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Sermon for Pentecost 20

October 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Sunday 21 Oct 2012

Sermon on Mark 10:23-31

Note: A version of this sermon was submitted to the sermon archive at Goettingen University.

Click here for mp3 audio 52 Sermon for Pent 20.mp3

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading appointed for today from Mark chapter 10.

Probably the first thing we have to recognize it that our reading today is a continuation of the reading from last week’s Gospel, Jesus and the rich man.  What Jesus is teaching this week is based on that interaction last week.  So, if you weren’t here last week, let me catch you up.  “And as [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him,

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mk 10:17-22, ESV)

It’s easy to see how what Jesus says this week comes right after than interaction with the rich ruler.

“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”   And Mark tells us that the disciples were amazed at what Jesus was saying.  And to emphasize the point Mark tells us Jesus repeats what said.  “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!”  And then he adds the probably very familiar saying: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  Jesus is speaking in a rather overstated way here.  He does not mean to say that rich people don’t get into heaven.  And yet at the same time Jesus is speaking truthfully about something we have all experienced at one level or another, the power that money can buy.  Money may not be able to buy true happiness, but the truth is it can get pretty close and for most people, its close enough.  My son and I went camping last weekend.  This is the second year we’ve gone to this scout event.  Last year we stayed in a borrowed tent that was so drafty we might well have slept outside.  We were miserably cold all night long.  This year I spent a little money and bought a tent and a new sleeping bag and we were warm and comfortable all night long.  We both enjoyed both trips.  And there’s nothing like a little shared suffering to draw two people together, but I would not go back next year without our good tent.  Money can’t buy a good relationship between father and son but it can buy some comfort to provide for that relationship to foster.  This is point from a single story the next is the same point as evidenced by a study.

It was about this time last year that a study was released that proved money can buy happiness, at least up to a point.  People’s emotional well-being, that is what researchers call happiness, increases along a spectrum correlated with income up to about $75,000.[1]  Folks making less than that reported significantly less emotional well-being.  Folks making more than that didn’t report all that much more happiness.  Now of course, we’re talking about happiness and maybe that’s muddying the waters a little.  Jesus is certainly not a guru teaching about finding enlightenment or inner peace or perfect happiness.  Jesus came teaching about the kingdom of God and the rich man who came to Jesus wanted to be sure to inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God.  But the same thing that stands in the way of finding happiness in this life is the same thing that stands in the way of inheriting eternal life in the next.  The reason why people find a greater measure of emotional well-being when they have some worldly means is that they are in greater control over their environment.  Greater control means less stress and less stress means more happiness.  When you’re not stressed out over how to pay the heat bill, life is more enjoyable.  But let’s get to the root of the matter.  From where do the earthly means come?  The answer to this question gets to the heart of Jesus’ interaction with the rich man.

We are told that the rich man had great wealth.  Very rare is the one who realizes the wealth he has, he has because of blessing, unmerited grace, or as the catechism puts it, completely “out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”  (SC 2)  We are far more inclined to believe that we have what we have because we worked for it, we earned it, and therefore we deserve the blessings we have.  Yes, there are some lazy people who expect a handout but there are far more people who work and work hard and yet do not seem to find the same relative success in this world for their labor as others do.  This is life in the kingdom of this world.  The way this life works is just second nature to a man like the rich man who approached Jesus.  He wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.  As anyone who has inherited anything knows, you don’t do anything to inherit something.  In fact there is nothing one can do to inherit anything.  An inheritance is just that, nothing but given to the recipient.  A rich man who truly believes he has earned everything in his life will never understand that.

Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished.  When we hear such a saying coming from the mouth of Jesus we are inclined to just chalk it up to hyperbole, to overstatement for the sake of effect.  We especially think this way when we realize just how rich truly we are.  But then we do something awful.  We ascribe it to extremism and modify it and in a sense nullify it so that it loses the prophetic punch Jesus intended.  We say, “Jesus is just speaking for effect here.  He doesn’t really mean we should sell all our things or not be wealthy, he means that we should acknowledge that all we have comes from God.”  Okay, but that’s just step one.  Step two is actually helping other people with the blessings God, your heavenly Father, has given you so that through you, He blesses others.

In our country today, we have a conception of the faith that makes Christianity something one does to get their life in order and to be a better, more spiritual person and at the end of such a life we get to go to heaven.  Unfortunately that idea has little foundation in the Bible.  Instead Jesus is preaching something far more profound, the coming kingdom of God.  It is not defined in modern national identities but rather in the ordinary people all over the world who hear the Word of God and keep it.

