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Grab a Bucket, Jesus! June 24, 2012

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Mark 4:35-41

Proper 7

June 23-24, 2012

Focus: God is Creator and Ruler of all things.

Function: That the hearers look to Jesus for salvation rather than for a perfect earthly life.

Structure: Here is the prevailing view…here is the claim of the gospel.

 

Grab a Bucket, Jesus!

            Boats are an important part of our transportation.  Whether you’re talking about big military vessels or cargo ships, cruise ships or fishing boats, sail boats, rafts, jet skis, or any other, boats are important for the economy, for national defense, and for recreation.  And in the past couple of centuries, they’ve become a relatively safe method of transportation.  But that doesn’t always guarantee safety.

Now I don’t know about you, or what you’ve experienced, but I’m happy to say that my couple of experiences on boats so far have been positive, except for a little seasickness.  I’ve had fun and danger really hasn’t been an issue.  But that’s not always the case.  Every now and again we’ll catch a glimpse in the news about shipwrecks or people lost at sea.

And perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when we think of danger at sea is bad weather, and boats taking on water and sinking to the bottom of the ocean.  Hollywood and media have certainly portrayed that way.  After all, it was only supposed to be a three-hour tour.

In our gospel lesson today, we get Mark’s account of Jesus calming the storm.  I think most of us could easily go through life not really seeing the full picture of what Mark is saying in this text.  For many, it’s just another miracle by Jesus, just another miracle the disciples expected Him to do.  Like it’s no different than when His mother expected Him to turn water into wine.

But let’s dig and discover.  First, we have the disciples and Jesus in the boat.  It’s late, and Jesus is tired.  So while the disciples man the boat, He goes for a nap.  It’s dark, and a storm is brewing and settling in over the lake.  The waters start getting rough as the winds howl, the rain pours, and the waves begin lapping up against the small boat and tossing it around.

Remember, many of the disciples were fishermen, so they knew how to behave in a boat during bad weather.  That gives credit to just how bad this storm was.  A furious squall, as Mark calls it.  Despite their knowledge and experience at sea, the disciples panicked.  They knew it would take everybody to stop this ship from being lost to the bottom of the sea.

So they grabbed their buckets, or whatever means they had, and they started bailing the boat out.  But they noticed that not all hands were on deck.  Jesus, their master, the One who had called them to follow Him, wasn’t helping.  So they went to Him.

“Teacher, don’t You care if we drown?”  A couple things here.  First, Greek has two words for “no” when asking a question.  “Ou” expects a yes answer.  But if you think it’s a no, you’d use “mh.”  Here the disciples use “ou,” they know Jesus cares.  And that’s the other part.  The “we” isn’t just disciples, but it also includes Jesus.  You’re on this boat, too; if we go down, You’re going down with us.

But here’s the disciples issue.  They don’t know who Jesus is.  This is a theme throughout Mark, that the disciples just don’t get it.  In fact, in his gospel account, they never get it.  The gospel begins by saying that this is “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  But Jesus isn’t called the Son of God again by anyone at any point until the cross.  Right near the very end, the centurion at the foot of the cross gets it.  He sees Jesus’ dying breath, the cry He lets out, and the temple curtain torn in two from top to bottom.  And he confesses, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

So in this text, we often think that the disciples woke Jesus up so He would take care of everything.  He’s God, He can fix this.  But that’s not what they were thinking or doing.  They didn’t yet understand who He was.  They didn’t understand what He could do.  And they prove that in their response at the end, “Who is this?  Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”

The disciples wanted help.  But it was an earthly help.  They were looking for every hand possible to pitch in.  They needed all hands on deck to bail out water, to steady the ship, whatever it would take to keep them alive until they reached land.  So come on Jesus, get up, grab a bucket, and help out!

Jesus didn’t need a bucket.  He simply gets up, commands the wind and the waves, “QUIET! BE STILL!”  And to the disciples’ utter amazement and terror, the wind stops, the waves stop.  Just as quickly as the storm rolled in, as quickly as they had panicked, Jesus calmed the sea.  Picture it in your heads.  Put the stormy sea, dark, roaring, in one image, and then right next to, a beautiful, peaceful sea.  A difference as large as night and day.  Completely calm.

