Monday, October 11, 2021

Sermon for Pentecost 20: "Superficial Eyes"

 + 20th Sunday after Pentecost – October 10, 2021 +

Series B: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Hebrews 3:12-19; Mark 10:17-22

Beautiful Savior Lutheran

Milton, WA

 



 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

 

The author of Hebrews exhorts us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” In this Christian faith this is always true, especially when we look at the Scripture’s teaching on stewardship, as we’ll be doing these next few weeks. 

 

After all, everything in faith and life begins and ends with Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega. His words and deeds in these Gospel lessons, starting with the rich young man today, will lead us toward the fear, love, and trust in God above all else that puts every other thing in its proper place, giving us eyes of faith.

 

Jesus’ words with the rich young man in Mark 10 reveal not only his own sin but also ours. That we have superficial eyes. That’s the reality of our sinful nature, that all too often we see what we want to see when we look at ourselves. Problem is, this isn’t the right view of things in God’s eyes. After all, which is more reliable, God’s Word or our superficial eyes? 

 

This is why the Ten Commandments end and begin with the heart of man. The first commandment deals with faith; and the final commandments forbid coveting. Believing and coveting both originate in the human heart. Believing and coveting are more than thoughts, words, or deeds. Believing and coveting proceed from the depths of man’s nature; “out of the heart,” as Jesus says. To believe in God is more than simply thinking godly thoughts, speaking godly words, or doing godly deeds. So too,  coveting the world’s treasures runs deeper than the eyes, mind, tongue, or hands; to believe and to covet are fundamental yearnings of the human heart.

 

This is exactly what’s going on in our Gospel reading this morning. A man came to Jesus came seeking salvation, so Jesus began with the commandments. But did you notice…Jesus didn’t mention the beginning or the end of the commandments. Honoring father and mother, avoiding murder, adultery, stealing, and false witness were all listed, but Jesus was silent about believing and coveting. He listed the commandments that govern the thoughts, words, and works of man, but did not speak the commandments that govern the desires of the heart. Why? To reveal where the eyes of this man’s faith and desire were focused. Jesus is doing the same for us as well. 

 

You see, the beginning and ending of the commandments go straight to the heart of our life; they testify that above all else, man is a creature of desire. We hunger, thirst, and yearn. It’s another way of saying that man wasn’t created to be an independent, autonomous, or self-fulfilling being. No man is an island; no man is truly a rock. We are creatures of need. We need air to breath, food to eat, water to drink – and so on. To hunger means that food is a necessity. It is this necessity that is felt at the depth of our human nature.

 

Here is where we begin to understand the nature of what it is to covet. To covet is to believe, to desire, to need anything other than God. Coveting is not merely a superfluous want, and extravagant wish, or an impossible dream; coveting runs deeper than any thought, word, or deed. Instead, coveting is believing something to be a necessity. Coveting means that the need for God is overwhelmed by a need for something or someone else. 

 

The man in the Gospel is a picture of our covetous humanity. This man counts the wealth of this world to be a necessity, and makes himself a slave to this necessity. Coveting is the worst kind of slavery, for it is not a slavery that comes from outside of us. The covetous man is not enslaved from without, but from within. It is not unlike a fountain from which all sinful thoughts, words, and deeds proceed. It was desire that compelled Adam to grasp for what is forbidden; it moved Cain to steal his brother’s life; it inspired Jacob’s sons to persecute and sell their brother; it lead King David down the path of adultery and murder; and it compelled this rich man to reject Jesus and go on his way in sorrow.

            

“You lack one thing,” Jesus said, “go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” With these words, Jesus exposed the man’s heart. This man may have had righteous thoughts. He may have spoken righteous words. He may have done righteous deeds. But that is not what makes a man righteous. 

 

If we are to be truly righteous, then we must have a righteousness that reaches beyond the hands, the mouth, or the mind.  Indeed, we need the righteousness that penetrates to the very core of our humanity. We need a righteousness that creates a new heart, a new spirit, a new nature. This is the true righteousness that Jesus offered to this man when he called him to come and follow him in the way of the cross. In Jesus, God does not merely offer laws to govern the thoughts, words, and deeds of man; he offers his Son, who entered into human flesh and blood so that human flesh and blood would be created anew in his own image and after his own likeness.

