Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan
- Name: Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz
- Location: Dorr, Michigan
Sunday, September 20, 2015
September 20, 2015
Text: Mark 9:30-37
Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God? Actually, here the Sunday School answer works pretty well. Jesus, of course! And notice that the greatest, Jesus, makes Himself last of all and servant of all, giving His life as a ransom for all. Which makes it all the more silly that the disciples are arguing about which of them is the greatest. The very fact that they’re arguing about it disqualifies them. There are undoubtedly a few favorite candidates among the Twelve. There is Peter, of course, but then again, James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” are also in Jesus’ inner circle. And you can never count Andrew out. Andrew, after all, is the one who first witnessed to his brother Peter: “‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42; ESV). The rest of the disciples probably picked sides with one candidate or another. Perhaps Peter blushed as his devotees argued for his supremacy. Perhaps those who would be the greatest feigned humility during the discussion, making them all the more attractive to potential supporters. Though maybe not. Certainly James and John did not blush to have their Mommy ask Jesus to exalt them to His right hand and His left as He comes into His Kingdom (Matt. 20:21). Little did they understand what that meant, or how it is Jesus would come into His Kingdom.
Jesus comes into His Kingdom on the cross. Just read the sign above His head: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). He is surrounded on His right and on His left by thieves, one of whom hurls insults and derides Him, the other of whom prays for mercy: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). None of this should surprise the disciples. Jesus had been teaching them about this all the way through Galilee: “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). It is the heart and soul of the Gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is precisely what the apostles are called to preach. But they don’t understand any of it. They are afraid to ask. Because they don’t know if they want the answer. What does this all mean? You can’t win a Kingdom by submitting to your enemies! You can’t win a Kingdom by dying! That’s just not the way it works in the world.
Jesus turns everything on its head. Jesus’ Kingdom, remember, is not of this world (John 18:36). So He reminds Pilate. This is how it works in Jesus’ Kingdom: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). The greatest of these in Jesus’ Kingdom is the least of these in ours. Our Lord illustrates the point. He takes a child, a paidivon, a little wobbly toddler just learning to pull himself up on things… Jesus loves the little children… He stands him up in the midst of this rugged group of fishermen and tax collectors and zealots and whatever else they were, and He says this is an example of a great one, a foremost citizen in Jesus’ Kingdom. He takes Him in His arms and says this is what you should be like. A toddler. A babe. Simply trusting in Jesus. For everything. For the salvation of your soul and for every bodily need. Believing His every Word, even if you don’t understand it and can’t give voice to it. Adults have trouble believing. We get in the way of our faith. A little child serves as an example to us: Loved and safe in the arms of Jesus.
Be like a child before God. Not childish, but childlike. God is your Father. Jesus is your Savior. Who cares whether your first or last? It is enough just to be with Jesus. And then have mercy on your brothers and sisters. Put them first. Put yourself last. Consider others better than yourself. Be a servant to all. That is your joy in Christ who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus also talks about receiving one such child in His Name. More on that in a few minutes. For now, though, think about how shocking it was for those manly men, those tough guys all worried about who is the manliest of them all, to see Jesus pick out a child and say this one is great in the Kingdom. And now think about all of us gathered here today, and all the children of our congregation, and how Jesus would find the most insignificant babe in arms and take him into His embrace. It’s a beautiful thought. Very comforting, even if a bit shocking. Babies first. Oh, eventually He would make His way to our esteemed president and our head elder and the other officers of our congregation. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He would even embrace this poor excuse of a pastor. He would have mercy on us all. He would delight in us all. But that baby, He would take in His arms immediately. And, in fact, that is precisely what He does… at the Font! For all of us babies in the faith.
Who is the greatest? Who is the best? Is that argument not at the heart of every conceivable problem in the Church and in the world? Sin entered the world because Adam and Eve wanted to be the greatest, as great as or even greater than God. They forgot that the greatest in the LORD who gave them life. And you want to be greater than your neighbor. You’re always comparing yourself to others, tearing them down, building yourself up. We virtually never gossip about the good attributes of another person. We delight to wallow in their negative characteristics and spread the stories that knock them down a peg. Because if I can tear you down, that makes me that much better in comparison. At least in my own eyes. And when it comes down to opinions about anything under the sun, I’ll tell you what, my opinion is the best I’ve ever heard. Of course, I wouldn’t say it that way. I’d offer up my humble two-cents and then secretly despise you if you didn’t take my advice. If you did take it, that’s just confirmation of my theory. You see how this works? Who is the greatest? Who is the wisest? Who is the strongest? Who is the fairest of them all? Every argument from the color of the carpet to how best to prevent a nuclear Iran comes down to who is the greatest. Repent.
Jesus is the greatest! And knowing that is freeing. It frees you from the jockeying for first position, the competition to be number one. It frees you to be a child in the Kingdom of God, to simply receive what the Lord has to give: His forgiveness, His life, His provision for every need of body and soul. It frees you up to rely totally on Him, secure in His embrace. And it frees you up to love and serve your neighbor, to have mercy on him, to put him first, give to him generously, defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. Which is to say, it frees you up to serve as a Christian in your particular vocation.
This is true of all vocations, but this text has particular application to the vocation of parents. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37). What does it mean to receive one such child in Jesus’ Name? In the wider sense, I suppose, it can mean receiving any person in the Name of Jesus, and caring for them as you would for a child. But I think here receiving a child in Jesus’ Name has a more technical sense. Where do you receive a child, literally, in Jesus’ Name? At the Font. In Holy Baptism. Parents, bring your child to Baptism, where Jesus puts His Name on them (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and takes them up in His arms. And then keep bringing them to Jesus here at Church so they can live in their Baptism. I’m convinced this is exactly what Jesus means when He says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). He’s talking about Baptism. And life in Baptism. And so here. And this also means that it is a blessing when parents receive children into their marriage, into their family, as a gift from God. Our culture is against having children, or certainly what our culture would consider too many of them. That’s not what Jesus says. Jesus is a Psalm 127 kind of Guy: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them” (vv. 3-5). So go have kids. (Get married first, of course.) “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). It is the blessing of God. And think how highly this speaks of adoption, or foster parenting, this receiving of children in Jesus’ Name. And think how much more horrendous, how greatly offensive to our Savior, is the murder of babies in abortion. Lord, have mercy. Here in this text is a call to every one of us, parent or not, to speak up for the little children in Jesus’ Name, to defend them, to defend life, and hold it sacred. And notice what happens when you do any of these things. You become last. You become least. You become servant. And you sacrifice yourself for the sake of the other in the way of Jesus Christ. Which is really great.
You can do this for children of all ages, in Jesus’ Name, because you have been received as a child of God in Jesus’ Name. God’s own child, I gladly say it, I am baptized into Christ! The Kingdom is yours! Your sins are forgiven. God is your Father. Jesus is your Brother. The Spirit of God dwells in you. All things are yours in Christ Jesus, who was handed over for you, killed for you, and the third day rose again for you. And He’ll raise you, too. So you have nothing to lose. Love and serve. And know that Christ is your all in all. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 19)
September 13, 2015
Text: Mark 9:14-29
Beloved in the Lord, do you have enough faith? “All things are possible for one who believes,” says Jesus (Mark 9:23; ESV). Oh, really?! Then why is it that so often life seems impossible? Why won’t the cancer go away? Why is my marriage in trouble? Why won’t the kids behave? Why can’t I find a job? Why did God take my loved one away from me in death? Why do I still have to die? Why is it that my faith CANNOT move a molehill, much less a mountain? All things are possible for the one who believes? What can this possibly mean?
It’s easy to fall into this line of thinking. And when we do, we inevitably begin to ask ourselves the question, “Do I have enough faith?” What is so sinister about this question is the logic behind it. If my cancer isn’t cured, if my marriage falls apart, if I don’t have a job, if my loved one dies, it must be because I don’t have enough faith. Or maybe I don’t believe at all. Many are the false prophets who would burden you with this false law preaching that says when things go badly with you, it’s because you either don’t have faith, or you don’t have enough faith. If you believed enough, these false teachers maintain, you would have perfect health, significant wealth, and you would live in prosperity. This is the “name it, claim it” crowd, or the “Word-Faith Movement” as it is called, represented by televangelists like Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen. This is the theology represented in the Prayer of Jabez book that was so popular a few years back. But it’s false doctrine, beloved. It’s a lie. Don’t believe it. Don’t give in to it. The devil loves it when he can convince us that God is punishing us and we cannot enjoy His blessings or salvation because we don’t have enough faith.
