Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Happy Reformation Day! As I have said in the past, Reformation Day is one of my favorite holy or holidays and I think it is appropriate that we greet each other in this way, “Happy Reformation Day!” This year, Reformation Day is as it always is on October 31, which this year is on Wednesday. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the act of one man, the sainted Dr. Martin Luther, after whom our church denomination is named, who on October 31 in 1517 nailed his 95 statements (theses) for debate on the town bulletin board, which happened to be the church door. It was this act which set off what we now call the Reformation.
Dr. Luther did not suggest that he had found the real church which was lost. He did not suggest that God had given him any new revelation for beginning a new church. He was not trying to form his own new church, rather he was trying to make his old church, the Roman Catholic church of his day, aware of what he knew were false teachings and false doctrines which were being proclaimed, so that the truth of the Gospel might prevail. And if anyone understood these falsehoods, it would be Dr. Luther. Perhaps you have heard his story.
Dr. Luther was born to Hans and Margaretta Luther, November 10, 1483 in Eisleben Germany. He began his college education studying law, but at the age of twenty-two a thunderstorm and the death of a friend moved him to make a vow to enter the quiet life of the monastery to study to become a priest in the church. Young Luther believed that if he worked hard enough, if he studied hard enough, if he stayed out of the public life and could keep from sinning, then he might be able to earn heaven. This is what was being taught in the church during his life and as we will see, this is also what he wanted to reform. In the language of our text for today, Luther became a slave to works righteousness.
The “truth” that young Martin Luther was taught and believed was that if you were good enough, if you kept from sinning, if you did what was right, then you would be justified, then you could stand before God as a just person, deserving eternal life and heaven. Unfortunately, or rather, fortunately for us, the more young Martin Luther tried to justify himself before God, the more he felt unjust and undeserving. More than once young Dr. Luther fasted to the point of almost starving himself to death. He would beat himself in hopes of appeasing, what he believed to be, an angry, vengeful God. And so, Dr. Luther really kept himself in a vicious cycle of trying to appease God, thinking he had to do more and so he tried to beat himself more, fast more, confess more, and that only made him realize he could not do enough to appease God, so he tried even harder.
Young Dr. Luther did not know the truth. He was like many people in our world today. We live in a world where truth has become relative. What may be true for me may not be true for you and what may be true for you may not be true for me, or so the world would have us believe. Today, in our world, truth is validated, not by facts, but by feeling. If I feel it, it must be true, at least for me. I am here to proclaim to you that there are not many truths, that each one of us does not possess our own individual truth, but that there is one and only one truth. There is only one absolute truth. I know that goes against the world and against our culture, but I, and the whole Christian Church for that matter, cannot do otherwise. The very reason we are in the mess we are in, having various truths, is because we do not know the Truth. In answer to the question of “What is truth?” the only answer we can give is the answer of Truth Himself, that is, that Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Apart from Jesus there is and can be no truth. Why do we have such a problem with truth in our world today? Because we live in a truth-less, Jesus-less world.
John tells us, in our Gospel reading, that it is faith in Jesus Christ alone which brings us into all truth and which makes us a part of God’s family. We are not a part of God’s family by physical birth nor DNA. We are not a part of God’s family by who we know. We are not a part of God’s family because we are so good and deserve to be a part. We are only a part of God’s family by faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus makes Him our brother and God our Father, then we are a part of the family. When it comes to eternal life in heaven it truly is not what you know, but who you know, or better, who knows you!
Young Dr. Luther’s problem was that he was not a part of the family. Young Dr. Luther’s problem was that he was a slave to everything except Jesus. For young Dr. Luther, the Scripture reading, “The just shall live by faith,” meant that he had to be just, he had to live a just life, he had to do what was right in order to stand before God and be declared righteous. It was only after his eyes were open by the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God that Dr. Luther came to understand the truth. The truth is that “the just shall live by faith,” means that we are declared just and right before God, not by our own accord, but by faith in Jesus Christ. We, you and I, can never do enough good things, we could never fast enough, we could never beat ourselves enough, we could never do anything enough in order to pay the price, to work off the cost of what our sins have earned. And believe me, our sins have earned plenty. We are born in sin and daily we add to our sin. And the cost of our sin, the wage of our sin is death, eternal spiritual death, hell. Maybe, before we turn to the Gospel, too quickly, we need to spend some time with young Dr. Luther in the Law. We need to spend more time in the Law, because until we realize that left to ourselves we are deserving of nothing less than eternal life in hell, the Gospel will mean little or nothing to us. To young Dr. Luther the thought of deserving hell was devastating and that is what drove him to do all he could to redeem himself. Perhaps we might need to spend time contemplating our destiny apart from Jesus Christ, because, you see, a part from Jesus Christ, we are, you and I are, deserving of eternal spiritual death in hell. And that ought to be pretty scary for us.
