Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 8)
July 1, 2018
Text: Mark 5:21-43
Desperate. Jairus is a desperate man, as any man would be in his shoes. His little daughter, Daddy’s little girl, is sick. She is at the point of death. All the efforts of man, all the medical knowledge at their disposal, all of it had come to nothing. Parents and family and members of the synagogue had prayed. That precious twelve-year-old light of her Daddy’s life continued to fade. So now here he is, seeking the Teacher from Nazareth, falling at His feet, imploring Him earnestly, “Come, Lord Jesus”… “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live” (Mark 5:23; ESV).
Desperate. The poor woman had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, as long as Jairus’ daughter had breathed the breath of life. Not once a month, but every day for twelve long years this woman suffered, with none of the modern coping mechanisms. She was miserable. She suffered much under many physicians… I won’t paint you a picture, but you can imagine what these doctors from the early First Century subjected her to. It wasn’t pleasant, I’m sure. And she spent all she had, every penny, but their efforts just made it worse. To top it all off, remember this is a daughter of Israel, a woman under the Law of Moses. She is unclean. Always, every day, for twelve years, she can have no contact with anyone. She’s an outcast. She’s not supposed to get near Jesus. She’s not even supposed to be in the crowd. She’s making everyone she touches ceremonially unclean. But she’ll take the risk. She’s desperate. “If I just sneak up”… “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well” (v. 28).
Desperate. The world is desperate for peace with a God she won’t acknowledge. But not on His terms! She will dictate her own conditions for peace, thank you very much. I hear it all the time: “I just can’t believe in a God who”… And you fill in the blank. “I just can’t believe in a God who wouldn’t allow someone to love a person just because they happen to be the same gender.” “I just can’t believe in a God who sends people to hell just because they don’t believe in Him.” On the other hand, “I just can’t believe in a God who would let that guy into heaven just because he does believe in Jesus.” There we go dictating the terms. There hangs the forbidden fruit, promising that when you eat of it you can be like God, determining what is good and what is evil. And it will kill you. Repent. The world is desperate, but she doesn’t know why, or won’t acknowledge it. Desperate in sin. Desperate in unbelief. Desperate in death. So her children seek to justify themselves. We’re all about love and tolerance… and let’s get those Christian haters! Them we cannot tolerate! The ultimate virtue for the world is self-fulfillment. Do what makes you happy. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart. Which is exactly what Eve did in the Garden. Did God really say? Well, who really cares what He said? We all know He’d want me to be happy. And anyway, who can be sure He even exists. You see, in a strange twist of irony, the denial of God, this insistence that everything is ultimately accidental and meaningless (i.e. evolution), this is all finally a striving for peace with God. Because if there is no God, there is no conflict. It’s the ultimate state of denial. It is desperation. Unwilling to reconcile with God, and unable to imagine an eternity of conflict with Him (Hell), we just deny the whole thing. We pretend none of it is real. That’s the world you live in.
And you—you have your own desperations. You also know the anguish. You know the sting of death, loved ones who have died or are dying. You know the pain of infirmity in your own body and the bodies of those you love. From the common cold to cancer, you know this is not how it should be. This is what it means to know good and evil. Thank you Eve. Thank you Adam. Apart from that fruit, we would only have known the good. But now the world is fallen, and so is our flesh. We’re condemned to a life of dying, and that makes us desperate.
But you—you know a way out, the only way out. And that is Jesus. Jairus knew it, too, and fell at the Savior’s feet, imploring Him for mercy. The woman knew it, too, and snuck up to touch the hem of His garment. You know that if you could just catch a Word of life from His lips, just a crumb and a drop from His Table, you will be healed. And Jesus says to you, “Daughter… Son”… “your faith has made you well” (v. 34). Actually, not just “made you well.” The Greek literally says, “your faith has saved you”! Jesus preaches a good Lutheran sermon: Salvation by faith alone. Beloved, your faith has saved you. Because the content of your faith is Christ. Luther said that faith is a synonym for Christ. It is not that if you believe hard enough, you will be saved. Faith is not your work. It is Christ. And it is a gift. Christ is your salvation. Christ has made you well. Christ has saved you. “Your faith has saved you,” He says to the woman who received His healing touch. “Your faith has saved you,” He says to you who have touched and tasted His healing Body and Blood. “Depart in peace.” Be healed of your afflictions. Your sins are forgiven. You are clean. You are restored. Jesus takes your disease and uncleanness into Himself and nails it to the cross. And in exchange, He leaves you clean with His own cleanness, His righteousness, His holiness. No need to justify yourself. Jesus has done it already. He has done it completely. It is finished.
But there is more, as, indeed, there must be if this is to be truly Good News. For the woman was healed, but she eventually died. And Jairus suffered the greatest heartache a man can know in this life. His precious little girl died. And you will die. “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” (v. 35). There is nothing He can do about this, says the world. Why does Jesus do this to us? Here we are, desperate once again. The world weeps and wails in hopelessness, and in our own grief, we’re tempted to join in. When Jesus comes to the house, there is a great commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. That is the only response the world knows to death. And it’s not even all that sincere, not for most of those present. It was the custom at the death of a loved one to hire mourners to help set the mood. They’re doing it for pay! And they scoff when Jesus announces hope in the face of hopelessness: “The child is not dead but sleeping” (v. 39). Much as they scoff at you when you confess: “I believe in… the resurrection of the body” (Apostles’ Creed). They can’t believe you mean that. Because they’re desperate, but not so desperate as to believe something that contradicts their every experience of death. Dead men don’t rise. It is easier to live in denial than to stake your eternal fate on a confession of hope in the face of hopelessness. It is impossible for man to believe this hope. It’s a miracle that anybody believes. It is a miracle, and it happens every time a baby is baptized into Christ, every time the Lord Jesus speaks faith into the heart of a child of God: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).
In a little foreshadowing of the Judgment, Jesus throws the unbelieving world out of the house. Only the believers are present: the disciples, Jairus, his wife, and the corpse. Jesus takes the hand of the little girl in His own, and He speaks into her ear: “‘Talitha cumi,’ which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise’” (v. 41). And she does. Immediately, St. Mark tells us (v. 42). She’s walking around, probably talking and laughing and overjoyed to be alive. Jesus commands them to give her something to eat. Nothing works up an appetite like being dead. And nothing calls for a Feast like resurrection from the dead. When our blessed Lord appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, He was constantly eating with them (Cf. Luke 24 and John 21!). And He has given us the Meal of His death and resurrection to eat and drink until He comes again. He died. He is risen. We eat with Him every time we gather around His Altar. It is His healing touch. Your faith has saved you. Depart in peace. And what about death? What about it? You already died with Christ at the font. You are already risen with Him from the baptismal flood. And anyway, you already know what He will do for you on the Last Day. He will take your hand in His hand, the pierced one, and speak into your ear: “Child, I say to you, arise!” And you will. You’ll step out of the grave with your own two feet and join in the unending Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. Despair no more. Jesus lives. And so do you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 9)
July 8, 2018
Text: Mark 6:1-13
Preachers are called to preach the Word of the Lord. Jesus sends them with all His authority to speak His Word… all of it, the whole counsel of God, no more, no less. The preacher doesn’t get to pick and choose what he likes and what he doesn’t like, what is safe to proclaim and what could land him in hot water with the people or with the government. The Holy Christian Church is called to hear the Word of God… all of it, the whole counsel of God, whether it appeals to her members or not. She is to receive it gladly, confess it boldly, and support the ministers of Christ who publicly proclaim it. But understand, there is no promise of glorious success in this undertaking, at least not in human terms. There will be those who hear the Word of God, repent of their sins, and come to faith in Christ. But there will also be those who will not hear, not for lack of preaching, but because they refuse to hear. They do not want the Lord or His Word. And this should not surprise us. We are a rebellious nation in the midst of rebellious nations, after all. Fallen sinners, every one. We are born unbelievers. Our ears are not, by nature, attuned to the things of the Spirit. That is why we require a new birth by water and the Word, the washing of regeneration that is Holy Baptism, that born of the Spirit we have ears to hear. It is God’s gift, this new life, this faith that hangs on every Word of the Lord Jesus. It is His doing, and not our own. And so it is that we are called to preach and hear and confess the living Word of God. But the results are up to the Spirit. We are not called to success. We are called to faithfulness.
Jesus came to His hometown, Nazareth, to His home synagogue, to be the Guest Preacher on this particular Sabbath. The text doesn’t say it, but I can imagine how it went. Everyone was excited that the hometown Boy was returning to preach. “That’s our Boy! He’s done well. Look at the following He has. Why, I can remember when He was just a little guy on Momma’s knee. I just can’t wait to hear His sermon. I bet He’s a good Preacher.”
But then He opens His mouth. And He preaches the Word of God unvarnished, with all its rough edges and hard surfaces, the crushing weight of the Law, the scandal of the Holy Gospel. And the people say, “Wait a minute! This is not what we were expecting. Who does this kid think He is, anyway?! Saying things only God has the authority to say! Telling us to repent! Forgiving our sins! After all, He’s just a carpenter. Nobody special! We know His mom and His brothers and sisters.”
I’ve preached at my home Church, and while everyone was very gracious, I’m not sure how effective a preacher I can be to people who changed my diapers. When a preacher returns home, at best, there is a condescending pride in the boy who made good. Jesus gets the worst. The people are offended at Him. They will not hear the Word from Him. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and his own household” (Mark 6:4; ESV). “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (vv. 5-6). Disappointing. Sad. But so it goes. Jesus came to preach, and that is what He does. Whether they hear or refuse to hear (Ez. 2:5).
Our Lord’s mistreatment serves as an object lesson for the Church. This is not just about a preacher returning to his home congregation. This is the treatment any faithful Christian can expect when you speak the Word of the Lord. Jesus calls the Twelve and begins to send them out two by two. He invests them with His own authority over unclean spirits. He sends them out to preach that people should repent, to cast out demons and heal the sick, to be His spokesmen, His representatives to the people. An “Apostle” is one who is sent. The Apostles were sent by the Lord Jesus, and they possessed all His authority in the matter for which they were sent, so that when they spoke, when they acted, it was the same as though Jesus Himself spoke or acted. And so also the reaction they were to encounter. Jesus tells them they will not always be received well. “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:10-11). The negative reaction is not to the Apostles in and of themselves. It is a rejection of Christ. It is a refusal to hear His Word. As Jesus says elsewhere, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master… If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matt. 10:24-25). No matter. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
That is what the world does to prophets and preachers of the Word. That is certainly how they treated Ezekiel. God sends His man, the prophet Ezekiel, to a rebellious nation of Israel. And He virtually promises the prophet he will be rejected. “I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD GOD.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ez. 2:4-5). The preacher is sent to preach the Word of the Lord. He is not called to success. He is called to faithfulness. Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that Christ has sent His man, that the Lord has spoken.
This is a comfort to pastors and to the Church in a world that doesn’t really want to hear us right now. We’re free to believe what we want to believe, as long as we do it quietly. But when we come speaking the Word of the Lord, preaching that the people should repent, that they are sinners, and so are we by the way, and we all need the salvation that only comes in Jesus Christ, well… No, thank you! Keep preaching that and we’ll have to silence you by force. Refuse to endorse same-sex “marriage” and we’ll strip you of your tax-exempt status. Speak against homosexuality and we’ll fine you for hate speech. Keep it up and we’ll arrest you. I’m not exaggerating. It’s already happening in Canada and Europe, and we know that right here in the good old United States of America, Christians have lost their businesses and their livelihoods for speaking God’s truth about gay marriage. Don’t think you are safe just because you don’t own a flower shop or a bakery. God still may call you to suffer at the hands of the world for His sake. But that’s the Spirit’s problem, not yours. Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not. We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). You just confess the truth in love. I’ll just keep preaching. And whether they hear or refuse to hear, they’ll know that the people of God have been among them.
And the miracle is that some will hear. The Spirit does His work in the preaching of the Gospel. He breaks hearts of stone and bestows beating hearts of flesh. He brings to new birth by water and the Word. He leads the Old Adam to water and drowns him good and dead, that He raise up the new man in Christ to live in Him by faith. He bestows seeing eyes on the blind and hearing ears on the deaf. He opens dumb mouths and looses bound tongues to speak His Word faithfully. He sends preachers to preach and the Word of the Lord grows as sinners come to faith in Christ. “(W)e preach Christ crucified,” says St. Paul, “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24). We preach Christ crucified for sinners, for the forgiveness of sins. We preach Christ raised from the dead, who will raise us also. It is a scandal, and it is really to say that Christ Jesus saved us precisely in being rejected. It’s true. He saved us by dying. Not very successful in human terms. But with God, things are not as they appear. His death is His triumph and our salvation. So with St. Paul, we are content to be weak and defeated in the eyes of the world. For the sake of Christ, we are “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10). For Jesus says to us as He said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9).
So it is that the Lord sends His weak preachers to mount pulpits week after week, day after day, proclaiming “Thus says the LORD GOD” to poor miserable sinners. It is a pitiful sight to the movers and shakers of this world. But with God, things are not as they appear. The weak man is clothed in an Office that speaks for the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The Word he speaks grants life to the dead. And the sinners in the pew are forgiven, righteous, glorious saints, who reign with Christ and will judge the world. We preach and we suffer, willingly, with rejoicing, because we know how this ends. We know it is good. For Christ is risen. He lives, and He reigns. The old is passing away. Jesus makes all things new. “Thus says the LORD GOD.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.