5th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 8) LSB # 524
Text – Mark 5:39-40
And when He had entered, He said to them, “Why are you making a commotion & weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at Him. But He put them all outside & took the child’s father & mother & those who were with Him & went in where the child was.
THEY LAUGHED at HIM In the United States it’s a famous quotation which comes from a letter written in 1789 by a very famous man, one Benjamin Franklin. He wrote: “Our new Constitution is now established, & has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death & taxes.”
A lot of people accept that statement as the gospel truth, & I’ll bet money that not one of you has seen a formerly dead human being climbing out of their grave. If you’re a child of God you may believe that Jesus can raise people from the dead, but the Bible teaches that the resurrection is coming on the day the world ends.
Death is harsh & cruel & plays no favorites. Two days ago, an escaped & convicted murderer was shot & killed while resisting arrest in the state of New York. Eleven days ago, nine Christians were murdered in their church while doing Bible study. You’ve asked me to pray for the sick & do funerals, but none of you have asked me to raise someone from the dead.
Maybe you thought I’d laugh at you because that’s a pretty tall order, but when it’s someone you love; death is not a laughing matter. Yet, in the sermon text, the mourners laugh at Jesus when He says, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” What you need to realize is that these mourners knew death well. They were paid to weep & make a commotion.
They were like the guys from the funeral home who show up wearing all black suits, every one of them with a somber face. They’ve seen death a hundred or more times, & they know when it’s for real. The daughter of Jairus was stone cold dead, & everyone knew it. The tension came from the fact that Jesus recognized the girl’s physical death was a far cry from the spiritual death of hell. That is real death – absolute, complete & total separation from the Creator of life. Professional mourners, though they were, they had never seen that kind of death, not even once. So they may have thought, “Who’s this hillbilly rabbi, telling us she’s asleep?”
They truly thought that physical death was the end, & laughed at Jesus to the point of scorn. This wasn’t just your average, ha, ha, ha. They thought Jesus was a fool, & they worked at rubbing it in. People are still laughing at Jesus today.
They laugh at His teaching that God makes a person whole through the waters of baptism. They laugh when Holy Scripture tells us that baptism gives a life which can never be taken away from us, not even by death. Yes, it’s true that we can reject that life. We can walk away from it just like people walk away after hearing the Gospel.
However, in John 10:28, Jesus tells us: “I give them eternal life, & they will never perish, & no one will snatch them out of my hand.” It’s easy to believe in Jesus when the world is with you. It’s true faith when you still believe in what Jesus teaches even while the world is laughing at you. Through us, the world is still, & also, laughing at Jesus.
Our culture encourages people to focus solely on what they want, even if God warns that it’s harmful. Our culture tells people to completely ignore what the heavenly Father says is detrimental to their wellbeing, or to the wellbeing of mankind. The culture around us says, you have total freedom to choose whatever you want & God will have to bless it.
Instead, rather than telling us what to do, or how to do it, or when, Jesus took our place on the cross. When He physically rose from the dead on Easter morning, He restored life to the human race. He crushed the power of death so that it can no longer harm us for eternity. In fact, death is now our gateway to the heavenly dimension. If we seek 1st that kingdom – God’s Kingdom, then He will add all other things – ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’. So God’s plan is first to give us life, but He gives us that life in Jesus. Then we focus on our neighbor’s wellbeing along with ours. Since the Father in heaven created us, He knows how we function best – by following Him, by living in Him.
So the Gospel of Mark begins through telling us about John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus. After John is arrested, Jesus begins His public ministry to the people, by proclaiming the Good News of God. This good news is that all sinners are being reconciled to their Creator. Yahweh is, through His Son Jesus, restoring our relationship to the Holy Trinity.
Jesus’ message is that the due time is (now) fulfilled, & the reign & rule of God has drawn near. It’s at hand. So repent & believe in the Good News – now! The good news is that we are no longer enslaved to sin. So turn away from it. It leads to eternal death.
Now, we can freely, & without fear, confess our sins, for God’s Kingdom has come to earth & is now reigning over all things. The truth of that is absolute, but our sinful nature darkens what we see, & it blinds our vision. That’s why Jesus teaches us that He is the Light of the world, & He calls us out of darkness & into His marvelous light.
However, it’s easy to see why the world laughs at the Word of God. Though Yahweh is reigning & ruling right now, it is very difficult to see, even for God’s children. The people who’ve rejected Jesus as Lord can’t see anything at all of the true reality.
That’s why a young man can sit with people for an hour, in a church, studying the Word of God, & still shoot nine of them dead at the end of that hour. He sees nothing of the true reality.