But there is good news. The good news is that hell is what Jesus suffered for us, for you and for me, in our place. Jesus took all our sins upon Himself and paid the price, the wage, the cost for our sin. He suffered eternal spiritual death for us. That is what young Dr. Luther realized when he came to a proper understanding that, “the just shall live by faith,” means that we are made just in God’s eyes by faith. By faith Jesus’ life becomes our life. By faith Jesus’ suffering becomes our suffering, by faith Jesus’ death becomes our death. And by faith Jesus’ resurrection becomes our resurrection. Notice that it is no longer we who are doing anything, but it is Jesus who is doing the doing.
When Dr. Luther understood the Gospel, that Gospel set him free. Dr. Luther understood that no amount of fasting, no amount of beating himself, no amount of anything could pay for his sins. No amount of money could pay for his sins. His sins, the cost, the wage, the price for his sins had been paid, in full, by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus. Dr. Luther rejoiced in his new found freedom in the Gospel and from that day forward began boldly to proclaim that same freedom to others who, like him, were devastated by the constraints of the Law.
Which brings us back to our Reformation celebration. You see, as Dr. Luther grew in his faith and understanding of the truth of the Gospel, he began more and more to see the false teachings of the church of his day. You might say that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the selling of indulgences, that is the selling of the forgiveness of sins. The story goes that on one of his walks through town, Dr. Luther stubbled over one of his parishioners who was on the ground drunk as a skunk. When Dr. Luther told him that he would be waiting for him to come to confession later in the week, the man held up a piece of paper and boldly stated that he did not need to come to confession anymore because he had paid good money for his sins to be taken care of. In other words, he had paid money for his sins to be forgiven so he no longer had to worry about sin, instead, he could live life as he wished with no repercussions, or so he thought.
It was this event as well as many other similar events which stirred Dr. Luther to sit down and write his 95 theses or statements for debate. These statements were written in Latin, the language of the educated, because he was looking to debate these concerns with others who were educated in the theology and teachings of the church. His sole intent was to correct and to reform what he knew were some false teachings of the church. He knew that church would be full on All Saints day, November 1, so on the eve of all Saints Day, on All Hallow’s Eve as it is called or as it has been mispronounced today on Halloween, he posted his statements for debate.
You might remember that a man named Gutenberg had invented what is called the printing press at about this time and so Dr. Luther’s statements were quickly translated into the language of the people, printed and distributed for everyone to read and that is what started what we now call the reformation.
I believe there is an adage which reminds us that we need to study and be mindful of our past history lest we are doomed to repeat such history. We live in a world not unlike the world of Dr. Luther’s day. We live in a world where it is believed by many that it is our character, it is our good deeds, it is our sincerity of faith, it is our living as God’s people which will bring us to some sort of eternal existence. Jesus tells us that we are saved by His grace alone, through faith in Him alone. Both faith and the object of faith are important. It is our faith which brings us the truth. It is our faith which makes us members of Jesus’ family. It is our faith which makes us the people we are, little Christ’s or Christians. Here again, as we have been hearing over the past several weeks, we are to have faith as a child, not trusting in anything of our own, being completely helpless, but trusting and clinging to Jesus alone who sets us free.
Jesus said it best in our Gospel reading, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” As His disciples, being given, strengthened and kept in faith through His means of grace, holding on to His teaching, the very Word of God, we rejoice and say, to God be the glory. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
God Makes Heaven Possible - October 21, 2012 - Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24) - Text: Mark 10:23-31
Last week we heard the narrative of Jesus being approached by the synagogue ruler who thought he was a good man and even good enough to earn his way into eternal life. Through the law of the commandments Jesus helped the man to see that he could not justify himself in God’s presence. We were also shown that although God does not ask us to “sell everything we own, give it all to the poor, and then follow Him,” His desire is that we give ourselves to Him and trust and depend on Him alone, as a little child, and know that as He has provided for all that we need in this world, so He will continue to provide for all that we need.
