Monday, July 23, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 9 - Mark 6:30-44

July 22nd 2018
“The God Who Feeds”
Mark 6:30-44

God loves to feed his people. From the very beginning, in the Garden, and planted trees with all kinds of fruit. God made sure to provide food for his people. He fed his people in the wilderness with a daily supply of manna – bread from heaven. He brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey. The Psalmist writes, “The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” and in that beloved Psalm 23 “You prepare a table before me.”

And Jesus is the same, of course. Like Father, like Son. He loves to feed his people. So after a long day of teaching and preaching, he sees a hungry crowd. And he makes sure that they are fed. Miraculously so – he provides food for 5000 men, not counting women and children. And this wasn't the only time he fed a large crowd, either!

Our Savior teaches here, as he commands he disciples to gather the leftovers – he teaches his children not to waste his gifts. The crowd also teaches us, in that there was more than enough and they didn't hoard it. They gave back to Jesus from the abundance he gave them. And 12 baskets were leftover. How we, living in America today would do well to learn these lessons – don't waste, and don't hoard our physical blessings.

To be sure, passages such as this show us that God does care for our bodily needs. Even in the Lord's Prayer we are taught to pray for daily bread – those things we need to support this body and life. And God gives us way more than we need – just as there were many leftovers at the miraculous feeding of 5,000. As the Psalmist writes, “you prepare a table before me... my cup overflows”. And as we can see in our own lives – even in tough economic times, uncertain times - God provides for us more than we need.

He also provides more than we deserve. Adam and Eve didn't plant the garden or create the trees from which they ate. The Children of Israel didn't do anything but collect the bread God sent from heaven. The 5000 hungry hearers of Jesus simply sat down and received the gifts he gave that day. But none of them deserved it. Especially as sinners, we deserve nothing from God but sin, death and hell. We don't deserve a job, a family, a house, a car, nice clothes, shoes or toys. We don't even deserve the food that God graciously provides.

Notice, however, that food wasn't all Jesus gave that day. It wasn't even the most important gift. He had spent the day putting first things first – he fed the people with his Word. And here we see the spiritual sustenance that comes from the Good News of Jesus Christ is the real thing. Jesus says it himself, “Let's go over there so I can preach.... for that is why I came”. He didn't come just to fill people's stomachs. He didn't come only to heal and cast out demons, raise the dead, and give people what they felt they needed. He came to give us what we all need the most – whether we know it or not.

And that, is himself. He gives himself to us, and for us. He gives his very life – a body broken and precious blood shed for our greatest need... forgiveness. A renewed and restored relationship with God. And all the blessings that go with it.

You may feel your needs are different. How would you finish the sentence, “If I could ask God for just one thing right now, it would be.... _____”? But our greatest need is always Christ, and God has already said yes to that prayer. All other needs and wants and desires pale in comparison to the nourishment of our souls, the living bread from heaven, Jesus Christ.

But that doesn't mean we ought not pray to God for every earthly need. In fact, he's taught us to do so – to pray, “give us this day our daily bread”. And so we do. We pray for the needs of the body, the physical, the earthly, the everyday. We recognize that all of this also comes to us from the hand of a gracious God who loves to feed his people.

But this doesn't give us the right to be lazy. For the ability to work for our daily bread is itself a gift that God gives us. Work is one of the means through which he provides us what we need. And Paul warns the lazy man, “he who does not work, shall not eat!” Expecting God's provision as some sort of right or entitlement is just as wrong as expecting nothing from him at all, and thinking you are the giver of all good things. Rather, we recognize and give thanks for his gifts – also – by putting them to use faithfully. And that includes the ability to work.

Now, some of our hungers are ungodly. Some of our desires are for things sinful. These, God is not interested in granting. Instead these cravings are forbidden fruits. For these sinful desires we need, instead, to repent. Greed and lust, pride, and over-indulgence of our own creaturely comforts.... It can even be the need to be liked and loved, especially at the cost of our integrity. We have many sinful “hungers” and we must weigh carefully – to see whether what we want lines up with what God's word requires of us.