For those of us who do trust God’s Word, though we can see dimly, as in a mirror, it is also very, very difficult to see what our Lord is doing by allowing nine of His children to be shot dead while they are studying the Word of God. Because we struggle to see sometimes we laugh. Because unbelievers cannot see at all, they laugh. They laugh to scorn their very Lord & Savior. They see or hear the Word of God & they cannot comprehend the truth it reveals. Five of our nine Supreme Court justices have no comprehension of the truth that God’s Word reveals.
In the Garden of Eden, the Serpent told a lie to Adam & Eve. All of your troubles in life began at the very moment that Eve ate of the fruit of that lie. Adam was right there. He could have spoken the truth of God’s Word for his wife, but he chose not to. In a sense, they were laughing at the Word of God. They didn’t trust the truth it revealed. They trusted Satan’s lie.
Our heavenly Father established marriage as the fundamental building block of civilization. Men & women are to live together as husband & wife, thus providing structure & order to society. That structure & order provides a safe haven for raising children, which bring into place a succeeding generation.
Whatever logic & reason you apply to that, if you get away from one man & one woman together until death parts them, you are getting away from our heavenly Father’s design. Adam & Eve got away from God’s design when they ate the fruit of the one tree God had forbidden them. The damage that caused is blatantly evident & at times horrifying.
If the fundamental building blocks of society are swept away it’s a foregone conclusion that our society will no longer function as our heavenly Father designed it. Apart from Yahweh’s intervention, the only result can be the loss of civilized society. I would add, that due to the rampant sexuality of our culture, our society is already well on its way there.
Here are some words on this topic from the president of the Michigan District of our denomination (Rev. Dave Maier). They were sent out after the release of the Supreme Court ruling:
Much of what we are experiencing seems to be the result of the ‘sexual revolution’ of the sixties which has continued on an exponential pace. ‘Sex’ was divorced from marriage, commitment & even psychological connection. We’ve seen the initiation of sexual activity at an earlier & earlier age. Use of pornography – which certainly encourages lust in the mind & heart, which is adultery – is epidemic & leads to further sin. Sex before marriage has led to sex outside marriage, which has led to multiple liaisons, divorce & what's been called serial polygamy. In a few decades, we’ve gone from ‘making love’ to ‘having sex.’ Yet, interestingly, although this may seem counter-intuitive, more & more ‘sex’ has led to fewer & fewer children.
Not just the ruling today is troubling, but also the undeniable reality that same-sex marriage completely cuts the tie between marriage & children. Some heterosexual couples choose not to have children. Others are unable to have children. With ‘homosexual marriage,’ we’re applying the label to couples which, by their very nature, are incapable of reproduction – part of God’s original design (Genesis 1:28) – severing the already tenuous connection between marriage & procreation. More importantly, the Bible plainly tells us that this is NOT what God intended ... no matter what the President of the United States or the Supreme Court says. Marriage is clearly the union of one man & one woman for life.
As we continue to live & minister in this day & age may we remember that because of God’s great love for us, because of His mercy & grace extended to us in His Word & Sacraments, because of the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, we are ALL children & servants of the most High God. In eternity we were chosen by Him to live at this particular time for His purposes with the powerful weapons of the Holy Spirit to advance the Kingdom of God. Listen to St. Paul in the Areopagus in Acts 17:26-28:
"From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; & he determined the times set for them & the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him & perhaps reach out for him & find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live & move & have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'"
As we look to our God for His continued protection & guidance, to the Holy Spirit working in the Word & Sacraments, & to our [denomination] for continued advice as to how we remain the salt of the earth & the light of the world, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – & all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)
The Day, when everyone will be raised from the dead, is certainly approaching. There will be no going back at that time. There will be no ‘do-over.’ The attitude of our hearts today, might be the attitude we live with for all of eternity. Blatantly disregarding the Word of God may seem laughable today. Some of us may not be around to see tomorrow.
As we heard in the readings from last Sunday, today is the day of salvation. Straying off the path that Jesus trod is not something we should take lightly. It is faith in Jesus Christ alone that overcomes death & gives life. Today’s Gospel reading takes the broad theme of suffering & places it in the narrower context of the family. A man’s daughter is dying. There appears to be no hope on earth left for her. No hope except that which comes from believing in that man Jesus. Jairus’ call for help is one that comes out of desperation.
He’s a man of influence in the Jewish community, but today the only thing that matters is the influence Jesus may have over things not seen. Jairus’ faith takes action. It moves him to kneel in humble prayer before Jesus. Jairus’ faith not only ends in the healing of his daughter, but also in Jesus pointing to him as an example of faith for the disciples.