Our text for this morning moves us on to the next verse. Jesus has gathered with His disciples and is giving them a bit of instruction. Jesus had just finished speaking to the rich ruler who went away disheartened because he was very wealthy and because he truly was dependent on himself rather than on God.
And now Jesus tells his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” And Jesus reiterates, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God.” And finally Jesus gives a proverb, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Notice that Jesus does not say that there is no hope for rich people to get to heaven. Jesus is simply stating one of the temptations of worldly wealth, which is the fact that the temptation of worldly wealth is to put our faith and trust in ourselves and in our wealth rather than to trust in God. We saw this temptation last week when the rich young ruler who believed he was good enough to be saved was shown that his trust was in himself rather than in God and that it is God alone who gives eternal salvation.
As for this proverb Jesus speaks, there have been numerous explanations including one that says the door next to the gate which opens into the city is called the eye of a needle and it is difficult to get a camel to get on its knees to enter through this door. I think we can take Jesus’ words at face value. It is difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a sewing needle, and that is the point. The temptations of this world make it difficult, not only for the rich, but for all people to get into heaven. Notice Jesus does not simply say how difficult it is for the those who have wealth, but “how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ message last week, and His message this week is again, do we depend on ourselves or on Him and Him alone for salvation?
As Jesus was speaking with the disciples, the disciples then asked, “Who can be saved?” And Jesus response was that “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Jesus words from this week, from last week, from week before last, all tie in together. We are indeed to have the faith of a child. Children believe and trust in God unconditionally, because they cannot take care of themselves. As we grow from being children to being teenagers, to getting our first job and pay check, to being able to purchase some of the things we desire, to graduating from high school and college and getting a job and earning a pay check, to renting an apartment or purchasing a house and a car and so on, we begin to depend on ourselves more and more and on God less and less. We begin to forget that it is God who has given all things in the first place. It is God who has given us life, who gives us gifts, talents and abilities, who gives us a job, work and a career. We are tempted by the world to believe that we have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, that we have done it our way, that we can only depend on ourselves. We begin to lose our childlike faith. And as we listen to the humanistic culture of our world today, we begin to believe that we are innately good, that we can be good and that we can somehow justify ourselves before God so that we deserve heaven.
But, our text is not complete. As Jesus is speaking with His disciples, Peter speaks up for the disciples and reminds Jesus that they left everything to follow Him. And I do not believe Peter is trying to justify himself or his fellow disciples, rather he is simply concerned about how difficult it sounds to get into heaven.
And Jesus agrees as He explains that what they did was not an attempt to earn heaven but what they did, “left everything and followed Jesus,” was a response of faith, as it will be to all who are saved. Certainly we would understand Jesus’ words to His disciples are spoken to us here today. Today Jesus does not ask us to physically leave everything and follow Him, yet, we might understand that when we do have the faith of a child, we do separate ourselves from depending on the things of this world, on what we believe to be our own good works, we leave our dependency on these things and follow Jesus.
Finally, Jesus says, “But many who are first will be last and the last first.” While we live in this world we will not and should not expect justice. Time and again we hear of the rewards that are reaped by the unjust and the punishment inflicted on the just. Time and again we see how good is rained down on the just and the unjust. Time and again we see the unfairness of this world. Yet, a time and a day will come and is nearer now than ever before. The day will come when justice will be delivered and that day is the day of judgement, the last day. On the last day God will right every wrong. God will bring pure justice so the first will be first and the last will be last.
So, as usual we ask, what does this mean? As I look at our world and listen to the messages that are spoken to the world, I believe we are drawing closer and closer to the end of the world. I say this, not as a fear monger, but simply as an observation. The world, and I mean the world, not simply our own country, but the world has truly bought into the lies of humanism, that is that we can be good people and that as good people we will all go to heaven. This lie is what is behind the reason that people see less and less of a need to be in divine service and Bible class. This lie is being propagated by pastors and churches which are simply seeking people to come in and fill the pews so they look like they are being successful at bringing people to Jesus. Yet, this lie is what is condemning the world. As Jesus has been trying to tell us over the past few weeks, we cannot be the people He would have us to be. We cannot point to anything we have done which would undo our condemnation. Our own self-righteousness, our own good works, or what we think of as good works, avail nothing.
