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The Battle between Two Kingdoms July 15, 2012

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Mark 6:14-29

Proper 10

July 14-15, 2012

Focus: God has restored His kingdom among us.

Function: That the hearers live out their lives as a part of the Kingdom of God.

Structure: This is the historical situation in the text…these are the meanings for us now.

 

The Battle between Two Kingdoms

            Growing up, my first job was working at a Subway restaurant back in high school.  And my official job title: Sandwich Artist.  This was before Quizno’s and their toasted subs caught on or Jimmy John’s freaky fast delivery.  Subway was the go-to sandwich place, and we were hoppin’.  The line was always out the door for lunch and dinner.  Sandwiches are quick, simple meals, with plenty of variety.  You’ve got the standard ham and cheese to something stranger like peanut butter and banana.

You may not have realized it, but the Apostle Mark liked his sandwiches, too.  Alright, so it’s a different kind of sandwich.  We saw an example two weekends ago, when he sandwiched the bleeding woman in between the account of Jesus healing Jairus’ daughter.  And we see it again today.  Our gospel lesson is the meat, cheese, and veggies in between.  Or better it’s the liverwurst, because it grosses everyone out.

Last week, we read through Mark’s account of Jesus sending out the twelve.  And next week, we’ll see them return.  So that’s our sandwich.  It’s a literary technique that Mark employs multiple times in his gospel, one that critics seem to miss when they argue that Mark wasn’t a good writer.

So what’s he doing?  Where’s he going with this sandwich?  It’s all tied in to one of his key themes throughout his gospel.  It’s about spiritual warfare.  It’s the battle between two kingdoms.  It pits the kingdom of God up against the kingdom of Satan.

When I preached on Mark’s gospel last week, I tried to pick up on the kingdom concept.  You could summarize that sermon’s central focus into this:  Jesus Christ came into this world to bring the kingdom of God, or to restore the kingdom of God.  But I took the kingdom for granted, and didn’t really explain what that meant or looks like.  Thankfully, someone asked me about it after church, and thankfully Mark gives me another chance.

Six-thousand years ago, God chose to create.  He decided to design a universe and to fill it with planets and stars and all kinds of wonders.  And on one of those planets, He decided to create life.  We see not just water and trees around us, but animals and people.  God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden.  Creation was wonderful, awesome, perfect.  It was very good.  God created it, He cared for it, and it was His kingdom.  He was God, He was king.  Everyone and everything looked to Him.  Adam and Eve could talk to Him, ask Him anything they wanted.  It was indeed very good.

But it didn’t last.  Some six-thousand years ago, a fallen angel, who tried to fight God in the heavens, tried to become god, decided to bring that battle to us.  We were on God’s side after all, we were enemies of Satan.  So he came, he attacked.  Satan tempted Adam and Eve to not believe what God had told them, to not respect God’s authority.  And when they took that first bite, everything changed.  God’s kingdom was corrupted, damaged goods.

Satan may well have thought that he had won, that he had beaten God, or at least dealt a strong blow.  He became known as the prince of this world.  Together with his fellow fallen angels, we know as demons, Satan torments this world.  He’s been up to no good for the last six-thousand years.

God had choices of how to respond.  Choices that included wiping out creation and starting over.  But He chose instead to fight.  He chose to continue to care for this creation.  He chose instead to reclaim it.

That’s Jesus’ mission.  He came to restore the rule of God over His creation.  To restore things to the way they once were.  To crush Satan and give back all authority to the one true God.  And we are part of this plan.  Humans, from the very beginning, are the crown of God’s creative work.  And God has continued to care for us.  He has continued to call us His people.  And He has done it through His Son.

So what does the kingdom of God look like?  What did Jesus sacrifice to give?  The kingdom includes any and everywhere the gospel is preached, the good news of God’s love and salvation is shared.  It includes any place that comes together in Word and sacrament, trusting in God’s promises.  It includes as we see in the book of Acts, the early church, and even now, the building of a community, the building of a church.  God’s holy people, whom He loves.

