+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 9:42-50
Theme: Of Sin and Salvation
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
What is your greatest hope? Does it involve career, family, assets, or accomplishments? Is it spiritual? What is your greatest fear? Does it relate to health, reputation, or relationships? Does it take seriously your mortality? Is your greatest worry offset by an even greater confidence? These questions, though perhaps not posed precisely as such, relate to the very meaning and purpose of our existence. We are blessed with so much, yet it’s easy to forget that to lose connection with God is to, finally, lose everything. But when we have Christ, even if we have nothing else, we have all things. The Scripture says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish.”1
Of course, it’s not quite so simple as to say that apart from God we have nothing. Jesus makes it crystal clear today that without Him we have a horrifying set of realities to face. The summation of which is hell. A place called the Hinnom Valley lies to the southwest of Jerusalem. For centuries it was used as a garbage dump and a place of human sacrifice. Smoldering fires often burned there continuously. Christ references it today as an analogy for the eternal fires of hell. The Scripture says in regard to the wicked king Manasseh “He burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with necromancers.”2 The Greek word for hell derives its name from this point of reference.
An image of destruction and punishment, Jesus uses it to warn people about being a stumbling block to the faith of others. The imagery Jesus uses is vivid and confronting. Fire and water are given spiritual dimensions of retribution. “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.”3 How often even in our present day is a raging bushfire likened to the fires of hell! How easily an unrestrained flood is compared to an agent of destruction! Today we are called to account for our actions as sinners. Judgment is neither uncertain nor negotiable.
Dear friends, God demands perfection but only Christ could achieve it. The holy will of God is only achieved through the past, present, and future work of the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. When we pray in the Lord’s Pray, “Your will be done,”4 we are not simply referring to sweeping generalities regarding the work of God in the world. We are not praying for things remote from daily life. Nor are we only praying for God-pleasing resolutions to things like the refugee crisis in Syria or the violent extremism of ISIS. We are praying that Christ’s work of salvation would govern our attitudes and actions. We are praying for understanding and acceptance of our vocations and how we serve others through them. The will of God is that we understand the privileges and responsibilities that we have as redeemed members of His body.
The Scriptures never assume the average believer is a supra-spiritual person, a holier-than-thou fanatic unconnected to the real lives of real people. The Bible isn’t full of hyped-up piety or false aspiration that denies the hard realities of mortal existence. The Psalms teach us to pour out our complaints as much as they inspire us to lift our voices in praise. The prophets teach us to rend our hearts as often as they encourage us to be resolute in our convictions. The patriarchs were vulnerable as often as they were stalwart. The apostles faltered as frequently as they rose to the occasion. Elijah despaired. Jonah resented the grace shown to unbelievers. Thomas doubted the crucified Jesus could be living. Abraham laughed at God’s promises. Sarah too! Rahab was a prostitute. Matthew was a tax-collector. Zaccheus was too! All became agents and servants of the most high God.
God uses the frail and the faulty. If He didn’t there would be no one worthy to serve Him. The baptized are not perfected; they are forgiven. We have perfect forgiveness from a faultless Saviour. You are an agent of God’s perfect love clothed in human frailty. You can save no one; Christ does that. Yet in every circumstance and in every way the compassion of God can come to others through you. Remember what James says today, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”5
Alignment with God’s will is the test of faithfulness. The LCA will soon meet in national synod. This too will be a test of corporate integrity. We pray that our will becomes conformed to God’s will even when we don’t understand how it will be of benefit to ourselves or others. Our trust for His daily provision is built upon the completed act of salvation already accomplished through His atoning death and glorious resurrection. You are declared blameless through Christ’s blood. You, the sinner, me the scoundrel; we are delivered from the threat of everlasting condemnation as a sheer act of grace. His mercy cannot be earned; it is freely given. It is lavishly poured out upon us.
Fire and water are used as imagery for redemption too. Christ was drowned in the ocean of our sins. We are baptized into His death and resurrection. Jesus endured the fire of God’s wrath on the cross. The Holy Spirit cleanses us- as with fire. Daily bread is critical for our bodies. Sacramental food is essential for our well-being overall. Liquid is vital for our physiology. The Living Water is crucial for the whole of our existence. These things strengthen us for His service.
Your faith sprouts legs when you carry the burdens of others. Your faith takes flight when you send words of hope to those separated from loved ones by time and distance. Your faith grows ears when you patiently listen to those who have no one to pour out their problems to. Your faith develops voice when you speak on behalf of those who have been suppressed. Your faith shows integrity when you gently correct those who wander from the truth. The timid soul may need a confidante. The guilty conscience may need to hear words of forgiveness. The despondent heart may need words of encouragement. The weak in spirit may need to be lifted by the strength of another.
Jesus left the heights of heaven to spare us from the depths of hell. He handled the unclean. He exorcised demons. He healed every disease. He dined with tax-collectors and prostitutes. These were not religious stunts of a Messianic hopeful. These were the activities of the Son of God in human flesh; activities through which people enslaved by the manifestations of evil- in a creation hampered and harassed by sin- were redeemed and restored as His cherished sons and daughters. Christ continues such work of reclamation today. He already shouldered the millstone. He was drowned in the ocean of our sins that we might sail on the ocean of His grace safely in the ark- His holy church. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
27 September, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 Peter 1:3-4
2 2 Chronicles 33:36
3 Mark 9:42
5 James 5:20