18th Sunday after Pentecost – B LSB #’s 869, 737, 663
Text – Mark 9:30-31a NIV
They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because He was teaching His disciples.
TEACHING HIS DISCIPLES
Eighteen years ago, the USS Cole, a Navy destroyer, was struck by a terrorist bomb. With the 1st news of the attack, hundreds of family members of the sailors on board waited in agony. Hour after hour was filled with overwhelming tension. The sister of one sailor commented that she suffered with an enormous amount of anxiety.
She spent most of the 10½-hour wait outside the house, because she couldn’t stand the tension on the inside. With circumstances like that people are afraid even to ask the question: “Is our loved one dead, or alive?” For this one family, the call came at 6:45 that evening. Their brother & son was unharmed.
The result would not be the same for the Son of God. His death was eminent, but His disciples did not understand. And out of the fear brought on by ignorance, they were afraid to ask the question, “Would their Teacher live, or would He die?” Jesus had just, for the 2nd time, plainly told them that He’d be killed & then raised from the dead.
Yet, for the 2nd time, the disciples did not understand, & the prediction of His death & resurrection is not all that they had missed. The 2nd half of today’s gospel reading reveals how the disciples have completely misunderstood the main thrust of Christ’s teaching. They were arguing about who was the greatest.
Jesus was teaching that those who follow Him must strive to be the least. And if Christ’s own disciples completely misunderstood what it is to be a Christian, does it not follow that we probably misunderstand as well? And, like the disciples of Christ, we too are afraid to
ask Him about it, because we’re afraid of what the answer might be.
When Adam & Eve sinned for the 1st time, do you remember what their reaction was as God came calling? It was fear – the natural human condition since the fall. We’re scared of our Creator. That’s totally the opposite of how our Lord desires things to be. Jesus became a man & entered our time & space in order to deal with that very problem.
However, teaching people the solution to their fear is not as easy as sending your children to Sunday School. It’s not as easy as spoon-feeding children the correct information. Even the demons have the correct information about Christ, & in the Gospel of Mark the demons are calling Jesus the Christ long before any human beings are.
Rather than merely spoon feeding the disciples, Jesus often challenges them as He teaches them. In this gospel text, it’s the challenge they are afraid of. Their sinful nature prefers to strive for greatness & it shies away from a life of service.
They want nothing to do with Christ’s suffering & death, not because of their great concern for His welfare, but because of their concern for themselves. If their master must suffer & die, does it not follow that they might have to suffer & die as well? That’s a challenge that not one of us looks forward to.
Still, it is a challenge that Christians must come to grips with in order for their faith to blossom. The fear o f suffering & death has stunted the growth of many a person’s faith, but it takes far less than suffering & death to scare many Christians away from God’s calling.
Often, people are far more concerned with their reputation before men than they are with their reputation before the almighty Lord. Many Christians have a home & yard that are immaculately clean & organized, yet their soul is dusty & cluttered with false teaching. They’re afraid of the effort involved in putting their spiritual life in order, but they’re willing to work around the house or garage for 8 hours a week. The greatness they feel depends upon how perfect they maintain the outward appearances.
Other Christians think nothing of devoting 60 or 70 hours a week towards their career, yet they’re afraid that an hour in church on Sunday, or an hour in Bible study every week, will be the straw the breaks the camel’s back of their precious schedule. The greatness they feel depends upon how far or how rapidly their career advances.
College & high school students can be very focused on schoolwork or sports because their reputation with their peers depends upon their performance. But somehow, their reputation before God becomes invisible to them. They frequently learn that from those same parents who are spending all their spare time on their career or their home & their yard.
At the bottom of all these efforts to make ourselves look good in the eyes of men, is our desire to be the greatest. Years back the Army had a recruiting slogan that said, “Be all that you can be.” The Marines were looking for just a few good men. Muhammad Ali promoted himself with the claim that he was “the greatest.”
Those slogans are catchy manifestations of the same disease the disciples had, & that Adam & Eve had long before them. The desire of man’s heart is to be god. Satan is well aware of that desire. Yet mankind is satisfied to live in ignorance & blindness, too afraid to ask Jesus about it, for fear of what the answer might be.
As a result, suffering & hard times become our teacher. God uses those tools to break through our blindness & ignorance. Once He breaks through, then the lessons can begin. Hard times commonly cause us to slow down & reflect upon the question of “Why?”
Studies have shown that significant life changes are the best time for evangelism work, because the person is then reevaluating priorities & lifestyles. Times of illness, or the loss of something dear to us, tend to open our eyes to a much larger perspective on life. They bring us out of our cozy little world. They challenge our mistaken view of reality.
Have you been dealing with any challenges lately? Do you know of someone who is? Think of them as opportunities for God to reach into your heart & instill in you the depth of His love. Place your trust in the love He has for you. Then sit back & watch how your life unfolds before your eyes. As God touches your heart you will want to reach out in response.
In the Gospel reading we don’t find Christ simply teaching His disciples about His own death & resurrection. We also find Him teaching you & me how to live with our fellow man. As Christ served us, through His suffering & death, we are to reach out & serve others. That could mean serving people other than ourselves even when the lawn needs mowing.
It might be that the extra hour studying for a major exam could be better spent in caring for someone else’s needs. There are probably even times when your career agenda should be put on hold in order to use your talents for another person’s benefit. Those people might be your spouse, your children, even your church.
Certainly welcoming a child won’t clean your home. It won’t improve your grades nor will it increase your cash flow. Nevertheless, Jesus illustrated His lesson for the disciples by taking a child in His arms. He then stated that whoever welcomes a child in Christ’s name, welcomes our heavenly Father Himself.
Jesus was talking of a very young child, one that certainly could make no claims to importance or greatness; one too young to have accomplished anything, & having nothing of which to brag about or be proud of; a child who is totally dependent upon someone else to care for them; the kind of position that no adult wants to be in.
Being servant to a child, like that, will bring no honors or reputation among kings. It’ll
gain you no position of worldly power or prestige. Yet in God’s sight greatness comes from serving those who need it, because they need it. And that is how the Son of God has served us. He served us with His suffering & death – because we needed it.
We’re afraid of getting too wrapped up in religion, because Yahweh destroys our “rose garden” view of it. He does not bring the good life or even justice to the oppressed in any worldly sense. He does not eliminate poverty, misery or crime. People still commit the most filthy & disgusting of sins, & then boast of them.
We are tempted to look at the world & say, “What good has religion accomplished?” “Why bother?” becomes the mantra of a spiritually cynical & callused world. The tension can become unbearable. To escape it all we fantasize about & dwell upon who is the greatest. Is it the Yankees, or the Red Sox? Is it U of M, or MSU? Is it me, or is it you?
Anything to avoid the real question. Are you great enough to deserve eternal life? Have you done enough to please the Creator of all that exists? That is where our real fears lie. Will I live, or will I die? Christ came that we might stop being afraid to ask that question.
Those who believe in Jesus as Savior will live. It’s that simple. The answer is so uncomplicated that we struggle in believing it. In spite of our calling to be servants, in spite of the suffering & the death that ultimately awaits us in this life, the final answer to all our questions & all of our fears is Jesus Christ & His suffering, His death & His resurrection.
Yahweh Himself guaranteed that His children will never die, but have everlasting life. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, so shall we. Though our natural man looks at God as the heavy handed persecutor, & is afraid, the new man in us looks at Christ as our Brother & is at peace.
All the solemn, mysterious beauties of the Gospel are hidden from the heart of man until
God the Holy Spirit, opens your heart & mind to reveal the beauty of God’s assurance to His children. This morning, in the Lord’s Supper, you have the privilege of partaking of one of those mysteries. For there, Christ becomes one with you. He feeds your body & soul with His very body & blood.
Yes, it is a mystery too difficult to fathom, but through the equal mystery of faith, God works the assurance that He has forgiven your sins. It’s that very message which Messiah taught His disciples 2000 years ago, & today He’s teaching you. His Holy Spirit is at work in your heart, right now, through the power of His Word that never returns to Him empty.
If you partake of Communion today, God’s Holy Spirit will be at work as you receive Christ’s body & blood, given & shed for you, for the remission of your sins. You can stop striving for greatness & reputation. You can stop being afraid that God will discover your innermost thoughts & fears.
Your Savior has already nailed them to the cross & forgotten them. Whosoever believes in Christ will live, even though he dies. Our coming to grips with that message is the work of the Holy Spirit, & He is faithful unto the end. Amen.
Rejoice, my heart, be glad & sing, a cheerful trust maintain; for God, the source of everything, your portion shall remain. He is your treasure, He your joy, your life & light & Lord, your counselor when doubts annoy, your shield & great reward. Why spend the day in blank despair, in restless thought the night? On your Creator cast your care; He makes your burdens light. Amen. LSB 737:1-3.
