Sunday, October 7, 2012

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost (B) 2012

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.

Text: Mark 10:9
Theme: The Faithful Bridegroom

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God’s thinking isn’t limited to human categories- though of course, He created them. God often presents the truths of the kingdom in humble antithesis to the accepted wisdom of humanity. Christ is the very epitome- God-in-the flesh- image of this truth. In Christ we learn to think differently from the world. Today Jesus said, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child he will never enter it.”1 Heaven and hell are hardly childish things. Yet here Christ warns against the skepticism and suspicion of trying to look behind the truth He is proclaiming. Like children, we are to receive Him as He appears in simple faith.

This is no small request. The experiences of life can make us cynical. The words of the creed roll off our lips “I believe in God, the Father Almighty…”2 but where are our hearts and wills? What impact does the lordship of Christ have? What does our Scripture say, “In putting everything under Him, God left nothing that is not subject to Him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to Him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”3

We don’t observe that the world is subject to Christ. This is a matter of faith. That makes navigating the godlessness of the world a challenge. People like to be their own judges.
No one wants to be held accountable. We have an incurable addiction for alibis. Who will be answerable to God? Jesus was asked about the legality of divorce. Divorce was a problem in Jesus’ day. It always has been. The law of Moses permitted divorce in certain circumstances. But this was a concession to peoples’ sinfulness and hardheartedness. Christ reminded them that from the beginning it was not so. “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”4

Human relationships fail. People fail. We are driven by self-interest. We are overcome with hopelessness. We are filled with bitterness, anxiety, and resentment. We become enmeshed in complicated relationships beyond our control. Yet sin must always be confessed. Never excused or condoned. If the church moves away from the biblical understanding of marriage it forfeits its calling to be the purveyor of God’s will for the foundation of society. To accept promiscuity in relationships in general and unfaithfulness in marriage in particular is to redefine the God-given pattern for the well-being of humanity.

We can fail at the game- for this we can be forgiven. But we can’t change the rules. Once the criteria are changed we have no certainty that God will bless our pursuits. We may get overcome in the contest of being faithful in our relationships; we may be too weak for temptations- for this there is absolution for the repentant soul. But we cannot give up the truth of what God has ordained for us. Then we deny Him and drive away the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t promise to bless our experimental forays into self-determined attractions according to where our indulgent tastes are leading us at the time. If the definition of marriage is changed the game is changed. If we no longer recognize as sin what God defines as sin then we are simply making our own rules. What could be more uncertain or dangerous?

The Bible uses the analogy of marriage to compare the relationship between Christ and the church. Christ is the perfectly faithful bridegroom. He loves His bride (the church) unconditionally. For her He died. He lives to serve her. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. This remains the foundation of Christian hope and joy. It is a breath of fresh gospel air in a world suffocating under the weight of legalistic religious pursuits. Striving, reaching, fretting, brooding, struggling, wrestling, they seek to acquire some measure of peace of mind about the well-being of their souls. Meanwhile, there stands for us a cross and empty tomb. We are washed with sacred water and fed with the Saviour’s body and blood. At the cross our searching ends.

People can never have certainty based on any or all efforts to please God that He has accepted them. Any such claims are an illusion, a deception. Yes, you want to know. That is human. But apart from Christ and His Spirit it is also carnal, sinful. You cannot manufacture your own certainty. Not with knowledge, piety, or feeling. Least of all can you have faith in your own faith. But you can have faith in this: You are baptized and that means you are claimed by the One whose name you have been given. You are in the guardianship and fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

God knows our deepest trauma and our most agonizing grief. Yet Christ is not just a sympathizer or even an empathizer; He is a justifier. His declaration of pardon is the balm for all our woes. He gives meaning to our suffering and offers hope in our despair. He can do this because He is in the midst of our suffering. He doesn’t cheer us on from a distant place. He is present in our sorrows and our joys.

God reaches down. He stoops. He condescends. He initiates, orchestrates and consummates the reconciliation between Himself and humanity. He leaves nothing unattended, nothing undone. Born in humility; died in infamy; raised in glory, He rules eternally. He honoured shepherds at His birth; kept company with criminals at His death and is worshipped by angels in His glory. What did our Scripture say, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”5

These truths are not merely information. Christ is not a hero of a bygone era to be sentimentally admired. His act of reconciliation and on-going intercession alter our status with God and other people. He constitutes a kingdom. We are part of a family, children of the heavenly Father, the collective bride to the Bridegroom. The church is unparalleled in any organization of society. It may bear many outward similarities to other associations. It may engage in similar activities to some extent. But there the similarities end. You are part of the “one, holy, Christian and apostolic church”6 instituted by the Almighty Himself. You participate in the sacred treasures of word and sacrament. Your fellowship involves immense privileges and great responsibilities.

The Bible constantly exhorts Christians to encourage one another. Sometimes this involves rebuke. Other times compassion. But it always involves speaking the truth in love. To do this beneficially we must get to know and build trust with one another. Early African converts to Christianity were earnest and regular in private devotions. Each one reportedly had a separate spot in the thicket where he would pour out his heart to God. Over time the paths to these places became well worn. As a result, if one of these believers began to neglect prayer, it was soon apparent to the others. They would kindly remind the negligent one, "Brother, the grass grows on your path."

Dear friends, there is no grass that grows under Christ’s feet. He is constant in His love for us. Amen.

+ In nomine Jesu +

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
7 October 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt

1 Mark 10:15
2 The Apostles’ Creed
3 Hebrews 2:8-9
4 Mark 10:9
5 Hebrews 1:3
6 The Nicene Creed