Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mark 9


(audio link)

Jesus was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "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." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him.

…They did not understand the saying? What's not to understand? Jesus said is clearly, "You know all these people who've been less than friendly to me,-Scribes, Pharisees and what not - they're' going to come and take me and kill me. And I'll really be dead. For three days I’ll be dead. But then, guess what, death will not be able to contain me, because, after all, as you have confessed, I am the Christ."

So what's not to understand? Seems pretty plain and simple to me. This is no sticky parable or double entandra [sic] old testament quote. This is patently ordinary language. "Hey. Me, Jesus, the one who has come from the Father, I'm going to die, soon. I'm going to be murdered, because that's what must happen, that's what I came to do. But get this: my Father will vindicate me against my enemies by raising me from the dead. Pretty sweet action in the long run, though it does grieve me now until it is done."

…Yet they did not understand. Maybe when Jesus rebuked Peter in last weeks Gospel lesson, the disciples got the message that it wasn't a great idea to argue with Jesus, especially when he got in these depressed, death-prophesying moods. You know how it might have been, “Hey Phillip, don’t bother him. He’s been real touchy about that dying and rising thing. You don’t want to get called Satan like Peter did, do you? Not in front of the women! He’s the Christ, yes, but he's only human after all.”

Meanwhile, rather than dealing with these plain and simple, albeit slightly baffling words from the Son of the Living God, what better could the spare time on the road to Capernaum be put to then a little debate about which one of us is the greatest. Enough of all this highbrow theological stuff. Let's talk about what’s really interesting. Let’s get the focus back on us.

…But before we get too ahead of ourselves, taking easy pot shots at the disciples for their lack of 2000 years of hindsight, maybe we should slow down just a bit, because it’s one thing to scoff at the near-sightedness of a bunch of men who had the Son of God telling them plainly what the Truth was but who just couldn't manage to get out of their inculturated minds around it. What's not as easy to admit is that we, right here, right now, are not really any different.

We, here and now, have, as much as they had then, the very Words of the Son of God. Granted, for us, they're recorded in Holy Scripture rather than spoken by a man – unless you actually believe a faithful preacher speaks for God like the Scripture implies that he does - but either way, the Words of the Bible are nonetheless there for us, usually in plain, simple language. And they are spoken, every week, at the first high point of our Sunday service - real words from God, given to you and me, without the peskiness of a preacher’s interpretation. It’s weird though - I don’t see us on the edge of our seat, eagerly awaiting the revelation to come when the Old testament and the epistle are read. I know we stand up for the Gospel reading, (with a groan and a sigh), but it’s not hard to see what a burden that kind of devotion is to us. When we listening to Jesus speak, it’s much more desirable to lean back in our chairs, cock the head to the side, and hope that it doesn’t take too long, because, after all, we do have other things to get to today.

It really betrays how incapable we are of believing all of these words we hear anyway. We read along in our bulletin skeptically, scheming carefully to find that nugget which we might deign to approve of, and carefully aware of how often we have to forget what’s said as quickly as its read, lest it burden our conscience. “If anyone slaps you, turn the other cheek.” “If someone takes anything from you, do not demand it back.” Yeah right. “Come now you rich, weep and howl for the miseries coming upon you.” “Blessed are the poor.” Uh-huh. “Women should keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak.” “Have the young women marry, bear children, and manage their own households.” Hey, now preacher. I’ll let you tell me I can go to heaven because of Jesus, but I will not let you say that kind of thing as if it is actually true.

It gets even better. Who hasn’t questioned the seven day creation account, or the claim that Jesus turned jars of water in to the finest wine ever to grace the pallete, or the psalmist’s prayer “Add to my enemies punishment upon punishment, let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.”

What do you do with those words from Jesus that you don’t understand? What do you do when your mindset, your opinions and your cultural limitations, force you into conflict with Jesus’ words? Is it your first move to impose Jesus’ words upon your opinions and the world, to say to yourself, “Get behind me Satan,” and to abandon your mind to the simple faith which says, “Who has understood the mind of the Lord?” Probably not. It’s far more natural for us to tame and constrict the Jesus we’ll condescend to believe in. We much prefer to make him our kind of Messiah, the superhero who does things the way we would do them, whose thoughts are our thoughts and actions are our actions. We make our God a God who can’t be bigger than us, can’t impose anything on us, a potter who has no power over the clay.

Funny thing is, before we know it, we’ve not only questioned God’s word about women in society or the manner in which the world came to be, but we’ve also begun to ignore, if only in general, other, hard to understand words: words about death and resurrection, words about a cross and an empty tomb. We don’t always pull a Peter and deny them outright. Instead, we just pretend he didn’t say them, and focus our attention on those things which are more amusing to us, like, say, talking about ourselves.

And we are pretty great, after all, aren’t we? Even as a congregation, small though we are, we’ve had some glorious times, haven’t we? Look at us. We’re not like those people out there who don’t know they need to come to church every week. We don’t ever horde our wealth or spend our God-given money on excessive pleasures. We put at least something in the offering plate, even if it’s not really 10% of our income. That should count for something, shouldn’t it? And we’ve built a building. We’ve sold crafts for the poor. We’ve fought for the mindset of the mission. We’ve gathered food and cans. We’ve supported schools and made sure our kids went through confirmation. We may not be the greatest church ever, but we deserve to be respected for all we’ve done. We’ve worked hard. We’ve sweated and bled. Darn it, pastor, you’d better recognize just how valuable we are.

It’s about this point that our Lord turns to us and asks: “What were you talking about on the road?”

What have you been talking about for the last several years of wandering here in Perryville? Have you been mostly busy pondering Christ’s death and resurrection, or his second coming? Have you been struggling in congregational conflict over how we might give even more of our funding to service in the community, to overseas missions, or to supporting Seminaries? Have you been encouraging each other to live on less and less luxury in order to feed orphans and widows with more than a few boxes of cereal a month? Have you been vigorously debating how together you might give up all that you have in time, talents and tithes, for the sake of the Kingdom, in order to bring even one more cup of water to a child in my name? Have you taken vows of silence and repentance, to force yourselves to cease boasting of your own works, in order to contemplate the goodness of our God in Christ? Have you done nothing but pray, kyrie eleison, “Lord, have mercy”?

Do you want to really want to be first line at the judgment, eager to point to all of your hard works, to stack them in a nice little pile and see just how much you amount to? What will happen if God grants you that wish? The Greek word gehenna, which we translate as hell, was the local name for the garbage dump outside of town, where spontaneous combustion meant that the fires were always blazing. It was full of worms and maggots, and it stank like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

Do you think God needs even one of your good works? Does the Creator need the creature? He could raise up children from stones if he needed to be praised.

I have heard it said that we here in Perryville have sweated and bled for the Church. I have heard it said that the Church has been built upon our suffering and sacrifice. I have heard it said, and as a Christian this language has made me cringe.

Why? Why does such language frighten to the bones this preacher? We have built this Church with our blood and sweat. Our blood. Our sweat.

On the last day, when you stand before the white throne of judgment, upon which Jesus Christ Himself will be seated, as the eyes of all who ever lived look on while you are asked how you will plead for the time you’ve been given, will you really point to your blood and your sweat? What suffering and sacrifice will you claim as mediation for the moment on that terrible day? Will you point to your tithes and offerings? Will you point to the service you’ve done your neighbor? Will you really claim that you bled for the life of the Church? Will you say, “See, God. I demand that you recognize me for my value.”

If you do, he will. I ask you now. Please, do not be such a fool

Blood and sweat. The Son of Man was delivered into the hands of men, and they killed him. He bled. He sweated. And on that rock He has built His Church, made not from stone or by the hands of men, made not from merely human suffering or the sacrifices of possessions and time, sheep and goats, but made from the living blood of the Son of God, the perfect sacrifice of the spotless offering, the suffering servant’s painful sweat and tears and water which flowed from a pierced side in order to free us from that terrible danger of standing before the throne of God and getting what we actually deserve.

So far as this pulpit is concerned, you will never get what you deserve, and that is because, so far as your God is concerned, in Christ you will never get what you deserve. On the last day, all that you have done, from the building of this space to the possible construction of any other, from guilt-driven giving up of your money to the freewill sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise, none of the above will enter in to the picture of the final Judgment you receive from Jesus, and this is good, good news. You have been released from the restrictions of the arguments you’ve had along the road. You’ve been set free from the futility of your own blood and sweat. You’ve been covered with the most holy blood and the more cleansing water which are the testimony of the Spirit, whose testimony is far greater than that of men.

And this is that testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. I preach these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Beside that plain confession, it is only honest to admit that we kind of pale in comparison. The Son of Man was delivered into the hands of men, and they killed him. It was undeserved wrath for him. It brought undeserved grace for us. For when he was killed, after three days, he rose again. And we are in him. You are in him. He is the only thing that matters. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. Amen.

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