Friday, July 13, 2012

Reject the words and You reject the Word...

The sermon for Pentecost 6, preached on Sunday, July 8, 2012.

    We are well accustomed to challenging the wisdom and methods of those who serve us.  Politicians and government have been fair game for a long time.  We all think that we could have done a better job than those now in the statehouse or congress or White House.  It is a small step then to say we think we could do things differently and probably better if God would let us be in charge.  We want to separate God from His will and His works.  But it cannot be done.
    What we forget is that the what of God's mercy is inseparable from the who behind that mercy.  In other words, rejecting what God does or how He does it means rejecting God Himself.  Jesus found that kind of rejection among those whom you might have thought knew Him best – the people of His home town.  But they rejected Jesus for a whole host of reasons – from what Jesus was doing to whom He was hanging around with to what kind of family He came from.  In the end, they believed that God would not, could not, and therefore did not act this way and they rejected Jesus.  Their rejection cut them off from His grace and His gracious works.
    Jesus came to His hometown not as a miracle worker but as the bearer of the Kingdom of God, the promised deliverer to release people from their sins.  He came to bring them the Kingdom but they rejected the Kingdom Jesus brought.  They thought they were only rejecting the messenger but they were really rejecting the message of God itself.  We run the same risk of rejecting God because we don’t like how God acts or when or what He chooses to do.
    Jesus returned as the hometown boy to Nazareth.  He comes to do what He did elsewhere.  This was not about a few miracles here and there but about the Kingdom of God Jesus brought in His life, words, and ministry.  Jesus was not trying to impress people.  He was there to deliver what He brought to other places – the kingdom of God with all its righteousness, peace, and joy.
    The people were shocked by this.  More than that.  They were appalled.  God would not act like this, they thought.  God could not come in this way, they reasoned.  God did not come in Jesus nor was the kingdom of heaven present in Christ, they concluded.  Now they thought they were protecting the Kingdom by rejecting Jesus as the messenger – too common and too familiar.  In reality, they were rejecting God's kingdom totally.
    So, Scripture says that Jesus could do mighty work there EXCEPT healing a few folks.  We would be happy with healing as a mighty enough work of God.  But Jesus is here pointing to the greater work of believing.  The healing works were temporary signs of grace, markers, if you will, for the Kingdom of God.  But Jesus was aiming higher.  Jesus was aiming for trusting hearts, reborn in grace, to love and do the Father's will.  It was this greater work we call faith that Jesus was unable to bring to His hometown. 
    What is interesting here is what happened next.  According to Mark, Jesus sent forth the Twelve to do for others what His own hometown crowd had refused.  Jesus sent forth His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God in word and deed.  What the people of Nazareth had rejected then became the gift and blessing to other people.  This time the Kingdom of God would be proclaimed not by the Son of God in human flesh and blood, but by the flesh and blood messengers of Jesus whom we call apostles.
    Jesus sends them forth in their mighty journey and in this momentous task with nary an extra coat, a bite to eat, or some traveling money.  Nope, they did not need these things when they had the promise of God's Son.  They did not need earthly marks of power or prestige.  They had the healing Word of God that calls forth repentance and imparts faith.  They had the Word that does what it promises – what did they need in addition to this Word that speaks forgiveness, life, and salvation to its hearers?  So they went forth light on baggage and loaded down with the Word of the Lord.  And the result was that the demons ran and the sick were healed and they lost and dying were born again by faith.  Even without Jesus physical presence walking with them on the way, they had all they needed in the Word He gave them and in His blessing and call to preach the Kingdom, to bring forth faith, and deliver the gifts of God to people in need.
    We come here week after week and often complain to God that we pray and nothing happens, we go to Church and still we suffer problems, illnesses, and struggles, and we don't see God's hand at work in our lives.  We complain that we feel alone and on our own, that the Kingdom of God seems so far off from us and our ordinary lives of struggle, pain, and trial.  Like the people of Nazareth, we wonder if there could not be more, if there should not be more, if there is not more.  Pretty soon we end up rejecting God with questions about His plan, His purpose, and His timing – rejection that ends up pushing God away from us and turning our backs upon Him.
    We might be content if we saw a few ills healed, some demons disappear, and felt a sense of God's power and might.  Instead, we lament that all we have is this ordinary Word and familiar table.  But the point is that this is how God works.  He works through Word and Sacraments.  Rejecting how God works or what God is doing is rejecting God Himself.  The Lord cannot be divorced form His means of grace and the key to it all is to trust in what we do not see but know through the witness of His Word.  They key is faith.
    Like the people of Nazareth it is our great temptation to presume we know better and to judge the Lord – thinking that we can separate the personal Word from the content of that Word. When we make this distinction we lose what He has come to bring.  The Kingdom is His gift and that Kingdom is inseparable from Him.  There in the Kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy.  There is forgiveness and life.  There is hope and redemption.  And Christ is where He has promised to be – in His Word and Sacraments... in the living voice of the Gospel, in the living waters of baptism, in the living grace of absolution, and in the living food of this Holy Communion.
    God will not spend forever trying to argue with a stubborn or willful heart.  God will not wait forever for our fearful minds to see and know.  The people of Nazareth lost it all when Jesus dusted off His sandals and sent forth His disciples with power, two by two bringing the Kingdom of God to cities, villages, and people of all kinds.  They had their integrity in tact but their hearts were empty and cold.  Friends, do not let this happen to you.  Do not waste your life away questioning God's wisdom or timing.  Do not fret away the hours by being caught up in what might have been or could have been.  God has done His work in Christ, bringing to us the Kingdom and clothing us with His grace for forgiveness, life and salvation.  Don't reject the gift because it comes in a form you do not recognize or appreciate.  Come to God through His Son, meet the Lord where He will be found in the means of grace, and rejoice in the mightiest work of all – the simple faith that says "amen" top what God has accomplished by His gracious will and purpose – for you, for your salvation, and for your eternal contentment and peace.  Come to the Lord when and where He will be found, while salvation is near, in the means of grace that deliver Him and His kingdom to us.  God help us, in Jesus' name.  Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Peters: I am having a crisis faith involving the topic of your sermon. Here is my story: More than 50 years ago, friends of our family had a baby girl. Soon after she was born it became clear that she had a severe case of Cerebral Palsy. She was spastic, could not sit by herself, could not stand or walk, and could not speak. Today she is in her fifties, confined to a hospital that specializes in treating patients like her. Thanks to the unflagging efforts of her parents, particularly her mother, she has survived to this day, having endured numerous operations and procedures, being the subject of a medical malpractice suit, which her parents won on her behalf, and surviving many infections and illnesses. She is fed through a tube. Lately she has developed a new problem which causes her severe pain.

During all of these years I prayed for her – for the past 20 years almost every day. I never dared to ask the Lord to take her to Himself., but I begged him to relieve her suffering. As of today, she is suffering more pain than ever. If God did not care to grant my wish, I can understand. But hundreds of faithful Christians have prayed for her, and not one was found worthy to have their prayer answered.

The Bible contains about ten passages which assure us that God will grant our prayers. Here is just one, Matthew 7:8, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” I am sure you know all of the other ones. Do I misunderstand them? They seem to be crystal clear; John 14:13, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Is it because I and the hundreds of others who have prayed for this woman lack faith? You see where this leads? Or is there something about these Scriptures we do not understand? Where they meant for the Apostles only, about whom we know that they healed many and even raised people from the dead?

Is what I have confessed to you the doubt of a stubborn and willful heart? Does this mean I am rejecting the gift, which I have received in Baptism? But ultimately it is not, and I don’t want it to be about me, it is about a child of God who has suffered every day for over fifty years in a manner we cannot imagine. It is about her getting what God has promised. The things we are to ask for are not limited to salvation, because that we have been promised; it is about a person getting a modicum of relief from unspeakable suffering.

I hesitate to post this, because I am not sure whether it will help. I do know that there are thousands in this country who have the same question. We believe what Scripture tells us, but is what we believe what Scripture is telling us?

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart