Wednesday, June 16, 2021
Tuesday, June 15, 2021
Monday, June 14, 2021
Anxiety has been defined as “the body’s response to worry and fear.” Researchers tell us that in 2020, 62% of respondents in the United States reported experiencing some anxiety. And 31% of all American adults will, in the course of their lives, suffer from a clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder, be it generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress, phobias, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Christians aren’t immune from anxieties, of course.
It may have been because He anticipated the onset of anxieties among Christians that Jesus told the two parables we find in today’s Gospel lesson, Mark 4:26-34.
The first parable Jesus tells in today’s lesson is the parable of the growing seed.
In this parable, the seeds are the Word of God. When the Word of God--the Gospel Word about new and everlasting life for all who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Jesus--when that Word is scattered in the soil of human hearts, minds, and wills through the Word shared, taught, preached, and given in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, there is a harvest. The seed won't grow in every person who receives it. But there will be a harvest. The harvest is disciples, people who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, receive the gift of faith in Jesus and have life with God. Faith in Jesus makes people part of the harvest, part of the Kingdom of God.
This first parable addresses one enormous source of anxiety among some Christians.
Last month, I was talking with a pastoral colleague who serves a congregation in a small town in another state. His church’s facilities were ample enough to provide for social distancing midway through the worst of the pandemic and reopened in January. “We lost three or four families,” he told me. “Why?” I asked. “They were upset that we were reopening.” The loss of those families triggered the anxiety of some of his church’s members. “What are we going to do, pastor?” they asked him. His answer was very wise: “Keep spreading the Gospel!”
That’s our job as Christ’s Church. We scatter the seed and trust God to do the rest, no matter what the apparent results.
The second parable Jesus tells today, the parable of the mustard seed, assures us that just as a mustard seed is tiny and becomes a great bush that accommodates birds looking for places to nest and sing, the Kingdom of God may look tiny, vulnerable, and overmatched by the sin, death, and darkness of this world and our common enemy, the devil.
One of the biggest anxieties you hear among Christians these days is, “The world is going so badly and nobody wants to be in Church. What’s going to happen?”
Friday, June 11, 2021
Truth #3: God the Son, Jesus, has done everything needed to save me from myself. He offered His sinless life on a cross, in His death, taking the punishment for sin and I deserve.Truth #4: Jesus rose from the dead, opening up eternity to all who have faith in Him.
Truth #5: Because having faith in Jesus is so foreign to my sinful nature, God the Holy Spirit works faith in me--gives me the gift of faith in Jesus--through means: the Word of God shared, taught, preached and the Word of God given in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
Truth #6: It's through these Holy Spirit-created, generated, executed means and not by anything I do, that God gives me saving faith in Jesus, faith that brings the forgiveness of my sins, a relationship with God today, and the promise of everlasting life with God ...and all His God-sainted sinners. (Note: "sainted sinners" aren't sinners who have physically died; they're sinners who have been made saints by God's grace in Christ.)God's Word says that Baptism brings saving grace to the baptized (1 Peter 3:21), faith comes through hearing the Word about Jesus (Romans 10:17,) and that this faith isn't something we manufacture, but a gift from God (Philippians 1:29)
Tuesday, June 08, 2021
“When they kept on questioning him, [Jesus] straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’” (John 8:7)
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I read 2 Kings, chapter 2, as part of my quiet time with God this morning. It includes an account of Israel's King David on his deathbed, speaking with his son Solomon, who will succeed him.
Monday, June 07, 2021
Sunday, June 06, 2021
The world, this fallen universe in which we all currently reside, has its benefits, of course. Go along with the world and we might experience things like acceptance, ease, money, comforts. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things intrinsically, of course. But they’re all the world can offer; they end at the grave. This world can do nothing for us when we die.
Jesus, on the other hand, can bless us is in this world and the next. All who have been saved by God’s grace given through faith in Jesus, live each day knowing that they walk with the Creator of the universe who loves and accepts them, sends them the Holy Spirit to guide them, and gives them life with God in an eternal existence in which things like death, terror, sorrow, pain, and need are no more.
When put like this maybe, the choice between living for the world and living for Jesus seems obvious. The problem, of course, is that life with Jesus tells us to trust that the God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus we cannot see will give us the blessings God has in mind for us, here and, perfectly, beyond death. But life lived for this world gives us the license to grab and grasp all that we can see and take from it, no matter how it destroys our character or alienates us from God and from the life only God can give. It’s easier for us to grasp and grab than it is for us to trust. The former aligns with our sinful human nature, our inborn desire to be like God. The latter--trust, faith in the God we meet in Jesus--is unnatural. Faith only comes to us through the supernatural means by which God creates it in us: the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and God’s Word.