Certainly, if we could be the person God would want us to be, if we were good people, then we would most certainly have no need for a Savior. Jesus is speaking to us. Point blank, it is impossible for us to save ourselves. And yet, the world continues to tempt us to think we can save ourselves and too many in our world and yes, even too many in our own midst have bought into this lie of the world and so Sunday after Sunday we see people absenting themselves from divine service and Bible class and refusing the gifts God has to give thinking they do not need the gifts because they are innately good enough.
We are conceived and born in sin. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. We depend on ourselves which, contrary to what the world would have us believe, is fruitless. Certainly we would understand Jesus’ words to us today as, “How difficult it will be for those who are dependent on themselves to enter the kingdom of God.”
The good news is that Jesus has not given up on us. Here again this week, we have Jesus words of warning and His words reminding us of all that He has done for us. We cannot save ourselves. No one can save themself. When God created the world, He already knew that Adam and Eve would sin. He already knew that He would have to wash the world with a flood. He already knew that He would have to confuse the language of the peoples in order to get them to move out and inhabit the entire world. He already knew that He would have to do for His world what the world would not and could not do for itself. When God created the world He created it perfect and holy. When Adam and Eve sinned they brought God’s curse on the world and yet, God immediately stepped in and promised to make amends, to reconcile His world with Himself. God’s demand is perfection and we cannot be perfect. God chose Israel to be His people and as we have been hearing in Bible class, time and again they failed. Jesus was born, of the tribe of Israel, as the one to fulfill the promise in Eden. Jesus was born in perfection and He did the impossible for us. With man this is impossible, but not so with God. With God all things are possible. Jesus was born in perfection and lived a perfect life, for us, in our place, as our substitute. Not only did Jesus do the impossible in living perfectly for us, He then took all our sins upon Himself. He who was without sin became sin for us. Jesus took ours sins and then suffered the punishment for our sins, the complete punishment, eternal spiritual death. And He died. Jesus died. Our God died. On the cross Jesus died for our sins. And yet, we know the story, the rest of the story. Jesus did not stay dead, but on the third day He rose, victorious over sin, death and the power of the devil.
With man this is impossible, but not so with God. With God, all things are possible. With God we have forgiveness and eternal salvation. On Calvary Jesus earned forgiveness. Through His means of grace and in particular, through His means of grace delivered in divine service every Sunday He distributes the gifts He earned, faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. And so, now, our lives are lived as a response of faith as moved by God. Our desire is to be where the gifts are distributed.
Jesus’ words of promise to His disciples are His words of promise to us today, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” God loves you. He created you. He gives you life and new life through Holy Baptism. He gives you forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith through His Word and Sacraments. He gives you the faith of a child to depend on Him and ultimately, He will gather you and all the faithful and give us eternal life. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Our Offerings, A Sign of Faith - October 14, 2012 - Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23) - Text: Mark 10:17-22
This morning we pick up where we left off last week. Last week you might remember that Jesus spoke to us about the fourfold purpose of marriage including the gift and blessing of procreation, that is that through marriage God gives children so that His Church might grow and be strengthened. We were also reminded of the fact that God never asks children to have the faith of an adult, rather God speaks to adults and tells us to have faith as a child. In our text for this morning Jesus shows us what the faith of a child looks like as He speaks to one of the local synagogue rulers.
As we get into our text, we are told that as Jesus was setting out on His journey a man ran up to him and knelt before Him and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response is a good example to us today, as we have said many times in Bible Class, when speaking to others of different faiths very often we need to first define our words. So, Jesus begins with the definition of the word “good.” When Jesus uses the word “good,” He means good in the understanding that God alone is good. Of course we understand that Jesus is God, thus Jesus is good, meaing He is perfect.
For the man who approached Jesus, the word good carried with it the implication of “earning” something and in particular, earning eternal salvation. From the man’s question we might rightly understand that he thinks highly of himself, even thinking that he has been good enough or done enough good things to earn eternal life, otherwise, why would he ask the question in the first place and why would he ask the question as he did.
As we are told a little later in the narrative, because Jesus loves this man, as He loves all people and as His desire is that all people are saved, He moves to ask another question of the man with the intent of helping him to see that he is not as “good” nor as deserving as he might think he is. Jesus asks him if he has kept the commandments and specifically Jesus mentions the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and fourth commandments. Notice Jesus does not even ask about the first three commandments which deal with our relationship to Himself as God. Anyway, Jesus asks if the man has kept these commandments, which to this man would most certainly be a test of whether or not a person might claim to be good. Now, we understand that the purpose of the commandments is to show us our sin. As we often confess quoting the epistle of John at the beginning of our divine service, “8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9).
Jesus wants the man and us to understand the difference between outward obedience and inward faith. The man believed that his outward obedience was enough, in other words, he believed that since he had never actually broken a commandment through some action that he was a good person and thus merited eternal life. What the man failed to realize and very often what we fail to realize even today is the fact that it is not simply by an outward action that we break the commandments. Again, as we often confess, we sin in thought, that is out of our heart, we sin in our words, and we sin in our actions. We sin by committing and acting against the commandments and by omitting to do what God would have us to do, what we call sins of commission and omission. The point of the commandments is to point out our sin and they accomplish their purpose quite well.
Because this man believes that he is truly good meaning that he is without sin and deserves heaven, Jesus proceeds to test his heart. Jesus knew that this man was a wealthy man and that rather than depending on Jesus he was depending on himself, Jesus tells the man to sell everything, give it to the poor and follow me. But notice what the man did not notice, the positive side of Jesus’ test, “and you will have treasure in heaven.”
Yet, “disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possession.” This last verse of the narrative tells us that the man was indeed dependent on himself not Jesus. The man was not as “good” as he first thought he was.
What does this mean? Last week we were encouraged to have the faith of a child. We were reminded that children trust God through their parents for all that they need. As adults we have become rather cynical and untrusting. We quite easily spout the mottos of our world, “There is nothing free in life.” “If something is free there are strings attached.” We have learned to trust ourselves rather than God, thinking that we are the ones who are earning a wage and making a living, that we are the ones who are providing for ourselves and our families.
What is our confession of faith? Are we like the rich synagogue ruler? Are we dependent on ourselves? Or are we dependent on God? Do we think we are good enough, that we have merited eternal life in heaven? Do we believe we have kept all or at least most of the commandments? What would our response be if Jesus asked us to sell everything, give it all to the poor and follow Him? Would we actually sell everything, give it all to the poor and follow Him? Or would we walk away disheartened?
As we listen to Jesus’ words, notice that the man did not have a money problem, he had a faith problem. If you can notice this fact, then you can understand why I always say that congregations do not have financial problems, we have faith problems. We are indeed like the man in our text. We have more faith and trust in ourselves and our own abilities than we have in God and in the God who provides for us all that we need in the first place.
We live in a world which would suggest that being good is the answer. Movie after movie, television show after television show tells us to look inside ourselves and inside of us we are each really good or pretty good people. There are even churches and preachers that will preach to you that you can be the person God wants you to be, which then begs the question of why would we need Jesus. As we grow from being a child and depending on our parents to being a teenager and getting our first job, to graduating from high school and college we learn to depend on ourselves, it is the American way, after all. Unfortunately we fail to distinguish between our physical world and our spiritual well being. We become like the man in the narrative, thinking that if we have been good enough to not break the law, then certainly we are good enough for Jesus. And so Jesus would ask us to sell everything, give it all to the poor and follow Him and that we will have treasure in heaven. So, what are we to do?
Do we give some of what we have, depending on ourselves? Do we recognize that all we have is a gift from God and respond by giving Him our first fruits, even our tithes? Actually, most of the world is somewhere in the middle, which means that we are truly depending on ourselves rather than depending on God. When we understand that we are saved by grace and grace alone, then anything we attempt to add to grace means that we are no longer saved by grace and grace alone, rather we are saved by the thing that is added, usually implying our good works or I should say, what we believe to be our own good works.
This morning, then, let me encourage you. I would encourage you to have the faith of a child. I would encourage you to remember what it was like as a child, depending on God through your parents to provide you with all that you needed and notice I said needed, not necessarily wanted. Did you have all that you needed as a child? Why would you think that God would cease to take care of you? God is the prime mover. God gives. God created and provides for us the world we live in. God has created the world with the resources we need to sustain life. God gives each one of us life, a body and a soul, at conception. God gives us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God gives forgiveness of sins through confession and absolution, as well as through His Word and His Holy Supper. God gives strengthening of faith through these very means as well. God gives faith, forgiveness and life, even eternal life.
God gives us gifts talents and abilities. He gives us a job, work, a career in order to earn a living to purchase food, clothing, shelter, and so forth. As God has provided in the past indeed we can depend on Him to continue to provide for today, tomorrow and the future. I would challenge anyone to name one thing that in one way or another cannot be traced back to God’s good and gracious giving hand. Indeed as I said last week, what we are born with and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours. Everything in this world is a gift from God and is on loan to us from Him to use in service to Him while we are in this world.