Every once in a while a story makes the news about someone who sacrifices himself for the sake of another.  One such story came this year from the Ohio state finals track meet where Meghan Vogel came in last place in the 3,200-meter race because she helped one of her opponents, sophomore Arden McMath.  Mc Math had collapsed in front of Vogel and it was obvious that McMath couldn’t finish and so Vogel the other girl to the finish line despite facing disqualification.[2]  Stories like this appeal to us because they appeal to the truth Jesus taught about the last being first in the kingdom.  The kingdom of God is among those who know every meal on their table comes from the Lord’s table.  Every stich of clothing comes from the mill of the Lord’s hand.  Every roof is ultimately an extension of the Lord’s own home where He provides shelter from the storm and protection from dangers of the night.  The kingdom of God is among those who are the last in this world and who shall be first in the kingdom of God.  Any person who thinks all he has comes by his own hand is indeed first in this world and shall be last in the kingdom to come.

This is not overstated.  It is God’s own truth.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

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Sermon for LWML Sunday

October 1, 2012 Leave a comment

“Salted for Service”  Mark 9:49-50

Adapted from President Harrison’s LWML Sunday Sermon on Mark 9:38-50

Click here for MP3 audio 52 Sermon for LWML Sunday.mp3

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is from the Gospel for today.  “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. (Mark 9:50)  And the sermon is adapted from one written by Pastor Matthew Harrison the President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who put together the service materials for today, LWML Sunday.

The president of the Missouri Synod likes to tell the following story about his wife and himself.  “Not long ago, he and his wife had made a trip back to her hometown.  They had stopped at the gas station.  As he filled the tank, he noticed that his wife spent a long time speaking to the attendant.  When she finally got back to the car, he asked her, “Who were you taking to?  She said that it was an old flame.  President Harrison responded with “O really?” and a smirk.  “He’s a gas station attendant? Ha!  I bet I know what you’re thinking,” he said.  His wife said, “Yeah.  If I’d married him, he’d be the president of the Missouri Synod!”

This joke has a profound point.  Our wives make us men far better than we would be otherwise be.  In a similar way, “Salted for Service” the LWML has been a blessing for the Missouri Synod.”

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: this sermon is no merely obligatory but trite tip of the hat to the LWML.  The mission of the LWML gets to the very heart of who we are as Christians and what we are as the Church.  Though not all of you are members of the LWML, every one of you needs to know and believe what I am going to preach to you today.  Otherwise you will muddle pointlessly through life.  And worse, you may miss heaven altogether.

So what is it about salt?  Jesus makes us Christians “salty.”  And he’s salted us to season everything around us.  When Jesus says, “If salt has lost its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” he’s simply saying that salt cannot but be salty.  There is no such thing as unsalty salt.  Christians are salty and we’re salted for service.

I should probably stop right here for a second and explain salt in Jesus day.  There was ready access to salt by the people in Jesus’ day.  Not only along the shores of the eastern Mediterranean was the sea water evaporated and salt could be collected but also from the Dead Sea, the the most saline natural body of water in the world.  The water from the Dead Sea has a variety of salts in it, (e.g., magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride, sodium chloride).  Salt marshes are found at es-Sebkha at the southern end of the Dead Sea (cf. Ezek. 47:11), and the western side of the area south of the sea (as far south as 13 km. [8 mi.] south of the southern shore) is now dominated by salt pans.[1]  The interesting character about salt from the Dead Sea was that it could “lose its saltiness,” acquiring the alkaline taste of other compounds present as the sodium chloride was dissolved out.  At that point, it’s worthless and good nor nothing but to be thrown out.  Jesus is picking up on a very common understanding that everyone in His day knew about.

The Bible records these everyday uses of salt, to season food, to add flavor, to heal, to preserve.  Salt was even prescribed as part of the Old Testament sacrifices as a purifying agent.  Salt indicated kinship and was used to symbolize the peace between two parties in a covenant.  That’s why Jesus would mention salt and they say, “be at peace with one another.”

Back to the time just prior to the Reformation salt was used in baptisms.  There was an extended rite of exorcism where salt was placed in the mouth of the one about to be baptized to purify them.  It’s easy to see how this would get started and why it might continue for generations.  Jesus salts Christians.  He purifies them and prepares them for service.

Jesus came to purify you from sin.  He died to put your sins to death on a cross.  Two thousand years ago and eight thousand miles away, He accomplished your salvation.  It’s a done deal.  “It is finished.”  What He accomplished so long ago so far away, He doles out in the here and now.  He grabbed you by the neck in Holy Baptism and made His cross, death and resurrection yours!  Your sins are washed away!  And to what goal?  He did this so that you “may be His own, live under him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”  He’s salted you.  He’s salting you today.

