Archive for the ‘Mark 9:30-37’ Category

Equal Footing

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

17th Sunday in Pentecost B, September 23, 2012
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. [Mark 9:35b]

These words are hard to receive because they are hard to understand; they are hard to understand because they frighten us by  demanding that we put the needs of others above our own needs.  We are afraid to do this because it requires us to die to ourselves and  live for Christ; they demand that we allow Christ to live within us and teach us.

These words are hard to receive because in them Jesus gives us wisdom from above; a wisdom that is completely opposite to the  wisdom of the world.  This morning Jesus is teaching us that the way to make it big, the way to be first is by receiving those who are  smaller than us.

How do we receive those who are little?  Well, in our gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37),what example did Jesus use to teach His disciples?  That’s right a little child.  He scooped up a small child and placed it smack dab in the middle of the room so that all eyes would be  focused on that little one.  And then, He simply said that “Whoever receives one (such as this child) in My name receives Me, and  whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” [vs. 37]

So, look at the least and discover your way to be first.  To receive the most, take the smallest.

Why did Jesus use a child to illustrate His teaching?  Well, because children were not given much attention back then.  You know the saying, “Children are to be seen and not heard!”  So by elevating small children and their small understanding of the world around them, Jesus is making a point that we must always be ready to receive people who may indeed be below us in not just age but also maturity and status.  But this receiving business isn’t simply opening your arms and taking an infant so you can admire and coddle them.  No, it is more than just a receiving blanket; Jesus wants you to take responsibility for the nurturing and mentoring of that one who is beneath you.

Think of the young couple who has just received their infant.  The father says, “We just had a baby,” even though it was the mother who gave birth.  The father gladly receives the baby from the nurse and coddles him and beams with pride.  But soon he gives the baby back to the nurse so he can make the necessary phone calls and hand out the obligatory cigars.

When mother and child come home, the proud daddy learns the art of diapering and feeding and promises his wife that they are in this together.  But after a few days, maybe even after a few hours, as B.B. King sang, “The Thrill is Gone!”  When the baby cries at 2:00 a.m. the father lies in bed pretending to be asleep and waits for his wife to get up.  Or, When the diaper contains a surprise that is obvious by the smell, he yells “Dear can you…?”

What happened?  Why is it only the mother who must bear the burden?  Because only the mother has taken to heart the words that to receive the child, that is to care for the child no matter the cost, is to receive Jesus!

In our world today, there are many who do not know Jesus.  When God brings them to us as individuals or as a congregation, they come with all kinds of selfish and sinful habits and ambitions.  They will be demanding of your time to the point of bitter jealousy.  They will exhibit selfish ambition and all kinds of vile practices; in essence, they bring with them the wisdom of this world; a wisdom that says only the strong and the best will survive.  If this worldly wisdom is allowed to remain within them they will bring disorder both to your individual lives and to our congregation.  So what are we to do?  Are we to send them away packing?  Are we to chastise them and demand conformity?  Well what did Jesus say?  We are to receive them as you receive a child; you are to receive them as a parent receives their infant.  You are to nurture and teach them; you are to take responsibility and serve them.  By this type of receiving you are receiving Jesus Himself.  Receive others as you would have others do unto you.  This is what James calls the “meekness of wisdom” in our Epistle reading. [James 3:13-4:10]

We are afraid of this teaching because its wisdom is the very opposite of what we learn in this sinful world we live in.  Here, in God’s Word, we learn that trying to be the greatest, that is to be first through selfish ambition, is to live outside of Jesus name; it is to be an enemy of God’s truth and an opponent to God’s wisdom from above.  That dear friends is not only wrong and sinful, “but it is earthly, unspiritual, (and) demonic.”

But we are afraid to hear this teaching, to receive it for another reason; it demands that we take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This morning, Jesus teaches us that as we “receive one” (such as a child in His name, we can expect to be treated as Jesus was treated; we can expect to be “delivered up into the hands of men.”