Of course, you don’t have enough faith. If you want to quantify faith, nobody has enough of it. It’s impossible. Only Jesus has enough faith. We fallen humans always need more, always need our faith to be strengthened. We always have our doubts. We’re always afraid God can’t handle what ails us. We’re always searching for something else that can solve our problems. We always find ourselves fearing, loving, and trusting things and people that are not God because we can see them, touch them, grab onto them. And these things and these people, which are concrete to us, become our idols. Money becomes an idol. Possessions become idols. The president (or the candidate you’re hoping will be the next president) becomes an idol. Our spouse or our child or our parent becomes an idol. Good gifts of God become idols because we think we can trust them more than we can trust God. We too often think of God as an abstraction. We think we have to see to believe.
This is true even of Christians who have comparatively strong faith. That is why the prayer of the man in our text, the father of the demon possessed boy, must become our prayer as well: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24). It is both a confession of sin and a confession of faith. It is a confession of sin in that it admits the deficiency of our faith in this respect: It is never strong enough. We always struggle with doubt as long as we live in this fallen world. We’re always afraid our problem, whatever it happens to be at the moment, is something that God, something that Jesus, cannot handle. “If you can do anything…” we pray along with the anxious father in our text. “If you can…” We doubt. All things are not possible for us. But all things are possible with Jesus. Where our faith is weak and lacking, Jesus’ faith is perfect, strong, as strong as it is possible for faith to be. Of course He can! He’s Jesus! He’s God in the flesh! And He wants to help. He wants to help the demon-possessed boy and He wants to help you in all your sorrows and struggles and temptations, in your sin and in your death. “I believe; help my unbelief.”
But this is also a confession of faith. Help my unbelief, yes, but you wouldn’t even make such a request if you didn’t believe at all. I believe. It’s just that my faith needs to grow. Even when the father in our text says, “If you can,” he’s still making a request of Jesus that takes faith. He wouldn’t even have asked, wouldn’t even have approached the disciples in the first place if He didn’t think Jesus could help. The “If you can” part betrays his doubt. But the request itself is a confession of faith. Jesus helps the man in our text move from an attitude of “If anybody can help, Jesus can,” to a faith that confesses, “Jesus CAN help, and He will, in His own way, in His own time.” As it happens in our text, the time is now and the way is Jesus’ authoritative Word. In a demonstration of His divine authority over all things (even demons!), Jesus commands the demon to come out of the boy and not to return to him again. The demon convulses the poor boy and comes out. And then there is a death and resurrection of sorts. The boy is laying motionless, like a corpse on the ground. But Jesus, the Lord of life, who on the third day would rise again in His own glorious body, takes the boy’s hand and raises Him up.
What a gracious Savior we have. How compassionate. He really does care about us. He who is very God of very God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. He descended into our mess of a world, our mess of a life, into our problems, into our sin, into our death. He became a man for us men and for our salvation. He who is very God did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, taking on our flesh, humbling Himself even to the point of death on a cross, our death, the death we deserve in punishment for our sin. And in so doing He delivers us from the main problem, the worst problem, the problem that is sin. This is the problem that rots us to our very core. This is the disease that kills us. It results in death every time. Jesus conquers it in His death. The cross means forgiveness for us. So great is our Savior’s compassion, so great is His love for you and for me that He willingly sheds His blood in order to snatch us out of the jaws of hell. And here’s the real kicker. He is risen! He is risen, just as He said! Death could not hold Him. He is victorious. His redemption worked. We’re saved. And if that’s true (and it is!), how can we doubt that He is able and wants to save us from the rest of our infirmities? “If you can…” we say to Jesus. “All things are possible for one who believes,” responds Jesus. “Just watch what I’m about to do. I forgive your sins. If I can forgive your sins, which only God can do, surely I can make everything else right again.”
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” We must keep coming back to this prayer because our faith is weak. And the hard part is that even though Jesus promises that He is making all things new, even though He is willing and able to help you in your afflictions, He does it His way and in His time, not your way or in your time. You have to bear the cross in this life. You have to suffer in this life. You have to bear sadness. You have to be ill. You have to suffer broken relationships. These things come to you now, for a little while, to crucify your flesh, lead you away from your idols, and drive you to Christ alone for mercy. The cross has this way of making evident the fact that your faith is weak, weaker perhaps than you thought. It has this way of driving you again and again to the prayer: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
Some Christians have stronger faith and some have weaker faith. And at one time or another, your own faith may be stronger or weaker. We all need a stronger faith. We all need to grow in the faith. But here’s what really matters: God has given us faith in the first place, faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His sin-atoning death and victorious resurrection, that there is forgiveness of sins in His blood. Faith is God’s gift to us. And whether you have more or less of it, you have it, and it receives. It receives God’s gifts. It receives Christ. Faith is the receiving hands of the believer in Christ Jesus. Christ doles out Himself in His gifts. Faith appropriates those gifts for the Christian. You do not have enough faith. You never do in this fallen world. But the faith God has given you is sufficient. It is sufficient to receive Christ. For all that really matters, is Christ. You should always give thanks to God that for the sake of Christ, the Holy Spirit has brought you to faith through the Gospel and continues to sustain you in that faith, through all its highs and lows, by means of the same Gospel.