17th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 19) LSB #870 tune
Text – James 3:8
But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
A RESTLESS EVIL
You’ve heard these powerful words. You may have spoken them yourself. How would you describe their power? They have the ability to cover over many of life’s most awkward moments. Like the time you gave someone a gift, & the moment they opened it you knew it was something they did not appreciate.
Yet, maybe they were still gracious enough to say these words: “It’s the thought that counts.” Those magic words have a way of covering our shame & embarrassment. They enable us to see, behind the outward intention, to the love & the care that lie within. They take our emotions off of the superficial things of life & help us to focus on what really is important.
James says much the same thing in his letter to the church at Jerusalem. He asks his readers to look at their spiritual lives & know, “It is the thought that counts.” However, as James writes his letter, he’s not working to cover over any of life’s awkward moments. In fact, his purpose is to uncover them, to lay bare the evil that lives within our souls.
And for that reason the letter of James makes us uncomfortable. He intentionally opens our eyes to the thoughts that often lurk behind our words & our deeds. Those thoughts are painful to consider:
“[The tongue] is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord & Father, & with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing & cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:8b-10 ESV)
“It’s the thought that counts,” like many things in life cuts both ways. Sometimes those thoughts are good & at other times they’re evil. James wants us to consider our actions both 1) in relationship to the world around us & 2) in relationship to God. When James thinks of the life of Christians in the world, he sees a field of battle. This struggle arises from an overestimation of ourselves. In 4:6 James identifies that root sin as pride. Thinking we deserve more than we have, we’re envious of what others have been given, so we work to achieve more for ourselves.
The housing crash & recession that occurred ten years ago stemmed partly from this very problem – envy of what others had. Marketing often uses the envious nature in us so that we unduly reflect upon what we have, what we want & what we can do to get more. It’s the thought that counts, & those thoughts are too often the distorted ambitions of a sinful soul.
Those distorted ambitions turn the world into a field of battle. They turn our relationship to God into a self-help religion. For example, what are the thoughts behind our prayers? Don’t our prayers often end up being the manner in which we rub the magic lantern so the genie pops out in order to grant our three wishes?
Compare how much time you spend in prayer thanking Him for things versus how much time you spend asking for things. Isn’t it true that envy, pride & selfish ambition affect us even in our conversations with God? And when our prayers are not answered in the way we like, don’t we suffer frustration & tend to drift away from our heavenly Father?
Isn’t it far easier to come up with a list of the things we want as compared to the things that our Lord has already given us? In the reading from the book of James we are challenged to recognize that it is the thought that counts, & that Word of God reveals how our thoughts can turn the world into a field of battle just as they turn our God & our religion into a magic lantern.
Meditation on the book of James can make us feel uncomfortable. However, in all our thinking, in all our questions, there’s one thing we never could have conceived of – what is going on in the heart & mind of Yahweh. In Isaiah, God speaks to His people, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways & my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9 ESV) Yes, James does ask us to consider our thoughts this morning, yet, even more important to him is that we stop for a moment & hear the thoughts of our Creator. His thoughts are the ones that count.
James longs for us to ponder the wisdom of God, hidden for ages & now known fully among us in Christ. He is wisdom. He comes from above. He has worked salvation among us. He is the one who stills the restless evil; so we can be still & know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10) Jesus is the thought, the word & the deed that counts.
God’s wisdom is intimately bound up with His love for fallen creatures that need to be rescued. When we sin & deserve nothing but punishment, when our tongue reveals the restless evil within, Jesus continues to think of you & me in love. For the joy of that love, set before Him, He endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)
In Christ we see God’s wisdom from above working out our redemption. Jesus is submissive to His Father’s will. The Holy Trinity uses its wisdom to oppose our pride & to give grace to the humble. As thoughts lead to deeds, God’s thoughts regarding His fallen creatures led to action from Christmas to Good Friday to Easter morning.
Yahweh put His thought into words, the Word, entering our fallen world & taking our sins upon Himself in Jesus. It is our Lord’s thought that counts, for His thinking & acting save us, not only from the restless evil of the tongue, but from hell itself. When we’re frightened by how easily our lives can be soiled by thoughts of pride, envy & ambition, Jesus washes us clean.
We proclaim that very work of Jesus right here in this place, through the Word & water & bread & wine. Today, Yahweh sees the perfect thoughts of Jesus in the place of your own sinful thoughts. The consequences of that are far reaching! Your heavenly Creator’s thoughts will follow you all week. His thoughts & actions for you bring about a marvelous change. They change your relationship with God. No longer do we pray hoping to get God on our side; He is already thinking of us before we pray. Instead, through prayer we humbly turn our hearts to God asking that His kingdom would come & His will would be done among us.
