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September 30, 2012 @ 4:22 pm

Pentecost 18

The Gospel text for today follows directly on the heels of our Gospel from a week ago. It is a continuation of the same conversation between Jesus and his disciples. If you recall last week’s Gospel, Jesus set some time aside with his disciples because he was teaching them some very important and foundational things that had to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, namely that the Kingdom would be realized and initiated and founded upon the sacrifice that he had come to offer through his death on the cross. Jesus instructed his disciples that he, the Son of Man, would be given into the hands of people who would kill him. But after he had been killed he would be raised.

Now, for Jesus, this event was everything. This set the stage for everything he had come to accomplish. This was the sum and substance of his Ministry. It was the entire purpose for why he had come. Everything that he had to teach them was built off of this one single event. Everything he had in mind for them to do after he was gone was built around the cross. It was the foundation, the lynchpin. With it everything makes sense and holds together, without it the whole thing falls apart.

So when Jesus instructed his disciples about his upcoming crucifixion, he hoped the disciples would understand, that they would see the pattern he established. The Kingdom of heaven is not a kingdom of glory for this world, it’s a kingdom of forgiveness and life for the next. It’s not a foundation of earthly power, it is for power over Sin and Satan and hell. It is not a means to personal glory. It is a means to personal sacrifice in the interest of mercy and love and service and forgiveness all for the sake of salvation Jesus would win on the cross. This is what Jesus hoped the disciples would take away from his teaching.

They didn’t.

In fact they missed that message completely. Because the very first thing they did was begin and argument among themselves as to which one of them would have the greatest personal fame and glory when Jesus finally ascended to his throne in his kingdom. They couldn’t have been more off base. If the target was to the north, they were aiming south. The missed by a mile. Jesus told them so. They still did not understand.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus just got done telling them that whoever wanted to be first must be last of all and servant of all and that they should consider themselves to be servants even of the lowest of the low. But then one of the disciples, and Mark tells us who it was, it was John, he comes to Jesus bragging that he shut somebody down who had been casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Apparently there had been some unapproved or unsanctioned demon casting and John thought it was necessary to put a stop to it.

Now, it’s apparent from the text that Jesus was not so much in favor of John’s actions. But if you think about it, maybe John had a point. Maybe there was a good reason that he did what he did. I mean, you can’t just have people going around casting out demons. Didn’t this guy realize there were procedures to follow? There was a Casting Out Demons Committee that was a subcommittee of the Powers of Darkness Board that sat on the Discipleship Council. Not one of them had been consulted. He should have submitted his request in writing and then at the next subcommittee meeting they could have all sat down, discussed it, decided who had the authority for the action, planned the menu for the pot luck dinner afterward and made sure everything happened according to the constitution! But this? Just taking unapproved action? What did he think he was doing? You can’t just go around willy nilly casting out demons. Who did this guy think he was?

Turns out John and the disciples were a lot like us. We get so bent out of shape when it comes to the policies and procedures that we put together. We get so worked up over who has the right to do something or not to do something that we lose sight of the mission. We lose sight of the Gospel. We lose sight of the fact that this whole thing, this whole entire operation that we call Church is all about God’s mechanism for forgiving the sinner and healing the wounded and restoring the broken.

Luther famously said, “The Cross Alone is our Theology.” That fits right in with what the Apostle Paul said. We have been studying 1 Corinthians in Bible class – if you haven’t been coming you should– he said “We have resolved to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified.” The cross, salvation, the sacrifice of Jesus for sinners to set them free from Satan, this message at all costs, throw it all to the wind let it all come to nothing if only we can share that message with but one sinner, if only we can set one captive free, if only we can heal one more wounded, if only we could bring one more to repentance and faith. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. We come together to seek and save what? Ourselves? Our agendas? Our carved out section of St Paul Chuckery power? That’s our Old Adam talking.

You see Jesus calls us together into His body. We are one. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. The Body of Christ. The New Testament calls it koinonia, fellowship, or if you are familiar with our Missouri Synod emphasis and focus of “Witness, Mercy, Life Together”, it is the Life Together. We are all bound to one another.

In response to John’s rebuke of a fellow disciple, Jesus offers this.

“If anyone causes the least of these to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

We are called to be responsible for each other. Caring for each other. Focused on the benefit and well being of one another. John had been concerned for the outward structure. John did what the world does, what our Old Adam does – who’s in, who’s out. Who’s included, excluded. Jesus said, “No, don’t divide. Don’t drive a wedge. And don’t cause each other to sin. Because if you do, if by your concern for yourself, for your power, your prestige you destroy another person, you will be judged and it will be better for you to have been drown with a millstone around your neck. So don’t do it. Jesus underscores this point.

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter heaven with one hand than to go into hell with two. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter heaven with one foot than to enter hell with two. If you eye causes you to sin, gauge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter heaven with one eye than to keep the eye and enter into hell with two.”

This of course is what we call hyperbole. Over stating your case to make a point. We use this device in our everyday speaking all the time. “I’m so hungry I could eat or horse.” “Traffic was so bad, the entire state of Ohio must have been out on the road.” Things like that. But the point is there. We make our own issues, our own thoughts our own ideas, our own agendas so important that we allow them to lead us to sin. And then in our sin we lead other to sin.

We do it in our life together. We sin against each other and in the hurt and the offense that we cause them, we lead them to sin. We injure them so that they are filled, not with the joy of the Gospel but they are filled with grief and bitterness. And in the wounds that we have caused Satan comes to rub salt in them. He comes to cause them to sting and he keeps those wounds open and bleeding so that they continue to cause pain. So that he can stir up thoughts of bitterness and revenge.

Don’t you see how your actions can lead others to sin? Jesus says don’t do it. If your sin, if you are so tempted to sins of pride or selfishness or anger, if you have an agenda that you just can’t let go, Jesus says cut it off and throw it away. If you are holding on to some bitterness, Jesus says cut it off and throw it away. You are better off to enter heaven without it than to enter hell with it. It just is not worth it. Let it go.

You see, Jesus ties us together as Christians. He knits us together into one communion and into one community. WE are organized together around the Gospel. Around Jesus. Around forgiveness and mercy and love and honor and respect and self-sacrifice and service.

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give himself up as a ransom for many. This is what Jesus has done for you. And this is what Jesus call you to do for others.

In the name of Jesus.

Amen.

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September 24, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

Pentecost 17 Mark 9:30-37

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September 17, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

Pentecost 16 - Mark 9

Today our theme for our service focuses on the teaching and training of children. The Education of children is something that virtually all people value.

Martin Luther once said, that there is not greater gift you can give your child than an education.

Socrates, the philosopher from Ancient Greece said that the unexamined life is not worth living. In order for one to consider the value of one’s existence the proper training of the mind is a necessary thing.

Truly education and study and learning are of worth and are of value. It fashions and forms and shapes the minds of our young and provides for them a framework for understanding the world. Training the minds of our youth provides information but also forms habits and behaviors and patterns of thought so that they can be successful in life. An education is of great value.

There is value in training the young that is encouraged, not just in the secular world, but also according to the faith. Scripture teaches parents to teach and to train their children.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy the Lord commands: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

Solomon wrote: Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

The Apostle Paul wrote the Ephesians: “Fathers… bring up (your children) in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

Clearly training the young is a command given to us by the Lord. So we do. Our congregation, in obedience to our Lord, has made it a value and a priority to fulfill this command to instruct our children in the faith.

We do this every week in our Sunday School program. We have lay people who take their time and put forth effort to instruct our children. They teach them Bible stories and lessons so that they know what the Bible says, so that they can read through the stories or hear them and they can pick out the promises of God that point them to Jesus and his death on the cross and salvation. Our Sunday School teachers perform an important work in the lives and the hearts of our children.

We also train our children in our day school program. This is an important work. We provide faithful Christian instruction that provide a Christian point of view on common academic subjects. This is important. We also teach young minds to understand the world and see the world as a God’s wonderful creation. To view it wide eyes with joy but also with interest and intrigue to be studied and understood. We also train and equip them with the intention that they will be prepared to interact with a faithless and unbelieving world. Do not discount this work. If a child starts in preschool at age 3 and stays here at St Paul up until the 7th grade, by the time she graduates she will have spent just over 10,000 hours in the tutelage and influence of a Christian teacher in a Christian education environment. That is good.

That is good, especially considering the education she will receive when she heads home at night. Now I am not talking about the education from her parents. What I am talking about is the training she received, piped in to her eyes and ears by way of various form of media.

Did you know, that the average child from the ages of 8 to 18 spends about 7 hours per day in front of some sort of an electronic screen. He or she is either on the computer, watching tv or movies, playing some video game, or with an iPod for on average 7 hours per day. If that is the average, over the course of one year that works out to 2,555. In 4 years she will have spent as much time with her flickering lights as she will have spent here at St Paul in class.

Now that is not necessarily bad, right? It all depends on what your child is watching and what media he or she is consuming. 10,000 hours of Sesame Street or the Wiggles isn’t all bad. But then your child starts to grow and mature and moves on to more mature programming. Nickelodian, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, and so on and so forth. But then we have to admit and acknowledge that this might not necessarily be a good thing.

You see, in a general way we observe and then lament the direction that media is going. We can see the increasingly rapid pace of its slide into indecency and obscenity. But still, it finds its way into our homes and just as much as Mrs Becker and Mrs Picklesimer and Mrs Dellinger and Mrs Lape and Mrs Vollrath and Mrs Winle teach your children about the world, so does Sponge Bob and HHH or the Osbournes.

There are statistics that are kept for incidences of sex and violence, etc on television. And those who keep track of those thing have documented the rise in depictions of sex and violence in the media. The result is staggering. Did you know that the average tv watching teen, by the time she turns 17 will have consumed almost 60,000 hours of media. Within that 60,000 hours she will have witnessed over 200,000 acts of violence in the media? 200,000? That’s incredible. We see that all the time and we don’t think too much of it. We don’t think it affects us, but it does. We just don’t realize it. It affects our behavior and our thoughts and most importantly in affects our conscience. It affects our ability to understand and distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.

Consider all those violent actions that your son or daughter will see. How much of an affect do you think they will have? “Not very much” we usually say. Think about it like this, Do you remember the first time you saw a murder depicted on screen? What affect did it have? You probably don’t remember, but I bet you were shocked. Shocked to see it. Shocked to see what it would look like if one human being purposefully took the life of another human being. Maybe you were disturbed. Your conscience was injured. You couldn’t believe that something so terrible could actually happen. What happened the second time you saw this? Where you as shocked and disturbed? What about the 3rd time? What about the 100th time? What about the 100,000 time? By the time you have seen this over and over and over again, you don’t even notice it. Your conscience gets calloused to it. You become so accustomed to seeing horrible things that you don’t even realize that they are horrible. If that is true when it comes to violence, it is just as true with sex and with bad language and other sins. The more we see that sin depicted in our media the less we think it is that big a deal.

Over and over again, when I talk with people who have stopped coming to church, they work to convince me that in spite of the fact that they do not come to worship, when it comes to their spiritual life nothing has changed. They still believe, that they are still strong, that they still have faith. Everything is ok. I believe there is a connection here. I believe that Christians living in todays world are susceptible to the opinions and ideas of unbelief because those opinions and ideas are so overwhelmingly present in the fabric of our culture. They are everywhere. And because they are so present and prevalent today’s Christian needs more than anything else training for their conscience. Training that teaches them where to go and what to do to combat this flood of obscenity and violence that is continually attacking them. Believing that we are strong and that we are handling it just fine is not going to suffice.

I believe the man in our Gospel text had it right. His family was attacked by Satan. He saw it and he knew it. Every day he had to pull his son out of the fire, out of the water as this demon tried to destroy him. And this father, rather that just getting used to it and thinking to himself, “well there he goes again” realized that he was fighting a war that was too big for him. So big in fact that he feared it was even too big for Jesus. “If you are able to heal my boy” said the man.

Jesus confronted his fear. Jesus addressed his insecurity. “IF you are able? All things are possible for the one who believes.” The thing that makes us ready and equipped for battle in this unbelieving world is faith. And not mushy general faith in something or worse faith in yourself (we are always hearing that we just have to believe in our selves – that wont ever work) We must believe in, have faith in Jesus. This wise father knew his weakness. He cried out to Jesus, “I believe, Help my unbelief.” This father understood that there is no such thing as a strong Christian. There is only a strong Christ.

You see, true faith and truly strong faith does not mean that you are strong. It does not mean that you know the right words to say or the right rituals to perform. Faith is not magic, it is not manipulative, it is not muscular. It is weak and pathetic. It is fearful and timid. It is sinful and overwhelmed. It is reduced to zero, but faith, true faith that looks only to Jesus finds comfort and joy in one’s own weakness. Because it is in my weakness that I turn only to Jesus. It is in my weakness that I look to stands in the presence of Jesus regularly and often. True faith looks to receive from Jesus as much as he has to give as often as Jesus will give it. Faith depends on Jesus.

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” (Jeremiahs 17:5-6) Self reliance and self strength gets you nowhere.

But-

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiahs 17:7-8)

And so the difference has to do with where you are planted. Are you planted by your 60,000 hours of media? By your 8-10 hours a day of TV and internet and gaming and music? Or are you planted by the streams that God has caused to run through the desert – his life-giving, Spirit-inspired Word?

You have a green sheet of paper in your bulletin. On that sheet you will find a pattern for daily devotions. Invocation, Psalm, Catechism, Scripture, Prayer, Collect, Creed, Benediction. It will take you 30 minutes. Could you perhaps decrease your 8 to 10 hours of daily media consumption to spend 30 minutes with the Lord? Could you spend time in prayer with your savior? Could you take them time for devotions? The Lord will reward that time. The Lord talks about His Spirit that he gives through his Word as a spring of water that flows through the heart of the Christian.

In Revelation 21:6ff Jesus said “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Jesus said to the Woman at the Well, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 14:13-14)

We live in a hostile world that tries to take the Word of God away from us, like squeezing water from a sponge. We live in a dry and desert world, whose scorching heat would vaporize the spirit right away from us. But there is a stream. A rushing river that flows with the life giving Spirit of God. And those who are planted beside it, who wash in its water and sink their roots down into it effervescent flow, they grow up to be strong and nourished and they bear fruit and a harvest for the Lord.

The wise father came to Jesus in his weakness and he received the joy of his faith. You too. Come to Jesus. Be where He is. Be planted beside the Scriptures. Let the Word of God flow through you with the Spirit of Life. May that fountain well up in you to bathe you in the grace and glory and the goodness and the love of God.

Amen.

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September 9, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

Pentecost 15 Mark 7:31-37

They brought a deaf man to Jesus.

The man couldn’t hear, (or could barely hear). And you know how it is – if you can’t hear what the words are supposed to sound like, you can’t make the sounds yourself and so the man couldn’t talk. He was mute. He couldn’t talk and he couldn’t communicate. So they brought him to Jesus. And they wanted Jesus to lay his hands on the man. They wanted the hands of Jesus to touch this deaf and mute man.

Jesus’ hands were healing hands. And so he took his hands and he brought the man off by himself, away from the crowd and he stuck his fingers in the man’s ears. Imagine what this must have been like – how it must have looked. How it must have felt to have Jesus’ fingers in your ears. And then, as if that wasn’t strange enough, Jesus spit, reached into the mans mouth and grabbed his tongue. And then… He looked up to heaven and Jesus groaned. Some texts say that he sighed, some say he groaned. He let out a low guttural sounding moan. And then… he said - whether to the man or to his ears, I don’t know, but Jesus commanded them to “be open”. And they were.

What strikes me when reading this text is just how strange this event would have been. Imagine it. Jesus grabbing a hold of the man, sticking his fingers into the mans ears, spitting, grabbing his tongue, looking up to heaven and groaning…

Jesus is not the first to groan, you know. Jesus is not the first person, the first person in the Bible, to groan. There are others.

Jeremiah the prophet talks about women in childbirth letting out a groan as they give birth to their first child. You moms could probably relate to that. (Jeremiah 4:23)

Ezekiel talks about the groan of soldiers wounded on the battle field. (Ezekiel 26:15)

We all know about the suffering of Job – that he lost all he had, his wealth, his possessions, his children. And then he lost his health. And Job says, “Today my complaint is bitter and my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.” (Job 23:2)

And so people groan. Women groan in child bearing. People groan when they are wounded or injured. People groan when they mourn the people, the things, the circumstances that they have lost and that have left them empty. People groan.

And Jesus groans. Here in our Gospel text from St Mark, Jesus lets out a great, deep, heart-felt sigh as he looks heavenward to pray. Jesus groans and there is comfort for you in that groaning of Jesus.

You see groaning is something that happens in a bad world. Groaning is a response to something that has happened or that is about to happen that you wish wouldn’t happen. Something bad. My kids groan when they have homework or chores to do. People groan when the alarm clock goes off and they still want to stay in bed. People groan when they suffer a loss or learn of some bad news. Groaning is an expression of despair and suffering. There are times when the suffering is so great there are no words, or there is not strength, there is nothing to do but groan. Groaning is something you and I do when we suffer. Groaning is a reality in this broken and sin stained world.

But Jesus groaned. Perfect, sinless Jesus grabbed hold of this man, grabbed his head, put his fingers in his ears, pulled out his tongue and Jesus groaned. Makes you wonder why Jesus groaned. Maybe they were old friends, maybe this was an old acquaintance. Maybe Jesus knew him. But he didn’t. Mark doesn’t give us a name, an identity. He leaves the story as quickly as he enters it. He was just some guy, no one of consequence. Or was he? Is he? Is there such a thing as “no one of consequence” with Jesus?

Jesus saw his suffering the same way Jesus sees your suffering. While so many others pass by without a word, without knowing or understanding or even caring, Jesus pauses, takes the time to stop, take you aside, treat you as you apart from the crowd so that he knows and understands and feels you suffering and pain. And he feels it right alongside you. There is no such thing as “no one of consequence” with Jesus. Your pain is Jesus pain. Your struggle is Jesus’ struggle. Your grief is Jesus’ grief. And so when Jesus saw this man, unable to speak and unable to hear, Jesus prayed for him with a groan.

Jesus prayed. He looked up to heaven and with deep compassion he prayed that the father would heal this man. And the Father did what Jesus asked. The Jews remarked rightly when they witnessed what Jesus had done, that he does all things well. Because Jesus did do things well. When Jesus was baptized, that same Heavenly Father to whom Jesus was praying here spoke from heaven saying that this was his beloved son. Not only were the people pleased with Jesus, the Father was pleased with Jesus because of what he had done. And so when Jesus prayed for this man, because the Heavenly Father was pleased with Jesus him, the Father gave heard him. Jesus commanded the man’s ears to be open and he commanded his tongue to be let loose. The man could hear and he could speak as clearly and as plainly as any one of us.

And Jesus does that for you also. Jesus prays for you. Jesus sees your heart, you suffering, your grief, your loss and Jesus feels mercy, he feels sympathy, he feels deep concern. And His ears are open to your prayers. He listens to them to each one and he carries those prayers with him to the throne of his heavenly Father. He lays each one there and the Father listens. Just as the Father listened to Jesus’ prayer for this deaf and mute man, the Father listens to the prayers of Jesus on behalf of you. And the father responds. So that Jesus gives his command. The devil who harasses you and torments you is restrained. The illness that would take your life is held at bay. The danger and treachery that would invade your life or your home is warded off by the Lord’s angels. The temptation that would overcome you is given an escape route so that you might get away. The Lord is good. He answers prayer. And when your prayers falter, when your prayers fail, the Lord Heavenly Father hears the prayers of His son. His son who groans.

There are groans in the Bible. The Word of God is filled with groaning, but not just as descriptions of grief and despair. There are groans that are also words of hope and promise.

Our Old Testament text is from Isaiah 35. Verse 10 from that chapter gives a word of hope and a joyful word of promise.

It begins with words that point to Jesus. The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame man shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute shall sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:5)

This describes the work of Jesus to a T. Jesus’ ministry was a healing ministry. Better than any doctor or therapist could ever be, Jesus took away illness and impediments and disabilities. Blindness, deafness, the lame and mute. All were healed by Jesus. He reached out his hand he grabbed hold of those who were suffering and he took it away.

But there was a price to pay. Those illnesses didn’t just happen. Disabilities don’t just occur out of the blue. God didn’t make a world like that. Those things happen only in a world where there is sin. Those things happen only in communities and populations where people are sinners. And we are all sinners and we all bear that guilt and responsibility. As long as we populate the earth there is no end to the suffering and grief that are bound to occur. And so Jesus heals that too. Jesus heals that especially. That is the whole point. Don’t just take away the symptoms of the problem. Take away the cause. Deal with the sin and the suffering will go away too.

And so that is what Jesus did. He took not just the blindness and deafness and muteness, he took the sin. Your sin and he carried it to the cross. And he paid its price and he suffered its penalty and he died the death that was earned as a result of it. And now Jesus is alive. Your suffering, you grief that he carried to the cross, he left it there. He defeated it there. He earned victory over it there. And now he lives. He lives to set you free from your suffering and to give you hope that all grief and groaning will end for good forever.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come home to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing/groaning shall flee away. (Isaiah 35:10)

That is what the Prophet Isaiah wrote and that comes true for you in Jesus. He died for you. He rose for you. He lives for you and your sorrow and grief are on the run.

Amen.

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September 5, 2012 @ 7:27 am

Pentecost 14 Mark 7:14-23

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