Our response of faith is to acknowledge that God gives and we are given to and we do respond by returning a portion of what He has first given to us back to Him. God does not ask that we sell everything and give it all to the poor in order to follow Him. God loves us and so His desire is that we love Him and that we give ourselves to Him. When we have given ourselves to Him then He has all of us. And we have treasure in heaven.
I would challenge you to step out in faith. You cannot out give God, which I believe is obvious since all things are given to us by Him in the first place. God gives and as we respond in faith returning a portion to Him, He gives even more.
God loves you. He has given you your life, both your physical body and your immortal soul. He has sheltered, fed and clothed you all your life. He has seen to it that you have been baptized and given faith. He continually offers His gifts through His means of grace. Forgiveness was won on Calvary, it is distributed through His means of grace. All that you have and all that you are is gift. And by God’s grace, through the faith He has given to you, you do have treasure in heaven. All we can do is respond and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
The Gifts of Marriage and Children - October 7, 2012 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) - Text: Mark 10:2-16
Last week our Gospel lesson continued our reading through the Gospel of Mark. Jesus instructed the apostles and His disciples, including us today who are His disciples, followers and learners of Jesus, to take care in not causing others to sin and unbelief and to be careful that we do not allow the temptations of this world, the devil and our own sinful flesh to cause us to sin. Quite a daunting task if you ask me.
This week we continue our reading through the Gospel of Mark and we come to another attempt by the Pharisees to test Jesus in order to trap Him into saying something that will turn the people against Him. Perhaps you have noticed that the Pharisees do not question Jesus privately, but are always looking for a crowd as an opportunity to publicly trap Him. Of course, as we always see, their deviancy always fails.
This morning the attempt of the Pharisees is to get Jesus to speak, shall we say, unpopularly about divorce. You may notice that their concern is not about what God says in His Word, but about public perception and popularity, not much different than what happens in our world today. The trap the Pharisees are trying to set comes out of the two views of divorce within the Jewish community. One view of divorce was that of the Shammai who taught that a man may not divorce his wife unless he found something indecent in her. The second view of divorce was that of the Hillel which allowed for divorce for any reason. Does Jesus agree with the Shammai or the Hillel? As always, Jesus does not fall for their trap. Jesus does not agree with either view, rather He turns the question back on the Pharisees and speaks of the original intent of marriage from God Himself in His Word.
Jesus questions the Pharisees, “What did Moses command you?” He asks. Their answer, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And then Jesus goes on from there to explain that the reason God allowed Moses to allow divorce was because of sin and the hardness of the human heart. Jesus continued to explain that God’s intent was never divorce, but a one flesh union.
Jesus explains God’s gift of marriage from the beginning, as we heard it in our Old Testament reading for this morning. God created the man Adam. God created the woman Eve for Adam. God gave Adam and Eve to be married, thus we understand that marriage is a gift from God of a man and a woman. And more, God instructs in marriage that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Marriage is a one flesh for life union, that is God’s original gift and intent.
Later, as they are in the house Jesus explains further to His disciples. Jesus says that divorce causes both parties to sin, the husband, the man, and the wife, the woman. Divorce causes both parties to sin because the legal act of this world never diminishes the spiritual gifts that God gives. And here I would caution us all, God never said nor implied that divorce is a lesser or greater sin than any other sin, nor did He say or imply that it was not a forgivable sin.
Our text continues with the bringing and blessing of children. We might wonder, what does this have to do with marriage and divorce? Our text truly continues with Jesus speaking of the blessing of marriage. In our church we understand the fourfold blessing of marriage. First, marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. Christ is the bridegroom and His Church is the bride. As Paul outlines in Ephesians, wives be subordinate to your husbands as the Church is subordinate to Christ. And husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church, so much that He gave His life for His bride, the Church.
The second blessing of marriage is that it is intended for mutual joy in companionship and for help and support in adversity and prosperity. God has never promised that life in this world would be easy and problem free, nor did He give such a promise in marriage. And actually, because we live in a cursed, sin filled world, life often is the exact opposite, full of adversity and struggles. The one flesh union of marriage gives husbands and wives, united with God, a stronger bond to fight against temptation and sin.