And Satan would love to fill our bellies with all sorts of garbage. Whether you call it “spiritual junk food” or see it as the dangerous poison it is.... he would deceive us into swallowing his lies and falling for his temptations. But these false foods bring death, not life. They leave us malnourished and sickly, or bloated with a false sense of fullness.

But there is a spiritual hunger that is good and godly. It is what happens when the sinner falls on his knees before Holy God and admits what we truly deserve, and what we truly need! Like when Peter preached his first sermon, and the people were “cut to the heart” and asked, “what shall we do?”

Believe and be baptized, he told them. And thousands of years later sinners who hunger and thirst for righteousness are doing the same. When the law cuts us to the heart, we are ready – we hunger to hear that sweet message of good news in Jesus Christ. We are ready to be fed. And God still provides.

And what good Lutheran can think of God feeding us without considering the Lord's Supper? The same Jesus who fed the crowd of 5000 with bread after feeding them with his word, is the same Jesus who by his powerful word feeds us and then feeds us again with his word attached to bread and wine. He feeds you bread and wine that is his own true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. He feeds you often and freely. He feeds you with what you need the most – himself. He feeds you and this food gives life, and works salvation. He feeds you with a food just as miraculous as the fish and loaves. A food shared by all Christians, a table of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. In this Holy Communion, he feeds well more than 5000 – indeed, he offers his heavenly bread to all.

One more gift Christ gives in connection to this meal. Just as he told the disciples to distribute the food to the crowd, so does he call pastors today, to minister, to serve, to distribute his gifts. “You give them something to eat”. The pastor feeds (and is fed) with the word. The pastor feeds the flock with the food he has received. It is a food only Christ can offer, but he offers it through simple, humble men, just as he gives it in simple words, and water, and bread and wine. It takes faith to see and believe that all this can and does happen. But such faith is also a gift from the provider of all good things.

So come to the table today. But don't come because it's just something to do. Don't come because everyone else is doing it. Don't even come because you should. Come because you feel the hunger. Come because you believe the promise – that this little wafer, and this bit of wine are what Jesus says they are. Come because he is present for you, here with forgiveness. Come because here, in this place, we find the one thing we need most. And our God loves to feed his people. O taste and see that the Lord is good, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 8 - Mark 6:14-29

“The Death of a Prophet”
Mark 6:14-29

We've heard what the people of Nazareth thought of Jesus. They weren't too impressed. They rejected him, to Jesus' own amazement. Now Mark tells us what Herod thinks about Jesus. This is the Herod Antipas, who is the son of Herod the Great – and it was Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus when he slaughtered the children of Bethlehem. It was also the same Herod here, Antipas, who was in Jerusalem and before whom Jesus stood on trial. So the mention of the Herod name gets us thinking both backward and forward in the New Testament witness.

Herod has heard of Jesus. Word of Jesus must have been all the talk. The miracles that Jesus performed – well, Herod reasoned in his superstition that Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead to haunt him. And the message of Jesus was similar to the message of John the Baptist – repent, and believe! And so Mark gives us a flashback scene – and tells us what led up to this when it comes to John and Herod.

The story is kind of disturbing, isn't it? Especially when you have to teach it to children. It's kind of grizzly. But if you can get past that part of it, you might still wonder why Mark, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would tell us such a story.

It would make a pretty depressing movie, I think. There's no happy ending in which the little guy is vindicated. John, this nobody from nowhere, who had given up the creature comforts of life to live in the wilderness – John, a voice crying in that wilderness – whose message was growing and commanding attention. People were responding in droves, as the Pharisees commented, “all of Judea is going to him!” And John, the voice of accusation toward Herod – learns that calling out the king's sin is dangerous business. I guess oday some would call it, “speaking truth to power”.

“Herod you married your brother's sister! Repent!” And if it bothered Herod, it REALLY burned his adulterous wife, Herodias. She wanted this voice silenced. She wanted John out of the picture. And so she has Herod arrest him. Oh, she wanted him dead, too... but Herod feared to go that far. For he knew, somehow, that John was a righteous man.