This was the second time that Jesus proclaimed to His disciples that He would soon suffer and die by the hands of sinful men so that He could save them.  While it was true that the disciples did not understand how that was a good thing, they also knew that it did not sound like the gospel.  They did not understand because they were still thinking with worldly wisdom and not with wisdom from above.   In their minds, suffering equals bad and comfort equals good!

We understand that also.  We seldom take risks for strangers because we all know that it can come back to bite us in the butt.  No good deed goes unpunished.  But in our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 11:18-20), Jeremiah understood this feeling.  He knew that by receiving and teaching sinful strangers he was opening himself up to a world of trouble.  The very ones that he was sent to save with the Word of God were the ones that would plot against him; they devised schemes saying “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” [vs. 20]

Jeremiah understood that it wasn’t really him who they were attacking but the Word of God.  It was the Word that they wanted silenced; a Word that pointed out their sin and their love of more sin.  Jeremiah understood, and if he could be here this morning, he would point you to one greater than he; one who is the true Suffering Servant that the sinners then and sinners today want to silence.

This morning, Jesus shows us that He is the greater Jeremiah, as He turns the prophets prayer of, “O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon (my enemies) for to you have I committed my cause [vs. 20], into “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And Jesus shows us how to be greatest by being least as He shows us how to trust God even in death with these Words, “Father, into Your hand I commend my spirit.”

Do you want to be great in the eyes of God even as the world thinks you are the least?  Then trust in and protect the truth of the gospel.  We trust in the truth of a gospel that points us to a Suffering Savior.  We trust in the truth which declares, that His suffering and death for our sins is the only way to please a righteous God.  We trust in the truth, which proclaims that His death upon the cross for a world of sinners was truly our own death when God’s forgiving love washed us and recreated us in the waters of our baptism.

And when we trust in this truth for us we are moved by the Spirit of God within us and our new baptismal nature to share that same message with others.  We share the message with others, because Jesus loves those little ones who are lost in sin.  He loves them however we find them; even if they are infants or elderly.  He loves them and calls all of them into the washing of the water and the Word.  He wants all of them to be washed clean and be received in the blanket of God’s forgiving love.

This is the message that calls each of us to die to sin and turn to Jesus for life.  It is a message of least and greatest.  It is a message that teaches each of us every day to die to ourselves and live for Christ.  It teaches that the way to be the greatest is to serve others so that Christ can be great among us.

This is the equal footing that we all stand upon.  We equally can’t understand this message of suffering and death, but we trust it and we let it come alive within us.  Each of us are equally afraid of this message, but we draw strength and courage from it as we gather around God’s Word and Sacraments.  Together, we equally see ourselves in a lowly and humble way; as empty vessels that God wants to fill with His divine grace and forgiving love.  And when God fills us equally, something interesting happens as we stand upon the equal footing with both young and old, mature and immature Christians; each of us discovers that our equal footing is really our true and solid foundation… Jesus Christ!  In Christ, or on Christ each of us are elevated high above this sinful world and the punishment that awaits it.  May God continue to give each of you more grace as you oppose the devil and your own sinful flesh; may God give each of you more grace as you cleanse your hands and your hearts.  May God give you more grace as you humble yourselves before the Lord, and then may your mourning be turned to joy as He alone exalts you unto eternal life… in Jesus name… AMEN!

Don’t Be Araid to Ask!

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

16th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2009
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 Our text this morning is verses 31 and 32 of our Gospel lesson.  “He was teaching his disciples and 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 were afraid to ask Him. [Mark 9:31, 32]

Why were the disciples afraid to ask Jesus what He meant when He said that He would be killed and after three days He would rise?  Well, for three reasons: First, because they did not understand.  Think about it, why would anyone want to continually predict their own death and not do anything to prevent it?  I mean, if you know what actions or activities are a threat to your personal safety then change your behavior, right?  But they didn’t understand that the Son of man is also the Son of God.  When God speaks it isn’t something to be discussed and analyzed as to its merits and faults, no, it’s something to be obeyed. 

 The second reason they were afraid to ask Jesus what He meant, was because they would not understand.  They had big plans for Jesus and His church.  Jesus was going to be their political savior, who would right all the wrongs in their world, and they would be there right along with Him in this new utopia as His most trusted allies.  No, what He was predicting wouldn’t mean victory, power and prestige, but instead, in their way of thinking, it would clearly mean defeat, weakness, and shame; no that wouldn’t do at all! 

 The third reason they were afraid to ask Him what He meant was the simple truth that they could not understand it until they experienced the cross.  Without the cross, all of God’s other plans could never make sense.  Without the sacrifice of His Son, there could be no forgiveness for the sins of the world.  Without the cross, there could be no resurrection, and without the resurrection, there could be no victory over sin, death, and the devil.

 Clearly, God’s way of thinking was not their way of thinking.  They needed to be adjusted.  They needed to be recreated in their spirit and mind, so that they could be part of God’s plan with confidence and excitement.  They needed the cross, and so do we.

 We need the cross because without the cross we can have no victory.  Without the cross we could never have confidence that our sins, our many sins have been forgiven.  Without the cross, we could never put to death our self-centered sinful nature.  Without the cross, God’s baptismal promise of new life in Christ could never be fulfilled.  Without the cross, the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit could not change us.  Without the cross, we would still be held prisoner by things like envy, pride, bitter jealousy, and selfish ambition.  You see friends; we really do need the cross because it is the power, God’s power to save us.  But like the disciples we too are many times afraid of the cross because the cross ALWAYS comes with a price.

 The disciples were afraid to ask because they were afraid of what it would mean for them.  They were afraid of how the cross would dramatically change their lives.  We also are afraid to ask God what the cross means for our lives, because we know that it will also mean change… real change; it will mean self sacrifice.  This is what we Lutherans have always called the Theology of the Cross, or simply living under the cross.

 This life under the cross is communicated and lived out in all aspects of our lives.  Through the cross we can sincerely ask a family member or close friend if we can help with some chore or task their doing and not be afraid that they will say yes, and then we are tied up for most of the day.  Through the cross, we aren’t afraid to ask our neighbor who’s lost his job if we can help them get by through providing for some of their food or clothing needs, and we aren’t afraid if they say yes!  Through the cross, you can boldly ask your pastor if there is some way you can serve in the ministry of the church, without fear of him saying yes.  And it is this same cross that moves you to boldly respond to one of the needs that he makes known to you.

 How can you have a happy life?  Go to the cross!  How can you be freed from worry and fear?  Go to the cross!  How can your life really make a difference to others?  Go to the cross.  But going to the cross frightens us, because we know that the cross requires us to surrender our own self interests and by faith live every day with a heart and mind that wants to be doing the things God wants done.  St. James teaches about this life under the cross in our epistle lesson this morning, “Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but it is earthly, unspiritual, (it is) demonic. [James 3:13-16]  “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, (it is) impartial and sincere.” [vs. 17] 

 Dear friends, God made peace with us by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for us.  Through the cross, Jesus death nailed every one of our sins to the cross… now and for eternity.  But that is not the end of the power of the cross, because with the cross comes life.  Through His death on the cross Jesus rose from the dead, proving that sin, death, and the devil had no power over Him nor over us.  Through the cross and then Christ’s resurrection came our promise of new life—A life without the worry of God’s judgment.  And through the cross came the fulfillment of God’s baptismal promise to us that He would give us a new heart.  A heart that freely and without fear asks God to give a cross. 

 Because of the Jesus’ cross friends, God has guaranteed us that we need never be afraid to ask Him for anything.  We can come to Him with all of our needs and know for certain that He always hears and answers us, but the first request we should always be bringing before Him is one for forgiveness. 