This is what Mark writes about.  This is what our sandwich is about.  We see Jesus give His authority to His disciples, the authority to cast out demons and heal the sick.  Things normal people can’t do.  And then He sends them out.  He sends them out and they preach the gospel.  They preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  And they cast out demons and heal the sick.  And then they return from their journey, report the success to Jesus, and He leads them to a quiet place so they can rest and recover.

It’s the in-breaking, the breaking in, of the kingdom of God.  The Word being preached; people hearing and believing; and Satan getting scared.  His demons are being cast out.  His temptations and crippling diseases are being thwarted.  He’s scared that he’s starting to lose his touch; afraid that he’s losing ground in this war.  And so he lashes back.  He digs in his heels and keeps fighting.

King Herod, not a believer in Jesus, hears of these disciples and the things they were doing.  Herod’s scared, that’s the message of this text.  He doesn’t understand the things of God, he doesn’t understand who Jesus is.  He thinks that Jesus is John the Baptist.  And this scares him all the more, because he killed John.  So we get the account of a weak and pathetic king who couldn’t even stand up for himself, but bowed to the wishes of a child.

Herod feared John the Baptist.  He feared that he really was a prophet of God.  For an unknown amount of time, Herod defended John, kept him alive. In prison, but alive.  For Herod’s wife, Herodias, wanted John dead.  You heard the account.  A little girl gets King Herod to make a stupid promise.  A promise peer pressure forces him to keep.  And so he does what she asks, he kills the man he fears.  And now his nightmares are coming true, he thinks John’s back!

As a king, as part of the kingdom of Satan, Herod wanted power, just like so many today.  Power motivated his life.  John threatened that power.  And this Jesus, also a threat.  There will be attempts on Christ’s life.  Satan and Herod aren’t going down without a fight.

This is the message we see in Mark’s gospel.  The message that there is a war being fought.  The question from our worldly point of view, and the view of people in Mark’s day, is this: is God still at work?  Is He still fighting, or has He been defeated?  And that’s what Mark ultimately is answering in his gospel writing.  God is not defeated, instead the fight goes on.  Even though John the Baptist was imprisoned for speaking against Herod and Herodias’ corrupt marriage, he kept preaching.  He kept fighting.  And oddly enough, Herod was listening, which is why Herodias had John killed.  She feared Herod might truly listen and believe.  That he’d repent, divorce her, and she’d lose all her power as queen.  John kept fighting until he died.

The same goes for Christ.  Satan constantly attacked Him, constantly tried to undermine His ministry and put an end to it all.  But Christ kept pushing forward.  He kept preaching and teaching.  He continued to form disciples who would carry on the preaching of the gospel, who would carry on the fight.  Christ’s ministry still reached its goal.  His death served as the ultimate in victory.  Because in His death, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are offered to all mankind.  Satan loses everything.  It’s a strange victory cry, to celebrate a death.  But without death, Christ would not have conquered death.  Without dying, He couldn’t have been raised.  But He has conquered death; He has been raised from the grave.  And because Christ lives, we live.  Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed, alleluia!) That is our battle cry.  We are part of God’s kingdom.

This all applies to us still today.  This life is tough.  We suffer, we bleed, we hurt, and unless Christ returns first, we die.  Things don’t go well all the time; the ball doesn’t always bounce our way.  We spend time in the hospital, get sick, disasters happen, unforeseen events empty our bank accounts.  People ask how a good God can let bad things happen to good people, how can a good God let suffering and evil exist.  But the question is flawed.  We’re not inherently good people.  We’re sinners.  God doesn’t simply let everything happen as though He doesn’t care.  We chose to live this way.  We chose sin as far back as six thousand years ago.  And mankind still chooses sin today.  Bad things happen; but it’s not God’s fault.  It’s all a result of sin; it’s all a result of Satan fighting against us.