And what about when you particularly struggle with a weak faith? Immerse yourself in that same Gospel. Come to church to be absolved of your sins. Private confession and absolution is a great way to do this. Hear the Word. Read and study it. Mark it, learn it, inwardly digest it. Trace the sign of the holy cross upon yourself and remember that you are baptized. And do as our Confessions say. Come to the Supper of Christ’s true body and blood. The Supper is precisely for the weak in faith. I’ll let the Confessions have the last word:
"Some Christians have a weak faith and are shy, troubled, and heartily terrified because of the great number of their sins. They think that in their great impurity they are not worthy of this precious treasure [of the Lord’s Supper] and Christ’s benefits. They feel their weakness of faith and lament it, and from their hearts desire that they may serve God with stronger, more joyful faith and pure obedience. These are the truly worthy guests for whom this highly venerable Sacrament has been especially instituted and appointed… Worthiness does not depend on the greatness or smallness, the weakness or strength of faith. Instead, it depends on Christ’s merit, which the distressed father of little faith [Mark 9:24] enjoyed as well as Abraham, Paul, and others who have a joyful and strong faith."
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” “I am able,” says Jesus. “Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood. It is given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, September 06, 2015
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 18)
Sept. 6, 2015
Text: Mark 7:24-37
Our Lord Jesus does all things well (Mark 7:37). But that may not appear to be the case at the time. How is the Lord doing all things well when you pray and pray and pray, and you still don’t have enough money at the end of the month, you still didn’t get that job, your kids still aren’t at Church, you still get sick, you still die? How is THAT the Lord doing all things well? I don’t know. Neither do you. It is a statement of faith, not sight. This is a fallen world, and things go bad. Because of sin. Not necessarily some sin you’ve committed, but sin in general, the fact that we’re all sinners, infected by sin, born that way, sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. And creation itself is subject to the curse. And what is even more frustrating is that Jesus doesn’t deliver us from all that the way we think He should. His ways are different than our ways. His thoughts are different than our thoughts. Which means you just have to trust Him, even when it looks like He’s not doing anything well. In fact, you just have to trust Him, even when it looks like He is against you. Come what may, you always hold on to the Promise of your Savior: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5; ESV). Or, as He says in our Old Testament reading, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come… He will come and save you’” (Is. 35:4).
The Syrophoenician woman has every reason to doubt the Promise. She isn’t even an Israelite. But the situation is desperate. Her precious little daughter is possessed by and unclean spirit. This is some sort of demon. We don’t know all the gory details. What does the unclean spirit do to her? Does it make her say and do lewd things? Does it cause her to sit in her filth? We don’t know, but I suspect this is the same kind of spirit that infects our culture with all that is base and crude, the kind of spirit that possesses us with vulgarity and perversity, the hypersexualization of the culture, the kind of spirit that takes possession of us by drugs or pornography or any other enslaving addiction. Which is simply to say, these spirits are still at work. We’re just blind to them because they’ve convinced us they don’t exist.
At any rate, the woman sees the spirit for what it is. And it is enough to make her throw herself at the feet of the Savior and beg. She prays. She pleads for Jesus’ help. And Jesus tells her that it wouldn’t be right. “Let the children,” that is, the Jews, “be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). He calls her a dog! That’s what the Jews think of Gentiles like the Syrophoenician woman, like you and me. Now, why would Jesus say that? That’s not very nice, is it? It’s certainly not the kind of behavior we expect from a Savior, from God. But that’s just it. Our God isn’t worried about living up to our expectations, which most of the time are simply wrong. He does His work, which is good and right and wise and gracious, for us and for our salvation. And we’re incapable of understanding why He does it the way He does it. But here, the Syrophoenician woman becomes a model of faith. If Jesus calls her a dog, she’s content with that. Because the dog has a place in the Master’s house, at the Master’s feet (remember, she fell at His feet!), eating the children’s crumbs. It is a tenacious faith that clings to the Promise in spite of all appearances. Jesus appears to be rejecting the woman. The woman holds Him to His Word. Which is always what Jesus wants. That’s faith. “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter” (v. 29). Jesus delivers in His own time, in His own way, at a time and in a way so far above our time and our way. Our Lord Jesus does all things well.
The Gentiles in the Decapolis have every reason to doubt the Promise. Like the Syrophoenician woman, they are not Israelites, they are not members of God’s special people. They are the dogs. They are despised by the Jews. Unclean. Heathen. Idolaters. But Jesus had been to their region before. This is where Jesus healed the demoniac who lived among the tombs, in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20), the guy who broke chains and shackles in pieces, the guy who said to Jesus, “My name is Legion, for we are many” (v. 9), quite the scary scene. You remember what happened? Jesus drove the demon into the herd of pigs, who then rushed down the bank and were drowned in the sea. And the man, now delivered from demonic possession, dressed and in his right mind, begs that he might follow Jesus. But Jesus tells him instead to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19). And the man does just that: “he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him” (v. 20; emphasis added).
So the Gentiles in the Decapolis had a Word from the Savior, the Word proclaimed by the former demoniac. They had a Promise. And they were holding Jesus to it. So they bring the man who is deaf and dumb and beg Jesus to lay His hand on him (Mark 7:32). But Jesus never does things exactly the way we prescribe. He does them better. He does all things well. Now, imagine you are the deaf and dumb man. You cannot communicate. You cannot understand any complicated sort of communication. Does the man even know who Jesus is? Does he have any idea why his friends are carting him over to Jesus? Our Lord takes him aside. This miracle isn’t for show. And by sign language, Jesus communicates what He is about to do. Jesus puts His fingers into the man’s ears. He spits and touches the man’s tongue. It’s gross. Ear wax and spittle. Invasion of personal space. Jesus touches his pain (Petersen). He looks up to heaven and sighs. What does this mean? Jesus has come in answer to the man’s prayers, to heal his pain, to open his ears, to loose his tongue. And before the man can hear, the Lord must speak His Word: “Ephphatha,” which is to say, “Be opened” (v. 34). Now, what good does it do to speak to a deaf man? We would never do the healing this way. But when Jesus speaks, His Word accomplishes what He says. The Creator has come to His creation. He who formed the ear now gives hearing. He who formed the tongue now gives speech. And it works! “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (v. 35). Now, think about how amazing it is that, not only can he now hear, but his brain can already make sense of the sounds and understand the language. That is a miracle in and of itself. And he can speak plainly. How long does it take a child to learn to talk? The man does it right away. Our Lord Jesus does all things well.
The man puts his speech immediately to use. This is another one of those things we don’t understand. The Lord doesn’t do it the way we think He should. He commands the man and the bystanders not to tell anyone! Whatever you do, DON’T go proclaim this miracle! And we all scratch our heads. Jesus doesn’t want these Gentiles to misunderstand His work. He is not a magician. He is not a witch doctor. The miracles are not the point. The point is the salvation the miracles proclaim. Jesus releases us from demons. Jesus opens our ears to hear His Word. He opens our lips to sing His praise. He touches our pain. And He doesn’t tell US to keep it quiet. He tells us to go and proclaim salvation in His Name. He would have us bring our loved ones to Him in prayer, like the Syrophoenician woman. He would have us bring our loved ones to Him for mercy, like the Gentiles from the Decapolis. He would have us bring them to Church, which is the very best way to do evangelism. And most of all, He would have us hold Him to His Word, hold Him to His Promise. In spite of all appearances to the contrary, He would have us believe He loves us, He saves us, He heals us and gives us life. He will never leave us nor forsake us. He does all things well.
And that is true for you in your pain, whatever it may be. Jesus knows your heartache and grief. He knows your guilt and shame. He knows your fear of death and condemnation. He knows every ailment of body and soul. There are times it may not seem like He cares. But hold on to His Promise. Hold Him to His Word. He who gave Himself into death on the cross for your sake will not forsake you now. He who shed His blood for the forgiveness of your sins will not abandon you in the time of trial. He is risen. He hears your prayers. He loves you. And He saves. He doesn’t do it the way you would prescribe. He isn’t worried about living up to your expectations. He does it by washing you in water and His Word. He does it by speaking and opening your ears and heart to the Gospel. He does it by touching your tongue with His very Body and Blood. You have a place at His Table, even if it be at His beautiful feet. And in the end, He will do it this way. He will speak to your ears, closed in death. He will say to you, “Arise.” And you will. For our Lord Jesus does all things well. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.