As Jesus entered this house of the dead, so He enters our world of cynical despair. Death is what’s real to the world. It even tried to turn Jesus into its victim, but with a touch Jesus turns mourning into gladness. He drives death out of the girl’s body & brings her back to her parents.
When He awakened her, He was there to welcome her to new life. He does the same for us. Yet people laugh at us as well. Through the Gospel the Holy Spirit has called us to faith, & in that faith we hear & believe His words, “Because I live, you also will live.” This is the wake-up call for those who hear Him.
This is the promise that turned St. Paul’s life around & moved him to confess, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” When Christ calls a child by name in Holy Baptism, Easter happens. Life happens. It’s time to rise & shine forth His praise & glory. The laughter of today’s gospel reading was caused by unbelief.
In heaven, God’s children will laugh purely from the joy of living in God’s presence & in His true reality, called heaven. Amen.
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear! It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, & drives away our fear. It makes the wounded spirit whole & calms the heart’s unrest; ’Tis manna to the hungry soul & to the weary, rest. Amen.
4th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 7) LSB #665
Text – 2 Corinthians 6:8
…through honor & dishonor, through slander & praise. We are treated as impostors, & yet are true;
THROUGH SLANDER & PRAISE
“…to have & to hold | from this day forward | for better, for worse | for richer, for poorer | in sickness & in health | to love & to cherish | till death us do part | according to God’s holy will…” To many people those are familiar words, but they are increasingly words of a past history.
Even if a man & woman choose to get married today, they often do not comprehend anything close to the depth of meaning of these three phrases: “…for better, for worse | for richer, for poorer | in sickness & in health…” Today’s sermon text is the work of God’s Holy Spirit inspiring the apostle Paul to enlighten us.
And every single one of us needs to be enlightened! Married or single, happily married or not, divorced & bitter about it, or divorced & happy about it, no matter what are the circumstances of your life, you too need the enlightenment & the encouragement that your heavenly Father offers to you.
“…through honor & dishonor, through slander & praise. We are treated as impostors, & yet are true; as unknown, & yet well known; as dying, & behold, we live; as punished, & yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
There’s as much tension in those words as there is in any one of our lives. Like you, Paul was a holy child of God living in a very broken & a very unholy world. It’s that tension, on a whole other scale, which Jesus faced the night He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. God Almighty, in such tension due to His human flesh, that it was sweating drops of blood. Do you feel the agony of that tension in your soul? If not, your sinful nature is working to turn your heart stone cold.
If you allow that to go on long enough, you can end up like that depraved young man in Charleston who killed nine people in cold blood after listening, for an hour, to them studying the Word of God. I guarantee, that boy didn’t end up that twisted in just a few hours, or days or months. It was a lifetime of spiritual coldness that brought him to such a fateful decision.
In light of such a vicious crime, how can that church move into the future with hope & joy? The answer is important, not just to the Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston. It might seem a stretch to you, but the answer is just as relevant to your life. To deny it is to claim that you have no need for a miracle working Lord.
Maybe you’re trying to get through life on your own terms. Maybe you struggle with bowing down to a Lord & Master other than yourself. Submitting to suffering, on God’s behalf, might not be your ‘cup of tea.’ Jesus was humble enough to submit in total obedience to His Father in heaven. Yes, that did lead to His death. It also led to His resurrection.
In Luke 17, Jesus says, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” (V. 33 ESV) The logic of that seems completely backwards, yet that is just how God describes His work of salvation. “…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…” (1 Corinthians 1:27)
Jesus actively works against our reliance upon our own wisdom, because He knows where that leads – to sin & death & destruction. He doesn’t want anyone to go there. He felt so strongly about it that He suffered hell & died so we don’t have to. He’s set us free from that slavery to the law. He set us free so we might live in Yahweh’s wisdom. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” (V. 33 ESV) There is as much tension in those words as there is in the reading from 2 Corinthians:
“…through honor & dishonor, through slander & praise. We are treated as impostors, & yet are true; as unknown, & yet well known; as dying, & behold, we live; as punished, & yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
In every one of those pairings, God’s children suffer in some way, yet through that suffering they witness to the world of our Savior’s incredible life giving power & wisdom. If we give our life to Christ, He gives it back to us a thousand times over. Through slander & praise we are treated as impostors & yet are true; as dying, & behold, we live.
The nine Christians murdered in South Carolina are alive today in the arms of God. On the other hand, just the fact that we are also suffering, in some way or another, does not always mean we are suffering for Christ.
