Sermon Archive

SERMON: 5 Lent (Mar 22)

Category: News, Sermon Tags: March 22, 2015 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:1-12
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33

Text

“…for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
“….he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

God promises to “remember [our] sin no more.”  It’s not that God forgets—that’s what we do or, at least, what I do.  But the Lord’s amnesia is intentional, a matter of God’s will.  Unlike my own advancing forgetfulness, God chooses not to remember: selective amnesia as divine choice, volition.  The Lord wills not to remember our sin:  speaking with the voice of God, Jeremiah says, “I will…remember their sin no more.”

God’s choice to forget sin forms the counterpoint to forgiveness:  “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”  In other words, God chooses not to remember what has been forgiven.  In still other words, the Lord remembers our iniquity that he may forget our sin.  God chooses not to remember our sin: (as we say in the Confession) the things “we have done, and the things we have failed to do.”  But, more than that, the Lord forgives the ­way we are.  God chooses to forgive that we are sinful.  This forgiving and intentional forgetting are primary signs of God’s love.  As Paul says:  “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”   Christ’s death for us equals God’s love for us.

Speaking with the voice of Jesus, today’s Gospel puts it this way:  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  John’s Gospel speaks poetically of crucifixion.  Jesus says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth.  “Lifted up” is John’s image of crucifixion.  When Jesus is crucified, he is “lifted up from the earth.”  John makes this clear in the last line of today’s Gospel when he says, “He [that is, Christ] said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” In other words, the death of Jesus is no accident, no mistake, not a simple overreach of Roman imperial power, nor the vicious result of mean-spirited religious authority.

Jesus was crucified because he intended to be crucified. Moreover, because the Father willed it; being lifted up, being crucified is the Son’s whole purpose (“….it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”).  The Son’s crucifixion is the Lord’s subversive means of “glorifying the Father’s name.”

If nothing else, the crucifixion of Jesus makes us reconsider what “glory” means, and most especially what the “glory of God” means.  How can the brutal and humiliating death of God’s only begotten Son glorify the Father’s name?  Instead of “glory,” common sense (that most uncommon of all human traits), common sense understands the crucifixion of the Father’s beloved Son (in the language of Phyllis Tribble) as “divine child abuse,” the deranged activity of a madman, the opposite of “glory.”

In saving us, the Son contradicts us.  Hebrews says that “Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son, to day I have begotten you,’” and “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In other words, the Father’s appointment of the Son, the consecration the Son as high priest after Melchizedek, the mythic King of Righteousness, underscores the intentionality of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and death.

Left to ourselves, we might imagine a king of righteousness lording it over us and enforcing his rule by means of strict religious authority—a severe righteousness manifest in power both dominant and unyielding, punishing and condemning us for being sinful—for the things we have done or left undone.

But Christ does not rule by means of domineering power; he reigns in suffering, weakness, and death.  Hebrews goes on to say that, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him (read raise him) from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him….”  In other words, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the King of Righteousness, suffers and dies for unrighteous sinners—for all who oppose God.  The Obedient suffers and dies for the disobedient.  God heard Christ’s prayers and supplications, heard his loud cries and saw his tears, so that the Son might be “lifted up.”  The Father listened and saw not because of the Son’s righteous power, but because of his holy weakness, his reverent submission [to the Father’s will], his submission to crucifixion, his being lifted up from the earth.

Heard in this way, this Lenten Gospel proclaims the Father’s choice, and not ours. In doing so, it echoes Jeremiah’s proclamation of the “new covenant.”  According to Jeremiah, God’s “I will” expresses the new covenant.  In four brief verses, God says “I will” six times and “they shall” twice:  “I will make a new covenant;” “I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” “They shall all know me….I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” In the new covenant the Lord violates our disobedient will, and does so by means of the Son’s holy weakness, his obedient and “reverent submission.”

In Christ Jesus, the Father’s will trumps our will. He draws us to himself by the power of his suffering and death:  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  This is the magnetic power of the crucified Christ. Baptized into his death and resurrection, he draws us to himself.  In him, we die to ourselves, that we might live like a seed buried in the earth, ever rising toward him in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

4 Lent (Mar 15)

Category: Sermon Tags: March 15, 2015 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

Readings

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Listen

3 Lent (Mar 8)

Category: Sermon Tags: March 8, 2015 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Eric Jones

The Rev. Eric Jones

Readings

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

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2 Lent (Mar 1)

Category: Sermon Tags: March 1, 2015 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38

Text

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant with you.”
[God] raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our “trespasses and was raised for our justification.”
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Listen

Genesis says the Lord appeared to Abraham when he was 99 years old, and made an everlasting covenant with him.   Paul tells us God raised Jesus for our justification, but only after Jesus had died for our sins.  God brings life out of death.  Abraham was as good as dead, yet God chose him to be the father of all who believe.  Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was 90 years old and barren, long past the age of childbearing; Sarah was pregnant with death. Yet God chose her to bear a son, to become the mother of nations, a forebear of the Christ.

What is it with God?  The Abraham and Sarah story sounds like something from the National Enquirer:   “90 Year Old Woman Pregnant.  Expecting son: delirious with joy.”  But, of course, only supermarket tabloids credit a 90 year old woman with joy when pregnant by a 99 year old husband.  You don’t have to be a med school professor to know something’s a little off in that story.  You don’t have to be a labor and delivery nurse to know a pregnant 90 year old resides well beyond the range of rare.  About 25 years ago, my then associate pastor asked Mabel, a woman very near 100, how she would feel if told she were pregnant. “I’d rather die,” she said.

Mabel nailed it. Telling Sarah (or Mabel) she was pregnant is a lot like Jesus telling the crowd, “Anyone who wants to become my disciple must take up their cross and follow me.”  As Pastor Pohlman noted when recently quoting the martyred Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  For a 90 year old woman, pregnancy and birth would be tantamount to a death sentence.  But, then, turning 100 is tantamount to a death sentence.  Then, too, being born is a death sentence.  As campus pastor, Eric Jones, said in his Ash Wednesday sermon, birth has a one-to-one correspondence with death.

In any conventional sense, these readings for the 2nd Sunday in Lent are not “good” news, are not “happy” stories.  Put another way, if they are good, they’re only so in the sense that Good Friday is “good.”

The 2nd Sunday in Lent turns “good” on its head.  Jesus tells his followers that the Son of Man must be betrayed, suffer abuse, be humiliated, crucified, dead, buried, and then on the third day raised.  Beyond the distant promise of resurrection, this is not conventional good news.  If good news at all, it’s like telling a double amputee that amazing progress is being made in the design and manufacture of prosthetics.  But to get the amazing prosthetics, you first must lose your limbs.  Such good news is severely tempered by pain and loss.

Before the Son of Man can be raised from the dead, he must suffer many things, be betrayed, abused, crucified, dead and buried.  Is it any wonder Peter thought such news bad?  Any wonder Peter rebuked his master?  The wonder lies elsewhere: Jesus rebuked Peter—called him “Satan,” and told him he was not on the side of God, but of “men.”  Yet Peter was a man.  What other side could he be on?  The wonder hides in Jesus, not Peter:  in Jesus’ suffering death, God comes to our side, God on the human side.

Some things—especially difficult things —may be no less true just because they are painful.  In fact, in the biblical narrative most true things are difficult. Very few (if any) accounts of God’s saving work are told without suffering, pain, loss, and death.  These things form the substratum of life, and in much of life the hard substratum lies very near the surface:  hence, our routine addictions to distraction, amusement, sedation, and half-truth.  In and of themselves, entertainment, intoxicants, and circumlocution are not bad; but they are bad for us when they disable truth or, even worse, prevent us from recognizing truth when we hear it.

Jesus could have said, “The Son of Man is going to Jerusalem to receive a hero’s welcome, be enthroned, and give everybody all they want; he’ll satisfy every desire, and everyone will live happily ever after.”  That’s the stuff of fairy tales.  Had Jesus told a fairy tale, Peter wouldn’t have rebuked him, and Jesus would not have called him “Satan.”  But, in that case, Jesus would have been more like Satan than God, and for the moment, all would have seemed happily copasetic.  Lies are like that: sugar coating on a bitter pill; they hide the truth, but only for a moment.

Jesus Christ is more than a momentary fix.  He doesn’t sugar-coat the bitter truth.  He must suffer death, be buried, and on the third day rise.  Moreover, contrary to all sedation, distraction, and amusement, we too must die.  The only real questions are threefold:  when, how, and for what purpose. Of these three, deepest truth comes chiefly through the latter: for what purpose will we die?

Hard though it may be to hear, it doesn’t much matter when or how we die; the only thing that really matters is that we die with Jesus Christ on our side: in, with, and under us.  There is, after all, no shame in dying—it comes to all.  But true and everlasting life comes through dying in, with, and under Jesus.  Therefore, he says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  Dying like Jesus, dying for others, we live.

Though it may not sound like it, these words bear the gracious truth of everlasting life; like his own life, Jesus gives away this gracious truth freely for us, and for all.  But, even if these words (and the one who speaks them) cause us shame, it’s only for a time.  Like Lent, shame lasts but a little while.  Then comes the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord.  Eternally longer than death, Easter does come: the resurrection of the dead, and there’s no shame in that.  In his death, Christ comes to our side: baptized into him and his dying, we live in him—his risen life.

1 Lent (Feb 22)

Category: Sermon Tags: February 22, 2015 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

Readings

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

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Ash Wednesday (Feb 18)

Category: Sermon Tags: February 19, 2015 @ 12:11 pm

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 51:1-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Text

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
“Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.”
“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Listen

Isaiah turns religion inside out.  On Ash Wednesday, fasting is an imperative to feed hungry people and house homeless people.  We fast not merely to deny ourselves food, but to deny ourselves.

When was the last time you did something self-consciously religious?  Was it saying grace at table last evening at dinner?  Or maybe you said your prayers before going to sleep last night.  Or (could it be possible?) perhaps you skipped breakfast and lunch today before receiving the Lord’s Supper—as saints of old would have done.

Of course, the very word “breakfast” implies a practice largely vanished from the modern Christian west apart from monastic communities which may refrain from eating until the morning Mass is ended.  But, then, there’s the common (but nonetheless religious) practice of refraining from the consumption of food until after having our blood drawn in preparation for an annual physical.

Gone are the days when most of us would willingly deprive ourselves of food in preparation for eating what the ancients termed “the medicine of immortality” the body and blood of Christ.  We inhabit an era in which we willingly deprive ourselves of food in preparation for a biologically longer life—or at least the physical examination thereof.  In other words, many (if not most) of us will fast to serve our own physical self-interest.  But seldom will we do so in order to benefit our own souls, and we’ll almost never go without food in order to benefit someone else—whether in body or soul.

Isaiah 58 gives evidence of an ancient religious argument:  do we engage religious activity (like fasting) in order to advantage ourselves in relation to God’s judgment?  Or do we discipline ourselves (fasting/self-limitation) in order to benefit others, people dependent on us or less privileged than ourselves?  At least it appears that, in Isaiah’s post-exilic age, the discipline of fasting was actually practiced, albeit for disingenuous reasons.  The Prophet attacks religious practice undertaken for self-gain.  But in our day, the argument about why fasting was practiced at all—whether for selfish or altruistic reasons—will generally fall on ears deaf to God’s voice.

No so, however, when my physician tells me I should exercise more frequently, limit myself to one helping per meal, and cut back on my consumption of carbohydrates, fats, and red meats.  I listen to impressive statistics suggesting that it would be to my own advantage to discipline myself.  When he tells me I should limit my consumption of alcohol to one or at most two drinks per day, he offers compelling evidence that I will live longer if I do.  When he tells me to abstain from tobacco at all costs, he provides unending data demonstrating that the use of nicotine damages my physical health in more ways than I can either count or remember.  In no case (whether in relation to exercise, diet, alcohol, or tobacco) does he argue that self-discipline will either benefit my fellow citizens or please God.  Though I suspect that, at least in relation to the well-being of the human community, strong arguments could be made on behalf of the social benefits of dietary discipline, to say nothing of the negative social burdens stemming from my lack of discipline.

Be that as it may, current arguments encouraging self-discipline seem largely oriented toward my own benefit, and not the welfare of others.  But Isaiah takes the opposite tack, and does so in the name of and with the voice of God.  For Isaiah (and therefore for God) the purpose of fasting is the limitation of myself for the benefit of others—and especially for the benefit of “workers,” that is, for the benefit of those who depend on me and my self-limitation for their very lives.

But Isaiah goes further.  The Prophet moves beyond the literal practice of religious fasting to fasting as a metaphor for breaking (or loosing) the bonds of injustice, for freeing laborers from their yoked bondage, and letting the captive oppressed go free.  Rather than understanding the discipline of fasting as denying myself food for a specifically religious purpose, Isaiah interprets fasting as sharing our bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless poor into our homes, and clothing those who are naked.  Like Luther, Isaiah interprets the command “Do not kill” in terms of “protecting our neighbor and his means of making a living;” Isaiah understands that before God there is no distinction between religious and secular acts.  Fasting that I might please God while ignoring my hungry neighbor is no less sinful than eating less in order to live longer and get more life for me.

On Ash Wednesday, God’s Word declares that, no matter whether we eat or fast, we ourselves remain the essential problem.  We incur God’s wrath whether we eat less to live longer or fast merely to benefit our own greedy selves.  Fasting to get more of God for myself has the same ruinous effect as eating less to get more for me.

Both eating and fasting confront us with the fact that, whether we eat or are eaten, we are dust and to dust we shall return.  True Lenten discipline revolves around the elemental truths that we are mortal, dependent, and selfish.  Whatever serves to limit us—to hold our own greedy mortality and our neighbor’s need before our eyes—drives us to the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of Christ.  The crucified savior is both the model and the goal of life. Eating and drinking him, drives us again and again to the Eucharistic fast that feeds all—in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Transfiguration of Our Lord (Feb 15)

Category: Sermon Tags: February 15, 2015 @ 10:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Text

“And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
“Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God shines forth in glory.”
“This is my son, the beloved, listen to him….As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

Listen

The Transfiguration of Our Lord is upon us:  Lent’s season of baptismal renewal draws near.  But what draws us? Transfiguration fixes us on the fantastic: Elijah swept up in a chariot of fire; God shining forth from Zion; Moses’ veiled face; Jesus shining like the sun, his face and clothes brighter than new-fallen snow in mid-winter sun.  Yet, each of these bright figures—and perhaps most especially Jesus himself—shines within the shadow darkness, loss, and death.  What draws us?

Elijah swept up means Elisha grieving Elijah gone.  God shines forth from “a raging storm round about.”  Paul sets shining Moses against unbelief:  “those who are perishing,” and minds “blinded by the god of this world.”  And, finally, we read Jesus transfigured on the mountain within the context of Peter’s babbling confusion—his manic desire to do something religious, his frantic eagerness to make meaning of this strange event—an event which defies any meaning we might hope to make of it and, to an even greater degree, anything we might want to do in light of it.

So much so, that the heavenly imperative is neither to interpret nor act, but rather, to listen!  And not merely to listen in general: not to practice mindfulness, nor center ourselves, nor listen to our passions, but rather listen to this and only this, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” The Transfiguration of Our Lord is more than an abstraction, more than a concept, more than a religious idea.  It’s our Lord: Then, when they looked about, suddenly, “They saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.” They saw him in a different light—not merely the unearthly light of his Transfiguration, nor even the impressive light of his association with Moses and Elijah— two monumental figures from Israel’s history, nor even in the earnest light of discipled friendship—his having chosen them, and only them, to see such wondrous things.  At last, they saw him in light of the heavenly Voice, they saw him in light of God:  “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”  They saw him in stunning silencelisten to him!

