Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Natural Condition of the Human Heart, Mark 7.1-13, Pentecost 13B, Aug. ‘15

1.                   Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The message from God’s Word this morning is taken from the Gospel reading today from Mark 7:1-13, it’s entitled, “The Natural Condition of the Human Heart,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.                  Two brothers were notorious around town for being as crooked in their business dealings as they could possibly be. But, they continued to get wealthy off their criminal acts until suddenly one of the brothers died. The surviving brother found himself in search of a minister who would be willing to put on the funeral. He finally made an offer to a minister that was hard for him to refuse. "I will pay you a great sum, he said, "if you will just do me one favor. In preaching about my brother, I want you to call him a ‘saint,’ and if you do, I will give you a handsome reward." The minister agreed. Why not? The money could help put a new roof on the church.  When the funeral service began, the church was filled by all the important business associates who had been swindled through the years by these two brothers. Unaware of the deal that had been made for the funeral, they were expecting to be vindicated by the public exposure of the man’s character.  At last the much-awaited moment arrived, and the minister spoke. "The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten, unconscionable thing you can think of. But compared to his brother here, he was a saint."
3.                  Today in Mark 7 Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for being overly concerned with man-made observances while failing to fulfill God’s Commandments. Such hypocrisy still abounds, as most people worry more about human opinions than what God thinks.  Like this brother who was concerned about what people would say about his brother who had recently died.  Given our own failures in this regard, it’s a good thing that the Lord not only commands in His Word, but also graciously forgives and promises goodness.  Today from our Gospel lesson from Mark 7 we learn the natural condition of the human heart and how God has redeemed our sinful hearts through our Redeemer Jesus Christ.
4.                  Appearances may be deceiving, but our society values some appearances more than reality. Watch the “spin doctors” during an election campaign; how a candidate looks and sounds is everything. But, under my appearance is the real me. Jesus diagnoses my heart as “far from” God (v 6). Original sin spawns all manner of actual evils and leads to death.  I yearn for human praise of my outward appearance more than I yearn for the welcome of God. I deny God’s diagnosis: “Sin can’t be my problem because I look so good.”
5.                  Mark 7:1-13 says, “1 When the Pharisees gathered to [Jesus], with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  8You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”  9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
6.                  So often we measure our lives with what other people might think of us rather than what God our Ruler and Creator says in His Word. We worry about what will the neighbors think? No teenager dare be different from the crowd for the sake of fitting in at school.  We’re told to make a good impression. Dress right for that interview. Speak the language of the people you are trying to impress. Appearances may be deceiving, but they are so normal that we have rules for how to do them well.  The problem is that when we substitute deeds, especially those which look good or make us look good, we inherit their wages: death, in Romans 6:23 St Paul reminds us that, “the wages of sin is death.”
7.                  A young woman told her pastor about her grandpa. Everyone in the small town where they grew up thought very highly of him. After all, he’d donated the land for their church and the money for building the church. People thought so much of him that they named the church after him. Everyone thought of him as a very religious, godly man—everyone, that is, except his family. For them, his “acts of faith” were just a mask behind which he hid the truth. They knew him to be a mean, verbally and physically abusive father and grandfather. My friends, if you are just going through the motions, if you are just doing all the right things because that’s what you’re supposed to do or because that’s what everyone expects, if you’re here to put on a show or to hide from everyone an empty heart or an ungodly life, then please know this: You may fool others; you may even fool yourself; but, God isn’t fooled. He sees right through you and me. He’s not satisfied with a faith that’s just lip service (Mk 7:6). He wants our hearts to belong to him!
8.                  This is why for you and me Jesus died. Only Jesus can cleanse and wash our hearts full of sin and give us eternal life. Jesus chose the path of suffering going to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He did it all, because he knows the true condition of our hearts. He doesn’t ignore sin, but having diagnosed it, he now redeems me from it through His cross and empty tomb.  Romans 6 says, “3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
9.                  Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. What a telling example of honoring Jesus with the lips while the heart is far from him! Yet Jesus then died for all, even for Judas. A popular country preacher puts it, “If you want to talk the talk, then you have to walk the walk.” But we quickly need to add, “Since I have failed to do either, I must therefore flee for refuge to God’s infinite mercy.”
10.              In his suffering Jesus buried your sin to give birth to your life. “You must be born again!”  Through Baptism into his sacrifice you are covered and washed in Jesus’ righteousness. Your heart is new and bears new fruit.  Now, as a new person through my baptism into Jesus day after day I make this commitment to live as he wants, and day after day I come back to him for mercy.  Jesus’ new life lasts and lasts, until he brings us to our heavenly home.
11.              When the Holy Spirit led you to Jesus by Baptism, he gave you a new life that lasts. It carries you across death’s chasm to mansions where no human traditions are needed. There we will be with Jesus, face to face, perfectly and forever.  Amen.

“Enduring Food Is Ours,” John 6.22-35, Pentecost 10B, 2015…

1.      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The message from God’s Word today comes from our Gospel lesson today from John 6:22-35.  Today, Jesus tells us that, Enduring Food Is Ours, through the bread of life that comes from him.  But, so often we human beings try to earn our way into heaven.  Even, with our own superhuman efforts we can’t attain eternal life.  Only Jesus’ efforts on our behalf through His perfect life, His cross, and empty tomb can provide for us this enduring food that’s ours.  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.      What makes a wedding ring a lot better symbolic gift to begin married life than an ice sculpture of a heart? The ring is fitting because it’s more enduring, as one hopes the marriage will be.
3.      Jesus urges his hearers in today’s sermon text: “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). Jesus uses a picture of food because he had fed over 5000 people a short while earlier, and now he was being approached by men who wanted him to provide them with more meals. These men were focused on the result of Jesus’ miracle: their bellies were full. Sadly, they missed the real point of Jesus’ sign. They stood before one who was eager to provide them with things far more valuable than a happy meal. Their attention was fixed on food that perishes instead of on that which would bless them eternally.  This is why Jesus tells us to look for enduring food that is ours found in Him through His Word and Sacraments.
4.      Perishable things won’t satisfy our deepest needs and longings (vv 25–27).  John 6:25-27 says, 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”   But, we have upped the ante on things that don’t last.  Simple bread won’t do for us.  We need not a meal out but an upscale meal out, not McDonalds but Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  We’re not satisfied with a roof over our heads; we need a house that’s in the right part of town with the right kind of neighbors.  We need all A’s on our report card, a date with the most beautiful girl in school, a greener lawn, a retirement place on the Chain O Lakes , a retirement that provides a big chair, and of course, the NFL Network.
5.      These things that don’t last can satisfy a need and many a want for a brief time, but they wear off, wear out, go out of style, get lost, get stale, break, or otherwise fail to maintain satisfaction.  St. Augustine said to God, “You have created us for yourself; our heart knows no rest except that it finds its rest in You” (Confessions, book 1, ch 1).  Remember Jesus’ parable of the rich fool from Luke chapter 12? The man’s fields had brought enough crops to set him up for many years, and they did give him pleasure for a while. But, then God came to him and said, “Fool, this night your soul is required of you!”  You can’t take any such perishable things with you when you die.  Have you ever seen a U-Haul following behind a hearse?  1 Tim 6:7 says: “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”  And, Job 1:21 says: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.”
6.      The Bible tells us that God the Father has designed us human beings for two kinds of life, bodily and spiritual, a human being needs two kinds of bread, or food, bodily food and spiritual food. Today we hear Jesus tell us this truth:  Jesus, the Bread of Life, Is the Enduring Food that is Ours.
7.      We need the bread that gives eternal spiritual life.  To be sure, we need the daily bread that gives bodily life.  This is shown to us from the account of the feeding of the 5000 before our text.  This is shown from the Old Testament Reading for this Sunday: God’s gift of manna and quail to the Israelites in the wilderness.  This is shown to us from the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”
8.      But, as Jesus himself reminds us, we can’t live by that bread alone (Mt 4:4).  Why not? Because we have another mouth to feed, another life to sustain. Call it our spiritual life.  When God created the first people of the human race, he gave them both kinds of life, bodily and spiritual.  When Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit, they immediately lost their spiritual life, the life of God. As God had warned them, they died that very day—and eventually they would lose their bodily life as well.
9.      By committing spiritual suicide, our first parents spiritually murdered the whole human race. Every person born into this world since is alive in the body, but dead in the soul, “dead in . . . transgressions and sins” (Eph 2:1). That’s why every person born into this world is in desperate need of being born again if he or she is to enter the kingdom of heaven.
10.  God’s Son Jesus came to our world as a human being to give us this spiritual life again (Jn 3:16; 10:10).  He achieved this goal by dying on the cross, both physically and spiritually, and by rising again from the grave. God’s kind of life is once again available for everyone.
11.  This is why we’re unable on our own to acquire the bread that gives eternal spiritual life.  Even though Jesus has made available the bread that gives the life of God, we’re still “dead in . . . transgressions and sins.” Just as a dead person can’t raise himself from the dead and come to the table for a meal, so we’re unable to raise ourselves and acquire the bread for spiritual life.
12.  Yet we still think we can. The telltale sign of our death in transgressions and sins is our persistent thinking we can acquire God’s kind of life by our own efforts.  Look at the question of the people in our text: “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (v 28).  Look at the question of the rich young ruler to Jesus: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17).  Look at the question of the jailer to Paul and Silas at the prison in Philippi: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
13.  So both the Bible and Luther’s Small Catechism remind us that we can’t get God’s kind of life—or even the food for that life—by our own efforts.  The Bible says, “No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law” (Rom 3:20).  Luther tells us in the meaning of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed: “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ . . . or come to Him” (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, p. 17).
14.  Only Jesus can provide the bread that gives eternal spiritual life.  Jesus warns us in our text, “Don’t work for food that spoils” (materialism, worldliness, pursuit only of the bread of this life) but rather “for food that endures to eternal life” (v 27).  In a sense, Jesus warns us not to work even for this food but to let God do the work (vv 28–29).  God the Father will give us the bread from heaven (v 32).  He will give us the bread from heaven through Jesus (v 27).  In fact, Jesus himself is the bread from heaven (vv 33, 35). The Giver and gift are one and the same.  We eat this bread from heaven when we use the means of grace: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the Gospel in words.  Whoever eats this bread from heaven receives the “food that endures to eternal life” (v 27). He or she “will never go hungry” (v 35).  That’s why Jesus says in John 6:35, 35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
15.  Since Jesus is the bread of life and since he assures us that whoever eats this bread will never go hungry, what shall we say to these things? What better response than the cry of our text (v 34): “Sir, . . . from now on give us this bread”? Or to paraphrase the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Give us this day—the bread of life!”  Jesus is the enduring food that is ours, thanks be to God!!!  Amen.