The boy who committed those murders is clearly suffering, yet he did not kill those people in the name of Jesus. He was following the devil’s will, instead of God’s. The hard truth is, we also follow the devil’s will. That brings misery & suffering to our heart & soul, as well as to the people around us.
Like the national news, all human beings tend to focus primarily on the bad news in life. It sells much better than stories of good news. St. Paul wants to counteract that. He’d like us to realize that in spite of all the suffering we see, & all the suffering we feel, there is another reality. It is a godly reality. It’s the devil who is always accusing, always pointing out the negative.
After God finished creating, He declared everything to be very good. It was a perfect world, with not a hint of corruption, nor the slightest stain of disharmony. Satan couldn’t stand himself. He simply had to destroy it. Adam & Eve bought into the false narrative that Lucifer spun for them. They took the bait & swallowed the bad news, even though it was a lie. The devil is still using the same narrative today. He has nothing more to offer than lies. Now, he is an excellent liar, but in the end it still boils down to trusting God or trusting Satan.
God is good. God is love. He created a perfect world which had the sole purpose of being our home. The devil comes to steal & kill & destroy. There’s no question who we should follow, yet we get it wrong more times than not. So our heavenly Father sends His Son Jesus to take our place in hell. Then He raises Him from the dead to connect us to another perfect world.
The problem we have, the issue we struggle with, is that we aren’t there yet. Until we get there, our eyesight is all messed up. Our decision making is twisted by the fact that each of us is nearsighted. We see the evils of this world so prominently, the impostors & that so many are unknown. We see the dying, the punished, the sorrowful, the poor, & those having nothing.
What we fail to see is the true, but also upside down, reality in which God has chosen the foolish in order to shame the wise. He does so because humility is a virtue & pride is a vice. If we could see life with the eyes of our heavenly Father this is what we would see:
Yes, we are impostors, & yet we are true; we are unknown, & yet well known by Christ; we are dying, & behold, we live; we are punished, & yet not killed; we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; we have nothing yet possess everything in the universe.
In a parallel thought, just a chapter earlier in 2 Corinthians, St. Paul stated: “So we are always of good courage. …for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (5:6a & 7) With that sort of trust in our heavenly Father we do not need to live, here on earth, by our sinful, nearsighted view of life. Rather, we can serve God & our neighbor with diligence, in spite of all obstacles:
“…through honor & dishonor, through slander & praise. We are treated as impostors,
& yet are true; as unknown, & yet well known; as dying, & behold, we live; as punished, & yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
The Christians who were killed at Bible study in Charleston were treated by a sick young man as dying, & behold they live in the arms of God. It’s obvious that none of us here have yet been called by our Lord to make that sacrifice. However, through slander & praise our Lord does call us to live by faith, not by sight, no matter how difficult that is to do.
Yet we have the promise of Almighty God to reverse every setback we experience in this life. It is because of our Lord’s promises that we can live by faith, not sight, through slander & praise. Despite what our eyes see, Yahweh is working, behind the scenes, through the scenes, even in advance of the scenes, to bring all things to good for those who love God.
In the Gospel reading, we heard the familiar event of Jesus calming the storm. In it, what the disciples saw with their physical eyes was certain death. Yet Jesus fulfilled His promise & brought them peace instead.
Last Wednesday evening, the people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston had gathered to study the 4th chapter of Mark’s Gospel. It was our appointed Gospel reading this morning. Jesus calming the storm may well have been some of the last words those children of God heard, here in this life.
And although they departed this life that night, Jesus did fulfill His promise to them as well. They have now perfectly received that peace which surpasses all human understanding. Jesus offers that same peace to you, right now. As St. Paul wrote:
“Working together with [Christ], then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. …Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:1 & 2b) Tomorrow may never come, & you might not be studying the Word of God when He calls you to depart this life. If you’re not a believer, St. Paul is encouraging you to turn back now. The road you’re on leads to an eternity of dying. If you are a child of God, St. Paul encourages you onward in faith, onward in sanctification, onward in growing closer to Jesus.
Never mind all the contradictions of being one of God’s children. Accept, & love & cherish the grace of God no matter how weak or hidden it might appear to be. In Jesus Christ, all of God’s promises are already fulfilled. Thus, in Jesus Christ, we live & move & have our being. In Jesus Christ we have eternal life already today. Now is the day of salvation.
Our Father in heaven has given us His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have eternal life. It’s in that heavenly Father that all human fathers can find the strength to live out their calling, as well as the forgiveness & healing to overcome their failures. “…through honor & dishonor, through slander & praise…” Jesus continues to love us.
In 2 Corinthians 6, St. Paul gives us a mighty example of God’s gracious power which appears & works in & through us, God’s suffering children.
The Apostle also rounds out the picture of our lives as God’s chosen people – humanly insignificant & defeated, yet divinely significant & triumphant. Dying, & yet, behold, we live! Through slander & praise, this we live by faith, not by sight. Amen.
Be strong in the Lord in armor of light; with helmet & sword, with shield for the fight; on prayer be dependent, be belted & shod, in breastplate resplendent: the armor of God. Integrity gird you round to impart the truth of His Word as truth in your heart; His righteousness wearing as breastplate of mail, His victory sharing be strong to prevail. With eagerness shod stand firm in your place, or go forth for God with news of His grace; no foe shall disarm you nor force you to yield, no arrow can harm you with faith as your shield. Amen.
4th Sunday after Pentecost – B LSB #’s 497, 790, 895
Text – Mark 4:30-32
And He asked, “To what can we compare the kingdom of God, or how should we picture it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows & becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such large branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (NIV)
PERCHING IN THE SHADE
As the weather has started to heat up I’ve noticed that, while running, I’ve developed a certain attraction to the shady side of the street. There’s a noticeable feeling of relief as the rays of the sun no longer beat down directly upon me. Shade trees provide relief from the stress of the sun.
There’re many people that we personally know of who’re looking for relief from the stresses in their lives. A man I talked to some time ago said that his life is so focused around alcohol he can’t begin to imagine living without it. He’d rather, as he put it, terminate his life function than live without the relief that alcohol brings.
Another man I heard of was looking for relief from the crying of his six-month-old baby. His solution was to beat the child into silence. He fractured her skull. He ended up in jail, his wife was devastated, & the baby ended up in the intensive care unit. Every one of them was in need of the kind of relief & healing that’s only found in Jesus Christ.
Did you sleep peacefully last night, or was something gnawing at your mind, irritating you & giving you no rest? Is there anything today that’s making you anxious or restless? Are there medical test results on the horizon? Are there family problems, or struggles in your relationships? Is the family income sufficient? All of us live under some kind of stress.
The world we live in has been messed up by sin, & because of that, everyone has problems that are a burden to them. Stress is a normal part of life ever since Adam & Eve sought to become god; & the result of their sin lives on today in our lives & in our sins. Everybody needs relief in some way, & much of the struggle of life is about finding that relief.
Where have you been looking? How do you vent the pressure that builds in your emotional life? How do you relieve the stress that accumulates in your mind & body? What about your soul? Doesn’t it yearn for something? Are you even aware of those different aspects of your personality, & the different pressures they experience?
We hear enough of how people relieve the pressure in their lives through unhealthy, destructive or illegal means. All of them are the short-sighted solutions of mankind, & cause more harm than good. God’s plan is eternal, & thus provides long-term solutions.
The problem we have, being sinful, is that we’re by nature impatient & unwilling to trust. Long-term solutions require of us both attributes. In addition, our culture is driving us further away from each of those two virtues. We don’t have time for God anymore. We’re not willing to trust Him to care for us. His solutions look simply foolish.
That’s precisely the point where Jesus picks up with His parable of the mustard seed. It looks simply foolish. It’s too small to be of any significance & one certainly doesn’t have time to wait for it to grow. Yet, to those who’re knowledgeable, they realize that what, as a seed looks ridiculously small, as a full grown plant, is the largest in the garden.
The mustard plant becomes so large that it even provides shade, shelter & relief to the birds of the air. Jesus is comparing the Kingdom of God to that seed & to that plant. The Kingdom of God is plenty large enough to provide relief & rest for our body & soul. Yet, to our physical sight, it looks ridiculously small & helpless.
Because we trust our eyesight more than we trust God, we turn to other sources of relief from our problems. Sources that seem to have more bang for the buck, more prestige, or more acceptance amid the culture in which we live. When our heavenly Father says, “Come to Me, & I will give you rest,” we say, “I think I’ll take this Sunday to sleep in.”
When our Savior tells us, “Seek first His kingdom & His righteousness, & all these things will be given to you,” we say, “Even if my relationships with God & my church suffer, I think I need to work longer hours in order to pay for the things & for the lifestyle that I want.”
Short-sighted solutions always bring the chickens home to roost sooner or later. If you’re sleeping in on Sunday, you apparently think that rest is something you get for yourself. Apparently you don’t believe that it’s something God blesses His children with.