Instead of seeing God as a magic lantern that we use to accomplish our will, we humbly confess Him to be the light of the world, a lamp unto our feet & a light unto our path. The Good News points to His work for us, & then to our life for Him.
The thoughts of God change our relationship to the people around us. Yes, we enter a world that remains a field of battle, a place of envy & ambition. Advertising has not changed & people have not stopped wanting to get ahead just because we went to church. But leaving here, we enter that world with a different vision.
In God’s hands this world is not a field for battle but a field for growth. It is still a world that Yahweh created: a fertile ground ready for planting & a field ready for harvest. Our life in this world is a creative life empowered by the thoughts of God’s Spirit as we share the wisdom from above. You see, it is the thought that counts – God’s thought, the Good News of Jesus.
God’s thought has taken a fallen world & turned it into His harvest field. He takes great pleasure in seeing the fruit that our lives yield as our tongue now sings praise to Him. About the most important issue in life, where we spend eternity, the thoughts of Jesus count far more than our thoughts. Be still, accept the rest that He offers, from the restless evil, & go in peace. Amen.
Now that the daylight fills the sky, we lift our hearts to God on high, that He, in all we do or say, would keep us free from harm today; would guard our hearts & tongues from strife; from anger’s din would shield our life; from evil sights would turn our eyes, & close our ears to vanities. So we, when this new day is gone & night in turn is drawing on, with conscience by the world unstained shall praise His name for victory gained. Amen. LSB 870:1-3.
15th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 18) LSB #’s 702, 850, 587
Text – James 2:5
Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith & heirs of the kingdom, which He has promised to those who love Him?
RICH IN FAITH
In Australia, the year 1938, a young boy accidentally discovered a large black crystal while playing around in the claim where his father used to prospect for sapphires. Immediately after picking up the enormous rock the boy lost no time in running home to show his new treasure to his father, one of the pioneering miners of the Queensland gem fields.
Mr. Spencer was not impressed. After examining it he set it aside, saying it was just a large black crystal. Since the most common color for sapphires is blue, apparently the father did not suspect what the stone might be worth. Fortunately it was not thrown away as worthless, but ended up being used as a doorstop.
After about a decade Mr. Spencer came to know that sometimes sapphires do exist as black gemstones, & may be worth quite a fortune depending on its quality. So he subjected the humble black stone, that had served well for almost a decade as a door stop, to a thorough examination & realized that it may be worth a fortune.
He weighed the crystal & found it was an enormous 1,156 carats. Mr. Spencer was quite sure now of the quality of the stone, but not experienced enough to know that it could be transformed by an expert jeweler into a star sapphire. The humble doorstop began receiving royal treatment from the poor miner as he started the search for an appropriate buyer.
Word got around that an enormous gem-quality rough black sapphire was available for sale. In 1947, the Armenian-born jeweler Harry Kazanjian traveled all the way from his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, CA to have a look at the stone. Upon examining it he was impressed, & began negotiating with Mr. Spencer for the purchase. Finally the jeweler agreed to pay $18,000, which Harry Spencer accepted. Until then, he’d been running a sheep station scraping by with barely enough to live on, except for an occasional sheep dinner & the little money they made from selling the wool.
Eventually, the stone was cut by an expert, & in the year 2002 the black star sapphire, now at 733 carats, was estimated to be worth about $100 million. A valuable treasure had been sitting on the floor for almost a decade while the family was fretting & scraping, trying to make the mortgage payments & stay in business for just one more year.
Could it be in your life that there are blessings & opportunities from God, lying on the floor as it were, neglected & used nowhere near their potential?
With the state of the visible church today it is easy to get depressed. Commitment & attendance have been on the decline for many years. It’s a simple matter to give up hope & fail to properly apply our talents & energies. God’s Spirit is still preparing in advance good works for us to do, but the results we see often do not appear to be worth the effort.
The faith we have in Jesus as Savior, quite often, doesn’t appear to be anything special. Our role in God’s kingdom doesn’t always impress us as especially important. More & more our culture is ridiculing the beliefs that God’s Word clearly teaches. Comparing things to the way the church used to be, we’re tempted to be depressed, bitter & impatient.
The people James was writing were dealing with poverty & persecution. They too were tempted to be depressed at the fate of the condemned nation of Judah. They were tempted to be bitter at the fact they were offering God’s grace in vain to those doomed people. They were impatient in waiting for the times of refreshment which Jesus’ resurrection had promised.
