9th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 12) LSB #’s 908, 553, 375
Text – Mark 6:51-52
And [Jesus] got into the boat with them, & the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
I was surprised when I did the research, because I thought that cancer had become the #1 cause of death in the United States. However, heart disease is still the highest cause. In fact, it takes the life of one person in the US every 36 seconds. That’s 655,000 Americans per year, or 1 out of every 4 deaths. And that is just the physical side of the issue.
Heart disease is also the #1 killer of souls. If you’re wondering what a hardened heart is like, listen to this report from Thursday of last week. It highlights a hardened heart by contrasting it with a heart that is still alive & well. It was written in the New York Daily News, by Nelson Oliveira.
“A Florida man was introduced to two very different kinds of neighbors this week. One of them is being hailed a hero for possibly saving his life as he convulsed inside a car – which rolled down into the lawn of a family who, instead of helping, yelled at them to get off their property, authorities said.
‘Get off our lawn,’ the homeowners reportedly said. ‘Get the man out of here, have him die somewhere else.’ The shocking incident happened Monday as a lawn worker identified only as ‘Tony’ was walking to work in a Palm Beach County community, according to the local sheriff’s office.
The man spotted a neighbor having a ‘serious seizure’ inside his vehicle & immediately rushed to help him, going as far as trying to stop the moving car with his own hands, authorities said. ‘Without thinking twice, Tony ran up to the rolling car on Dunes Road & grabbed the fender to try & stop it from rolling down the street further,’ deputies wrote in a Facebook post. ‘It ran over Tony’s foot, but thankfully he had steel-toe boots on!’ The car finally stopped on a neighbor’s lawn, but the driver was still ‘in terrible shape’ inside the locked vehicle.
Tony screamed & begged the neighbors to help him, but the homeowners were apparently more worried about their grass. ‘A very sad moment for Tony, but he kept at it!!’ deputies said. Tony, recognized the driver from the neighborhood, ran to his home & alerted the man’s wife. Emergency workers arrived at the scene moments later & treated the driver.”
Back in Michigan, it’s fairly easy for us, in that story, to recognize the characters with heart disease. Yelling out, “Have him die somewhere else,” is an obvious symptom of a heart gone bad. In our minds we can easily label them as bad people, feel better about ourselves, & then move on. We can easily minimize the tension of that story.
In Mark’s Gospel we have problem though, because it’s the disciples of Jesus who are revealed as having heart disease: “And [Jesus] got into the boat with them, & the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” It’s not so easy to just write them off as bad people to ease the tension we feel.
By walking on the water, Jesus is revealing Himself as the almighty Creator of the land & the sea, the planets, the stars & the entire universe. It’s the same thing Jesus was doing ten verses earlier in Mark 6, when He took the five loaves & two fish & fed 5000 men with them. But the disciples didn’t understand that anymore than they understood His walking on the water.
Then Mark tells us, they did not understand because their hearts were hardened. And if the 12 men that Jesus chose personally had hardened hearts where does that leave you & me? Are we in the same boat? Is it God’s intention that we should write ourselves off as bad people? That is what some people conclude & they give up all hope of being saved. Jesus revealed Himself as the almighty God, but the disciples will not draw that conclusion. In fact they are not able to because their hearts are diseased & hard. Jesus reveals Himself in this way, not so they understand right now, but in order that, once Jesus has risen from the dead, they will be able to look back & understand it then.
Even that will be something the Holy Spirit has to accomplish in them, & Jesus promises that He will: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things & bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:25-26 ESV)
And if anyone refuses the Holy Spirit they cannot be saved. Though it does, it should not surprise us that so many people in our nation today are rejecting all of Jesus’ teachings that challenge us or convict our hardened hearts. Even the 12 chosen ones were not capable of understanding until the Spirit descended on them at Pentecost. Judas never made it that far.
However, you & I are not the 12 chosen ones. We do not have to wait until after the resurrection in order to understand. We already live after the resurrection from the dead. The everlasting work of the new creation has already begun. And the Holy Spirit has already been working in the new heart given us at Baptism, to bring us to the understanding that Jesus is Lord.
That Jesus is Lord has consequences. Depending on which part of you is responding those are good or bad. You see, the sinful nature in us sees everything about Jesus is Lord as bad. That’s because each of us wants to be our own God. It’s no different than Adam & Eve when they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. They were tempted by the desire to be god.