If you’re working longer hours, or more jobs, to pay all the bills, maybe you’re spending too much. Maybe you don’t believe that God will actually bless you with the things you need in order to be satisfied. If we aren’t alert, those singular, seemingly insignificant instances of unbelief have a way of growing & taking over every aspect of our lives.
Eventually, God & the church become so distant, so unfamiliar, that we no longer believe anything. You see, the church & the Kingdom of God aren’t the only things that appear small & insignificant. Our sin appears that way to us as well, & like the mustard seed, our sins can grow into very large plants.
But instead of providing us with shelter, they take over & dominate everything else in the garden of our lives. Like the man who’d rather be dead than live without alcohol, without the work of God’s Holy Spirit, our sins always take control. There’s a wise saying that puts it like this, “Never give the devil a ride, because he always wants to drive.”
Our selfish wants & desires can end up driving our life. They become the focus of our thoughts, words & deeds. We’re deceived into thinking that we cannot live without them. In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies.” Satan tells us that the kingdom of God is small, insignificant & irrelevant. Satan tells us that our faith is weak, unreliable & worthless. “Don’t trust them,” he says. “Believe in yourself. Believe in wealth. Believe in drugs or alcohol, or don’t believe in anything at all. But whatever you do, don’t trust in Jesus Christ. Don’t believe what His Word tells you.”
“If the tests reveal that you’re ill, give up hope. Curse your God instead of praying to Him. Surrender to the despair & depression. There is no relief in this world, so give your life to me. Don’t fight it. Go with the flow. Life is easier that way. God! Where is He? If He’s such a loving God, how come our world is such a frightening place to live?”
That kind of devil talk will ingrain itself into your way of thinking. We no longer bother with church for ourselves. We don’t bother with Sunday School for our children. Confirmation class becomes just another legalistic set of hoops to jump through. We end up neglecting God’s Kingdom because, in the short term, it just does not seem to matter.
With that kind of mindset, it’s not difficult for Satan to lead us away from God’s garden, & from God’s Kingdom. When problems strike, when the stress of our lives overwhelms, & we’re nowhere near the protection of God’s Kingdom, Satan then abandons you, helpless & defenseless, to self-destruct in your despair & in your self-pity.
But our Lord & Savior never abandons us, no matter how ugly things get. He’s always waiting for our cry of help. In our interpretation of the parable, we see Jesus Himself as that insignificant looking mustard seed. He came to earth as a human baby, born in a cattle stall to a peasant family. To look at Him, one would never have known that He created all the universe.
Yet, a recurrent theme of God’s Kingdom is its hidden nature. That’s why Jesus arrived as a baby in a manger. It’s why He taught in parables. It’s why He conquered death, with His own death. We don’t find God solely through intellect or by our decision. We can only find God through the gift of faith that He gives in His Word & in our baptism. By faith alone God draws us to Himself, in spite of, & even through, the hidden nature of His kingdom.
That kingdom is hidden in the bread & wine at the Lord’s Supper, yet we receive Christ there for relief from our sins & from the physical burdens of our world. And so our faith too, like the mustard seed, can grow from something insignificant & unseen.
For all the problems in our lives, no matter how small or how large, our Lord promises relief. He promises courage to endure the trials, & strength to overcome the temptations. He promises to us His peace, even that peace which surpasses all our human understanding. Our chief problem is our failure to trust in, believe in, & act upon His promises.
As God’s kingdom is even now growing, through the work of His Word, your faith is also growing. Your Lord is feeding & nurturing it through the power of His Word. This season of Pentecost doesn’t have the clearly defined character of a season like Lent. Still, the church sees it as a time of growth, emphasized by the green colors of the season.
This season is a continuation of the Sunday of Pentecost because it’s under the influence of the Holy Spirit that the church arises & flourishes, much like the mustard plant in the Gospel of Mark’s 4th chapter. God’s church has remained throughout the centuries, not by the handiwork or wisdom of man, but in spite of man.
Through all the devil’s attacks, the church remains today, sheltering & protecting the flock of Christ. It’s waiting to shield you even when you don’t recognize the danger. God’s Kingdom is there ready to provide shade from the heat of all the stresses, temptations & dangers that Lucifer would throw your way.
If you aren’t getting enough rest, God’s Kingdom is calling to you like the shady side of the street on a hot sunny day. If you aren’t earning enough to satisfy your desires, God’s Kingdom is large enough to overwhelm you with blessing. If you can’t live without alcohol, God’s Kingdom is there as a much better substitute. If you’re afraid to face the truth about something in your life, realize that Jesus Christ, your Savior who loves you, is The Truth.
If your sins are weighing you down & sapping the life out of you, God’s Kingdom is waiting to remove that millstone from your neck. Christ has died, & He has risen. No matter how trivial that may seem in the day-to-day pressures of living, it’s astounding & magnificent news; news that has shaken the world, over & over throughout the centuries.
The Kingdom of God: small beginnings, large endings. Don’t let the simplicity or the resistible character of the Gospel make you overlook its all-sufficient power to accomplish the purposes of our Savior - forgiveness & eternal life.
God will reverse the order of things as we “see” them. The withered & the low will produce fruit & be raised up. When the glory of that manifestation breaks forth before men, they’ll be as startled as the man who considers the tiny mustard seed versus its mature plant.
Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of this parable, & the day will come when the Kingdom of God visibly surpasses in glory the mightiest nations of the earth. May the 2nd coming of Christ find you resting in the shade among His branches. Amen.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is your health & salvation! Let all who hear now to His temple draw near, joining in glad adoration! Praise to the Lord, who will prosper your work & defend you; surely His goodness & mercy shall daily attend you. Ponder anew what the Almighty can do as with His love He befriends you. Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore Him! All that has life & breath, come now with praises before Him! Let the Amen sound from His people again; gladly forever adore Him! Amen.
2nd Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 5) LSB #857
Text – Mark 3:35
Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother & sister & mother.
DOING THE WILL OF GOD
It’s the time of year to be looking ahead to summer vacation. School is out! The weather is nice. People are looking forward to getting away from it all! Whether it’s going camping, to the beach, or going to Disney World, we enjoy hearing that everything is ready & it’s time to leave. It’s quite a different story however, when we hear the phrase ‘Doing the Will of God.’
It doesn’t sound like it’s going to be fun. Doing the will of God does not hit our ears, or our heart, in the same way as, “Let’s go on vacation.” We are wired for the immediate & the fantastic. We love having those sensations filled. I think it’s possible those desires are a remnant left from before the fall into sin.
Now, we have this hole in our heart & soul that can be filled only by our heavenly Father, yet sin has separated us from Him. Before The Fall, His mere presence was immediate & fantastic to Adam & Eve. After the fall, we seek our thrills elsewhere. To do the will of God now strikes our heart as mundane & tedious.
We see that in the attitude people have toward being in God’s house on a weekly basis. “Remembering the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy” is seen by almost everyone as tedious & mundane. There are hundreds of things we can do with our time, other than remembering the Sabbath day, that bring more immediate, if not more fantastic, results.
Yet the 3rd commandment challenges us to put our trust in the Word of God, rather than in the word of man. People we know, who do not attend church, or do so once a month & less, will tell you about all the great things they do on Sunday & how much they enjoy them. They describe, with enthusiasm, their adventures, all they accomplish, & all the meaning they find in their pursuit of life, liberty & happiness. “The church will have to liven things up,” they say, “if it’s going to compete for my time.” I will grant that there is a sense in which a worship service can be deadened by poor leadership. However, people should carefully balance their judgement of that against what the Word of God refers to as The Church.
In Ephesians 1, we find this: “God has put all things under the authority of Christ & has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full & complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself.” (1:22-23 NLT)
In light of the fact that The Church is the body of Christ, who Himself makes it full & complete, do we really want to hang our hat on that statement, “The church will have to liven things up if it’s going to compete for my time.” Do we have the right to demand that of God? Do we really want God to compete for our time?
Many of you already know that God will do exactly that! “So Jesus told them this story: ‘If a man has a hundred sheep & one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the 99 others in the wilderness & go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it?’” (Luke 15:3-4 NLT) After that parable, Jesus tells another about the Lost Coin & then about the Lost Son.
In either case, God spares no expense to compete for the time of those who are lost. In the OT reading, after their fall into sin, Adam & Eve found themselves naked & were afraid. They tried to hide “themselves from the presence of the Lord God,” but He searches for them. He competes for their time, & He calls out to them: “Where are you?”
The rest of the 3rd chapter of Genesis reveals what happens whenever we reject doing the will of God. We separate ourselves from our heavenly Father, & we put Him in the position of having to compete for our time, which in Jesus’ case, meant suffering for us, & dying for us on the cross of Calvary. Before The Fall, Christ’s mere presence was immediate & fantastic to Adam & Eve. After the fall, we seek our thrills elsewhere. To do the will of God now strikes our heart as mundane & tedious.
On our recent vacation, Jan & I went hiking on several occasions, & one of them was in the Dupont State Forest of North Carolina. Our friends Jerry & Linda had been there before, but there were still a few unexplored paths they had not taken. Jerry was kind enough to pack in our lunch for us, but after more than an hour of hiking he was looking to unload his burden.
