Tuesday, June 25, 2013

More amazement and more fear...

Mark 10:32:  And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him...

Amazed and afraid...  Over the years there has been a deliberate effort to remove all fear from God.  We have learned to treat Him rather casually and made Him an impotent God who can do little but acknowledge and affirm our own willfulness and desire.  His Church has become a mirror of what is trendy, popular, and entertaining.  We all know this.

But Mark's Gospel speaks of the rightful place of fear -- not simple fright but honest fear which is hardly the enemy of faith (the amazement or astonishment also hinted at in this verse) but the accompaniment to fear which grounds faith.

Worship is an arena of amazement and yet fear.  We come bidden but bidden by God to stand on the holy ground of His presence.  We come condemned by the Law for our sin and yet graciously received with arms of mercy and grace through Christ.  We come by the power of the Holy Spirit who makes faith possible and  yet as people whose own wills and desires have been transformed by the Spirit to seek and love that which is holy and pure.  Worship includes the amazement of faith's delight at the gracious God who loves to forgive and forgives whom He loves as pure and unadulterated grace.  But it is never casual and always we are reminded that the Lord who loves us is also the Lord whose is rightfully and righteously indignant over sin and well within His right to condemn us and every sinner.  We approach not as an act of our own will and volition but at His bidding, to meet Him where He has chosen to be present, with repentant hearts who believe and trust in His Word and promise.

Perhaps the greatest danger to us and to the Church today is the fact that mercy no longer amazes or astonishes us (we believe we have earned it) and we no longer have any fear of the Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal God.  With fear and amazement absent, we are left fully and finally to ourselves, to the pleasure deity of our creation and to the sacraments of indulgence and entertainment.

Part of the function of Sunday morning is to call us to amazement and fear, to restore the healthy balance within us, and to lead us upon the narrow path that Christ has marked for us to eternal life.  Perhaps the Church was too somber in the past but somberness is no synonym for reverence and the casualness so much a part of Christian worship today is not the cause for our joy and peace.  We have taken and trivialized, diminished, and rendered impotent the things of God that alone are eternal and all powerful.  In doing so, we have not rendered God powerless (no one can) but we have blinded ourselves to His power so that we are victims of our own delusions while at the same time still under God's judgment for our refusal to acknowledge Him as Lord and God.

Real amazement and fear are not the things that put us off but invite us.  We do not make God more accessible by coming to Him on our terms.  No, we do just the opposite.  We make Him inaccessible.  The call of God is to seek the Lord.  But the sentence does not end there.  We seek the Lord where and while He may be found.  Surely this is the very thing that moved Luther so often to begin an explanation in the catechism:  We are to fear, love, and trust...  Each word is not an enemy of the other but together the three frame the very nature of the God who has revealed Himself to us and how we are to approach Him (at His bidding)...

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Dear Rev. Peters, you write, “We come by the power of the Holy Spirit who makes faith possible and yet as people whose own wills and desires have been transformed by the Spirit to seek and love that which is holy and pure,” and then 3 sentences later, “We approach not as an act of our own will and volition but at His bidding, to meet Him where He has chosen to be present, with repentant hearts who believe and trust in His Word and promise.” Am I being picky when I think there is a contradiction here? Can both be true? In this regard, the words of St. Paul are clear, 1 Cor. 2: 15, “The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: 16 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”


You write, “Surely this is the very thing that moved Luther so often to begin an explanation in the catechism: We are to fear, love, and trust... Each word is not an enemy of the other but together the three frame the very nature of the God who has revealed Himself to us and how we are to approach Him (at His bidding)...” As English speakers we are the heirs of a defect in both the German and English languages. Luther wrote a sermon (given in the Parish Church of Wittenberg, 1515 , W2 XII, 1696), “Furcht und Ehrfurcht”, “Fear and Awe” in which he wrote, in part, “5. Therefore we answer the question, one thing is to be frightened of God, another to fear God. Fear is the fruit of love; but being frightened is the reason and cause for hate. Therefore one should not be frightened of God, but one should fear God, so that one does not hate the One Who should be loved. Because, as I have said, the nature of being frightened is to flee, to hate, to despise, and through that to detest, curse and to wish it into oblivion. Therefore, the fear of God is better understood as awe, as one sees with those whom we love, honor, and hold worthy, and we fear to insult them.” In both languages there is only one verb to indicate the action of “Fear” and “Awe.”; it is “to fear”. For this reason we do not distinguish between the two, to our detriment of understanding the Gospel.

I think it is clear that in Mark 10:32, the awe is directed at our Lord by His disciples. The fear is not awe, but genuine fear, not of the Lord but of what might happen to those who “were following”, if they should fall under the judgment of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, who were known to want to destroy our Lord. This fear is indeed the enemy of faith, because, as Luther writes in the same sermon, quoting 1 John 4:18, “there is no fear in love.”

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Lutheran Lurker said...

You are being picky.

"We come by the power of the Holy Spirit who makes faith possible and yet as people whose own wills and desires have been transformed by the Spirit to seek and love that which is holy and pure,” and then 3 sentences later, “We approach not as an act of our own will and volition but at His bidding, to meet Him where He has chosen to be present, with repentant hearts who believe and trust in His Word and promise.” Am I being picky when I think there is a contradiction here?"

Before faith we cannot act to exercise choice and in Christ it is not strictly our choice but Christ at work in us by the Spirit so that we are never acting alone.

Honestly, I have read the same posts you have and find you to be intent upon drawing something not intended out of what the good pastor has written.

Unknown said...

Dear Lutheran Lurker: you are absolutely right. But is one of those sentences addressed to those before faith? I made the assumption that both were meant to be said to the people sitting in the pews; that is, those already with faith.

I am not able to delve into the good pastor’s mind, nor is it my intention to, because that is to be judgmental. I can only react to the plain words which I read. As I read these sentences, I immediately thought of the words of David in Psalm 122, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go the house of the Lord.” I cannot conceive of going to church without joy. That’s what I missed.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart