The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 22-23, 2009
Text: Mark 7:1-13
Dear Friends in Christ,
It is ironic that this text should appear this particular week. This past week tornadoes went through down town Minneapolis. The convention center suffered minor damage while the ELCA convention was gathered. Across the street, the steeple was torn from Central Lutheran Church. The cross was left hanging upside down. The upside down cross, as I’m sure you know, has often been used as the symbol of Satan. We can note the irony, but we cannot say what, if anything, God intends to tell us by this. We don’t know. But it is ironic that God would turn a cross upside down right there where the ELCA was debating the ordination of practicing homosexuals. If indeed God intended this as a warning, it was not heeded. On Friday, the ELCA approved the ordination into the office of the ministry of openly practicing homosexuals with 68% support.
In our text, Christ warns against following the rules of man. He gives several examples. One is rather confusing. “Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But 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) — then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother...” What was happening was a wealthy man would have parents who were destitute. Rather than supporting them, the man would say, well all my extra money is promised to the support of the temple - though somehow the money never seemed to actually make it to the temple. The Pharisees would say that supporting the temple was more important than supporting one’s parents. But Christ is saying, no, God’s clear command is to honor our parents, which includes supporting them if they have need. They were making the commands of men more important than the clear commands of God.
We have seen this played out in spades this past week. The ELCA has ignored dozens of passage from the beginning to the end of Scripture that speak to homosexuality . They will say didn’t God make them that way? But they are forgetting that part in Genesis 3 about the fall into sin. They are forgetting that every thing in this world is corrupted. Things don’t always happen in the way God intended at creation. This is why we distinguish between God’s primary will and His consequent will. Then they will say but God intends that we love all men. Yes, but love does not include condoning those things which Christ clearly calls sin. Christ defines, by divine law, that is the Ten Commandments, what love is. We don’t make it up for ourselves. The bottom line here is that the ELCA now has cast aside the clear word of God for the teachings of men.
Why is this a crucial error? What is at stake? True repentance. If we no longer call sin, sin, how can it be that one comes to repentance. How does one even know of what they should be repenting. Remember that our hearts are corrupt. Man has a limitless capacity to justify himself in his own mind. I could go out and commit a murder and call it good. People do it all the time. The same with any other sin. God’s law is there to be held up in front of us so that we see our sins. It is an objective standard that is located outside ourselves. This is so that we cannot manipulate it to suit ourselves. Once we start to manipulate the law to suit us, we no longer see our sins, as sins. This makes it hard to repent of such sins. One must first see our sins to repent of them.
You see the Christian faith is not about being good or being nice to everyone. A life of obedience to God and service to our neighbor is the natural byproduct of the Christian faith, but not it’s purpose. In fact we are often told in Scripture that where this doesn’t happen, something is very wrong. But again, it’s not the purpose of the Christian faith. The purpose of the Christian faith is connecting people to the forgiveness of their sins. If one doesn’t know that they have any sins, they have no use for forgiveness. The problem is that we are sinners. Whether we see our sins or not does not change this reality. In fact, we never will see all our sins. This is why we make a general confession of all sins. But even this becomes nonsensical for many who have rewritten God’s law. We need to see at least some of our sins so that we see that we are indeed sinners.
Christ desires to give us forgiveness for our sins. If fact He died on the cross so that He could give us forgiveness. We trample upon the gifts of Christ when we follow the teachings of men. The teachings of men are always man’s way of saying that what is clearly wrong is really right. Nor can we say that we are guiltless in this regard. Our own synod’s Ablaze program, with it’s implicit denial of the Third Article and triumphalism is the doctrines of man in our own midst. It has come to the point, in some circles, that it is more important to show your support for Ablaze than your support for the Word of God. So we cannot even say that, yeh, this is their problem. They teach the doctrines of men. Though it is perhaps less obvious, the same problem is present, among us also. Among us also the doctrines of men are being taught. And for this we need to repent, even as we also call upon our brothers in the ELCA to repent of their departure from the Word of God.
God, in Christ, has given to us His Word and His Law. Many sins, including homosexuality, are condemned. This is God speaking - thus saith the Lord. And to this we can add one more - despising the Word God and replacing it with the teachings of men. When we see others do this, it is wrong and we should speak out. But we must be aware of how it is happening among us as well. God will say, good you spoke out about their sin, but now what did you do about your own sins? See we must deal with both. And how is it that we deal with our sins? By laying them before Christ in repentance. That means not only being sorry for our sins, but also a genuine desire to amend our lives and turn away from that sin. We know we do this imperfectly as we remain in that tension we call saint and sinner. Then we return to our baptism and the daily drowning of the old man. We turn to holy absolution where Christ Himself speaks to us through our pastors telling us He has indeed forgiven our sins. We turn to the supper where we participate in Christ’s sacrificial death and claim it as payment for our sins. Then we again turn to the Word and seek to even more fully understand it, to the very day we die. We seek to see our lives in the mirror of that Word. We seek to be conformed to God’s Word. Then, if we are indeed conformed to God’s Word, we are free from the life destroying word of man.