The search for a place to eat thus began. We’d already seen the Triple Falls & now were headed for the covered bridge which was situated just above another waterfall. Two of the four us wanted to climb down to a rock at the water’s edge & eat lunch there, but no path could be found. We were separated from the immediate & the fantastic by a jungle of impenetrable brush.
Earlier, on the trail to the covered bridge, the other two of us had noticed a calm & serene clearing with a picnic table in the middle of it. It was off the path so it appeared to be a tedious & mundane answer to the question of where we should eat. Since the immediate & fantastic solution was blocked, all four of us finally agreed to give the tedious & mundane a shot.
As we made our way back from the covered bridge, & up the trail leading off the main path, upon reaching the clearing with the dull & boring picnic table we caught a glimpse beyond of another clearing with a shelter. Immediately, we were drawn to a new & fantastic view of the falls that was spectacular, yet solitary, & the perfect place to eat lunch.
It was the classic case of God closing one door & opening another. We surrendered our desire for the immediate & the fantastic. We followed what appeared to be the mundane & the tedious. Then, God gave us so much more than we imagined possible.
When we hear the phrase “Doing the will of God” & it strikes us as tedious & mundane, what’s the answer? I am not making the case that, in our lives, we should always choose & the dull & the boring. I am trying to point out, however, that we should always, & forever, trust in the Word of God even when it appears to be nothing but tedious & mundane. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” can easily appear to be nothing but a dead end in our very life. Certainly Jesus ends up exactly that – dead, on a cross upon Golgotha.
The greatest news in all of history is that Jesus does not stay that way. His path to the cross, all 33 years of it, was mostly tedious & mundane, yet He trusted in His heavenly Father’s promise of the resurrection. Good Friday was just the normal result of life in this world, but Easter Sunday changed all of history. It changed all of the future as well.
St. Mark’s Gospel is recording for us that our discomfort with “Doing the Will of God” is not unusual. In the third chapter, Mark reveals that the resistance to Jesus’ teaching continues, this time on the part of His own family. Jesus is perfectly doing the will of God & they come to seize Him, because they think, “He is out of His mind.”
When you & I are doing the will of God, we can expect the same. Jesus’ family comes to seize Him, & the leaders of His church claim He is possessed by the devil. Today, there are men & women in our military, in our government & in courthouses across the land, who are telling us as Christians, that we are out of our mind for believing some of the things God’s Word teaches.
Today, you struggle with being in God’s house because it seems tedious & mundane. Someday, you may struggle with being in God’s house because it threatens your very life. Chapter 3 sets the tone for the rest of St. Mark’s gospel: “Why is everyone so heatedly against Jesus?” Eventually, those opposed to Him would have their way & He’d be crucified.
The Christians of our nation have not had to live their faith in that context. The multitude of our blessings has created a church full of people with only a shallow faith. We struggle even to grasp what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The evidence is our sporadic presence in the house of God, or our lack of attention to reading His life-giving Word. By following Jesus, through believing what He teaches, people are marked off as those who do the will of God. That means believing in Jesus more than you believe in yourself. Such obedience is as radical as that which took Jesus willingly to the cross.
The call of God to obedience creates a fellowship in which pursuing the will of God binds us closely together to all our brothers & sisters in Christ. That fellowship is marked by mercy & grace as we forgive one another, just as our heavenly has forgiven us. In spite of the church leaders’ attempts to have Jesus killed, it only occurred when He allowed it.
Jesus died willingly so that His love, demonstrated on the cross, might become the power to save us from our sin. It’s the power that draws us into God’s house to receive His blessings of life & salvation. His love is the power that enables us to understand, believe & trust in His words of promise, even when they seem tedious, mundane or foolish.
As we trust & believe, God allows us to see things more fantastic than we ever could have imagined. In the OT reading this morning, we have God’s Word & assurance that Satan is already defeated, for the Word of God always accomplishes that which He has spoken. Do you remember that word?
In Genesis 3:15, Yahweh is speaking to Lucifer: “I will put enmity between you & the woman, & between your offspring & her offspring; He [meaning Jesus] shall crush your head…” And so it was accomplished, for you & for me. As we believe this, we are doing the will of God. Amen.
You came to earth, O Christ, as Lord, but power You laid aside. You lived Your years in servanthood; in lowliness You died. No golden scepter but a towel You place within our hands of those who seek to follow You & live by Your commands. Lord, help us walk Your servant way wherever love may lead &, bending low, forgetting self, each serve the other’s need. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet