midst. You know what a child’s favorite question is, right? It’s ‘why’. And unlike an adult, a child doesn’t have to have the answer before asking the question. They aren’t afraid of asking. And before God, our littlest children put us to shame with their great faith. We are no different from the disciples. But they… They would have asked Jesus why. Why do you need to delivered into the hands of men? Why are you going to be killed? Why are you going to rise on the third day? I think God’s favorite question to hear from His children is in fact why.

Jesus says, “whoever receives one such child in my name receives Me.” And to receive that child means also receiving the child’s question. It’s a question we as Christians should always ask. It’s one of the ways we end up having a childlike faith. Because our Lord never stops teaching us. There’s always more to learn. So ask why. Even if you think you know the answer already. Even if you think you’ve got it already. There’s still more to teach you. Even now. You are never too old to be a child of God.

So let’s ask why. Why, Jesus, are you to be delivered into the hands of men? Well, we know that Jesus had to pay for our sin. We learn that from other places in Scripture. But there’s even more to learn about why from the very words Jesus uses. His words in the New Testament are recorded for us in the most exacting language the world has ever known. But it turns out that the word used for ‘deliver’, or ‘handed over’ is also the same word used for ‘to hand down,’ or ‘tradition.’

These words are no accident. God had always wanted His people to hand down His Word as tradition. We find it even in Deuteronomy 6, the Old Testament’s John 3:16. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way…. What were you discussing on the Way? Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. That’s what Jesus’ disciples were supposed to be talking about. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, that’s our tradition. And just as He said, He was delivered, traditioned unto the people who killed Him. He is traditioned still into the hands of sinful people with the words Take eat, and take drink. My body given, my blood shed for your forgiveness. Why? Because Jesus hands Himself to you. Now there’s something worth talking about!

Because now, Jesus isn’t just some far off God, who takes a passing interest in you. Jesus isn’t just some guy who has some nice things to say. Because now the death and resurrection of Jesus, which happened on that cross two thousand years ago is in you now. The death that paid for all sin. That payment is here. That resurrection that undoes death itself. That victory is here. You have Jesus. All He has done. Right now.

Every why is answered. Answered in that death and resurrection, which Jesus has traditioned, handed over, delivered to you. But there is no end to that answer. It always goes deeper. There is always more. Just like there is always more forgiveness in there. Just like there is always more life in there. There is also always more to learn in there. That’s why Jesus keeps answering why. That’s why Jesus keeps giving Himself to us repeatedly.

And the more Jesus gives, the less we have reason to be afraid. It no longer matters if we are thought to be fools, for we have something worth more than the approval of other people. It no longer matters if we don’t know it all, because we are no longer afraid of admitting we don’t know and therefore asking why. We don’t have to worry about being scolded for that asking either.

So we will always ask the child’s question when it comes to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because in answering why, Jesus shows us who the greatest really is. For the greatest is a child, born of the virgin Mary. Who made Himself last of all. Made Himself the worst of sinners in order to serve us. In order to hand over His own life. In order to give us His own in exchange. There’s what we talk about while on the way. There’s what we have handed down to us. There is our tradition. Thanks be to God.

Categories: Sermon

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