Sermon for 9/16/12 "Where's the Beef?"
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2, ESV). Amen.
A campus pastor I knew years ago was once giving a seminar on open-air preaching on the college campus. This is not something that most people are comfortable with. It isn’t that we are uneasy with the idea that everyone needs to hear about God’s gracious act of sending his Son to die for us and bring us forgiveness. It isn’t that we are uneasy with the facts of the Gospel, either. If we’ve been living a Christian life, growing in Christ, taking in the Word of God for any period of time we should be very familiar with the ideas of Christ for sinners, that the sin of man required a man to die, that an adequate sacrifice needs to be of like kind as the sinner but perfect, which requires a perfect man to die on our behalf. We might be uncomfortable with people seeing or hearing us making such proclamations, though I’m not sure that is the issue most of the time for college students and people on college campuses. Different points of view are often promoted publicly, at least they were twenty-odd years ago when I was there. It seems harder to get an honest hearing of different opinions in our more politically correct academic culture nowadays. But I don’t think that is the big problem we face when we want to proclaim the Gospel publicly. Rather, I think it is the same problem my campus pastor friend articulated. He said you haven’t started preaching in a public space until someone argues with you. You haven’t started preaching in a public space until someone argues with you.
This idea brings us back to our Gospel reading for the day. The disciples had been confronted by a problem. They were asked to pray for a young man and bring God’s healing. When they were unable to do so an argument broke out between the disciples and the “teachers of the Law.” We don’t know the details of this argument but it isn’t hard to imagine, is it? The disciples are certain that God can heal this person and that Jesus wishes it to happen. The teachers of the Law are certain that God works through the processes laid out in Moses and the Prophets and that the disciples are leading the young man and his family astray, since Jesus is not an authorized representative of their system. The disciples promote their faith in Christ. The teachers of the Law make theological arguments which they know the disciples can only partially understand. The disciples don’t know who the various teachers are in the arguments. They are frustrated because the healing is not happening and because they are being opposed. The teachers of the Law go in for the kill, tearing at the disciples with their highly trained verbal abilities. The disciples respond in anger, eroding their argument that they are the representatives of the God of all love and grace. When Jesus comes on the scene nobody has actually punched anybody yet, but they are about to.
Have you ever been there? You say something about Jesus and his love. The person you are talking with retaliates with accusations about the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. You say something about the way Jesus wants to protect life. The person you are talking with talks about how the christian militias in the Middle East act as much like terrorists as do those people they are trying to kill. You say something about how Jesus cares for the economic well-being of his people. The person you are talking with reminds you that single moms, allegedly forced to bear their unwanted children by well-meaning or sinister Christians, have a higher risk of poverty than childless people. It is so very easy to be dragged into a conflict which you never intended. This is what happened to the disciples here in Mark chapter 9. Their expectation of acceptance was thrown to the ground and trampled. They themselves felt trampled and responded in anger. A dispute broke out. What was at issue? At issue was whether God would actually care for this young man or not.
My friend the campus pastor would say that the preaching was ready to start. There was an argument, or at least a dispute, for those of you who remember the difference between an argument and a dispute. I’d rather call it a dispute, since that’s what it is. An argument, after all, takes one of the points at issue and provides a specific reason why that point is right or wrong. That’s an argument. They are few and far between. Most of the time we don’t have arguments. We have disputes.
How does Jesus take care of this dispute? What does he do? People are running to the scene. A fight is breaking out! Remember these are people who don’t have TV, radio, internet, or telephones. They depend on live action for their entertainment and information. What’s happening over there? A crowd is assembling. Must be some sort of excitement. We’d better run so we don’t miss something. After all, it will never be replayed on YouTube. But before the crowd is overwhelming Jesus asks the boy’s father about his case. He reassures the father and heals the boy. Jesus understood the problem. He knew the situation fully. He was able to address it. He did not want to see that family suffer as they had been. So he brought healing and grace. It was entirely straightforward in his mind. It was easy for him to do. It was included in the work he came to do, as he came to drive out demons, defeat them, and bear the penalty for the sin of the world. Jesus needed no argument. He made no argument, not with the crowd, not with the demon.
Remember that an argument provides a specific reason why a point is right or wrong. Jesus had no argument, not even with the demon, certainly not with the boy or his father or the crowd. Rather than arguing, he commanded the demon to be gone. That was that.