Sure, Satan told them they would be like God, but the reality is they thought it would be nice to make their own decisions.
On the other hand, our saintly nature recognizes that everything about Jesus is Lord is
good for us. That is because God is good, in fact, God is love, & not a self-serving love. God’s love is giving as Jesus demonstrated so clearly on the cross at Golgotha. He gave everything there to the very last drop of His blood, sweat & tears. Jesus did not need to earn the right to be our Lord, but He proved that He is & lovingly so.
On the cross, the heart of Jesus stopped beating not because of disease, but because of His unfathomable love for us even while we were yet sinners. Our heart disease in effect caused Him to die. Now, in every moment of our day, Jesus is working to recreate our heart into the perfect image of God’s love. Our sinfulness makes that an extremely difficult task.
This episode in the life of Jesus & His disciples is a good illustration of the life of discipleship as a constant experience of testing & deliverance. In this case, it was not through stubborn self-will, but through direct obedience to the Lord’s command, that the disciples found themselves in this plight.
Thus, the storm in no way showed that they had deviated from the path of God’s will: God’s path for them lay through that storm, to the other shore of the lake. It was not that the Lord intended to leave them on the sea. It was because of their need that He had come; but they must be brought to realize the need for themselves.
You & I must be brought to realize our need as well. It takes testing & deliverance to learn that lesson in this broken world. Otherwise, we twist & corrupt every single blessing that God gives to us, even the blessing of good health, if & when we have that. Actual physical heart disease is but a reminder that without Jesus death is our due. The old creation will die.
Through the feeding of the five thousand with just five loaves of bread & two fish Jesus demonstrated that He is completely able to provide us with everything we need. Through His walking on the water & calming the wind, Jesus demonstrated that He can make the climate change for the better. Even the sea must obey His command, but He wants us to return to Him, not out of fear or command, but out of love & respect & submission to His ultimate goodness.
Christ’s purpose for times of testing is to benefit His people. Messiah is willing & able to deliver us from that which will destroy us – ultimately from sin, death & hell.
God brings his children into difficult & even fearful situations to strengthen their faith in His presence & faith in His power to deliver them from ultimate peril. Our sinful nature will always doubt that testing can have any good purpose. That is our diseased heart at work.
Yet, just as Jesus demonstrated to His disciples His presence with them in time of trial & His power to save them, so also Jesus has demonstrated this supremely in His death & resurrection. Through them He rescues us from the curse of our sin. Through them the Holy Spirit creates a new heart within everyone who does not turn away from Jesus.
As St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 3: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven & on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (3:14-17 ESV)
If you ever notice yourself yelling, “Get the man out of here, have him die somewhere else,” please recognize that it is a sure sign of a diseased heart. Then turn back to God to receive a new one. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
O Christ, our hope, our heart’s desire, creation’s mighty Lord, Redeemer of the fallen world by holy love outpoured: How vast Your mercy to accept the burden of our sin & bow Your head in cruel death to make us clean within. But now the bonds of death are burst, the ransom has been paid; You now ascend the Father’s throne in robes of light arrayed. O let Your mighty love prevail to purge us of our pride that we may stand before Your throne by mercy purified. Amen. LSB 553:1-4.
8th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 11) LSB #’s 901, 736, 709
Text – Mark 6:38a-b
And [Jesus] said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go & see.”
GO & SEE!
While I was in the Navy, & stationed in California, Yosemite National Park was one of my places to Go & See! The Golden Gate National Recreation Area was another place that I loved to Go & See! If you enjoy traveling &exploring, one of the things you love to do is tell people about it & you often end by saying, “You should go & see!”
However, there are times you try someplace new & end up totally disappointed by what you find. What you don’t do then is tell other people, “Hey, you got to go & see this!” But that is sort of what’s going on in the Gospel reading today.
Mark wrote that, when the apostles came back from their mission so many people were coming to see them that the apostles had no leisure even to eat. So Jesus calls them into a desolate place of wilderness that they might get away from it all & rest. That God provides rest for His people within the wilderness is a recurring theme in the Bible.
In fact, the literal rest of the wilderness generation, led by Moses & Joshua, becomes the prototype for the final rest promised to the people of God that we refer to as heaven. So the ancient hope of rest of in the wilderness will be fulfilled in a small way as Jesus gathers His disciples to a desolate wilderness place that they might be by themselves.