And it is so easy for Christians to fall for the traps of the world, to be ensnared by Satan and his lies, confusing their moral codes and their “family values” with discipleship. This is why you find so many Christians today identifying their political preferences with their faith. They’ve forgotten that Jesus isn’t a Democrat or a Republican or an American or an Israeli. People who once walked with the God made known in Jesus can, like lost sheep looking for the next reassuring patch of fresh grass to feed on, wander into living for the world, its agendas, its comforts, and its obsessions rather than living for Jesus.
Today’s gospel lesson, Mark 3:20-35, contains two interwoven episodes, in which two groups of people are confronted by Jesus for walking with the world rather than with Him. For them, Jesus’ ministry didn’t come as good news--that is, it didn’t come to them as gospel. Instead, for them, what Jesus came into the world to do was bad news, disturbing news. When people walk with the world, even Jesus’ grace is bad news because it undermines their pretended goodness and self-sufficiency or their “way of life.” We see this in the two groups Jesus encounters today.
The first group is Jesus’ own earthly family, His mother, Mary, and the brothers born to Mary and Joseph. The gospels of Matthew and Luke report that Mary knew well Who Jesus was--God in human flesh. She knew better than anyone that Jesus was born from her virgin womb. She had been there when the angels and wise men, Simeon and Anna, had all confirmed Jesus’ identity as Messiah, Lord, and Savior. She had experienced Jesus as a Son Who had been utterly obedient and sinless. And yet, Mark tells us that after Jesus has gone into a house with His disciples, the house being symbolic of those walking with Jesus, Mary and the family from Nazareth show up in Capernaum to condemn Jesus. Verse 21: “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Jesus’ family is intent on taking Jesus by force back to Nazareth and putting an end to this whole Messiah business!
Why? Two answers immediately suggest themselves. One is that Jesus is seen not fulfilling His family obligations. The oldest son was supposed to take over the family business and estate. Yet, here’s Jesus out in the world to save everyone from sin, death, and darkness. Another possible reason is that the family is embarrassed by Jesus. It would be OK for Mary and the family to think of Jesus as Messiah within the confines of their four walls. But there could be pushback for the family to face if He pushed His Messiahship in public. “He’s crazy!” they say, effectively abandoning Jesus and walking with the world. Friends, it will often be your families who give you the most grief for your faith in Jesus Christ.
The second group in today’s lesson to reveal themselves as walking with the world rather than with Jesus is the scribes. Jesus is giving signs of the Good News from heaven He came into the world to bring: He is casting demons out of people plagued by evil and the devil. These exorcisms are signs that Jesus is God, the One Who can deliver us from evil, sin, and death. In them, as Jesus says later in the lesson, Jesus is plundering the house of Satan, setting free human beings born in bondage to sin and incapable of freeing themselves. Every exorcism, healing, and raising of the dead Jesus performs in His earthly ministry is a preview of the freedom for life with God He can give all people because He died on the cross, accepting the death punishment for sin we deserve and because He rose from the dead, affirming His power to give life to all! But the scribes say that Jesus is driving demons out in the power of Satan. Jesus says, “if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.” (Mark 3:26)
As a pastor, I’ve always tried to be flexible with families whenever sessions of Catechism, which our young people are required to be part of before making public affirmation of their Baptism, sometimes interfere with young people’s schedules. But I’ll never forget the chill I got when a woman told me that the time for one Catechism class conflicted with her son’s basketball game could only mean one thing. “Catechism,” she told me, “is demonic.” When people are walking with the world rather than Jesus, up becomes down. They’d rather grab hold of the world’s passing rewards than the gracious hand of Jesus.
In today’s lesson, after fending off the scribes’ accusation, Jesus turns again to His family’s accusation that He’s crazy. Still standing outside the house, rather than going in to be with Jesus, His family sends someone in to say, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” (Mark 3:32) Unmoved, Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mark 3:34) In other words, Jesus is asking, “Who really is related to Me? Who is connected with Me?”
He answers His own question. Pointing to those who surround Him in the house, He says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35) Jesus’ family is composed of people who are male and female, Jew and Gentile, of every nation, tongue, race, and tribe. It’s made of those who do the will of God. And what is that exactly? “The work of God is this,” Jesus says in John 6:29, “to believe in the One he has sent.” When we respond to Jesus’ call to daily repentance, renewal, and faith in Him, when we turn to Him, we are living with Him. May you walk with Jesus always. Amen