Jesus’ words to the disciples are a little harsher than our NIV text reads.  “Why are you cowardly?  Do you not yet have faith?”  There’s a difference between fear and a coward.  Fear is something that many feel, some quite frequently.  But a coward makes fear part of who you are.  That’s belittling.  It’s harsh and insulting.

But after all they’ve seen Jesus do, they’re not getting it.  They’ve seen Him baptized and preaching.  They’ve seen Him cast out demons and heal all kinds of people from illness, leprosy, paralysis, and even a withered and decaying hand.  They’ve listened to Him speak in parables, and were then blessed with the opportunity to hear those same parables explained.  But still, they don’t yet believe.

The disciples see Him as a Teacher, Rabbi.  They see a prophet, perhaps a priest.  They see miracles, but they don’t put it all together.  Quite frankly, we behave this way, too.  We don’t see Jesus for who He truly is.  Nor do we get this text right when we try to make it fit our lives.

How many of you have heard that Jesus calms the storms in your life?  How many have heard that if you just believe in Jesus, you’ll live a good life on earth?  Perhaps if you’re good enough, Jesus will bless you with peace, wisdom, fame, and wealth.  It’s American Christianity to the very core.  But it’s not the truth.

As much as it’s hard to accept, Jesus doesn’t promise peace.  In fact, the opposite.  Jesus promises that those who follow Him will suffer and face persecution, imprisonment and death.  Just ask the disciples how their lives ended up.  Those who believe in Him and follow Him are not of this world, but the Father’s.  We, as God’s people are part of His kingdom, and our time in this life is short and not supposed to be great.

Interestingly enough in the text, nature, the waves themselves listen better than God’s people.  The waves, without ears, hear God speak, when we don’t.  We, like the disciples, need to see Jesus for who He really is.  He’s not the god of Americans, the god of prosperity who wants you to have a great life.  He is the God of all things.

We see it from the very beginning of Scripture.  In Genesis chapter 1.  God speaks things into existence.  Whatever God says is.  It happens.  And the message of Mark is that this Jesus, is the Son of God.  He is God.  All of the Father’s rule and authority is also in His Son.  This Jesus can command nature, He can speak and things happen.

So while we can’t expect Jesus to calm all the storms in our life, really, if anything, we are storm that needs to be quieted.  Grab a bucket, Jesus!  Well, He doesn’t need it.  Jesus Christ, our Lord, true God with the Father, rules with Him.  Jesus came, died, and rose again to quiet the real storm in this world.  The storm of sin and death that plagues us and all of creation.  Christ came and calmed it.  Sin has no more power over us.  It has no authority.  Christ does.  All authority on heaven and earth is His.  When Christ speaks, it happens.  Just as the Father does, He too can speak things into existence.  So when He says “you’re sins are forgiven,” they’re forgiven.  When He declares us righteous, as God’s holy people, we are righteous people of God.  And before the judgment throne on the Last Day, He will speak to God on our behalf and He will call us His.

 

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The Blame Game June 10, 2012

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Genesis 3:9-15

Proper 5

June 9-10, 2012

Focus: God does not leave us to our sin but takes charge, rescuing us through His Son.

Function: That the hearers accept responsibility for their sin and truly receive forgiveness.

Structure: This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

The Blame Game

            It’s the classic tale.  Two boys rough-housing when they know they’re not supposed to.  One pushes the other.  He pushes back.  Until one of them falls and bumps the end table, sending grandmother’s vase crashing to the floor.  Mom comes rushing in to find that family heirloom in pieces.  With one glance at the boys, they both respond immediately and identically, “He did it (point)!”

We’ve all seen it in some form or another.  And likely, many, maybe most, have done it.  We learn at a very early age to pin the blame on someone else.  We don’t want to get in trouble and have to face the consequences.  So we blame a sibling or a friend instead.  We blame the dog when the homework isn’t done, or our parents keeping us up late when we fall asleep in class.   We blame work for ruining our families.  Stress for tearing apart marriages.  Busy and hectic schedules for poor parenting.

The blame game goes on and on.  It’s a never-ending cycle when we allow ourselves to get caught up in it.  We lack the desire to accept responsibility for our own actions, mistakes, and faults.  But we’re not alone.  When we look to our text today, we learn that the blame game has been around for some time.

All the way back to the fall.  The day that Eve gave in to temptation, took the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  From the moment she sank her teeth into the flesh, sin began its work in this world.  Eve ate, Adam ate.  Together they disobeyed their God and Creator and instead went after their own desires.  Together they plunged into the depth of sin and evil.

We see the result.  God comes walking along in the Garden, looking for Adam.  And we get the question.  “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  And to Eve, “What is this you have done?”  God questions both, gives both the opportunity to confess of their sins, take responsibility for their actions.

But notice neither does.  Both Adam and Eve cast the blame somewhere else.  It’s not really my fault, the serpent made me do it.  Like you and me, Eve is quick to cast the blame on someone else, on the serpent, fearing God’s judgment.  But Adam goes a step further.  He doesn’t just cast blame on someone else.  “The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Adam blames two people.  He casts the blame on God first and the woman, also.  This is her fault.  She’s supposed to be my helper; she gave it to me, so I trusted her.  This is all Your fault God.  You made her.  You put her here.  You decided to give her to me as a wife.  It’s as though he forgot how excited he was when he first laid eyes on her.

Have you ever noticed are tendency to blame God for things?  In a book called “Reaching for the Invisible God”, Philip Yancey talks about just this topic.

“When Princess Diana died in an automobile accident, a minister was interviewed and was asked the question “How can God allow such a terrible tragedy?” And I loved his response. He said, “Could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going ninety miles an hour in a narrow tunnel? Just How, exactly, was God involved.”
In our weakness and wavering faith, God often gets blamed for things. And we need to be careful about that.
Years ago, boxer, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, killed a Korean opponent with a hard right hand to the head. At the press conference after the Korean’s death, Mancini said, “sometimes I wonder why God does the things he does.”
In a letter to Dr. Dobson, a young woman asked this anguished question, “Four years ago, I was dating a man and became pregnant. I was devastated. I asked God, “Why have you allowed this to happen to me?”
Susan Smith, the south Carolina mother a couple years ago who pushed her two sons into a lake to drown and then blamed a fictional car-jacker for the deed, wrote in her confession: “I dropped to the lowest point when I allowed my children to go down that ramp into the water without me. I took off running and screaming, ‘Oh God! Oh God, no! What have I done? Why did you let this happen?”
Now the question remains, exactly what role did God play in a boxer beating his opponent to death, a teenage couple giving into temptation in the back seat of a car, or a mother drowning her children?  Is God responsible for these acts?”

 

You and I can come up with more examples for sure.  At any given funeral, there is usually someone blaming God for the death.  Whether it’s the idea that God took them, needed them, or merely blaming God for not stopping it from happening, blaming God is common, but it’s wrong.

When bad things happen in this world, when you suffer, hurt, or die, God isn’t the one at fault.  We learn in Romans 5 that “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  Bad things happen in this fallen world.  Death happens in this world.  But all of it is a result of sin.

When it comes to blame, when we’re looking around for who’s at fault for our problems, we only have one real answer.  There’s really only one person to blame.  As I remember hearing a couple times growing up, when you point a finger at someone, where are most of your fingers pointing?  The others are all aiming right back at you.

Truth be told, when push comes to shove, we are all responsible for our own deeds, words, thoughts, and actions.  Sin is ours.  We do it, not someone else.  Pastor uses this mindset when talking about why we baptize infants.  Some of our Christian brothers and sisters claim that God doesn’t hold kids accountable for their actions, that somehow they are perfect until they reach the age of accountability.  So they don’t baptize until that point in life.  But there’s a problem.  Infants die.  Babies don’t always make it.  Children don’t always live to the age of accountability.  And so we remember Romans 5, and that death is a result of sin.  When a young child dies, they died because of their sin.

This sermon so far has been depressing.  The text thus far is depressing.  It’s the fall of mankind into sin.  It’s our history and our life.  We’ve seen God dishing out punishment, though so far only to the serpent.  Adam and Eve’s punishment is in the verses just following our reading.

At this point, God had every right to blame us for our sin.  Every right to banish us, or simply do away with this now fallen creation altogether.  And if He had, you and I would not be here today.  But instead, God chose to give hope.

In the final verse of our reading today we see an example of two-fold prophecy, something with a double meaning.  On the one hand, God is referencing the behavior of man and snakes in relationship to one another.  We don’t get along.  They try to bite, we try to crush.

But there’s another meaning to this verse, a meaning with far greater power and purpose.  In reference to Eve’s offspring, the second meaning is Christ.  The same can be seen in God’s punishment of Eve, that the woman’s pains in childbearing would be increased, but also that she, Eve, would be saved through childbearing, through the offspring, that is through Jesus.

The battle between Jesus and Satan, the offspring crushing the head, and the serpent biting the heal, is a theme picked up by Mark the gospel writer, and we even catch a glance of that in our gospel reading.  But the idea is simple.  There is a battle between good and evil, God and Satan, and Jesus crushes Satan.

See, when God had the opportunity to cast blame, and the opportunity to disown us altogether, He chose differently.  He decided to take responsibility for us, like a parent will sometimes do for their child’s actions.  God sent His One and only Son into the world to take responsibility, to bear on His shoulders the punishment for our sins.  Jesus Christ, the perfect One, suffered and died on account of our sins.  He took on our punishment to give us life.  He crushed the serpent to restore us to God.

God accepted responsibility on behalf of His creation.  He took on our sin and forgives us.  In Christ, there is forgiveness, life and salvation.  As Christians, children of God, we are not to cast blame on one another or anyone else.  God calls on us as His people to take responsibility for our own sins and faults.  He calls on us to repent, that is to confess our sins and turn away from them, to give up sin and return to His love and care.  Through the workings of the Holy Spirit in us, we are able to truly repent.  And through the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.  So now we take a moment, we reflect and examine ourselves, we take responsibility for our own thoughts, behaviors, and sins.  We confess and lay them down at the foot of the cross.  And we hear the words of our Savior.

Born of Water and the Spirit June 3, 2012

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John 3:1-17

Trinity Sunday

June 2-3, 2012

Focus: God gave His only Son and poured out His Spirit that we may believe, and that by believing we may live.

Function: That the hearers, by faith in Him, may see the kingdom of God.

Structure: Questions and answers.

Born of Water and the Spirit

            The Apostle John is one of the few writers in Scripture who comes right out and tells us his purpose.  Near the end of his gospel, he tells us that these things “are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

John’s gospel is unique in many ways when compared to the other three.  We believe that John wrote sometime in the 80’s near the end of his life, some 50 years after Christ.  Because of this, he had the opportunity to focus a little differently than the others.  He starts his gospel by opposing Gnosticism, a pagan belief that was creeping its way into Christianity by that time.

But in our text today, we notice another difference.  John didn’t worry about the sacraments.  The other gospel writers tend to be quite clear when they talk about baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But by this point, the sacraments are so ingrained into the practice of the church, John doesn’t have to focus on them.  He can make small references that his readers will pick up on.  For example, in his account of Jesus feeding the five thousand, Jesus tells them that He is “the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

And in our text today, we’re going to talk about being “born of water and the Spirit.”  Baptism is a vital part of our life as Christians.  Here at Immanuel we are blessed with the number of baptisms we see each and every year.  And we will continue to blessed with a few more coming up this month.

But when baptism becomes so common, we run the risk of forgetting its importance.  If we don’t stay focused, if we don’t really look at it from time to time, it becomes routine and gets lost in the shuffle.  So today, as John alludes to the importance of baptism, we refocus.

Just prior, Jesus had turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  He cleansed the temple that had become a marketplace.  And He enraged the Pharisees by claiming He could rebuild the temple in three days.  And as John put it, “many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing.”  But Jesus knew their hearts, He knew man.

And so we get a transition, to another man, another Pharisee.  We are introduced to Nicodemus, not just a Jew, not just a Pharisee, but one of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  But he’s also not like most of the Pharisees.  He’s starting to believe.  He comes to Jesus and calls Him “Rabbi.”  He admits that Jesus has come from God on account of the miracles.