They were, in this apathetic slackening of their energies – this decline in their Christian
stamina – tempted to relapse & accommodate their lives to the world which pressed upon them from every side. Satan was seeking to put his mark on them & in just 20 years the armies of Rome would burn Jerusalem to ground, killing about 800,000 Jews in the process. Exactly as Jesus prophesied, there was not one stone of the temple left upon another.
That is the future for the Christians to which James wrote his letter. There’d be no earthly glory or success for these congregations of God’s people. Nevertheless, the poor & oppressed people of God are heirs of the Kingdom. The Lord of the universe has chosen them to be rich in faith. That is their identity & that is their destiny.
The world mockingly refers to faith in Jesus as blind faith, because they cannot see what Christians do. The truth is this – it is the world that is blind. It is our calling to love them as Christ did for it’s only God’s love that will enable unbelievers to see. James is effectively telling the people, “You are able to love your neighbor as yourself because you are rich in faith.”
Many of our sinful choices come from our belief that we have less than we want – less time, so we drive faster; less money so we cheat others; less love so we seek it in wrongful ways. To combat our sinfulness, James wants all believers to remember their identity – that we are rich in faith & chosen by God. The devil would have us focus on our weakness, failures & sins.
The difference between Satan & Jesus is this – children of God confess their sins & then they are removed from us, as far as the east is from the west. Satan wants us to focus on what we lack & how we might achieve it with our own efforts. To boil it down, sin is basically this – doing it my way. Faith is this – doing it God’s way.
In the specific example from James 2, he warns us not to show favoritism to those who are rich. Verses 6 & 7 tell us that James’ hearers had dishonored the poor & favored the rich who had dragged them to court & had blasphemed the name of the Lord. They had closed their eyes to the destitution of the poor & they had closed their eyes to the sins of the rich. It’s one thing that reveals many politicians as so repulsive. That kind of partiality, James told us in verse one, is devastating to faith in the glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Since all of us struggle with it, we regularly pray to our Lord, after He has once again removed our sins:
“We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, & we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You & in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ…”
What a treasure we have in the forgiveness of our sins, & in the repentant heart that Jesus has created within us. Yet, like the large black crystal used as only a doorstop for almost a decade, the richness of our faith in Jesus is frequently left on the floor doing nothing more than propping open a door.
The pains & struggles of life are often the very experiences that help us to appreciate the treasure we have with faith in Jesus as Savior from our sins. As we learn to appreciate that treasure, we find tremendous value then in sharing it. When we share that love & forgiveness other people too can learn from their pains & struggles in this life.
Much is said today of how people are being taught & encouraged to think of themselves as victims. St. Paul taught that, “…we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37 ESV) James teaches that “God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith & heirs of the kingdom…” (2:5 ESV)
The world would teach that we are victims. Our Creator teaches that we are conquerors who are rich in faith & heirs of an eternal kingdom. By the grace & power of God’s Holy Spirit our faith does not have to lie on the floor like a doorstop. Instead, it can be put to work in doing the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. Much of that includes loving our
neighbors as ourselves, because God 1st loved us & chose us to be rich in faith. Amen.
Lo, the hosts of evil round us scorn the Christ, assail His ways! From the fears that long have bound us free our hearts to faith & praise. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days. Cure Your children’s warring madness; bend our pride to Your control; shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things & poor in soul. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage lest we miss Your kingdom’s goal. Amen. LSB 850:2-3.
15th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 17) LSB #704
Text – Mark 7:21-22
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
OUT OF THE HEART OF MAN
A teacher, active in Japan around a hundred years ago, received a university professor who came to inquire about the Zen religion. As the teacher served tea, he poured his visitor’s cup full, & then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself: “It is overflowing! No more will go in!”
The Zen teacher responded, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions & speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you 1st empty your cup?”
In the Gospel reading, Jesus encounters a group of Pharisees & scribes. Like the university professor, they are full of their own opinions & speculations. They need to be emptied if they’re going to receive His message.
The group has made the trip from Jerusalem because of Jesus, & Mark’s Gospel has already told us of the conspiracy to kill Him. (Mark 3:6) Since He will die in Jerusalem it seems particularly ominous that these people have come all this way to gather around Jesus.
What is it that they say to him? Do they look for some teaching that will guide them to live a better life? Do they seek some word of hope & encouragement? No. What they do instead is to find fault. They lack the nerve to confront Jesus directly, even though He’s violated many of their cherished traditions, so instead they find fault with some of His disciples.