 We must confess to Him that we have been living a self-centered life.  We have been following selfish ambition instead of an ambition to do the things God wants done.  “But pastor” you say, “I do confess these things.  Why am I still living a life that seems to lack victory?”  Well friend, “You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive from God, because you are asking for the wrong things.”  Friends, instead of asking God to allow you to experience joy and happiness in your present life, why not ask for joy and happiness in a changed life—a life changed by the cross?  Many times we do not have joy and happiness because we are afraid to ask for our own cross. 

 Next time friends, when you confess your sins to God, instead of simply hearing the words of forgiveness in the absolution and then going about your happy way, ask yourself this question: “What does it mean to be forgiven?  How does this forgiveness impact my life?  Does it change my life?”  If the answer is no, then confess that also.  Be truthful with God, but don’t be happy just admitting that you fall short, ask Him to change you.  Ask Him to give you a servant’s heart.  Ask Him to give you a heart that gladly sacrifices its own self interest for God and for others.  Ask Him to show you your own cross.

 Finally fiends, we as a congregation also need to ask for forgiveness.  We need to ask for a cross too.  We need to ask collectively for a servant’s heart.  We need to be doing the things that God wants done.  What has God called us at Trinity to do?  “Simple” you say, “we’re to seek and save the lost!”  But what does that really mean?  Friends it means that we must be actively demonstrating the cross of Christ to everyone in all ways.  The cross is the very reason that we exist as a congregation.  We’ve been marked by the cross of Christ forever.  It is the very answer to the question that every church should be asking themselves: “Why do we exist?”  Why is Trinity here at 7210 Lisbon Street?  Friends, we are here to demonstrate the power of the cross.

 We are not here to serve ourselves, but rather to serve God and our neighbor.  We don’t have our own mission but instead we have been created, gathered, and sent to participate in God’s mission.  God’s mission sends us out into our community as His agents of healing and reconciliation in a broken world; we are sent out to share the love of God through Jesus Christ with everyone, everywhere, especially those who are right outside the doors of this church!  Friends, Trinity Lutheran Church is to bear witness to the redemptive reign of God in the world by becoming and being a community that demonstrates in life and ministry God’s grace, mercy, and peace in everything we do!

 Let me close with a story that I think demonstrates this point.  It’s a story about a lighthouse that was built on a cliff above a treacherous stretch of coastline.  Many ships crashed upon the rocks and many lives were lost at sea.  Eventually, it was decided to form a lighthouse society whose sole purpose was to tend to the light in order to warn sailors of the pending danger and save lives.  Very soon, the society became so effective that their stretch of the coast became known as the safest around.  After a while however, those who were members of the society became distracted with other tasks.  Some of them formed a social club so that members could enjoy one another’s company.  Others were involved in fund-raising in order to help finance the social gatherings.  And so they grew happy and content with their little society, until one day someone forgot to check on the fuel for the light in the lighthouse and the light went out.  Because the light was no longer warning the ships and only darkness remained on THEIR section of the coastline, several ships were lost at sea, and hundreds of sailors lost their lives.

 Dear friends, we as individuals and as a congregation need to always be reminded that we have been saved by the cross so that we can take part in the mission of the cross.  We need to be reminded that we have been saved, gathered, and feed so that we can be sent.  We need to remember that we have been sent with a mission—a mission to bear witness to God’s presence and to His wonderful work of reconciliation—being made right with God through the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  We need to be reminded that we are all called to participate in making God’s redemption—His work of forgiveness and love available to everyone, everywhere, while we lead a life that demonstrates that same redemption.

 If God’s mission to seek and save the lost, even you and me is what God is up to in our community, then each of us as individuals and as a congregation need to be asking, “What am I doing, and what are we doing to participate in a meaningful way in God’s mission?”  As we pray about this…as we think about it and discuss it, let us always remember that it is through the cross that we are saved and it is through the cross that we are always sent. 

Let’s pray now, and ask the Lord to do that work in us right now.  “Lord help us to remember that there is true freedom in asking for and living out a sacrificial faith.  Help us to always live through your cross and embrace our own, in Jesus name….AMEN!”