The conscience is a funny thing, isn't it? You see it in action here with both Herod and Herodias. Both of them were sinners, just like the rest of us. Their sin just happened to be more public. But that didn't stop John from speaking the law to them, from calling a sin a sin. But who likes their dirty laundry aired out for all to see?

Imagine a modern day parallel scenario in which a pastor has to call out someone's sin. Perhaps a couple wants to get married, but has been living in sin together, and everyone knows it. And the faithful pastor tells them this is wrong, this breaks the sixth commandment, this dishonors God's gift of marriage. Ah, but this couple - they're ok with the pastor addressing sin in general but not getting too specific. They're ok when it's someone else's sin. When the pastor rails on the sins of the secular, godless world. But don't point to my sin. Don't shine the light on me! If you've been around churches long enough you know this sort of thing happens, and it doesn't always end with repentance and restoration as we hope.

Or the older person who needs a word of correction about their habit of gossip. Or the person who's attendance or giving hasn't been what it should. Or the person who's ok with most of what the Bible teaches, but still wants to hold this or that teaching at arm's length.

But don't kill the messenger! When a prophet, or now a pastor, speaks and warns you of sin, calls you to repentance, it's not to be a self-righteous so-and-so or an old-fashioned meanie-pants. This is for your own good. It's the fate of your soul that hangs in the balance. We want you to turn from sin, be forgiven, and live! We want your conscience to be clear and clean, and your spirit renewed. And we pastors need to continually hear these same words of law and gospel that we preach!

Herodias had probably already silenced her own conscience, but she couldn't quite silence John's mouth. Herod seemed to be going back and forth, caught between Herodias and his own conscience. So he compromised and locked John in the dungeon. But this wasn't good enough for Herodias. She wanted full and complete victory over the voice of the law. So she waited for her chance, and she used her own daughter in part of her scheme. And she tricked the king, and got what she wanted. John's head on a platter.

And look how this story also shows us, that sin often ensares other people into its nasty web. And here, adulterous Herodias even puts her daughter on shameless display to get her way. She uses her to commit murder, and drags her down with her. Sin is contagious and infectious, and it always has been, ever since Eve said, “I gave some also to my husband, and he ate”. You may think your sin is your own business, but you may not see how it affects others. And Jesus warns us harshly about those who cause little ones to sin – it would be better to have a millstone around your neck and be thrown into the sea.

You can kill the messenger, Herodias, but the message remains. The word of the Lord endures forever. You can quiet and muffle your conscience, you can surround yourself with people who will either mind their own business or even celebrate your sinful ways. But it doesn't change the verdict. Just has Herod was afraid Jesus was John come back to haunt him – our sins can still haunt us, even from years and years ago.

I remember one older gentleman who was dying, and made a special point to confess to his pastor what he called, “the sins of his youth”, things he had done some 60 years ago. It was ancient history. But not to him. They say time heals all wounds, but the wounded and stricken conscience is another story. David spoke similarly, “I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me.” Paul wrestled with the evil he hated, but found himself doing anyway. “What a wretched man!” he called himself.

No, there's only one way to a truly clean and clear conscience, and it's not by killing the messenger. It's not by twisting or re-writing the law. It's not by ignoring it. The only way is forgiveness, and that forgiveness is only through Christ.

John was the fore-runner of Christ. The last of the prophets who got what prophets so often did for their work – death. Jesus called it “a prophet's reward”. From an earthly view, John's story wasn't a happy ending at all. But the spiritual reality is greater. John was the fore-runner of Christ, both in preaching repentance and faith, both in bringing a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, and also in suffering and even dying at the hands of the wicked and powerful. But while John was the greatest man ever born among men, he wasn't worthy to untie Jesus' sandal. While John died in faith, for faithfully preaching the word of God, Jesus died for much more.

You see, in the cross, Jesus accomplishes the forgiveness of all sins. And yes, that includes your deep, dark sins. It includes the sins of your youth and the sins of this minute. It includes the sins that would shame you before men, and the sins that only your conscience knows. It even includes those sins that God only knows. While John's head was brought as a trophy on a platter for Herod, Jesus' cross stands as a symbol of God's love and mercy for the world.