What they criticize is not a huge failing, moral or spiritual, but that these disciples omit a law of human origin. Certain disciples of Jesus are caught eating with unwashed hands – a scandal to the scribes & Pharisees. But the hand washing in question is not for hygiene as we practice it. It was meant to wash away religious defilement, such as that caused by touching something or someone considered unclean. The Law of Moses mandated hand washing only for priests attending to their duties within the area set aside as sacred.
The Pharisees, however, extend the practice to other circumstances. They use this hand washing as what one scholar calls a “boundary marker,” a way for them to set themselves apart from the surrounding pagan population.
So these scribes & Pharisees who gather around Jesus ask Him why His disciples fail to keep the tradition of the elders. They are cups filled with their own opinions & speculations. Anything more poured in would only be wasted. They’ve pegged Jesus & His disciples as bad people. This condemnation absorbs their energy, leaving them with none for anything better.
Jesus recognizes these Pharisees & scribes as examples of a spiritual danger threatening all of us. He calls the people around Him so they can hear the warning He is compelled to offer. In effect, Jesus tells the crowd:
“Look out! Purity is not a matter of keeping external rules, without regard for what’s inside you. Righteousness is not simply how you behave when people are watching. Keeping rules is not what it’s about. You must pay attention to the condition of your heart!”
What Jesus means by heart is not the muscle in your chest that pumps blood, nor our emotional aspect – the Valentine’s day heart. Jesus understands the heart in the Hebrew sense as the center or core of the person. It’s the inner self. Jesus announces that the heart is where the problem lies. Our hearts are full.
What fills them is, all too often, poison that kills our spirit & the spirit of people we influence. Jesus lists these poisons. He names evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. Like the tea cup, our hearts overflow. What they are full of is not simply our opinions & speculations, but poisons that can prove lethal for ourselves, & for others. Without Christ, you & I are not just partly sinful. We are completely & totally corrupted by sin.
The teaching in the Gospel of Mark is not intended to render us helpless, but to make us see a true problem, the challenge before us as people of faith. We live in a consumer society bombarding us with messages about how consumption can solve our problems. But it cannot solve this problem that Jesus exposes.
What we need is not to pour still more tea into our overflowing cup. What we need is to empty & detoxify our heart from the sin flooding forth from it. The problem is not external, & neither is the solution. What we require, at the center of our being, is for God to create a new heart. Earlier, in the Introit, we called for that, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…”
This needs to happen, not one time only, but continuously. Over & over again, the overflowing cup must be emptied, the poison purged from our hearts & lives, so that the transforming grace of Christ can build a home within. We must be set free from our opinions & speculations in order to wonder at the miracles Jesus causes around us & within.
In Leviticus, God had forbidden His people from eating unclean foods such as pork or camel. In the Gospel reading for today Jesus tells His followers: “‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, & is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” (Mark 7:18b-19 ESV)
Since Jesus had come to fulfill the Law of Moses, He was now taking the focus of the people away from regulations & putting it firmly onto relationships. Clean or unclean foods were no longer an issue. God’s foundational will is detectable in the Law of Moses, because it is a helpful legal version of it. Yet, God’s will is larger & far more encompassing than the Law of Moses. In fact, the will of God can never be adequately put into writing in the form of rules & regulations. For this reason ‘love’ – love of God & love of one’s neighbor – fulfills all that the Law seeks to articulate & command. Love is about relationships, & so is the will of God.
It’s not what we put into our bodies, in the form of clean or unclean food, that breaks our relationship to our heavenly Father. Rather, the sin that comes out of your heart or mine breaks the relationship; things like evil thoughts & sexual immorality. When Adam & Eve chose not to trust God, & ate the forbidden fruit, they broke the relationship with their Creator.
Jesus came to earth as God & as a human being. At His conception in Mary’s womb Jesus reunited God & man within Himself. He restored the relationship between us & our Creator. Love is to define that relationship, not rules & regulations. If we love God above all things & love our neighbor as ourselves, then our relationships will be in perfect order.
The Law of Moses, or the Old Covenant, was mainly a ‘surface’ covenant designed to regulate outward human behavior. Yahweh responded to human success or failure, over against that standard. The New Covenant operates on a deeper level, concerning itself with what’s really happening in your inmost being. In it, Yahweh responds to the success of Christ on our behalf.
Jesus did pay the price for the sins of the world, successfully. It is finished. The New Covenant got to the heart of the matter with human beings, but it also facilitates in us a true understanding of God’s will, & of His actions in judgment & in grace. The Law helps us to relate to God & to His creation, but mostly in a superficial way. It can easily be faked.
The other problem is that we simply cannot keep the Law in any way, shape or form. So Jesus came to do that for us. He came to remove your cold & legalistic heart so the Holy Spirit might replace it with a living & loving heart. When we are emptied of ourselves & filled with Christ, then our energy will not constantly be absorbed by condemnation of others. Instead, our energy will be available for use by the Holy Spirit who guides & directs us in this New Covenant where the Law has already been fulfilled.
The Word of God & Baptism & Holy Communion, the three means of grace that our Lord has promised to work through, are there to empty us of ourselves & to fill us with Christ. May we always put them to use in order to receive the blessings that our Savior longs to give us. Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined with the light of grace that issues from Your holy face. Remove the power of sin from me & cleanse all my impurity that I may have the strength & will temptations of the flesh to still. Create in me a new heart, Lord, that gladly I obey Your Word. Let what You will be my desire, & with new life my soul inspire. Amen. LSB 704:1-3.
 Paul Reps & Nyogen Senzaki, compilers, “Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen & Pre-Zen Writing” (Tuttle Publishing, 1998), p. 19.
 Morna Hooker, “The Gospel According to Saint Mark” (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), p. 445.
 Much of the first 2.5 pages of this sermon are from a sermon written by the Rev. Charles Hoffacker, titled, “The Overflowing Tea Cup.
Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 16) LSB #’s 803, 790, 817:1-3, 5, 7
Text – Isaiah 29:16
You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
CREATION VERSUS EVOLUTION
“May the words of my mouth & the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our strength & our redeemer.” Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ that prayer is one I use occasionally as an invocation before I begin the sermon. I first heard it used in that way by a seminary student. It invites God Himself to be working through us by the power of His word. It struck me instantly as a prayer that speaks to the heart of what should be going on during a sermon.
Yes, the pastor is the one doing the preaching, but the congregation is to be completely involved as well. You should be listening, hearing & meditating upon the very words which God is sending you. The form of the prayer I used to begin the sermon is a slight paraphrase of the last verse of Psalm 19. I would like highlight how King David begins that Psalm:
“The heavens declare the glory of God, & the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, & night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, & their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4a ESV)
In other words, the heavens are even today preaching a sermon about the glory of God. Are we, as the congregation – listening, hearing & meditating upon the words of that sermon?
One thing that’s impressive about the night sky is the vast number of stars & yet the utter silence with which they speak to us. That combination declares the glory of their Maker to all the inhabitants of the earth. Culture after culture has recognized the awesome nature of the heavens & how puny mankind is by comparison. The Psalms tell us, “The heavens themselves testify to the righteousness & faithfulness of the Lord who created them.” (Psalm 50:6; 89:5-8; 97:6)
As a result, people who teach that the 1st two chapters of Genesis are simply mythology ignore the fact that many of the Psalms they cherish also declare that Yahweh is our Creator. People who love to read the Psalms, yet don’t believe God created everything in 6 – 24 hour days, are denying one of the basic messages that comes from the book of Psalms.
Depending on how you search, there are as many as 31 Bible verses which teach that God created the heavens & the earth. Those verses are scattered throughout Holy Scripture. So if a Christian is going to accept the teaching of evolution, they basically have to deny that the entire Bible is the holy & inspired Word of God. They can’t simply redefine the 1st two chapters.
Isaiah, a prophet who lived 800 years before Christ, gives the verdict on evolutionary teaching: “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’?…” (Isaiah 29:16 ESV) That is exactly the claim that teachers of evolution are making & Isaiah nailed it almost 3000 years ago.
About a thousand years after Isaiah, St. Peter warned of the same thing, but made sure to tell us that this attitude on the part of evolutionary teachers was a willful denial of our Creator:
I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago & what our Lord & Savior commanded through your apostles. Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth & following their own desires... They deliberately forget that God made the heavens by the word of His command, & He brought the earth out from the water & surrounded it with water. Then he used the water to destroy the ancient world with a mighty flood. (2 Peter 3:2-3, 5-6 NLT)
That Flood, which Moses recorded in Genesis, is another thing that evolutionary teachers adamantly deny. Yet, St. Peter connects the flood with the creation of the world, because both of them are the work of our heavenly Father. Denying creation clearly means denying the words of St. Peter, a man chosen by Jesus Himself to be one of His disciples. Those words of St. Peter, inspired by God’s Spirit, go out into the world & they do not return void or empty. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit creates faith through those words. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit renders judgment. The Word of God never fails at the task for which it was sent. To deny that word is foolish!
In Isaiah 29, the prophet was delivering a word of judgment to the nation that had been God’s chosen people. The leaders & the people had, for many years, been refusing to surrender or submit to the will of God. Isaiah compared their attitude to clay that said to the potter, “You did not make me!”
With their lips the people of Judah said all the right words, but their hearts were far from their Lord & Creator. Isaiah had been warning God’s people for many, many years. They refused to listen & now the prophet was describing the judgment that would befall them. The voice of God’s people would be as one from the realm of the dead:
“And you will be brought low, from the earth you shall speak, & from the dust your speech will be bowed down; your voice shall come from the ground like the voice of a ghost, & from the dust your speech shall whisper.” (Isaiah 29:4 ESV) If the people refused to honor the Words of God, then their very own words would become the words of the dead.
That so many people are teaching evolution, instead of creation by God the Father, is a clear sign of judgment from the Lord of the universe. The words of evolutionary theory are the words of the dead just like the voice of a ghost. Teaching evolution is a word & a meditation that is not acceptable to the Lord God, for it says He is a liar.
St. Paul directly connects the suppression of the truth, through rejection of God as Creator, to the immorality that is so prevalent in our country today:
But God shows His anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth & sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power & divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give Him thanks… So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile & degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie… Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, He abandoned them to their foolish thinking & let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior & gossip. (Romans 1:18-21a, 24-25a, 28-29 NLT)
If you follow the news at all you recognize those words of St. Paul in the lives of American politicians, our news media & the people in general. If the meditation of our hearts is acceptable in God’s sight, we also recognize the words of St. Paul in our own daily living. But not all is doom & gloom for where God brings judgment He also brings salvation.
Immediately after the sermon text Isaiah brings hope with words of the new day that is coming: “Is it not yet a very little while until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, & the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest? In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book,
& out of their gloom & darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.” (Isaiah 29:17-18 ESV)
Listen to the words of a book called the 1st chapter of the Gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, & the Word was with God, & the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, & without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life, & the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, & the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5 ESV)
Even as children of God darkness still lives in your heart & in mine, but our heavenly Father’s promise is this – that darkness will not overcome the Light of Christ. The prophet Isaiah, even while announcing judgment upon them, was calling God’s people to turn back to Him to be healed. Jesus Christ is longing to turn your heart back to Him.
You see, billions of years & the evolution of species, is a false teaching centering squarely in violation of the very 1st commandment. We are called to submit our thoughts, our words & our deeds to Yahweh alone. Human reason is always the lie. Consider this – what was so terrible about eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good & evil? Human reason would say that murder is a far greater sin. The travesty of The Fall, was not in the sin, but in Whom Adam & Eve sinned against. They rebelled against their Creator.
As Isaiah accused the people of Judah, “You turn things upside down!” Likewise, disbelieving the events of Creation is not such a terrible act, except for Whom it is that we disbelieve when we deny creation by our Creator. If you aren’t sure you can believe in a six day 24 hour creation, then submit to Christ as Ephesians instructs us to do.
Christians who teach evolution may honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him. They are teaching as doctrines the commandments of men, which is exactly what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for in the Gospel reading from Mark. If you didn’t notice, Jesus quoted those words from the OT reading in Isaiah.
There is no such thing as the purely ethical scientist who operates with no bias against our heavenly Father. If you remember, St. Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God.” Even to teach that God used evolution to create Adam & Eve is not a harmless sin. It undercuts the entire foundation of Holy Scripture.
The words of Psalm 19: “May the words of my mouth & the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our strength & our redeemer,” do not simply apply to sermons. They are valid words for every aspect of daily living. So consider meditating on these questions:
The “sealed book” of the text has been replaced by the “open book,” with the message of God’s love revealed, in Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, ascension & anticipated return. The promise of peace & the opening of eyes have been & will be fulfilled by the work of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace.
As one who was spiritually “blind” at birth I have experienced the Holy Spirit at work in me through the means of grace – God’s Word & Sacraments. “I was blind but now I see.” The promise of ‘peace’ & source of ‘joy’ are renewed by the very presence of our Lord in the bread & wine of Holy Communion.
By the work of the Holy Spirit through Word & Sacraments I believe that Jesus Christ will return to claim me & all believers. He will invite us to experience His presence, “life without end.” I anticipate being there with you. 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 has fearfully, wondrously made you, health has bestowed &, when heedlessly falling, has stayed you. What need or grief ever has failed of relief? Wings of His mercy did shade 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. LSB 790:1, 3, 6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet