+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 9:42-48
Theme: Better With Christ
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Things are seldom as they appear. There is more to most things than meets the eye. Lack of transparency is a weakness of sinners. How often are true motives and actions disguised in order to give another impression? With God appearances can be deceiving too. He may appear weak, apathetic, and distant. He seems even to let the devil have His way and the arrogant of the world make a parody of Him. A crucifixion seems to be a paltry way to institute universal governance. Yet this is the way of Christ because of His compassion for sinners.
Today Jesus pulls no punches when addressing the problem of sin. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell.” 1 We won’t concern ourselves with the nature of the hyperbole Jesus is using. The message is clear enough: Sin is the most pressing menace anyone faces. It must be addressed at any cost. Because sin is so powerful the cure is radical. We cannot manage sin. Sin must be destroyed. This only happens when it is confessed, shunned, and left in the hands of Christ.
The rhythm of the Christian life should be such that we are always addressing this reality. Remember how Luther expresses it when describing baptismal living, “It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”2 Otherwise what happens? We become acclimated to our sinfulness. We become accepting. As soon as we become accepting in the sense of not identifying sin for the danger it is we pull the rug right out from under repentance. We assimilate our sinful habits into an accepted version of ourselves and then repentance becomes necessary only for those things which fall outside of our new image. That is, we fallaciously shift the parameters of what should be classified as sin.
Examples are easy to name. Do we believe our gossip is socially acceptable? Is our dishonestly in personal or business affairs publically tolerated? Is our silence when the truth needs to be spoken deafening? Do the vulnerable- the unborn, the aged, and the outcast- suffer because of our quietism? Do we spend greater effort and resource tending to our own kingdoms than we do God’s kingdom? Is the spiritual well-being of others of little interest to us? Do these things become so second nature that we no longer identify them and seek forgiveness for them?
This happens all the more easily in an environment in which belief in absolutes has been nearly abandoned. If everything is relative than the shifting of parameters according to a whole array of subjective tastes is inevitable. Ironically, those who cry for tolerance soon become intolerant of any concrete position. A pragmatic consensus is upheld as the ideal as long as it serves certain ideological agendas. Truth and accountability are pushed aside as less important.
But pragmatism is never the answer to temptation and sin. We manage temptation by shunning it, resisting it, fleeing from it. We never manage it by thinking we have a handle on it. Dear friends, forgiveness can only be truly appreciated when sin is fully unmasked. Do you wish to receive absolution only for your petty lapses- the ones you may already be convinced hardly worry God anyway? Would you give God such a small task? Would you try to maintain your public piety in this way? Christ is not merely the absolver of minor infringements; He pardons the darkest transgressions of the penitent soul. He remits the sins of the transgressor who knows he or she deserves nothing but judgment and hell.
Remember the sinful woman who anointed Jesus feet with perfume. She was set in contrast to the Pharisees who thought they had no sins to forgive. Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven- for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”3 The most sincere fruit of faith is the gratitude shown for the pardoning of sins. The mercy of God does not demand formal but hollow expressions of gratitude. It creates true movement of the heart. Such love can never be manufactured, not with the greatest attention to external detail. It is always a divine work of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray- as we are bid to do by the Redeemer Himself- that He grants us His Holy Spirit to this end.
Sin can only be destroyed because of Christ’s sacrificial death. He took our sins to the cross, but the two, Christ and sin, will not co-exist together in eternity. The power of sin was crucified with Christ. Atonement was accomplished in that act on our behalf. There will be a separation, an unbridgeable rift in eternity. The sinner must recreated, reconstituted, resurrected. We will never be glossed over inclusive of our sins. We will be freed! This is the final implication of your baptism. Because you are united with Christ you will not be exposed to sin’s corrupting and condemning power.
So even now we live in defiance of the dying and decaying pattern of the world and we walk in step with the Spirit. In so doing we are doing nothing less than previewing the future. “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than...be thrown into hell.”4 Better? Does Jesus not know what He is saying here? Infinitely better! Eternally better! Quantitatively better! Qualitatively better! Indescribably better! Better because all pain, suffering, sorrow, and adversity are euthanized. They are given a proper death in the Son to the glory of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The future of the world is not indeterminate. Christians are forward-looking in the widest sense. And we plan accordingly. We are not bound to the demise of this place of temporary residence. Human activity in all its fervor and frailty will cease. “The earth will wear out like a garment.”5 Christ will come in glory. These truths are not irrelevant they are part and parcel of our hope in Christ. The Scripture says of believers of old, “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth…they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.”6
Things are not as they now appear. Christ waits patiently but His rule is not in doubt. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
30 September 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Mark 9:43
2 Luther’s Small Catechism
3 John 7:47
4 Mark 10:47
5 Isaiah 51:6
6 Hebrews 11:13-16