How often do we, as Christians, think that we need to get into an argument of some sort? Worse yet, how often do we settle for a mere dispute in which there is no substantive point for discussion and where it is impossible for the facts to stand on their own? Tragically, we wait for a dispute to happen and then think we can blast our way out of the dispute with a doctrinal gun. We try to get someone talking about a spiritual topic and we wait for the chance to blast our opponent away with both barrels. We think we’re facing a squirrel and are loaded for bear. In fact, we’re facing an elephant and we have a pea shooter. We end up in a dispute and finally fling accusations at other people so that we show ourselves as self-righteous, stupid, arrogant, or all three. We face those teachers of the Law. We fight with them. Meanwhile the boy is suffering with a demon. We aren’t helping him. We aren’t helping his father. Finally his father, if he is smart, takes the boy and walks away before either of them gets hit with brick that someone is throwing at nobody in particular.
Are we ready to start preaching when the dispute breaks out? No. We missed the opportunity. Jesus redeemed it in this instance in Mark 9. But he won’t always break in on us like he did there. How can we redeem those opportunities? Let’s take our cue from Jesus. He investigated the situation. He prayed the Father’s blessing. He asserted his authority over the situation. He presented the boy back to his father. Are we ready to ask questions about the life issues people bring us? Or do we want to jump right to our answer? Are we ready to hear the pain and suffering of those around us? Or maybe we’d rather walk away, dropping a Gospel grenade as we go. I had an acquaintance who was blind. She often would ask the leaders of the local church to pray for her. Before she could share her prayer need, that her husband would believe on Christ, they would pray for her to receive her sight. She eventually stopped trying to ask for prayer since nobody would listen to her. Jesus asked about the situation. Let’s care enough to ask.
Do we jump right into the fight or do we pray God’s blessing? Do we think that we can solve everyone’s trouble? The greatest trouble we have is our sinful nature and the fact that other people in this sin-cursed world show their true nature to us. Are we committed to blessing those who curse us? Do we care enough for the people around us to ask that the Lord would care for them? He is able to care for you far better than I am. He is able to meet your true needs. I’m able to meet a few of the needs you recognize. He’s able to do it all. Jesus prays the Father’s blessing.
Now who has authority over the conflicts in life? Do I? Do you? Finally it is Jesus who has shown he is the one who is ruler of heaven and earth, the one who has overcome all that this life can throw at him, the one who rose victorious from death. Do we want to assert our authority over someone? Or should we assert Jesus’ loving care for that other person’s situation? What does Jesus say about our troubles? Isn’t that better than what I say about our troubles?
You might ask, then, if all we do is proclaim Jesus’ work and then walk away, what kind of hypocrites are we? Why, just last week I talked about showing our faith through our works. And we do need to do that. But let’s realize that our works will not save anyone. It is only Jesus’ work that will save someone. It is not our works that will make peace with God. It is Jesus’ work that does that. It is not our works that can bring full and final healing. Jesus can do that, but we can’t. But what if Jesus’ healing is not what you were looking for? What if his proclamation on the cross, “It is finished” is not enough? What if his living a perfect life, dying a perfect death, and being raised from the dead by the power and for the glory of God is not enough? What if his applying his perfect resurrection life to you and taking away your old man who is dead in sin is not enough? Then you have no dispute with me. You have a dispute with Jesus. Jesus has done all this. He is ready to pick you up and present you back to your father, your heavenly Father, whole, like you have never been before. This is his proclamation of truth.
Do you remember that there is no actual argument here? There is only Jesus’ action. Jesus doesn’t argue with sin. He doesn’t argue with death. He doesn’t argue with sickness. He doesn’t argue with hunger. He doesn’t argue with any of the sorrows that we might have. He makes no argument. He simply conquers them. He proclaims them to be resolved. He casts out sin and all evil. He is powerful to do all things by his word. And when he has proclaimed that you have new life by the faith that he gives you, it is so. You can rise up and walk in that newness of life, the life that Jesus gave you, as he presents you back to the Father.
So where’s the argument? It is gone. It is between the disciples and the teachers of the Law. Do you want argument? Go be like they are. Do you want life? Look to Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the one who has borne our griefs. He is the one who has made peace with God, removing the curse of the Law which was against us. Trust in Jesus, the one who has done all we need. There is no argument. Only his proclamation. That’s where true preaching begins.
Rise with me, if you can, to pray. Lord, give us a heart to look to you and your proclamation of perfect peace. Give us forgiveness, life, and salvation. Show yourself again to be the one who heals us and presents us to the Father, for you ever live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, who has favored us. Amen.