 

Jesus is righteous not merely in what he thinks, says, or does; but even in what he believes, needs, and desires.  On the tree of the cross, humanity is fundamentally altered. Since it was at a tree that Adam filled man with a heart that covets, so now it is at the tree of the cross that Christ fills man with a new heart – one that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all other things. 

 

Jesus’ perfect righteousness is revealed in his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words reveal the depths of Jesus’ righteousness, for in this cry we see Jesus’ deepest desire, his most heartfelt yearning, and his greatest need. In the face of death Jesus does not cry out for life or breath, he does not yearn for vengeance or even an escape from his enemies; instead, Jesus simply cries out for God. His desire is nothing but the presence of his Father. For Jesus, there is only one necessity; there is only one need, one requirement for man – the presence of the living God.

 

“Come,” Jesus says, “take up your cross and follow me.” On the cross, Jesus keeps the beginning and the end of the law for you. Our sinful coveting is overwhelmed by Jesus’ righteous believing. The cross is the perfect worship of God, the perfect love for God, the perfect faith in God. On the altar of the cross Jesus offered his own flesh as the perfect sacrifice, the very flesh and blood you receive today from this altar. 

 

Here Jesus offers his own flesh and blood to be the one thing needful for you. Here Jesus’ righteousness becomes your justification; his holiness your sanctification; his life your resurrection. Here is true treasure the likes of which the world can never give. Here you are filled with an eternal wealth of God’s grace that fills your eyes, ears, hearts, and minds with the love of God. Here our Lord gives us eyes of faith that look to him for every good thing.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Funeral Sermon for Barbara Toma: "God's Own Child"

 + In Memoriam – Barbara Toma +

Job 19:23-27; 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; John 6:35-40

 



 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Every so often you hear a song on the radio or sing a hymn in church and in an instant you think of someone you know and love. Maybe it was sung at a funeral – like For All the Saints. Or maybe it was your first dance at a wedding. Whatever the occasion may be, sometimes people and a certain song just seem to go together, like a good four part harmony. 

 

Now, there are probably a lot of songs that come to mind when you think of our dear sister in Christ, Barb. But the one that came to my mind this week was the old Sunday School classic, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”

 

And what is true of our Lord is true of Barb as well. She loved her children. She dropped out of nursing school to raise them, care for them, and teach them the important things in life, like the finer points of the rules of baseball. She even earned a black belt in taekwondo, no doubt, in part, to protect her children.

 

Barb loved the children of her church family as well. From VBS to youth group, from Sunday School to preschool she lived and proclaimed, and yes, even sang, of Christ’s love for all his little children. I know my daughter isn’t the only one blessed to have had Miss Barb, as she called her, as one of her favorite teachers. 

 

Yes, Barb loved children. Something she has common with our Lord. And she loved children – not because she was childish – no just the opposite, because our Lord gave her his gift of child-like faith and trust in him and his Son Jesus.

 

Barb loved children because she herself was a beloved, baptized, redeemed child of God. On a winter’s day in Chicago our Lord adopted Barb by his grace. By water, word, and the Spirit, our Lord made Barb his own dear child. And it was this new birth from above that filled Barb – as it does for all you who are baptized – with the love, joy, and grace of our Lord Jesus. From that day on, and into eternity, Barb was, and is, and ever shall be a baptized child of God, as are each of you, baptized into the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus.

 

And that is why we have a song to sing. That is why we have love for others, especially the children God places in our lives. The joy, praise, and love are God-given gifts to us, just as our Lord gave those gifts to Barb. 

 

For Barb knew that when it comes to the Christian faith, we are more like children than perhaps we care to admit at times. We are completely, totally, utterly, each and every day, hour, minute, and moment dependent upon the grace and love of our Heavenly Father for this body and life, and also for eternal life. Is it any wonder that our Lord places a child in the midst of his disciples and declares, ““Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” 

 

That is why God sent his only begotten Son to become – of all things – a little child for Barb. For you. For all. In love and mercy God sent Jesus to become a child so that in him – his perfect life, his death, his resurrection – we might become children of the heavenly Father. The Father sends the Son. The Son lives and dies and rise again to bring us rebellious, wayward children home. 

 

That our Father in heaven would fill us, as he did Barb, with the hope and comfort of Job’s words. I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in[c] my flesh I shall see God.

 

 

That our Father in heaven would strengthen us and console us with the coming resurrection of the body for Barb and for all his children, as Paul proclaims, “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 

 

That our Father in heaven would deliver his word of peace and promise to us in his Son Jesus. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us. That we – Barb, you, me, and all the baptized – should be called children of God. For that is who you are. That is who Barb is. 

 

I say, “is” because this is the way of things in our Lord’s family. Just we tell our children – you are always my little girl, my little boy. So too, God is always our heavenly father. Jesus is always our Savior and brother. And you are God’s children. Today. Tomorrow. And every day as we await the great family reunion of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting. Until the resurrection…

 

The grace of our + Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Sermon for Pentecost 18: "Hard Sayings"

 + 18th Sunday after Pentecost – September 26, 2021 +

Series B: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Beautiful Savior Lutheran

Milton, WA

 



 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark 9 features a triple play of difficult sayings from Jesus. 

 

First, Jesus says, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” Words that could easily be misunderstood to turn Gospel into Law.

 

Next, Jesus goes on to say “if your hand causes you to stumble, cut if off.” These words too, are easily misunderstood, or all too easily dismissed.

 

Finally, Jesus closes the 9th inning off with a serious curveball. “Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you salt it? Have salt in yourselves, and peace at peace among one another.”

π

What does Jesus mean when he says these words? Let’s find out as we walk our way through these verses together. 

 

Our reading begins with John and the disciples. They’re troubled and confused. Again. As John reports, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name,[f] and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 

 

This episode is a replay of today’s OT reading from Numbers 11 where Joshua is troubled by Eldad and Medad prophesying back in the Israelite camp. Last week the disciples argued about who’s the greatest within their own circle. This time they’re troubled by those outside their circle. Whoever this exorcist was, the disciples saw him as “the outsider.” Not part of the club. The inner circle. The cool kids table. They fell into the age-old habit of our sinful flesh, seeing some people as insiders (where we want to be counted!) and others as outsiders.

 

Jesus, however, tells his disciples, Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.”

 

The key to Jesus’ words here is that phrase, “in my name.” In the kingdom of God, there’s no room for the insider/outsider way of seeing people. The kingdom of God isn’t a clique or a secret society. Christ’s kingdom doesn’t come for only the cool kids. In fact, the Gospels tell us it’s just the opposite. Jesus eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus comes for the sick. 

 

And while Jesus’ words may leave us and his disciples feeling a little defensive, that’s not Jesus’ intent. Quite the opposite, it is meant to show exactly how important Jesus’ disciples – then and now – are to him.

 

Jesus says, the one who is kind to you, as in giving a cup of water, because you are in Christ, will not lose his reward. Now, this Gospel could easily be turned into Law. But notice that Jesus isn’t focused on the giving the drink – as if he were saying, “do this and be rewarded.”. Rather, his focus is on the one receiving the drink and how precious that one who is in Christ is to God. That’s his disciples. That’s the unnamed exorcist. That’s you. You are precious in God’s sight because you are in Christ. 

 

Remember what our Lord says, that when a kindness is done to a fellow brother or sister in Christ it is done to Christ himself. That’s what’s going on here. You are worth so much to God that someone who cares for you is rewarded as caring for Jesus.


You see, our worth in God’s eyes, in Jesus’ eyes, is not whether or not we are the greatest. Nor is it whether or not we are with the in-crowd, but that you are in Christ. Your worth, your value, your identity is in Jesus. His death. His resurrection. His name.


That is why Jesus says the next difficult thing. That he wants no one – especially you to cause you to stumble and be lost. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.


And what about that bit about cutting off our hands and feet and plucking out our eyes? Does Jesus want us to do that? Of course not. Jesus uses a bit of hyperbole to teach the seriousness of stumbling – that is, to trust in ourselves instead of Christ. 


But even here, in this difficult section, Jesus reveals how much you are worth to God. Jesus warns of stumbling because he doesn’t want that happening to anyone – including you. You are worth so much to God that Jesus will speak in the greatest extremes to warn you from falling away. In fact, you are worth so much to God that Jesus takes the millstone of our sin and throws it around his neck as he hangs on the cross for you. All so that you will not be lost.


That brings us to Jesus’ last hard saying. Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”


Salt is used in a variety of ways in Scripture. As seasoning. A preservative or purifier. A means of destroying land. Part of the sacrificial offering. How are we to understand Jesus’ salty metaphor?

Everyone will be salted with fire. Fire is often associated with God’s presence. Think burning bush or Pentecost or Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross where he undergoes a baptism of fire. Jesus is promising to preserve and purify us in his sacrifice of the cross. His sacrificial death is what salts us. The salt here, is also you. You, Jesus says, are good because you are in him. Salted in him. Joined to his dying and rising. It’s a warning and a promise. Nothing of our own can make us good. And yet in Christ you are good. Good salt.


“Have salt among yourselves and be at peace among one another.” Because you are in Christ, you are in fellowship with those who believe in his name. Jesus isn’t telling us to get salt in order to have fellowship; he’s saying we have it. It’s his gift to us. All because we are in Christ who came to us, died for us, rose for us, and brought us into his name by water and the word.


That is how much you are worth to God, that he sees those who care for you as caring for Christ himself. You are worth so much to God that he doesn’t want anything or anyone to cause you to stumble away from him. You are worth so much to God that he sent Jesus to be your atoning, purifying sacrifice for sin that salts and seasons and preserves your life in his name. 


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

 

 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Sermon for Pentecost 17: "Greatness in Weakness"

 + 17th Sunday after Pentecost – September 19, 2021 +

Series B: Jeremiah 11:18-20; James 3:13-4:10; Mark 9:30-37

Beautiful Savior Lutheran

Milton, WA

 



 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

 

If I say the word greatness, I imagine every one of us begins to form a picture in our minds of what greatness is. Hockey has the Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Basketball has Michael Jordan. And so on. 

 

It seems from birth, we’re hardwired to think this is way. Greatness is good. Bigger is better. Greatness is winning, not losing. Strength, not weakness. Power, not mercy. Being Master, not servant. If you’re not first, you’re last. This is greatness in the eyes of the world.

 

Not so fast, says Jesus. In the kingdom of God, greatness looks completely different. 

 

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

 

In the kingdom of God greatness is found in littleness; in the humility of the God-man born in a manger and suffering on the cross. In the kingdom of God God’s strength made perfect in weakness. Jesus’ cross is his greatest glory. Jesus’ defeat is our victory. Jesus’ death is our life. It’s a great reversal of cosmic proportions. And it’s enough to make our heads burst. 

 

So you can appreciate disciples’ shock as Jesus says these words. Jesus’ normally talkative and inquisitive disciples are surprisingly silent. Speechless. “They did not understand Jesus’ words,” Mark tells us. Not only that. They were afraid to ask him. 

 

Why were they afraid? Mark tells us. they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.

 

Crickets again. A painful, glaring silence. On the one hand you have Jesus predicting his own selfless, self-giving, humble death on the cross. On the other, Jesus’ own disciples arguing like ESPN talking heads about who’s the greatest. It’s no wonder they were silent, and afraid. Jesus had revealed their own selfishness and pride. 

 

Jesus’ words do the same for us as well. There are no spectators in this story. There’s a little group of disciples within each of us arguing over who’s the greatest. Scripture reveals the ugly truth about us, just as it did for the disciples. That we are in fact the greatest. We’re great at quarreling, desiring, and coveting. We’re great at comparing ourselves and our sins to others. Great at being selfish and self-serving. Great at putting ourselves first and others last. Great at loving ourselves more than God and the least, lowly, and lost ones. Oh yes, we are great indeed. Great, big, poor miserable sinners.

 

If anyone deserves the title Greatest of all time, it’s not us, or the disciples; it’s Jesus. And yet, Jesus turns our notions of greatness completely on their head. 

 

According to Jesus, greatness looks like the Son of Man being delivered into the hands of sinful men. Greatness looks like Jesus, the One who is greater than all, who became the last, the lowly, the least, and the loser on the cross

 

In Jesus crucified, weakness is greatness. Losers are winners.  The lowly are exalted. The last are first. Sinners are justified freely.

 

To illustrate his teaching, Jesus placed a little boy before the disciples. “Aww, how cute”, we say. But we have to remember that children weren’t idealized or honored in the ancient world. Their social status was no different than a slave or servant. They were helpless, dependent, nobodies. In this way, we are that child: completely and utterly dependent upon God’s mercy to us in Jesus. 

 

True greatness, you see, isn’t found in our greatness, or our humility, or our anything at all for that matter. Greatness is found in Jesus who though he was the greatest, yet for our sakes became the last. Greatness came to us in the weakness of a child born of a Virgin in a manger in Bethlehem, and in the humility of the Suffering Servant on the cross. Greatness comes to us ordinary bread, wine, water, and words that do as Jesus declares: give the greatest gift of all: forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

 

In the kingdom of God, the picture of greatness is found in weakness. In the God who became man – a child in our midst – that through him, through his suffering and death – we might become children of God. Greatness is seen in Jesus the man of sorrows and the cross. In the Servant of all who gives his life for as a ransom for his enemies. 

 

Do you want to be great in God’s eyes? Then you must become small and insignificant. Do you want to be a winner in the kingdom of God? Then you must become a loser in this world of winners “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

 

Like that little child in the midst of the disciples – utterly helpless, utterly givable to, utterly dependent on God’s mercy. To be a child of God, baptized and believing, is to lose your life in order to save it, to become nothing so that Christ can be everything, to die in order to rise, to be joined to Jesus in His death and life.

 

You see, in the kingdom of God, greatness looks far different than greatness in the world, but also far, far better. Greatness is the manger where Jesus was born for you. The cross where Jesus was crucified for you. And the bread and wine where Jesus comes to you, feeds you, forgives you, and pours out his greatness in humble bread and wine for you. 

 

Lord, help each of us to be great in the way of your cross, your sacrifice, and your humble, self-giving love. 

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Sermon for Pentecost 16: "Religion is for the Weak"

+ 16th Sunday after Pentecost – September 12, 2021 +

Series B: Isaiah 50:4-10; James 3:1-12; Mark 9:14-29

Beautiful Savior Lutheran

Milton, WA

 



 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

 

A good friend of mine who’s a pastor spends a lot of time on college campuses and public spaces sitting on a bench or a table with a little sign next to him: Religion is for the weak. As you can imagine, the sign evokes an array of responses. From the atheist who says “right on” to the more fundamentalist scowling. But for the discerning one, there is truth in these words. As the old Sunday school song goes, I am weak, but Jesus is strong.

 

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

 

For many the picture of faith is like the old SNL sketch with Hanz and Franz who are here to pump you up. The biblical reality, however, is far different. Look closely at the lives God’s people, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Elijah, Jeremiah, Paul, Peter and the disciples, and what do you notice? Great faith in Christ to be sure. But also great weakness. And, above all, the greater grace of God that covers everything and everyone.

 

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

 

Those are the famous words spoken by this unnamed man in Mark 9. Jesus comes down from the mountain of transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, only to find confusion and chaos. The scribes and crowds arguing with Jesus’ disciples. 

 

This man’s son was possessed by a demon. He had even asked some of Jesus’ disciples but they were unable to cast it out. Jesus’ answer seems a little harsh. “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 

 

To whom is Jesus speaking? Who’s the faithless generation? Is it the scribes? The crowds? The father? Even his own disciples? In reality, it’s probably the whole lot of them. 

 

As Jesus often does in his teaching and conversation he pushes people to confess their faith, to reveal where their hope and trust is found. Is it in him, or in themselves? What about us? Where is our faith anchored? This also may be why the disciples were unable to cast out this particular demon. Perhaps after casting out demons in Jesus’ name they began to trust in themselves rather than Christ. In any event, Jesus presses on. 

 

“How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 

 

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” God can do anything He wants. That’s not the issue. The only issue is if He’s willing. The man should have said, “If you are willing, have compassion on us,” just as we pray “thy will be done” because we don’t know what God’s will is for any particular circumstance other than our salvation. But it’s not a matter of whether Jesus can do something, but only if He is willing to do something. And faith is open to all possibilities. 

 

That’s how we can pray for a miracle and go to the doctor and accept a sickness all at the same time. Nothing is impossible with God, and all things are possible for one who believes. That doesn’t mean that we get everything we want if we believe hard enough and in the right way, but that faith is always open to every possibility because with God nothing is impossible. In other words, faith looks to Christ, not to ourselves. 

And that’s where Jesus has been leading this man. To this confession. To these words. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

 

You can’t say it any better than this. He is simultaneously believer and unbeliever. This is how faith sounds – I believe Lord, and only you, the author of my faith, can deal with my unbelief.

 

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

 

It’s a prayer, a confession, a creed, and a picture of our Christian life all rolled into one memorable verse. Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief

 

That is our table prayer,

Our bedside prayer

Our office prayer

Our going-to-the-movies prayer

Our 24/7 petition.

Lord, I do believe, but I also don’t believe.

I am a cocktail of contradictions: 

Double-hearted, forked-tongued,

Pulled heavenward and hellward.

I fear you but I also fear failure.

I trust you but I also trust myself.

I love you but I also love the limelight.

Lord, I am a saint and a sinner,

 

Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief

 

With those words, this father brings all our weakness and stumbling, all of our doubting and grumbling, all of our reticence and running and sets it before Jesus... and Jesus is a Savior who has come to save. A bruised reed, He will not break. A smoldering wick, He will not snuff out. A weak faith, He will not deny. Jesus has come to die for all people; those who are strong in faith and those who are weak in faith and those who have no faith at all. When Jesus dies on the cross, He dies for the sin of unbelief so that, when He rises, He brings forgiveness to all.

 

The magnificence of this miraculous event is what it reveals about Jesus. Jesus holds on to people even as they are letting go. Faith is a relationship with the One who is strong enough to save. It is not about how tightly you hold on to Jesus but rather how tightly He holds on to you.

 

Yes, this is a story about Jesus casting out the demon and healing this man’s son. But it’s so much more than that. It’s also the healing of this man’s unbelief and struggle to believe. It’s also a story for days when our life and faith in Christ feel more like a teeter totter or a tug of war than anything else. And on those days, in those moments when we pray, Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Know that he does and he will. 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Sermon for Pentecost 15: "All Things Well"

 +15th Sunday after Pentecost – September 5, 2021 +

Series B: Isaiah 35:4-7; James 2:1-10, 14-18; Mark 7:31-37

Beautiful Savior Lutheran

Milton, WA

 





 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

As a kid I loved reading the Indian in the Cupboard books. Little plastic toy soldiers, cowboys, and Indians would come alive. More recently our family has enjoyed the Toy Story films or the Night at the Museum movies. The toys, characters, come to life. 

 

Reading or watching that kind of story makes you wonder, wouldn’t it be something if the story and its characters came to life…if the very word you read or heard came to life?

 

Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in Mark 7. As this true story unfolds, Jesus opens a man’s ears to hear for the first time in his life. But this man’s ears aren’t the only thing opened when it comes to Jesus. In Jesus, what he says happens. In Jesus the Word of God comes to life and brings life. And not just to this deaf mute man in the Decapolis. But for you. Jesus comes to open and bring in a new creation for this man and for you and for all.

 

Then Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 

 

Before Mark gets to the miraculous healing, he drops a little hint of its significance. In the Scriptures, geography is almost always theological. Not only what happens, but where it happens is significant.  

Jesus in the region of Tyre, Sidon, and finally the Decapolis. This is Gentile territory. Jesus is bringing his new creation, his good news, his salvation, his word that comes to life and brings life – to the nations. To all people.

 

And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

 

Imagine the isolation this man must have felt. A life without words. A life where communication was difficult, if not impossible at times. I imagine for this man silence was not golden but left him feeling terribly lonely and lost. Perhaps he longed for words to come to life in his ears and on his lips.

 

Thankfully wherever you find the lost and least and last ones, that’s where you’ll find Jesus. 

 

And taking him aside from the crowd privately…After all, Jesus didn’t come to be a traveling magician sort of Messiah. Not to be a spectacle, but a Savior.

 

So Jesus proceeds. Like a good director, St. Mark deliberately slows down pace of his narration. Jesus put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. Sounds strange to our ears, but it was common for rabbis and healers to use a little spittle and physical touch in their care. More importantly, this whole scene is a reminder that Jesus is not afraid of his physical creation. He loves it. Jesus is the God who loves to get his hands dirty in saving creation. Jesus is a hands on kind of Savior. Just as he formed and fashioned Adam and Eve out of the earth and a rib, the Creator in human flesh puts his finger in the ear of his deaf man to heal him. 

 

And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 

 

Ever wondered why Jesus sighed? It’s a sign of the past, Israel sighing/groaning in the wilderness. It’s also a sign of things to come. Jesus sighing as he breathes his last breath on the cross. A foreshadowing of the day Isaiah foretold later on in vs. 10 of Isaiah 35. A day when sighing and groaning will have gone away. A day when creation and we along with it, will come to life…all by the Word of Jesus.

 

Now in the Decapolis for this deaf man, that day has begun. And now, for you in Jesus, that day has begun too. The new creation has arrived. The future promise of eternal life has broken into the present in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. 

 

Jesus speaks an Aramaic word. “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” That’s all it takes from Jesus. A word. The man’s ears were opened, his tongue released. He could hear; he spoke plainly. In that man’s ears, Jesus’ word came to life and brought life. 

 

Miraculous to be sure. But this is more than Jesus revealing his divine power. It’s the Old Testament come to life. What Isaiah foretells, Jesus fulfills. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” These were messianic signs. Signs that the kingdom of God had come, the age of messiah had dawned, the forces of darkness and death had met the match and were defeated. At long last, the Son of David had arrived bringing with him a new creation in his life, death, and resurrection. 

 

Signs that leads us to the greatest sign of all, the cross. But all of that hadn’t happened yet in Mark 7 in the Decapolis. So that’s why Jesus charges this man and his friends to tell no one. He wasn’t finished yet. He hadn’t breathed His last great sigh. “It is finished.” 

 

The seal of deafness is not the only one Jesus comes to break. For on the third day, after all his suffering and rest in the tomb, Jesus had a new and better ephphatha to complete. Jesus came not only to open the ears of this deaf man, but to open the grave for all people. He came not only to loose this man’s tongue but to loosen death’s grip on you. To deafen the devil. To silence the grave. To mute your sin forever. To get his hands dirty with our sin. To be a hands on Savior with his outstretched arms on the cross. To make good the bad creation. To heal the wounded creation. To bring life where there was death. To open. In Jesus, the Word comes to life for you. 

 

Jesus’ ephphatha is your ephphatha. His empty tomb foreshadows your own. When he comes again in glory with all his angels, with the final trumpet call and the glorious shout of victory, then the dead in Christ will rise. He will say the greater ephphatha to all the graves of his people.

 

When God completed his first creation he looked upon everything that he had made and behold it was very good. He had done all things well. When Jesus healed the deaf-mute man, the crowds echoed Genesis 1. He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

 

And what was said then will be said for all eternity in the new creation. “He has done all things well.”

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Sermon for Pentecost 14: "Holy in Jesus"

 + 14th Sunday after Pentecost – August 29, 2021 +

Series B: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Ephesians 6:10-20; Mark 7:14-23

Beautiful Savior Lutheran

Milton, WA

 



 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

 

Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,  since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” … And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 

 

Whether he knew it or not, Oscar Wilde perfectly illustrates this in his famous book, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s not hard to understand the picture Wilde is painting. In his story an artist named Basil Hallward meets a handsome young man named Dorian Gray. Hallward is impressed by Gray’s physical appearance and paints a portrait of him. In the course of the story Dorian Gray comes into contact with a friend of Hallward’s – Lord Henry Wotton - whose worldview revels in beauty and sensual desire. This, in turn, causes Dorian to realize the fleeting nature of his own beauty; he thinks that if only if only his portrait would age instead of him, he would sell his soul to do so. 

 

And that’s exactly what happens. In a magical twist, not only does his picture age, it also begins to take on the changes and appearance wrought by all the wicked acts Dorian starts to commit. Gray goes through life looking beautiful and perfect on the outside while his picture becomes hideous and disfigured, an embodiment of the evil within. Thinking he was pretty as a picture Dorian Gray was in fact ugly as sin. 

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a perfect picture of Jesus’ teaching here in Mark 7. “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,  thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

 

What starts out as a conversation about the kinds of foods Jews could or could not eat to remain ceremonially clean quickly turned into a much deeper teaching from Jesus. 

 

Last week Jesus’ teaching dealt with things external (the washing of hands and so forth). This week Jesus deals with things internal (our unclean hearts).

 

Last week Jesus dealt with washing hands, saucers, and couch cushions and how the Pharisees had made a religion out of cleanliness. This week, Jesus deals with the dietary laws and all the restrictions in view of the same religious types who believed that “you are what you eat” in the sense that if you ate something “unclean” (bacon wrapped scallops, for example) you would be unclean, unholy, and unfit to appear before God.

Once again, Jesus turns the tables on his hearers. “Not so,” says Jesus. In fact, it works the other way around. “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” It’s not about what goes in but what comes out. 

Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled? 

 

Jesus is giving his disciples a little bit of a biology 101 lesson. Our bodies digest and filter out the good stuff from the food we eat while the rest is, to use Jesus’ polite word, expelled. It never touches the heart. And when Jesus is talking about the heart he’s referring to the seat of the will, where we determine what we will think, do, and say. Food doesn’t touch that. Jesus jumps from biology to theology.

 

Here’s what defiles us: what comes out of our heart. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,  thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 

 

If those words don’t make you uncomfortable, they should. Not a one of us is left standing after that. Oh sure, we can try and pass the blame on to someone or something else. We can try and avoid our sin. We’ll even try and deny it. Just like the picture of Dorian Gray revealed his great evil within, Jesus words reveal the ugly truth. Where does all the evil in the world come from? Not from foods, but from within. From our heart corrupted to the core by Sin. 

 

When there is no hiding place from our sin. When there’s nowhere to run away from sin. When all we are left with is empty hands. Where do we go? Not to our heart, but to the one who is greater than our heart. To Christ who gives us a new heart cleansed. Holy. Alive in him. Jesus is our hiding place. Jesus is our rest. Jesus takes all our sin – all our evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,  thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness – he takes it all into his hands on the cross. And into our empty hands he gives us himself. His body. His blood. His purity. His holiness. His very life for you.

 

Ordinary food can’t fix an unbelieving heart. 

 

But there is a food and drink that will. Our Lord’s body and blood that we receive. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”  

 

Here is heavenly, food that is holy and makes you holy. Here is ordinary bread and wine filled with an extraordinary promise: Jesus’ body and blood given for you. Here is a food where you truly are what you eat – forgiven, cleansed, holy in Jesus.

 

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.