And while Herod superstitiously feared that John had risen from the dead and appeared again as Jesus – we know that Jesus really DID rise from the dead, and appeared to his disciples. But Jesus doesn't come back to haunt us, or to throw sin back in our face. He conquers death for us. To show us his word is true. To vindicate his sacrifice as acceptable to God. And to give us a preview of the resurrection that awaits us – life beyond death for all his people. When he appears to his disciples the first words out of his mouth are not, “Why did you leave me when I needed you the most?” or, “Peter, how could you betray me?”. The first words are, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus brings peace to the troubled, sore and weary conscience. He brings rest to those who would labor to earn their own way to God. He brings hope to those in the despair of a life that is a trail of sin's destruction.

And so, yes, John the Baptist lives, even though he died. And one day John will rise bodily with all the other believers, and with you, dear Christian, in the real ending of the story. For though you die, yet shall you live. Though your sins were as black as death, Jesus makes them white as snow. Though you face death all day long, Jesus wins you the crown of life. For Jesus is a live, and because he lives, we live. Because he declared “it is finished!”, sin really is finished, and death has no future.
Go in his peace. Amen.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 7 - Mark 6:1-13

Mark 6:1-13
Pentecost 7
“The Wow Factor”

You know, I'm not a math guy, I'm a word guy. I like to keep up with language, and observe how it changes and mutates. Not because I'm cool at all, but I think language is fun, and I like using new expressions. One newer expression you might have heard or used is when something is said to have a “wow factor”. It's a very descriptive way of saying it – that something is astonishing or amazing, even unbelievable.

The Grand Canyon has a wow-factor. A gourmet meal might have a wow-factor. An amazing basketball shot from half-court at the buzzer – there's a wow-factor. But the wow-factors in the Bible are way more wow-ish.

Today's reading from Mark has a couple of wow-factor moments. Jesus goes back to his home town, Nazareth. And with Jesus, there comes a wow-factor. He was doing amazing things. Healing, casting out demons. Astonishing, so far out of the box... and even moreso, he was teaching like no one else, with a wisdom and authority that brought astonishment to his hearers – another wow-factor. But that's when things turn....

They did not react the way you'd expect. They did not greet him joyfully, and turn to him in faith. They didn't even show him respect. Those people from the Nazareth synagogue were astonished by Jesus, but in a very different way. Their reaction: to take offense.

“Who does this guy think he is? Come in here, doing all these miracles, teaching all these things.... where does he get all this? He's no better than we are – we know his family, he grew up right here. We know what they whisper about how Mary was already pregnant before Jospeh married her. Sure, he's always been a little different, but he's one of us, and no one special. Who does he think he is, anyway?”

They are indignant. No doubt because Jesus was clearly calling sinners to repentance, like he so often did. No doubt these old “friends and neighbors” of his didn't take kindly to him calling them out for their sin. Jesus – along with his miracles, preached a message of repentance. He was calling them to repent!

Now, no one likes it, really, to have our sins pointed out. People often take offense at that. They might react with excuses or rationalization. They might try to deflect the blame to another “Hey it was the woman You gave me – hey it was that nasty serpent”. They might try to take the spotlight off of their own sins and say look at so-and-so who does the same thing, only worse. Or they may try to turn it all back on the accuser. “You're no angel, either, you know. What about YOUR sins, you hypocrite. Who are you to judge? Who do you think you are?”

Indignance. But the law offends. In fact, it kills. And it kills us, too. What really astonishes me is when a sinner is called to repentance – and turns from his sin! Like David, whom Nathan confronted, “You are the man! You slept with Bathsheba. You killed Uriah. You deserve to die by your own words of judgment!” But David responds, not in anger or blame or deflection or indignance. He repents. He confesses. “I have sinned” he humbly speaks. This is the wow-factor of a humble faith. This is not normal for a sinful human. It is a gift of the Spirit. When a sinner repents, we ought to say, “wow”! And rejoice with the angels in heaven.