The silence speaks:  “He ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  According to Jesus, the Transfiguration of Our Lord is unspeakable.  Or, put another way, our Lord’s Transfiguration, may be told only in light of Easter.  It’s not merely that we don’t know what to say—though, given Peter’s example, we surely don’t.  But it’s also that whatever we would say apart from Christ’s resurrection from the dead, is beside the point; like going to the Grand Canyon to see fast food restaurants, or like visiting Washington, D. C. to count the crosswalks, or like worshipping at Luther Memorial Church to observe various kinds of litter in the alleyway, or the numbers of students wearing red, or (and this might be interesting) the number of pauses in a sermon.  More pauses, larger silences: fewer words might convey greater meaning.

Therefore, “He ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  Silence! Listen!  Tell no one….until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  It turns out the one they knew in familiar terms as “Rabbi,” is the Beloved Son of God.  It turns out the one they talked to and ate with and went about with and fished with, this ordinary guy from Nazareth, this carpenter’s son whose mother bears the ordinary name of Miriam (Mary)….it turns out this one from the back country handed over to the authorities, tortured, abused, and put to humiliating death as a criminal….it turns out this most desired-reviled of ordinary men has in most extraordinary fashion been raised from the dead.

We do not listen to Jesus because he shines brighter than the lights at Camp Randal.  We do not listen to Jesus because he converses with famous religious figures.  We do not listen to Jesus because he exercises miraculous power.  We do not listen to Jesus because we like his politics, or his economics, or his stories, or his crafty ways of outfoxing his opponents—entertaining though that may be.  We listen to Jesus because God raised him from the dead.  We listen to Jesus because even though he was dead and buried, he is now alive. We listen to Jesus because even though (before God) we deserve eternal death and damnation, the crucified and risen Christ has bound us to himself in the watery promise of baptism.  And, more than that, we listen to Jesus because even though we do not invite our hungry neighbors to our own tables, even though we do not welcome and forgive our obnoxious neighbors, even though we do not regularly visit our sick and imprisoned and lonely neighbors….we listen to Jesus because, even in spite of our failure to love God with our whole hearts, minds, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves….we listen to Jesus because the crucified and risen Christ, the Beloved Son of God, welcomes us to his table, and feeds us, and forgives us in, with, and under his own body and blood.

In short, we listen to Jesus not only because he has the words of eternal life, but because he is eternal life.  We listen to Jesus because the Father has commanded it; we listen to Jesus because, in the end, he’s the only One worth listening to.  Beautiful and charming though the rest may be, all other voices (including my own) bear the stench of death.  Therefore, listen to the Beloved Son. Tell anyone you please: the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

5 Epiphany (Feb 8)

Category: Sermon Tags: February 8, 2015 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Text

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”
“Everyone is searching for you.”
“I do it for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”

Listen

St. Paul is a strange person. I say “is” instead of “was,” because, well, according to the gospel, Paul is yet (and always shall be) a person, though (having died), he may no longer be a man.  According to Jesus, eternal life will be gender free. That may, on the face of it, seem a small matter.  But the church contends it’s important.  Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again in order to complete his work of salvation for all persons who, beyond time, shall be neither male nor female, but persons: the creatures God intends for all eternity.

Sometimes Paul speaks as a man, a Jewish male in the mid-first century of our era, and sometimes he speaks as an apostle commissioned by Christ himself.  The latter we are called to imitate; the former we may ignore, study for historical insight, enjoy as religious entertainment, or even despise for his occasionally arrogant and narrow-minded ways.  The difficulty comes in distinguishing between the bigot and the apostle.  But, the trouble is, bigot and apostle are bound together in one person.  Today we hear the apostle called and commissioned by Christ to the impossible task of becoming “all things to all people.” Today we hear the Paul sent to us, since we too are counted among “all people.”

Anyone even marginally acquainted with matters psychological will know that “becoming all things to all people” is a fool’s errand, a crazy-making task if ever there were one, indeed, a calling only a crazy person would undertake in the first place.  It was, I imagine, for this reason a physician in my last parish opined that, had Prozac been available in the first century, we might never have heard of Paul, unless perhaps as a hyper-graphic traveling tentmaker.