And today we are not forgiven, not “salted” to live in sin and long for it.  We are salted to look forward.  We are salted to serve.  I think we often have what it means to be a Christian backwards.  We think we come to church primarily to offer God something, our obedience, our worship, our praise, in order to get some more points on the tally sheet in the book of life.  But that is the farthest thing from the Christian life of the Scriptures.  Church is first and foremost about God delighting in serving us!  God is the one doing something for us!  Jesus told us that He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for all people.  Let me put it very bluntly to you.  God does not need your good works.  He is not somehow more God when you do them.  Do you know who needs your good works?  Your neighbor does.  The Christian life is about being called to a life of following after Jesus in a life of service to others.  He serves us and so we serve others.  The Lord God Most High serves us this morning in His own house, at His own table and so we are prepared, we are salted to turn to our neighbor in love and serve him or her.  We are salted for service and this is precisely what we learn from the women of the Bible and the LWML today.

The LMWL is “salted for the service” of bearing witness about what Christ has done.  Lutheran Women in Mission.  They exist to witness to Christ.  Do you remember the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4?  Jesus says to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”  “Give me this water,” she says to Jesus. (Jn 4:10,17)  But then Christ confronts her about her many husbands and her current live-in boyfriend.  Jesus called her to repentance and faith.  And she, in fact, believed.  After Jesus “salted” her for life eternal, what did she do?  John 4:28 says, “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me all I ever did.  Can this be the Christ?”  And in verse 39 we read, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s witness.

The Church bears witness to Jesus!  The real art of reading the Bible is seeing ourselves in all of its characters—sinners, saints, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Often all these terms apply to one and the same person, just like us.  You are the woman at the well!  You are the one whose life does not square up with the demands of the Law of God.  You deserve hell.  You are the one Jesus calls to repentance.  You are the one forgiven.  You are the one who now bears witness to Jesus.  You are salted for service no matter who you are.

But where does that service take place?  The work of the LWML shows us exactly where.  Your witness takes place where God has put you—first and foremost in your family.  You are the witness to your children.  You are the witness to your grandchildren.  You are the witness to your siblings.  That’s why the LWML provides so many resources and Bible studies to strengthen women in the faith.  And from there, your witness is your circle of friends, this congregation, this community—just like the woman at the well.

Through the mites—the offerings of the women of the LWML—hundreds and hundreds of projects in our districts, in the Synod, in our partner churches around the world have been funded so that the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross is shared everywhere.  This has amounted to over a hundred million dollars in the life of the LWML.  In fact, we can say without exaggerating the worldwide witness of our church body would have been severely hindered without the faithfulness of the women of the LWML.  It’s  a simple fact.  Countless thousands know Jesus today because of the work of the LWML.  Now that’s salty service!

As well as witness, the women of the LWML are also salted for service in works of mercy.  Pastor Harrison tells about seeing this all over the world throughout his ten years working for Board for World Relief and Human Care.  He’s visited dozens and dozens of places and had a recurring experience like the one he had in Ambur, India.  There he was touring a large and bustling Lutheran hospital compound .  Literally hundreds of people were treated there daily—babies born and people cared for by pastors and deaconesses and medical staff.  And as rounded the corner of the walk, there it was a plaque on the hospital wall that said, “Built with the assistance of funds from the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.”  He says, “Every time that happens, he thinks of all the women he’s met over the years.  He thinks of all those faithfully filled mite boxes.  He thinks especially of those women now with the Lord.  And he says, he’s profoundly grateful.

If we were to stop the sermon right now and begin to list all the projects that the LWML is currently doing, it would quite literally take the rest of the day.  Throughout the Southeastern District, throughout the United States and throughout the rest of the world, the LWML is helping to care for the poorest women and children, fighting malaria and other diseases, assisting the addicted, providing care for unwed mothers and their children, and supporting crisis pregnancy centers.  And in those places Jesus is being shared with those in need.

The LWML is salted for service in our life together in the Church.  Don’t you find it interesting that Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”?  being “salt” brings with it a life together in the church.  St. John wrote: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 Jn 1:3–4)  John’s witness to Jesus created faith and spiritual bond with one another and joy.  As the LWML bears witness to Jesus, precisely the same thing happens.  Our life together is deepened.  The LWML helps us share one another’s burdens.  It strengthens the bond we have with one another, our life together in Jesus.  That common bond we share is one of faith and hope and love and it continues to grow.  This brings joy.

Finally the LWML is an example for all of us.  We are all “salted to serve”.  And how do we serve?  Forgiven by Jesus we bear witness to Him in our lives.  We care for those in need, just like He did.  And we live a life together of love and forgiveness.  And in all this service, through every joy and sorrow shared, there is joy.  It’s no wonder the motto of the LWML is Psalm 100:2, “Serve the Lord with gladness.”

May God continue to bless the women of the LWML and the entire Church on earth with such salty service.

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


[1] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 904.

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