Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sermon July 5

The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
July 5, 2009
Text: Mark 6:1-13

Dear Friends in Christ,
When I was in Indiana my organist was a high school classmate of John Mellencamp. She didn’t think too highly of him. They used to ridicule him, because in their minds he acted as though he was “it”. In fact she said that her and her friends were absolutely stunned that he had become successful. Never in their wildest dreams did they think that they had a rock star in their midst. And no, as far she knew, there was no Club Cherrybomb in the Columbus/Seymore, Indiana area. I don’t think she’s much of a Mellencamp fan to this day.

In some ways, it’s amazing to think of all the people we know. I have two high school classmates doing weapons research - one for Raytheon and the other for the Navy. They can’t reveal any more about what they’re doing, otherwise they’d have to kill us. I have several high school and college class mates who are now professors, and several have written books or been published in prestigious journals. Some guys you say, yeh, they’re going places. But others surprise you. An incident during my junior year in high school brought this home. We were in Pastor McDonald’s class when a man came to the door flashing a badge. Pastor Mac went out to talk to the man for a moment. Here it was the secret service doing a background check on one of the guys who had graduated the year before. He was going to be guarding nuclear missile silos. Considering our schoolmate, this didn’t exactly inspire confidence in our national defense.

Christ did not inspire confidence in everyone He met. In fact, the reaction to Christ was often very negative. Our text speaks of the very cool reception He received in His home town of Nazareth.

Nazareth was not the little rural village many picture in their minds. It was a place of some sophistication. It was a community that played a similar role to that of say Forest Lake. The capital of Galilee under King Herod Antipas was the city of Sepphoris. This was a city that Herod built from the ground up. It was a Greek city with all the amenities of any Greek capital. It was also about two miles from Nazareth. Joseph likely was employed in its construction. Nazareth would have been a comfortable place to live with good employment opportunities, and ready access to trade goods of all kinds. The people of Nazareth were probably equally comfortable speaking Aramaic or Greek. They would have been sophisticated and well informed about events throughout the territory.

Christ returns home after He had started His ministry in Capernaum. Why He had relocated there is not revealed to us. However, He had relatives there and a carpenter could certainly find work fixing boats. It’s likely no more complicated than that. Thus Christ begins His ministry away from His hometown. But the people back home would have heard the reports. So when Christ comes home the expectations are high. But they are not born of faith. Why is that? Scripture answers this for us. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. They heard the reports of the miracles, but miracles don’t produce faith. All miracles do is authenticate the one preaching as a prophet of God. In this case the people were actually hardened. How dare God pick a prophet from among them! They had stories about this kid after all. Scripture tells us that even Christ’s own family did not believe Him in until after the resurrection. After this cool reception in Nazareth, Christ continues to preach in the region of Galilee.

How does this apply to us today, other than as part of the story of Christ’s ministry? People haven’t changed. Back in the 1960's when we had professors at our colleges and seminaries buying into all sorts of heresy, most of them were pastor’s children. For many people, the Word of God is not enough. They have to invent something more. And certainly many in our midst have done the same thing. Ironically, it is often the ones that are closest to the center. The ones closest to Christ rejected Him. In our synod, many of those from pastoral clans, who have a direct heritage in the synod, are those who have rejected the Word. It’s interesting among the lay people, how many of our converts have a better grasp on the faith than those who are life long Missouri Synod Lutherans.

Why is this the case? We often treat the things handed down to us not as a sacred heritage, but as though they were common and of no great value. What has been handed down to us in the Small Catechism and the rest of our Lutheran Confessional documents? A clear exposition and confession of the Word of God. We must never treat these things carelessly. They are a great treasure. Why must we preserve this treasure? Because it is in the Word and the Sacraments established by the Word that Christ is present among us. So if we cast aside the Word that Christ gives us, we have nothing. There is nothing that can take its place. The Word of Christ is the Word of life.

What do people put in place of the Word? Our human works. Now good works, that is serving our neighbor, are a proper response to the Gospel, but they are not any part of the Gospel. Those who reject the Word always turn around and make man responsible for his own salvation. But we cannot save ourselves. Our works are never enough. So rejecting the Word enslaves us to works that we can never complete. Finally rejecting the Word leads us to Hell. This is how the Word sets us free. For in Scripture, and only in Scripture, we learn that we have a Savior who has fulfilled the law in our place - that is Jesus Christ, God the Son. This is what we have when we cling to the Word of God. We have forgiveness, life and salvation. When we reject that Word, we have an endless cycle of hopeless works that ultimately cannot save us.

Christ in His preaching is again dividing people. He is dividing between those who are people of the Word, whose ears are open and who listen in faith, and those who are people of works. Those who were focused on works wanted to see Christ’s works, but their ears were closed to His Word. Yet, salvation comes to us through His Words. And so for us, we can be people of works, demanding signs and wonders of Christ, and seeking to please God with our works, or we can be humble beggars, trusting in God’s grace, delivered to us in that Word. Works have no future. The Word delivers an eternal future though the forgiveness of our sins.

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