In all of this, Mark offers great comfort.  We see it with John, that he keeps going until the end.  But we see it all the more in Christ.  Jesus kept fighting, God keeps fighting.  No matter what obstacles were in Jesus’ way, he pushed forward.  He achieved the goal of His mission.  He brought the kingdom of God.  And He brought it to you and me.  Through baptism, we are children of God.  We go from being His enemies, to being His beloved children.  We switch sides, from Satan’s kingdom, to God’s.  And we can rest assured through all the hardships in our lives that everything is still moving toward God’s goal, His outcome.  Through Jesus Christ, we will be saved.  We will live in Him.

In a sense, Mark’s gospel leaves the spiritual war going on.  The battle still raging.  And that’s fitting, because the battle between two kingdoms is still being fought.  We are part of that fight each and every day.  But I also know there are a few of you out there who like to spoil a good book by flipping to the end and reading the last page or chapter.  If you flip to the end of God’s true and holy Word, it doesn’t spoil it.  Revelation provides all the comfort we need.  Because it tells us how everything ends.  And God wins.

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Love Each Other May 13, 2012

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John 15:9-17

Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 12-13, 2012

Focus: God loved us so much that He gave up His Son for us.

Function: That the hearers love each other as God first loved us.

Structure: .

 

Love Each Other

 

Over the last couple of weeks, our Scripture readings have focused a lot on love.  That really comes as no surprise, as love is a major theme throughout Scripture.  But it does pose a challenge to us.  What is love?  Do we even know anymore?

In chapel this week, we talked about how we all love a good story, whether it’s a book, a movie, or something else altogether.  And it doesn’t matter how old you are, we all like to get wrapped up in the plot.  Most stories have a common theme.  Fairy tales make it quite obvious.  Love.  How many fairy tales revolve around a princess just waiting for her Prince Charming, her knight in shining armor to come and sweep her off her feet?  They call it true love.  And it usually ends in them riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.

While that makes for good entertainment, or as the guys say, a chick-flick, unfortunately, stories like these give us an inaccurate view of love.  They portray love as an emotional high, a feeling of bliss, like floating on Cloud Nine.  It’s sublime happiness.  But how many marriages end a year or so in because the couple comes down off of this emotional high?  It certainly contributes to our nation’s ridiculously high divorce rate, which is somewhere around 50% of marriages.  They don’t understand that life indeed is full of challenges and that there will be rough moments in every relationship.  That’s what sin does.

Perhaps part of the problem lies in our vocabulary.  You can love your spouse.  You can love your children.  You can love God.  You can love a good story.  You can love Taco Bell’s new Dorito tacos.  You can love sinning.  You can love money.  You can love a sport.  You can love pretty much anything.  I think you get the point.

But the Greek language had four words to describe love.  Agape, phileo, storge, and eros.  Definitions of these words aren’t always mutually exclusive, they do occasionally overlap in meaning.  But for the most part, they’re unique.  The romantic kind of love of fairy tales and newlyweds is eros.  It’s all about passion and attraction.  You won’t find it in the Bible.

Storge describes natural affection, the love you have for your whole family.  It only appears a couple of times in Scripture.  Phileo is a love along the lines of friendship and loyalty.  We see it in words like philosophy, which is the love of wisdom or in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia.

And lastly, we have the love called agape.  While agape and phileo are occasionally used interchangeably, agape tends to mean unconditional love.  It’s the love of God for us as His people and it’s the one that’s been coming up in our texts of late.

I know you’re not all Greek scholars, but the point of the little Greek lesson today is to help us identify how love can differ.  The most common love in the world around us is selfish.  How many relationships are formed merely so that we can benefit from them?  We don’t say we love something unless it somehow brings us pleasure or happiness.  That also ends up being the way fairy tales portray true love.

So do we really know what love is anymore?  Thankfully, God has left us with some examples.  At our men’s retreat a couple weekends ago, we looked in depth at being the Christian head of a household, being a loving and faithful husband and father.  And we discussed a couple of Bible verses on this topic.  In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he said that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

That’s a difficult verse for us to swallow, but it deals with love, specifically the love of God.  Throughout Scripture, God portrays Himself as our Father.  And Christ portrays Himself as the groom, with the church as His bride.  Family relationships, things we can comprehend and understand.  So to Timothy, if you don’t take care of your own family, you clearly don’t comprehend the message of God’s love and salvation.  You don’t get the relationships He has used to express Himself to you.

In this way, we can look at the relationships in our lives today to help us better understand what love is.  And what better a day than Mother’s Day?  That one day of the year that we set aside to let our moms know just how much we appreciate everything they do for us.  Hopefully everyone remembered!

We can come up with a whole slew of things that mothers do for us.  Whether it’s the way they care for us when we’re just little babies to how they always seem to know just how to make us feel better.  Now, I don’t want men to feel left out, as similar things can be said about fathers too, but that’s next month.  I stumbled across any number of stories this week in honor of Mother’s Day, but I would like to share one with you that I think really illustrates the love of a mother for her child.

There was a teenager who didn’t want to be seen in public with her mother, because her mother’s arms were both  terribly disfigured, downright gruesome. One day when her mother took her shopping and reached out her hand, a clerk looked horrified. Later, at home crying, the girl told her how embarrassed she was. Despite the hurt, the mother waited an hour before going to her daughter’s room to tell her, for the first time, what had happened.

“When you were a baby, I woke up to a burning house. Your room was an inferno. Flames were everywhere. I could have gotten out the front door, but I decided I’d rather die with you than leave you to die alone. I ran through the fire and wrapped my arms around you. Then I went back through the flames, my arms on fire. When I got outside on the lawn, the pain was agonizing but when I looked at you, all I could do was rejoice that the flames hadn’t touched you.”

Stunned, the girl looked at her mother through new eyes. Weeping in shame and gratitude, she kissed her mother’s marred hands and arms.

I chose that story because it illustrates how much a mom truly loves her child.  It demonstrates the lengths that she is willing to go for her baby, the sacrifices she’s willing to make, and also the lack of respect and appreciation that she’s willing to endure when her children hit puberty.  It’s a good reference to the love we see in our text; however, before anyone accuses me of building up egos too much today, we need to remember that our love is tainted by sin.

The greatest moms and dads the world over aren’t perfect.  And that’s why the Bible points us to the One who is.  “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”  That’s the agape love of God in this text.  It’s the unconditional love that only He can have for us.  It’s the agape love that Paul talks about in his letter to Rome:

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by His blood, will we be saved through Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life.”

 

That’s the unconditional love of God, that while we were still His enemies, He sacrificed His Son to forgive us and save us.  It’s the unconditional love as He showed through the prophet Hosea, who illustrated God’s love to Israel through his role as a husband to Gomer the prostitute.  No matter how many times she abandoned him and went away with other men, Hosea went to her as God comes to us.  He forgave her and took her back, as God does for us.

That dear brothers and sisters, is the true agape love of God, which He has so graciously poured out on all of us here today.  Through the waters of Holy Baptism, He claims us as His own children.  And every time we pray, read the Bible, or anything else that brings our thoughts to Christ, we see the ultimate in love and sacrifice.  A willingness to sacrifice it all for someone you care about.

It is from this love that Christ then issues the command from our gospel today.  “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”  He roots the command in what He’s already done for us.  It’s not just a random command to go and do something.  It’s connected and flows from His love that He’s already most graciously given to you and me.  We love one another as He first loved us.

What is love?  What does it look like?  It’s putting everyone else before yourself.  If your neighbor is hurting, care for them.  If they’re in any kind of danger, lend a hand, or more.  If they’ve wronged you, it means no grudges, but forgiveness.  If they fail to respect you or appreciate you, it means continuing to love them anyway.  It’s commitment, care, communication, and Christ.  If ever you want to know what love looks like, look no further than the cross.  As God first loved us, so we love one another.