+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 6:27
Theme: The Ultimate Price
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Life is tenuous. God is reliable. We are never more than a single accident, incident, or impediment from realized mortality. That makes life precious. What comfort could you offer to John the Baptist and his followers? Beheaded for calling King Herod to integrity by condemning his adultery, he suffered martyrdom under the most capricious of circumstances. How could it be that the Lord’s prophet, the forerunner of the Messiah- lauded as one of whom no one greater had been born of women- would meet his demise at the whim of an intoxicated despot? He was given no opportunity for testimony in his final hour. Yet, the gruesome record of His death is recorded as a witness for the ages. It stands as a memory, a monument, and a motivation to faithfulness. Six months older than Jesus, he died before Jesus reached the cross. Christ Himself was naturally grieved. The Scripture says, “When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”1
John’s faith endured the ultimate test. Faith that is not tested soon grows fat. It gets lazy. The bearing of our crosses is not a motionless, sedentary activity. What does the apostle say? “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.2 Faith engages a dual struggle simultaneously. On the one hand we grapple with taking God at His word. The purity of His grace is more than the uncleanness of our souls can bear. On the other hand we wrestle against the temptations of sin; the tug of Satan, the pressure of the world, the pull of selfishness. This is a lot for faith to do.
But faith isn’t really doing the doing, God is doing the doing; faith is doing the trusting. It’s easy to bear the kindness and generosity of God, and indeed, we rightly praise Him for it. It’s another matter, however, to bear His darkness. Christ promises escape from eternal death. Nowhere does He preach a life of luxury, effortlessness, or painlessness. Christ calls on us to love others selflessly. That requires sacrifice. The Bible nowhere teachers that devotion to Christ makes life more carefree; but it absolutely makes it more meaningful. Note how Peter encourages the scattered believers. “…though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.”3
Dear friends, the reign and rule of God will always be contested. It always has been; it always will be. The human ego prefers to answer to no one. Every generation makes some kind of effort to discount the profound impact of sin on the human race. Complete denial that sin exists is rarely asserted-yet- but the parameters and consequences are continually revised to suit the whims and agendas of those with the most invested. Manipulation of the moral code has always been a favourite pastime of people and we shouldn’t expect that to change. The mere declaration that God does not change- while true enough- will not suffice to redress hearts and minds steeped in the conviction that change is always commensurate with progress. Like the addict we must be given the words that express the hope of recovery. But only an outside power can initiate the process towards transformation. Christians know that only the Holy Spirit can initiate genuine repentance; a repentance that in some real way must recognize the relevant and powerful consequences of sin. Repentance is never generic. I am a sinner. You are sinners. We are equally at the mercy of God’s clemency.
When we have nothing left but the bare promises of God, the naked word…not material comforts, no ‘miraculous cures’, no evidence of God’s indulgent action, no one to empathize or dry our tears…is grace then really sufficient? Do we wait upon God’s promise? A resurrection is a fine-sounding idea, but do we not prefer to cling to the troubles we know? Can release from sin be so fantastic, immortality so stupendous, the vision of God so mesmerizing that we would chose to forego the pleasures which we have already tasted in this life? Would we choose to be immediately translated into the presence of God as were Enoch and Elijah?
A corpse hanging from a rough-hewn instrument of torture…that is our ransom. The death of a single man, but not any man, is the price of our freedom. This man is God-in-the-flesh; “God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God”, a Shepherd, a Redeemer, a King. His is Immanuel, God with us. He is the architect of life, the author of faith, and the master over death. Once crowned with thorns, He is the Servant King. He serves you with the sacrament of His presence and power at this altar. The Spirit makes you a participant of His death and resurrection in your baptism. As His baptized people you have high and holy callings in this world.
In Christ, your vocations are never trivial. They may seem tedious or laborious. Providing for your family, making ends meet, balancing relationships with family, friends, and work colleagues can tax us to the limit. We may question what the point and purpose is. But in the everyday routine of life, God gives us ample opportunity to accomplish His high and holy purposes. The considerate provision for a child; the patient compassion for a spouse; the honest effort done at work, all are godly expressions of vocation. We may often feel we don’t get due appreciation for our efforts. The squeaky wheel tends to get the grease. The quiet sufferer is often overlooked. But God notices and He takes all things into account.
The apostle reminds us today that God is not reactionary. He does not work haphazardly or on a whim. Time and eternity are in His purview. Our lives are in His hands.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight…in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”4 Our faith will always be tested. But Christ has already passed the ultimate test. He has made the supreme sacrifice. Thanks be to God! Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost
12 July, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 14:13
2 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
3 1 Peter 1:6-7
4 Ephesians 1:3-4, 7