But that's not the only astonishment in our reading. The next wow-factor is even more astonishing – because now it is Jesus who is amazed. He “marveled because of their unbelief”. I, for one, find it pretty amazing that even Jesus is amazed.

But it is amazing that people would reject what Jesus brings. Yes, he must have showed them their sin. But surely he also held out the promise, the invitation to come to him for mercy. Like he offered living water to the woman at the well. Like he offered new birth by water and spirit to Nicodemus. Like he called his own disciples, and prostitutes and tax collectors to trust in him and follow him. Like he had compassion on so many other sinners in their weaknesses and frailties and sins.

And yet, amazingly, some would reject such a gift. Some would, and some do, even today, turn a blind eye to his salvation, and a deaf ear to his word. I'm sure Jesus is still amazed at the lack of belief in our world. At the growing godlessness of a nation too wrapped up in everything but Christ. At the number of Christians who fall away and neglect the Sabbath day. At the bibles dusty from lack of use. At the churches that sit empty, while the bars and sports stadiums expand and multiply. This world is a mess. Sin, death, and the devil are having a field day. It's really rather amazing.

Now maybe you are, like I am at times, a bit jaded by all this. In a nation which permits the slaughter of the unborn, which invents and lauds same-sex marriage and undermines the marriage that God created, where school shootings seem to happen more and more, where poverty persists and diseases continue to wreak havoc. A world where people seem to invent new ways of sinning. Is anything surprising anymore? Is anything shocking? Maybe we ought not be so desensitized to the evil around us. Maybe we ought to continue reacting in shock to the brokenness of the world and the wickedness of our neighbors, and of ourselves. We were created good, even very good. But we seem to become every more evil. Does it shock you? Should it?

But here's some more wow-factor for ya. Look at the lengths to which Jesus will go to bring his salvation. Not just being rejected by his hometown synagogue, but much more. He will go to the cross. He willingly, of his own accord, lays down his life. He drinks the cup of God's wrath – for sinners – for all sins of all times – wow – even your sins. And God turns his back on Jesus. Wow. How does that even happen? And then, wonder of all, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, dies. The creator dies for the creature. He dies for you. What should wow you about that is his great love, that would go so far to save you, to forgive you.

We are wow'ed by a hero who lays down his life to save another. We award medals and bestow honors, we write songs about such heroes. Seldom will someone lay down his life for another, but maybe for a “good man” someone would bother. But wonder at this – Jesus did this for us when we were still enemies of God. Greater love has no one than he, for us.

Pile on some more wow-factor with the resurrection. And the Ascension. And the promise of our own resurrection, and our own joyful life with God forever. Wow. Think of what's in store for us, and be truly amazed.

Yes, with Jesus, there's constant amazement. And while some of it is unbelief, some of it is faith. While many will reject him, thanks be to God that by the power of the Spirit, we believers receive his amazing gifts with wonder.

There are many amazing things about this faith we have received. How can God be three and one? How can Jesus be God and Man? How can we be sinners, and yet saints? How can water do such great things in Baptism? How can Jesus' body and blood be truly here in the meal for each of us? And how can he forgive even sinners like me? Who is this guy?

We know, from the word, by the Spirit, that this wisdom comes from his Father in heaven. For he is the only-begotten son. And through him, all our offenses before God are nullified. By his cross, he does amazing things. And in his gifts, we are constantly wowed.

And it's also worth nothing the last section of our reading, where Jesus sends out the 12. Who are they, of all people, but a rag tag band of fishermen and ne'er do-wells? Amazing, astonishing that he should give them authority to preach and do miracles in his name. But he does much the same today, as he sends pastors to preach and administer the sacraments in his name, and as he sends all of us in our vocations to bear his name as witnesses to the world – witnesses of the amazing, wonderful, astonishing, marvelous things we have seen and heard and received, from Jesus Christ our Lord. Wow. He calls us, but he also sends us. Just, wow.

When it comes to Jesus, our words fail. But the Gospel never does. Even if some reject it, the wow-factor of his love and mercy remain. Thanks be to God for all of this, in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.