However, since the multitudes anticipate where Jesus is taking His disciples they beat them to the punch & are waiting for them when they arrive. Seeing the crowd, Jesus has compassion on them because He knows their leaders have failed them. They are like sheep without a shepherd – doomed to die.
After teaching them many things it had grown late. There were 5000 men there & most
likely, with women & children, another one or two people for each of the men. Leading up to this, the disciples barely had found time for themselves to eat. Now, this situation is looking desperate & the disciples are getting worried:
“…when it grew late, His disciples came to [Jesus] & said, ‘This is a desolate place, & the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside & villages & buy themselves something to eat.’” (Mark 6:35-36 ESV) That’s when Jesus replied, “How many loaves do you have? Go & see.”
And when they had found out, they said, “Five, & two fish.” (Mark 6:38c ESV) If things were desperate before, this is where it gets really depressing. Why would Jesus bother telling them to go & see? It may feel like Jesus is just setting them up to experience even more frustration & despair. That is one way of looking at it.
The summer Olympics are coming, & if you’ve watched any of that over the years you’ve seen the touching stories of athletes who have overcome incredible odds to become champions. Human beings truly are capable of overcoming tremendous obstacles, & not just in sports but in every human endeavor. And that not only can be, but it is very misleading.
Though sinful human beings like to think that we can leave our mark on the world if only we get the right breaks & apply ourselves well enough, the truth is “even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags” compared to the foolishness of God. Though we are capable of overcoming tremendous odds, not a one of us can overcome our own sinful nature.
Only Jesus Christ can grant us the new life that we receive already here, in part, & that we receive in heaven in full.
In the Gospel reading last Sunday Mark revealed what life is like outside the reign & rule of God, under the fallen & resistful reign & rule of men. Herod had the head of John the Baptist delivered on a platter because of his wife’s hatred for the man. The Gospel lesson for today reveals what life is like inside the reign & rule of a loving King instead of a self-centered king. Jesus brings food & joy to a wilderness that is normally severely lacking in either one. And not only that, but Jesus also brings food & joy to their spiritual lives.
When you or I tell someone to go & see this place or that, it’s because we believe it’s a fantastic place, not an inadequate one. Jesus tells His disciples to Go & See so that they know for certain that they are inadequate to the task because they are living in the Old Creation rather than in the New! Jesus wants them to realize that they need Him in order to have life.
As Jeremiah said in the OT lesson, the earthly shepherds that God had sent to give His people life were not doing the job. Yet, our true life here on earth, & our eternal life in paradise, depend upon our knowing the Truth. The Bible makes it clear that knowing the truth is nothing other than knowing Jesus, who Himself is the Truth.
Last Sunday, King Herod was throwing a party, a massive banquet & feast with entertaining dancers & who knows what else. This Sunday, Jesus hosts a feast in the wilderness with nothing but five loaves of bread & two fish. Which banquet would you have attended? Once we discover that we are inadequate, we need to find a solution.
Jesus offers life, but often it is hidden under the appearance of this broken world. Satan offers death, but he disguises it as life. Being a child of God is not easy. We do not live in a safe world, even though we are safe as long as we remain under God’s wings. That safety is something our saintly nature loves to experience, & also loves to tell others to Go & See. Amen.
Consider how the birds above feed day by day with carefree ease – does God not keep them in His love? Are we not worth much more than these? Set not your heart on food or drink, nor be weighed down by worldly care; about such things the godless think, yet never thank the Lord in prayer. Be not afraid to suffer loss of all the things for which you pray, for He who faced for you the cross will give you strength to live each day. Seek first God’s reign, His boundless grace, and His holy name in all you do: Christ first & last in every place; all else will be given you. Amen. LSB 736:1, 3, 5-6.
7th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 10) LSB #’s 644, 743:1-3, 5-6, 716:1-3, 6
Text – Mark 6:27-28
And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went & beheaded him in the prison & brought his head on a platter & gave it to the girl, & the girl gave it to her mother.
WHEN ALL SEEMS LOST
It’s a common theme in movies whether it’s a horror film or an action packed thriller or a Hallmark special. The director sees to it that the tension builds to the point where all hope seems lost & you can’t see anyway for the characters you sympathize with to escape their dire or forlorn circumstances.
In the movies, the sympathetic characters almost always make a miraculous escape from their circumstances, or they surrender their lives for a noble cause. People love that kind of plot & they flock to those movies in order to be encouraged about their own lives. People also attend those movies in order to escape the dull or disheartening reality of their own lives.