Rabbi is one of the many functions Christ had in His ministry.  You and I know all about the others.  But Nicodemus wasn’t quite there yet and so Jesus was fine with playing along.  If you want to treat Me as a Rabbi, then I’ll be your Rabbi.  Rabbis teach, so here comes some teaching.

When you know what Rabbis do, Jesus no longer seems to be making some random comment.  Instead, what He says is meant to elicit a question, to bring about the thinking and learning process in Nicodemus.  It wasn’t the part about seeing the kingdom of God that caught Nicodemus’ attention.  It was the phrase “born again.”

Not knowing the gospel as we know it, he comes up a logical thought.  How can an old man be born again?  If you know how birth works, you know it’s not possible to go back into the womb.  So that’s his question.  And it prompts a teaching moment; it allows Jesus to share the gospel.

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  It’s one of those moments where John points to a sacrament without actually saying it.

So let’s hash it out; what is baptism?  In this text alone, Jesus provides multiple details.  It’s water.  Water is by and far the most common thing on this earth.  Something like 60% of our body, as well as 70% of the earth’s surface, is water.  According to health and diet experts, you should probably be drinking 64oz. of water a day.  You swim in it and sometimes it even falls on you from the sky.  Another function of water is that we use it regularly to stay clean, from showering to washing our hands.

All of these things correlate to why water is used in baptism.  It’s so common, there’s no excuse to not have any.  As we use it to clean, so also we can see in our baptisms a sense of washing, or regeneration, that in our baptisms, our sins are forgiven, and in Christ we have become white as snow.  Martin Luther spoke of baptism as something we should remember daily and that we should daily drown the Old Adam within us, that sinful self.  Professor Kolb at the seminary reminds us on occasion that your daily time in the shower, as the water pours over you, is a perfect time to remember your baptism, and what it is that Christ has done for you in that water.

Baptism is also Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is strongly at work in baptism.  If the faith is not already present, the Spirit creates it.  If the faith is already present because the Spirit already created it, the Spirit then works in the baptism to strengthen that faith.  As we read last weekend, Jesus told us that it was both necessary and good that He depart from us; because in parting, He would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to us.  He has sent the Spirit to us, who has created faith in us and also sustains it.

The third part that Christ includes in this passage in John is the notion that baptism is necessary.  “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”  We see similar statements elsewhere in Scripture, also.  And this is precisely why we as Lutherans believe baptism is a sacrament.  We define sacraments as things that meet three criteria.  First, that it was commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Second, that the forgiveness of sins, through Him, is offered.  And third, that it is connected to a visible element.  Thus we come to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

A common question from that: is baptism necessary?  Because Christ commanded it, we say yes.  But truly, it’s the wrong question.  The Ethiopian eunuch in the book of Acts got the question right.  “What prevents me from being baptized?”  If a person doesn’t have faith, the Spirit works through baptism to create it, to begin that new life.  But if they already have faith, baptism should be desired.  If you have faith in Christ, you want the gifts He has to give you, which most definitely includes baptism, faith, forgiveness, and life.

We learn other things about baptism elsewhere in Scripture.  Matthew 28 instructs us to baptize all nations and to do so in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Paul in Romans 6 teaches us that baptism connects us to Christ, that in our baptisms we are buried together with Him.  In baptism, we are bound to Christ’s death on the cross, thus also connected to Him in His resurrection, that we too will be raised and walk in a newness of life.

From passages such as these, we learn that baptism isn’t something we do, but rather something God does to us and for us.  It’s His work, not ours.  He creates and sustains faith through the outpouring of His Spirit.  And He forgives us of our sins through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.  So as we observe Trinity Sunday, we can see the entire Trinity is at work in our baptisms.

As we return for a moment to the text to wrap up, we see that Jesus calls Nicodemus “Israel’s teacher.”  There’s a connection there to Nicodemus calling Him “Rabbi.”  The one responsible for teaching the people needs to know what to teach.  So Jesus gives him another piece.  He tells him that “the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”  He connects back to Old Testament history with Moses, and forward to Himself on the cross, to the gift of forgiveness that God offers to the world for any who are “born of water and the Spirit.”  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”