Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sermon for 10/14/12

Sermon “Something’s Missing” Lord of all, guard our hearts. Change them to honor, trust, and serve you. Let us look to you above all else, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. This encounter Jesus has in Mark 10 would absolutely astound most of us if it were to happen to us. It’s rather rare even for me as a pastor to have someone come to me asking how to receive eternal life. And, come to think of it, the times it has happened to me the other person has been challenging me. I think those cases have probably been either because of the church body I represent or because of the “pastor uniform.” After all, there’s a large segment of American Christianity which thinks anybody associated with a Lutheran church or anybody who might wear some sort of a special dress code in ministry is almost certainly not a genuine Christian. There area lot of Christians who wish to shed all sorts of traditions and enter into a faith that is genuine, earnest, and from the heart. They see that as incompatible with candles, robes, crosses, or special gestures in a church service. But these people are making a distinction that doesn’t need to be made. After all, if we have a heart full of reverence for the Lord it is quite appropriate to bow before him or, for that matter, the symbols we have of his presence, such as a cross or an altar. If we have a clear concept the dark black sinful lives we have and the white robe of righteousness our Savior places on us the very garments I’m wearing make perfect sense. If we are grateful for Jesus’ cross, death, and resurrection applied to our lives it is very appropriate that we would make the sign of the cross over ourselves or over people for whom we ask God’s blessings. Treating the elements of communion with reverence, remembering that we consecrate them for consumption, reminding ourselves of that purpose by making sure we consume them, it’s all perfectly consistent with showing reverence for what our Lord has done. And this is consistent with loving Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The people who may wish to criticize such acts of devotion may in fact simply not recognize the devotion we are expressing or the fact that some people who go through motions are doing much more than going through motions. Yet here in Mark 10 the man who is asking Jesus how to receive eternal life isn’t trying to trap him. He isn’t trying to tempt him. He isn’t suggesting that Jesus will not know. He’s asking it for a different reason. He wants to know. And one of these days we can all hope someone will ask us the same question, or at least give us good permission and attention while we answer the question anyway. After all, we often give people answers to the questions they should have been asking. What must he do for eternal life? First, Jesus reminds the man that he does have authority to answer. Only God is good, but the man seems to be recognizing him as God, or at least as God’s teacher. Look what Jesus does. See where he goes. He starts quoting God’s commandments. He reminds the man of the part of the Bible which shows up in our catechism segments in the bulletin just now. And like we try to be able to explain God’s word, just like people in every age have tried to explain God’s word, Jesus’ questioner gets to try explaining the commands. Jesus reminds him of several that he knows. The man in Mark 10 knows how to explain these commands. That isn’t a problem. He can look at his life and he can tell whether he has kept these commands or not. He may not see them perfectly or exhaustively. But he knows about murder, adultery, theft, false witness, cheating, and dishonoring people. This is a good list, just like the other lists of behaviors that we find in the Bible. And each one of the items on the list, at least as far as the man can identify them, can be measuerd. He’s an upright person. He doesn’t go around killing people. He’s faithful to his wife. He buys his things, he doesn’t steal them. He can say he has been honest. And I say, “Good for him.” He is doing what he should do in society. Yet all this doing, all his upright deeds, the way he lives his life still leaves him with a question. It’s an important question, then. All his living and doing things does not earn eternal life for him. It hasn’t worked. It’s just like the person who thinks that by attending church regularly and serving on this committee or that committee, or even by becoming a pastor and saying a lot of prayers or singing a lot of songs or doing other acts of service he can earn eternal life. I have news for you. If I wear black and then put on a white robe I’m just like any other guy wearing black and white. If I bow once, twice, or three times in front of the altar I have potential for being someone who made some large muscle group adjustments. If I read the Scripture aloud I may manage to simply exercise my voice. Are you seeing the distinction? I can do all sorts of things, and they may be very good things, but like the man who came to Jesus I may be finding that they are of no help at all. What did Jesus leave out of the list of commands? He left out what the man wasn’t doing. He left out the beginning, the commandments that all the others depend on. He left out loving God and honoring his person and word. He left out the attitude of the man’s heart, exactly the thing that was wrong. You see, I can make a prayer using words and skip over repentance and belief. Or I can pray using the same words but engage in belief on Christ. The first one is just words. In the second one the words are good for something. I can lift up the cup at communion because that’s what you do. Or I can lift up the cup and show us all that we exalt Jesus in his real blood shed for us. Both times the motion is the same. But one is done in faith. We can either trust in ourself, our riches, the things we have stored up for ourselves, like the man in Mark 10 did. Or we can trust in our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Jesus’ call to that man was that he should give up all the things he had. How are we doing on that? Truth be told, we really should be sad. We should be moved to repentance. We should realize, day by day, how we don’t love the Lord with all our heart, how we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves, how we trust in our wisdom, our education, our financial resources, all sorts of human elements rather than trusting in God. We ought to be going away sad. And we can do that, like this man questioning Jesus did. Does it do us any good? No, it simply separates us from the love, mercy and grace of our Lord. What should we rather do? We can look to our Lord, confess our sins, recognize that we truly need a savior to come, live, die, and rise again for us. We can confess our sins to the Lord and trust that he will forgive us. We can ask him to make us depend on the resources he has given us. And we can go away justified, trusting our Lord, knowing that he pours out his mercy on us. We can walk away knowing that we have inherited eternal life. Do you trust that Jesus has given himself for you? Do you believe that he forgives you all your sin? Then you get to go away happy, knowing that he has promised to be with you and to care for all your need. Do you wonder what you need to do for eternal life? Then I’m here to tell you all we do is trust that the Lord Jesus Christ has promised to give us that life as we are sorry for our sin and ask him to forgive us. Trusting in our Lord and his good favor, let us rise and pray again in the words of the confession you found in the front of your bulletin, again receiving God’s forgiveness and then confessing our common faith together.

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