In the Bible reading you heard from the Gospel of Mark, on an earthly level, there is no miraculous escape from John the Baptist’s circumstances in prison. There is no escape from the dull or disheartening reality of life. There is nothing on the surface of this event that encourages us about our own lives. In fact, it very accurately reflects life in a sinful world.
In the time & place that I grew up this gruesome event, recorded in Holy Scripture, always had a disturbing feel to it. The harsh realities of prison, overt sexual immorality & the beheading, were the furthest thing from any of my experiences in life.
Some people would say that’s an example of my white privilege because there was a time when lynching of black Americans was not uncommon & that is at least as horrifying as the head of John the Baptist being delivered on a platter. Many people in the United States, for many years, have been sheltered from some of the harsh realities of life in a sinful world. That has allowed our citizens to become soft & weak along with being ignorant of what Satan desires for us. Many Americans today no longer believe that the devil is real. They believe that human beings alone are the cause of all the problems in our world.
The news media in the US, is especially guilty of this. Both sides are constantly trying to demonize all human beings on the other side. Yet, God Almighty warns us with these words from the book of Ephesians:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers & authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, & against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (6:12 NLT) Satan is real, & he is waging war against us. Anyone who thinks otherwise is working for the very evil they think does not exist. What do you believe?
There was the condo collapse down by Miami – a horrific tragedy. There are wildfires burning, heat waves & drought spreading, across our western states. Crime is surging in cities across our nation. If you claim to be child of God, & claim to believe the Bible, do you really use what God’s Word says in order to understand what is happening to our nation?
The condo collapse comes because sinful human beings take short cuts & do things the easy way, rather than the safe & intelligent way. If human beings are causing climate change, it’s because our sinful nature is greedy & lazy & selfish. Crime is surging in cities across our nation because our citizens increasingly have no use for obeying God.
The Devil is behind each of those problems, & the multitudes more that I do not have time to list. In the world Jesus lived in, Herod beheads a prophet, not because of what the prophet says to him but because of what his 12 to 14-year-old niece does for him when she dances. She pleases him.
Sex within the family system has not been a problem for Herod. He is married to his
half-brother’s wife... & his half-brother is still living. The drinks, the dancing, the desire, all swirl together until suddenly they bring John the Baptist’s head on a platter & give it to the girl.
There are stories you do not bring up in polite conversation – like your dad’s DUI, your mom’s 5th marriage, the images, late at night, which play across your computer screen. This event is one of those things. It is not fit for polite conversation, but maybe that’s the problem: Polite conversation.
The Kingdom of God is not built on polite conversation. It is built on the reality of God’s work in a fallen, twisted & corrupt world. Events like the beheading of John the Baptist remind us of just how ugly the work of redemption can be. When John confronted Herod, he pointed Herod in the direction of eternal life, repent & turn back from the road to destruction.
God has come to save people from sin – real sin. And no sin is the stuff of polite conversation. Which is why it’s good to have an event like this read in a church like this on Sunday morning. It awakens us to the true nature of God’s work. To save time, the people who choose how much of the Bible to read each Sunday, have left out the setting as Jesus talks.
When Mark wrote this Gospel, he did not want you to encounter the beheading of John by itself. In fact, Mark wanted you to encounter that while other things were occupying your attention. In the verses right before this, Mark reported Jesus sending out His disciples:
“So, they went out & proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons & anointed with oil many who were sick & healed them.” (6:12-13) After John’s beheading, Mark reports, “The disciples returned to Jesus & told Him all that they had done & taught.” (6:30)
In between was this account of Herod & John the Baptist & a girl who dances into palace intrigue only to come out with a prophet’s head on a platter. Why does Mark arrange it this way? While the disciples are out in mission, why does Mark force us, the readers, to sit & consider this sordid tale? Here are a few reasons that are instructive for faith.
First, Mark wants us to know that the preaching of the Kingdom will awaken real guilt for real sin in the lives of real people. Sometimes, we distance belief from life. Christianity can become a teaching we agree to, a confirmation class we pass, rather than a release from horrible sin to a holy life we never knew existed.
Notice how Mark tells us that the preaching of the apostles awakened a memory in Herod. When “Herod heard of it” – that is the preaching & the works of the disciples – “he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded has been raised.’” (6:16) God is a living God, Who works by His Word to awaken our conscience to sin, real sin, committed by real people, in a world that is truly fallen.