The third blessing of marriage is chastity. Unfortunately we live in a very unchaste world were chastity is viewed as taking away our freedom of expression. God understood the affects of the one flesh union of marriage and He understood how promiscuity would bring much pain and suffering, both spiritually and often times even physically including physical diseases and the like. In order to keep us safe, in order to give us peace in our lives, spiritual and physical peace, God has given us marriage so that in the bonds of marriage we might find joy in all aspects of life with our spouse.
The fourth blessing of marriage, and this is where the last part of our text comes in, is that as God wills, marriage is for procreation. One of the blessing of marriage is the gift of procreation, that is the gift of children. God blessed Adam and Eve and said be fruitful and multiply. God has never rescinded that blessing. It is through procreation that God continues to bless and build His Church. The opposite of this is to buy the lies of Satan who tempts the world into believing that the world is overcrowded and that God has not provided us with the resources we need, thus we should have fewer children; and who tempts to world into believing that the homosexual lifestyle is okay, thus negating the ability to have children. For every blessing our Lord gives us in marriage, Satan attacks and attempts to take them away.
Getting back to our text, Jesus speaks of the faith of a child. As Jesus is speaking about marriage, people are bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them and bless them. Upon rebuking His own disciples who were discouraging this behavior, Jesus speaks to us concerning the faith of a child. Yes, children can and do have faith. Even infants have faith, it is simply that they do not express their faith the way you and I express our faith, probably because they have not learned to speak yet. Have you ever noticed that when you put a spoon of food up to an infants mouth it opens it mouth believing that you are giving it something good to eat. Have you ever notice how children will jump in the arms of a parent believing the parent will catch them.
Jesus tells us adults that He would want us to have the faith of a child. The faith of a child is a faith that has not yet learned to doubt and not believe. As adults we earn a living, we barter, trade and purchase clothing and shoes, meat and drink, our house and home and on and on. As children, we are provided with all that we need by our parents. As children we trust God through our parents to provide for all that we need. God’s desire, as expressed by Jesus, is that as adults we would have faith as a child and believe that as He has provided for all our needs, so He will continue to provide for all our needs.
What does all this mean? Again this morning we are reminded that God gives. God gives gifts. God gives good order. God gives marriage. And God gives children. What we have when we are born and what we take with us when we die is what is truly ours. We are born with nothing and we will leave this world with nothing. Everything we have in this world is a gift and is on loan to us from God. God gives us life at conception. He gives us gifts, talents and abilities to work. He gives us employment in order to earn a living. He provides through our employment a roof over our heads, shoes on our feet, clothes on our backs, and food on our tables. According to His good and gracious will He provides us with a spouse and children, perhaps even grand children and great grand children.
God’s desire is that as we are given God’s gifts and even more that when we are given His gifts we are given them as He gives them. To not be given God’s gifts as He gives them is indeed to reject them and we reject His gifts by complaining that He has not given us what we want, nor enough of what we believe we deserve. To not be given God’s gifts as He gives them is to not respond with an attitude of thanks, to not return a portion from all that He has first given, to not recognize that all things are from His gracious hand. Certainly God rains down blessings on the just and the unjust. The unjust fail to give thanks to God. The just rejoice and give thanks knowing that all things have been give to us by God.
God provides for us all that we need and most especially God provides for our greatest need. God’s greatest gifts are faith, forgiveness and eternal life. We are conceived and born in sin. Sin separates us from God. Left in our sin we would be eternally lost, doomed to eternal spiritual death in hell. But thanks be to God, that not only has He given us life at conception, He gives us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. He gives us faith and strengthening of faith through His Holy Word. He gives us forgiveness through confession and absolution. He strengthens us through His body and blood in His Holy Sacrament. God gives and we are given to.
And because, in and of ourselves we are unable, our Lord even gives to us and stirs in us to give thanks to Him for all His gifts. As our Lord gives us faith, stirs in us the desire to make regular and diligent us of His means of grace, that is the desire to be given more of His gifts, He stirs in us to give ourselves to Him, all of ourselves so that all that we are and have are His, thus emulating the faith of a child.
So, as always, we get it right when we point to Jesus. Jesus is pointing His disciples and the Pharisees, and us to God the Father and ultimately to Himself. God gives. God gives marriage. God blesses marriage. God gives children. God gives faith, forgiveness and life. And through His Word and sacraments He takes us in His arms and blesses us, laying His hands on us. Our response of thanks is to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.