+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 1:15
Theme: “The Time has come.”
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God doesn’t have opinions. He has intentions. And His intention is to draw people to Himself. Christ came for that purpose. Yet His stated desires do not always come to pass. Why? Here we reach the limit of human capacity. We cannot resolve such seeming contradictions. They remain inscrutable mysteries. Faith makes its judgment not on the logic of human reason but on the divine promises. The apostle said, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”1 Christ has been crucified. All perspectives of reality must be sorted out on that basis.
But faith doesn’t exempt the believer from the concerns of the world. In fact the Christian is more concerned about the physical creation than the unbeliever. Christ has come to restore and redeem creation- to wrest it back from the power of Satan and sin. An eternal future awaits us. It will involve a perfection of what we now experience. The unbelieving world- though it may panic about the state of the environment- is often content to believe that death is just the end of existence or that the soul will be forever freed from a physical form.
Meanwhile God moves history towards its conclusion while simultaneously drawing people into His kingdom. The sun will rise again if God wills it. Nations will rise and fall. Wars, contentions and strife will wax and wane. The love of many will grow cold. Faith will be a rare commodity. God will however intervene for the well-being of humanity. But this will seldom be recognized for what it is. And so the debates will always rage. The usefulness of God’s so-called ‘opinions’ will be bantered back and forth.
The church exists as a keeper of the only truly transforming power in the world. Though outwardly often appearing fragile and feeble it nevertheless is the steward of great and precious resources. Today Christ begins His public ministry. “The time has come,”2 He begins choosing His disciples and directs them to call people to repentance and faith. In doing so He acts in continuity with God heralds of the past. After legendary resistance Jonah finally went to Nineveh to proclaim the Lord’s message. It too involved a clear call to repentance, “He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’”3
The condemning voice of the law is universal. All people are born in sin, gravitate to the full-expression of their sinful tendencies and are thereby deserving of temporal and eternal punishment. There are no human avenues to gain His favour. The comforting news of the gospel is equally all-encompassing. All sinners are justified, set right with God purely by Christ’s sacrifice, the benefits of which He extends to us by grace. The Holy Spirit converts people by and to this grace.
This task is never the auxiliary mission of the church but always the primary task. Luther once said, “Unbelief is not one of the grosser passions, but sits and hold sway at the summit- the citadel of the will and reason, just like its opposite, faith.” (Bondage of the Will)
Unbelief is not just a matter of indulging our carnal desires- of excess, selfishness, and thoughtlessness- it is a declaration of independence from authority. It is a rejection of the need for correction, direction or reclamation. It is the root and crown of sin because it denies sin is a legitimate problem. Either by intention or compulsion it makes an idol out of something in the created sphere. An idol is anything into which hope and trust are ultimately placed other than the true God. Financial security, health, and personal accomplishment are always in the running as some of the most popular. Nothing is different today.
We might say that steadfast unbelief is a matter of conviction. It may sound strange saying it that way, but when on principle the historical evidence of the faith, the witness of the word and the work of the Holy Spirit are rejected then the human will has set itself up as the final arbiter of reality. Luther says that in one sense unbelief is like faith. Now, what similarities could there be between unbelief and faith? Are they not exact opposites, diametrically opposed? Yes, but both sit at the pinnacle of the essential human uniqueness. Just as unbelief is never the lesser of transgressions but the ultimate ungodliness so faith is never a lesser virtue or gift of the Spirit but the highest. Both are evidence of bearing the image of God; unbelief showing what has been lost, and faith trusting in what Christ has restored. The difference here between people and the rest of creation is categorical. Animals are neither unbelievers nor creatures of faith because they are not vested with souls. They are not essentially like human beings.
It is a special privilege then to have the unique place we do in the world. We are servants of it but not enslaved to it. We exercise our freedom from sin’s condemning power by always seeking to bring that release to others. Forgiveness and reconciliation are previews of the future. That is the import of the gospel. Note the sense of urgency in St. Paul’s words today where he advises people to “use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For the world in its present form is passing away.”4 We must have dealings with the world. We are salt and light in the midst of corruption and darkness- always for a greater purpose. We are stewards of God’s blessings- human and material- accordingly.
The Christian can never become complicit with a governmental, institutional and/or social agenda that forces one to direct all resources for the improvement of temporal life. When this happens Christianity loses its soul. And it will then lose its passion for true mission. That mission is to declare and teach that in the person of Jesus the kingdom of God has come near and heaven has been opened. This is done through preaching the full wisdom of God in law and gospel, baptizing and celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion according to the Lord’s command. The presence of the crucified and resurrected Christ in the world through word, water, bread and wine can never be supplanted by a humanitarian ethic of generic love.
Helping the neighbour in need is a fruit of the Holy Sprit’s work in our lives. Such servanthood is the activity of daily life. For the believer this is a good in and of itself- the following of the law to love- but it is always a means also to a greater end. Does that mean a Christian cannot help the poor and hungry just for the sake of relieving human suffering? Of course not! But this can never be a unilateral or dominating concern. Remember what Saint Paul said last week, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food- but God will destroy them both.”5 Body and soul will be transformed for eternity.
The unbeliever may see the kindness of God at work through the Christian but that can never lead directly to conversion. People do not turn from sin and selfishness merely because a generosity is shown to them. They may be guilted by societal or peer pressure to be less self-indulgent and more charitable, but this will not make them believers. The Holy Spirit rescues the soul that has been seized by the terrors of conscience and gripped by the fear of hell. Christ has been sacrificed. Christ lives! Christ rules eternally. Today Jesus said the time has come.” Shortly thereafter He said, “It is finished.”6 God does not have opinions. He has truth. He is truth. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Third Sunday After Epiphany
22 January 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 Corinthians 2:2
2 Mark 1:15
3 Jonah 3:4
4 1 Corinthians 7:31
5 1 Corinthians 6:13
6 John 19:30