But, in fact, Prozac was not available in the first century, and moreover we cannot say with certainty what, if any, difference it might have made in the personal disposition of Paul, the rabbi-tentmaker who believed he had been commissioned and sent to bear the gospel—the good news of the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  For all we know, had Paul taken Prozac he might have been even more convinced (and not less) that he was sent by God to proclaim the crucified Christ as Savior of the whole Jew-gentile world—a world embodied by Galilee.

According to today’s Gospel, everyone was searching for Jesus.  Following a whole series of miraculous events (Jesus casting out evil spirits, and generally amazing the local populace), Mark says that Peter and others went hunting.  According to lexicons, the word hunting almost always bears hostile overtones.  They hunted (in hostile fashion) for Jesus.  They may have been irritated with him.  He had got up early in the morning—without telling anyone—and had gone to pray in a deserted place.  On finding their quarry, in exasperated tone, they told Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you.”  In other words:  “What were you thinking to go off alone?  You’re expected back in town!  People are waiting for you!”  As if indifferent to popularity and human need, Jesus replied, “Let’s go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came to do.”

Everyone was astonished at Jesus’ power to heal disease, command demons, and turn back evil forces.  Think what it would mean to be near such a man, someone who, with a mere word, could make sick people well, feed thousands, and silence evil.  Such a man would mean the end of suffering and the beginning of peace.  His enormous fan-base would have exceeded those of Aaron Rogers, Katie Perry, and Tom Brady combined.  That’s what Mark seems to indicate when Peter tells Jesus, “Everyone is searching for you.”  He’d done his tricks for free, and everyone was on his trail.  Jesus was so successful he made health care reform, the White House, Fortune Five Hundred, the Emmys, the Oscars, and the Nobel Prize, look like chopped liver.  Jesus had gone “viral,” and he didn’t care.

Jesus moves on.  That’s the miracle.  He had it all:  fans, fame, and fortune.  Yet he turned his back on it.  He left everyone and went off by himself to pray. Then, when they found him, he left that place too, and went to other places to “proclaim the message.”  “He went through out Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”  In other words, he went about making more fans and then intentionally jilting them in order to save them.  In the end, the most amazing thing about Jesus the miracle worker was not his miraculous power, but his failure to use that power to enhance his brand, increase his fan base, and maintain it.  The miracle was his refusal to use his power for himself.  But he hadn’t come for himself; he came for others. Mark says he came to proclaim the message to others.  And that message was not his; it didn’t belong to him.  It belonged to God the Father; it still does.  And the Father is no one to trifle with.

“Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”  To God we are like grasshoppers: billions of swarming insects, flitting first one way than the other, fickle, fearful, and greedy, ever acting out of self-interest, fleeing to escape death, only to fall prey to it.

There’s a reason Jesus went his own way. There’s a reason for Paul’s manic driven focus:  the gospel, the message, the good news.  Jesus, who had it all, gave up everything for grasshoppers doomed to die.  He who had it all, gave up all things for grasshoppers; gave it up for us.  On this annual meeting day, once again we are reminded that whatever we do, whatever we have, we have it and we do it for the sake of the gospel.  Have you not known?  Have you not heard? In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.

4 Epiphany (Feb 1)

Category: Sermon Tags: February 1, 2015 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

The Rev. Franklin Wilson

Readings

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

Text

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

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Below a photo of Manhattanites preparing for the biggest snowstorm ever, last Tuesday’s paper read, “More than 7,700 flights in and out of the Northeast were canceled, and many of them may not take off again until Wednesday.  Schools and businesses let out early, Government offices closed. Shoppers stocking up on food jammed supermarkets and elbowed one another for what was left.  Broadway stages went dark.”  Everyone knew Manhattan would get two feet of snow; it got eight inches.  In certain knowledge of impending scarcity, shoppers elbowed one another to get the last bit.  Knowledge elbows, love gives way.