Herod’s life is sordid, certainly, but so is mine & so is yours. Apart from Christ there is no end to the evil we would do. Even in Christ, we have had times when we struggled & fell. True Christianity, a faith that is more than a matter of knowledge, experiences the sorrow for sin & the blessed grace of forgiveness at the hand of Jesus who comes to save sinners like us.
While polite conversation does not permit us to talk about our sins, the holy conversation we have with God sounds much more like the fear of Herod. We name our sins with full transparency & no defense, because we know redemption is ugly work.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “The saying is trustworthy & deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
Second, Mark wants us to know that mission is messy. In fact, sometimes it is deadly. What happened to John – his death for proclaiming God’s Word – is a foreshadowing of what happens to Jesus. And what happened to Jesus is a picture of what will happen to the disciples, as they take up their cross & follow Him. (Mark 8:34) Yet, God works in the midst of this ugly mess. Yahweh’s work is mysterious. Even when all seems lost, saving mysteries can be happening underneath the surface where you & I cannot see. Hidden behind suffering is where salvation often comes, because the Creator of the universe is powerful enough & wise enough to overcome Satan’s work & even turn it against the Devil’s purposes.
On Golgotha, all seemed lost. Yet, in death, Jesus bears God’s real wrath for our real sin, & in His resurrection, Jesus reveals God’s real life which rules over His real Kingdom that can never be shaken – not by anyone & not by anything.
If someday you & I must endure suffering & persecution because we follow Jesus, even if all seems lost, even then we can know from the events of John the Baptist’s beheading, that Satan has already lost the war. Yahweh has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy & blameless before Him. And that we are – today!
For this life, there was no miraculous movie script escape for John the Baptist. He died by having his head removed in an act of vengeance. Depending on our circumstances, there may be no miraculous rescue for us either, in this world.
However, there certainly is a miraculous end awaiting everyone who trusts in Jesus for the life to come. It will be a perfect, glorious life that will never encounter sorrow or trouble or danger. That is the ending, that God has written, to the script of our lives. Believe that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, & you will live even though you die. Amen.
Jesus, In Thine arms I rest me; foes who would molest me cannot reach me here. Though the earth be shaking, every heart be quaking, Jesus calms my fear. Lightnings flash & thunders crash; yet, though sin & hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me. Hence, all fear & sadness! For the Lord of gladness, Jesus, enters in. Those who love the Father, though the storms may gather, still have peace within. Yea, whate’er I here must bear, Thou art still my purest pleasure, Jesus, priceless treasure! Amen. LSB 743:2, 6.
6th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 9) LSB #’s 727, 770, 806
Text – 2 Corinthians 12:10
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, & calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
FINDING STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS
Especially when someone is going through a difficult stretch of life, it is not uncommon for a well-meaning Christian to say, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” That saying is used as a way to offer comfort in the midst of hardship & pain. It’s one application of an actual Bible verse in 1 Corinthians 10:
“No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; & God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (v.13 NASB)
However, at another point in his life, St. Paul expressed a quite different truth while writing to the church at Corinth: “…we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 18b-9 ESV)
You know from experience that God allows us to be in situations that are too much for us & threaten to overwhelm our strength. Our Savior does this not to teach you & me that we can handle it, but to teach us that our Creator can handle it.
Weakness is not the kind of thing a person goes looking for. Something most of us would rather avoid is having to ask for help. Practically speaking, God has to force us into it. Many situations arise that we just can’t handle, let alone deal with perfectly by finesse & grace. Yet, there is nothing that God can’t handle.
It is against the backdrop of our weakness that God’s saving power is most clearly seen.
Don’t you agree that each one of us needs to be saved? Here’s an example of Yahweh giving someone strength in weakness. The Lord said to Gideon, “Go in this strength of yours & save Israel…” (Judges 6:14) Here is a summary of Gideon’s strength:
Gideon is purposely chosen on account of his weakness in order that God’s power might be displayed. Yahweh taught this lesson often during Israel’s history. When Israel exalted herself & gloried in her strength & wisdom, then the Lord humbled His people. When they were overcome with weakness & cried out in repentance & faith, then God would save His people.
When Israel, chosen to be God’s son, had completely failed in its mission, then the Father sent His only-begotten Son into the flesh of a human woman & Jesus was born as King of all creation. He became a human fetus & then a baby, unable to speak or walk, totally dependent upon sinful human beings for food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home & protection.
He is the King of the universe, yet, He did not rule His world in power & majesty but through human weakness. He humbled Himself & lived as an obedient servant. The heavenly Father was revealed through His perfect Son’s life of service, humility & faith. Nowhere was the human weakness of Christ more evident than upon the cross. He was alone, abandoned & undefended – the ultimate picture of weakness & yet strength, because He willingly chose to remain there until He breathed His last breath. None of us would have the strength to make that choice, let alone stick it out to the bitter end.
Through that weakness, suffering & death, almighty God accomplished His greatest saving work. He redeemed from sin, from death & from the devil every sinful human being that ever has been conceived.
When Jesus rose from the dead that was proof of His glorious victory. Death could not defeat the perfect Son of God, nor could it hold Him. With that resurrection, an entirely new creation was begun, one that is unaffected by sin. This new creation is pure & holy & is the essence of God’s love. There is not one ounce of perversion in it.
That is the hope to which our saintly nature looks, & which it waits for patiently, especially in the midst of weakness. In our weakness our saintly nature leans upon Jesus even through tragedy & suffering. The saintly nature knows & firmly believes that it cannot save itself. But our sinful nature lives in pride & in fear – refusing to ask for help from anyone.
One way of explaining it is to realize that finding strength in weakness is the same thing as finding God in our weakness. Moses wrote, “The Lord is my strength & my song…” (Exodus 15:2) Weakness humbles us & shows us our true need. As long as we’re strong we believe only in ourselves. It’s in weakness that we are forced to confront the truth.
If we refuse to confront our desperate need then we will never know God’s love for us. It’s pride that refuses to acknowledge our weakness. To counter our pride, to find God & strength in our weakness, is why we confess our sins here, publicly, each Sunday:
“I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins & iniquities with which I have ever offended You…” Some people are very uncomfortable with that confession. They find it depressing. Apparently, they have not learned how to find & receive strength from God in their weakness. It’s not too different from trying to use a cordless drill that has a dead battery. If you refuse to acknowledge that the battery is dead, & therefore, refuse to recharge it, the cordless drill will do nothing for you. Without being recharged it is powerless & useless.
In the same way, if you or I refuse to acknowledge that we need God’s forgiveness, in order to be recharged, then the gifts & blessings we’ve received from God will be useless. Admitting that we are weak allows the Holy Spirit to fill us with the power of God’s new creation. That is when the Lord becomes our strength & our song.
To receive God’s strength, still today, the people of God need to cry out in repentance & faith. Admitting our weakness is the avenue to finding the strength of God at work in our thoughts, & our words & our deeds. Admitting our weakness is like realizing the battery is dead & needs to be charged. Confession allows the Holy Spirit to reconnect us to God’s power.
The words of St. Paul challenge us still just as much as they did the congregation in Corinth almost 2000 years ago. Though we have far more modern conveniences, living the Christian life is no easier today than it was back then.
The Corinthian culture glorified wealth, reason or science, wisdom, sophistication, status, power, & athletic competition. Those were the cultural values of ancient Corinth, & they are not unlike the values people glorify & live by in our society right now. Paul’s advice, in this case the very Word of God, is still totally applicable to our lives:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, & calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (1 Corinthians 12:10 ESV) The ways of God do not evolve. His teachings were true & useful then. They still are today. Yahweh’s glory & love are revealed to & through those who suffer. Salvation comes to us through this, beginning with Jesus who suffered without measure. Let us join then with Paul, & in contradiction to our sinful culture. Let us boast not in our strengths but in our weaknesses. We endure them through God’s grace so He may reveal His power to those who hear His voice.
Just as for Paul, God’s grace is also sufficient for you & me in our day & in our time. And God’s grace is made perfect in weakness, not in our glorious experiences. Spoken after our confession of weakness & sin, the words of Absolution lift us up & renew our strength by the power of God’s Word from the 20th chapter of St. John:
Upon this, your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called & ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, & in the stead & by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (LSB page 214)
Receiving that forgiveness from our Creator is what gives our tired & weary soul true strength. Amen.
Have we trials & temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged – take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness – take it to the Lord in prayer. Are we weak & heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge – take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer. In His arms He’ll take & shield thee; thou wilt find a solace there. Amen. LSB 770:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet