Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Trinity 18 - Mark 9

(Podcast Action)

In the name of Jesus. What does that mean?

John said to Jesus, “Lord, we saw someone performing miracles in your name, and we tried to stop him.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him. The one who is not against us is for us.”

Hey, that’s the ticket. Therefore, anyone who does anything in Jesus name must rightly be called a Christian, right? From the Christian pornstar who sees his work as a ministry of love (and this guy’s really out there,) to the most flagrantly unscriptural teacher who nonetheless boasts “Jesus is Lord!,” we’re all part of one and the same cloth, right?

Then again, Jesus did also say that, “Every Kingdom divided against itself is laid to waste and it will not stand. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather, scatters.” And Paul did write that adulterers will not inherit the Kingdom (contrary to the porn stars belief’s), and Peter did write that false teachers who secretly bring in destructive heresies exploit the believers with false words, with lies, lies like, “in Jesus name.”

Luther once put it well. He wrote: Perverters of the Gospel …are prouder than anyone else of the name of Christ, and they claim to be the most sincere…..[In fact] the holier the heretic seems …the more damage they cause. For if the false apostles ….had not claimed to be ministers of Christ…and sincere preachers of the gospel, they could not so easily have undermined the authority of Paul” in the church in Galatia. Paul, who in near panic exclaims to the Galatians chapter 1 of his letter, “Even if [I myself] or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached, let him be accursed.”

So in Christ, the one who is not against us is for us. And the one who is not for us is against us, and on the last day, according to St. Matthew, many will say to him “Lord, Lord, did we not do many marvelous things in your name.” And, he will say, “Why do you call me “Lord” and not do what I tell you?” For as Jesus said, “It is he who comes to me and hears my words and does them that is a man who builds his house on a rock. But the one who hears and does not do them builds his house on the sand.” And the storms come and the storms blow, and that man’s house “falls with a great crash.”

In Jesus name.

What does that mean? It is indeed one of the hardest questions for the Church in our days of schism and division. It is a question of “ecclesiology,” that means, a question of the “study of the church.” It is the question “where is the Church?” How do we find her? How do we know that we are her? How can we say where else she is or is not? These are questions long forgotten in a land where the norm is to make our own “church” however we darn well please. “We just teach what the Bible says!” we say. But do you ever think to ask someone who says that, “Um…what does the Bible say?” I’ve heard it more often than not: “Well, you need to make a decision for Jesus, pray the sinners prayer and have a believers baptism, by water then pray for a special baptism by the holy spirit after which you will speak in tongues and receive many gifts and an abundant life.” “Um…where does the Bible say that specifically?” “Well, it doesn’t say that in so many words, but we know that’s what it teaches.” And there’s the problem.

Almost everyone congregation says they teach only what the Bible says, but not everyone is teaching the same things. This either means that the Bible doesn’t really say anything, and we’re all making it up, or that someone’s right, and someone’s wrong. And to throw a real wrench in the gears, we must recognize that anyone who claims to only teach what the Bible says and nothing else really is lying from the start, because it is impossible to, literally, teach only what the Bible says. To do that, we could never speak anything but quotes from the Bible.

I have here a Bible study from a group that calls themselves “Community Bible Study” or “Bible Study Fellowship,” which claims to only teach what the Bible says. From what I understand, they are very intentional about making sure that pastors aren’t involved in these groups, because apparently, (contrary to what the Bible says, I might add) we pastors tend to get in the way of what the Bible really says. So goes their teaching only what the Bible says.

But I’d like to read a little bit of it from the introduction to chapter six of the book of Galatians. It says: “Like several other epistles of Paul, the Galatian letter was sent to address existing problems in a first century church.” That’s true. But guess what. If you’re playing by the rules, that’s not “only what the Bible says.” The Bible never says any such thing, especially not in the letter to the Galatians. This is an external bit of information taught in order to help understand what the Bible says. And again, it’s true. But I’m trying to make a point.

You see, to only teach what the Bible says, the way such as these are making the claim that they do, we’d actually need to throw out all explanations, (not just those made by nasty old pastors,) not to mention, we’d need to get rid of creeds, history, hymns and just about all songs. We’d need to just sit and read straight through the Bible over and over again. And if my memory of history isn’t too far off, such things have actually been tried. Needless to say, they didn’t work out too well.

But that’s why, the Evangelical Catholic Church, we Lutherans, while we certainly claim without doubt that our faith is guided and normed by Scripture alone, we don’t really make the claim to teach only what the Bible says in such a way as to throw out all other books and knowledge, much less to throw out pastors.

That’s because, and here’s the nugget, in order to really teach what the Bible says, we confess in our own words what the Bible means. It’s not magic incantation. It’s Word made flesh. And it is unavoidable. Every congregation that claims to be the Church has a confession, even if they think they don’t. They confess when they teach. They confess when they preach. And they confess when they believe and act. The big problem with congregations in America is that many are so hung up on ignoring this simple fact of language that they refuse to write down what they say the Bible says, and so no one there really actually knows what they all think they believe. The result ends up looking something like ten men on a football field, each playing his own sport. They all say, “I’m playing football!” But one is playing soccer, one is playing rugby, one is playing lacrosse, and so on.

But the catholic way, the Lutheran way, is to recognize that you or I can say what the Bible says in our own words, kind of like this Bible study does from the start, even though they claim they don’t. More so, we relish the fact that there was a time in the Church when some such statements were actually universally accepted as true. Words like, I believe in God the Father, almighty, maker of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ his only son, our lord, and so on.

So, when we Lutherans teach only what the Bible says, we are not afraid of letting those who’ve faithfully said what the Bible says, teach us, even across time and space. We know that he who was for Jesus then, is for Jesus now, and so long as what he teaches is in accord with the Scriptural witness, it is therefore what the Bible says. It is the pure Word of God. Incarnate in us, living, active, at work, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now, this morning, I’m not going to pretend that that answers all the hard questions about ecclesiology, about the Church, about who is in and who is out. The devil is far too wily for that. Rather, this morning, it is instead my goal to introduce you to the great problem we face, and the one sure answer we have. But if you walk away a little confused about all that I’ve just said, then good. I’ve done my job. You see the problem.

He who is not for Christ is against him. He who is not against Christ, is for him.

So, how do we know where we are? How doe we know we are the Church? How do we know the name of Jesus is here in our midst, not just as a magic word, but as the working, active, Lord of the Universe.

The Church is here, and there is no mistaking it, for here we are unashamed of what the Bible says. We are unashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. More so, we do not merely preach God’s Gospel, but we love God’s law, and so we have the entire council of God, his pure Word here among us. We know that it is good to have no other Gods but the Lord. We know that it is good to sanctify the day by coming to receive the Sacrament. We know that it is good to tithe 10% of our income to for the sake of that Worship Ministry. We know that it is good to preserve the sanctity of human life, defending the defenseless. We know that it is good to feed the poor, even if they don’t deserve it. We know that it is good to abstain from adultery, from theft, and from the endlessly wicked wagging of loose tongues. And we know that, above all, striving after such perfection, we fall short. We each and every one fail. But we know that we do not fall upon ourselves. We fall cruciform upon the image of a cross, where we have already died in the body of our very Lord and God.

Here then, you see the Church, and this is what she is wherever she is: not a religious club or a voluntary banding together of like-minded pious people, but the creation of God through his word, made by the water and blood which spilled from the side of his dying Son. We, the Church, live and die with him, die and rise with him, are incarnationally bound up with him, like a body tied to the head, like a branch grafted to the vine, like hunger satisfied by the finest gifts hidden under wheat and wine. The true Church, the oneness that we confess we are every week in our Creed, is here, hidden with Christ in God.

Therefore, wherever what the Bible teaches about baptism being the power of God’s Word given in water to regenerate you, and wherever what the Bible teaches about the Lord’s Supper being the body and blood of Christ, given as food to cleanse you, wherever Jesus’ name is spoken not just as a catch-phrase or magic a prayer, but as the name of the man who rose from the dead for the justification of sinners like you and me in the courtroom of the last day - in that place, you can be sure to find the Church, because those things are what make the Church who she is. Those things make the one who is not against Christ, for Him.

As it was put well by one recently departed saint in the LCMS, “Those marks of words and sacrament tell us that we are the Church, that the Church can be found here, among us.”And while the outward body of the Church, to the eyes of the world, is utterly broken, torn by schisms and holy wars, constantly falling astray into fleshly passions and arguments, looking no more like the saving place of God than a bleeding man on a cross looks like God’s only begotten Son – no matter, for the Church is united by a common faith which is the gift and work of our Lord, not of us. That faith does not see what we are as sinners, but believes what we are being made by the Word and Sacraments of Christ.

Thus, if we will only teach what the bible says, then we will be forced to confess that the Church herself is ever dependent upon the cross. It is not ironic that in the very next chapter of Mark’s Gospel from our reading today, faced once more by Jesus’ words about hell and fire and just how many will be cast into that sea, the disciples become exceedingly astonished, and they say to Jesus, “Lord, then who can be saved?”

They have wrestled with the same questions we have faced today. They have seen just how hard it is to make the practice of theology nice and neat and tidy, that is, to make it run as if it were a fine engine rather then a cross. They see the problem of the cross, the problem of the Church, the inability of man to ever get it all just the way we should, and then they say,

“But Lord, if it is about whether we are for you or against you, then no one shall be saved!” I have to hope our Lord smiled as he turned to them and said, “With man it is impossible. But not with God. With God, all things are possible.” "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the pure preaching of the Word of God. Starting to get it? Good. That’s what the Gospel does. It gives it to you.

He died. He rose. And now, we eat and drink that reality, not because we are perfectly for or against God, but because He has shown himself to be perfectly for us. That’s what the Bible teaches. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. In name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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