The unclean spirit knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God.  But such knowledge, in and of itself, conveys little beyond vulnerability:  “Have you come to destroy us?”  Knowledge without love devolves into power bent toward fear, intimidation, and coercion.  Loveless knowledge empowers us to destroy—to elbow our way toward the last loaf of bread while the devil takes the hindmost.

Within the precincts of this (or any) university, it may prove difficult to hear Paul’s critique of loveless knowledge:  “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  Paul seeks to build up the community, the church, the body of Christ.  He seeks this not merely that the church might be big.  He seeks to build up the church, because dividing the church divides Christ.  When we use our superior knowledge merely to our own advantage, we disadvantage our “weaker” brothers and sisters; we divide the church and crucify Christ anew.

The “unclean spirit” in Mark’s first chapter does not lack knowledge; it knows who Jesus is more clearly than the disciples.  The unclean spirit knows (and confesses!), “I know who you are, the holy one of God.”  But it doesn’t know the way of Jesus, doesn’t know how Jesus is, doesn’t know that he will not destroy, but be destroyed, and thereby take away the sin of the whole world.  Apart from love, such knowledge is inconceivable.  Apart from love, such knowledge is utter foolishness.

Therefore, the unclean spirit assumes that the holy one of God wields power to destroy; that such power will be used only to destroy the enemy, the unholy, the unclean and sinful.  The spirit’s knowledge cannot conceive of power exercised on behalf of an enemy, cannot conceive of power exercised for an enemy’s sake.  But such is the lovely power of Jesus, the holy one of God.  He has the power to give up power, the power to build up the weak through love.

St. Anselm famously defines “faith” as “seeking understanding.” But understanding (informed by demonstrable evidence) cannot obtain faith (evoked by compelling testimony).  St. Mark’s account of Jesus casting out the unclean spirit compels, not merely by the triumph of evidentiary power, but more by the exercise of power that builds up.  Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit, orders it to be silent and come out, and the spirit fights: it convulses the man and cries out—signs of disobedience.  But Jesus does not destroy it when, according to the unclean spirit’s own expectation, he could have done so.  Mark’s most compelling testimony, then, is not merely that Jesus cast out the unclean spirit, but that he did so in love and without the destructive power the unclean spirit expected.

Mark’s witness accords with St. Paul’s dictum: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”  When it comes to matters of conscience, ours is not merely to act out of superior knowledge.  Baptized into Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection, ours is to imitate Christ Jesus, the holy one of God, who knows us, and who exercises divine power to protect, save, and forgive the unholy, the sinful, and the weak.

In the Corinthian community, Paul terms “weak” people whose conscience is subject to the knowledge that food (perhaps at a community meal) might have come from sacrifices offered in a pagan temple—offerings made to a false god that (they fear) if consumed would provoke the true God’s wrath, and the destruction of those who dare to dine at the table of a false god.  Their knowledge is faulty, says Paul (there is only one true God), and their fear unfounded (Christ is the righteousness of God), but even so, their faith (though weak) ought not be endangered by the free exercise of knowledge that there is only one true God and that food sacrificed to idols is simply food given by the grace of God.  Why shouldn’t we challenge weak faith by superior knowledge and freedom?  Because we could injure the weak, and thereby offend Christ who exercises power not to destroy, but to save.

This is Paul’s ethic of weakness, and he bids us imitate it, acting not merely out of what knowledge and freedom allow, but out of what Christ’s love compels.  Paul bids us use whatever power we have not for our own advantage, but on behalf of the weak:  for when we are weak, then we are strong.  Just as the crucified Christ who could have destroyed us who are weak, saves us instead: casts out our sin, and makes us right by faith.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”   But only the beginning: love—what we might call charity toward the weak—is end (or purpose) of wisdom.  Sometimes the storm doesn’t come.  But when it does, Paul bids us care for the weak, the least, the little, the last, and the lost.

3 Epiphany (Jan 25)

Category: Sermon Tags: January 25, 2015 @ 9:00 am

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

The Rev. Brad Pohlman

Readings

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

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