SERMONS - JUNE 2009
7 June 2009 - Holy Trinity - Isaiah 6:1-8
This past week we had our new house sprayed by the exterminator. It reminded me that in many houses, behind the walls, and under the floorboards, there is an entire world of infestation - by unwelcome insects - that no one ever sees.
Occasionally one of these pests may make itself visible, ever so briefly, before it scampers away. But you can be assured that if you see one bug, there are probably hundreds more in places where you cannot see them.
There may very well be an invisible world of thousands of such vermin, just inches away from the floorboards on which you are walking, or the walls against which you are leaning.
If thinking about this gives you the creeps, then you’re really going to get the creeps when I remind you of the hidden supernatural world that also surrounds you, invisibly, filled as it is with unclean spirits and devils. Don’t think that such an invisible world is not really there, just because you can’t see it. It is there.
Occasionally something scary and eerie may happen to you, which causes you to realize that the hidden world of Satan and evil is a frighteningly real world. But there is far more going on behind the scenes, which your sensory perception will never pick up.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul describes the spiritual captivity and blindness of those who do not know Christ. They are, he says, “following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
Christians, of course, are no longer captive to the forces of this hidden world of demons and unclean spirits. But that world still surrounds us.
It is in the “air,” as it were, that is all around us. And it is a daily threat to our faith.
From within that world, as close as it is to you, the devil is always looking for an opportunity to draw you back under his control. If he can find an opening into your life, through which he can once again begin to exercise his influence over you, he will use it.
St. Peter therefore warns us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”
Listen, too, to what St. Paul writes: “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil...”
This is, as I said, an invisible world of evil and spiritual danger. You will not physically see the devil sneaking up on you, dressed in a red suit, carrying a pitchfork.
But the devil is nevertheless there, inches away from the “floorboards” of life on which you walk. He is watching you, from a position that is just inches away from the “walls” of life on which you lean.
He hides himself beneath things that, by worldly standards, seem innocent or harmless. He cloaks himself under things that are appealing and desirable to the old sinful nature.
When you are tempted to lie, in order to advance yourself; when you are tempted to steal, in order to enrich yourself; or when you are tempted to commit adultery, in order to satisfy yourself; don’t think that the urges you have to do these things are benign and natural.
There are supernatural powers at work here, creeping up close to you - intimately close - seeking to destroy you.
In your literal house, you would be totally creeped-out to think that those bugs from behind the wall might come out in the night and crawl up onto you: wiggling their way into your clothing, nestling themselves in your hair.
But are you similarly repulsed at the thought that the devil and his minions are on the verse of crawling up onto you, and becoming a part of your life, at those times when these and similar temptations are confronting you?
Don’t think that those evil forces are not really there, just because you cannot see them. That world - that hidden, supernatural world - is a real world.
And those dark spirits are all around you, ready to infest you with their corruption whenever they find an opportunity to do it.
But there is another aspect to this invisible world that is not evil, but good. The devil and his fallen angels are not the only beings who inhabit this intimately close, yet hidden, realm.
In today’s Old Testament lesson from the prophet Isaiah, we see a fascinating description of a vision that Isaiah was permitted to have, on one occasion when he was in the Lord’s temple. Usually, when he would go to the Lord’s house, he would see the building, the priests and the Levites, and the altar.
He probably didn’t think about any invisible things and persons that were also there in the temple. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
But that changed on the day that is described in today’s text. There is mention of the temple, with its altar, and of the foundations of the thresholds of the temple. Isaiah would have seen those things on any ordinary day.
But today, he sees much more, in addition to those ordinary, earthly things. The Lord miraculously enables him to look into another dimension - into another realm - and see things that ordinarily cannot be seen.
Isaiah sees the Lord in his divine glory seated upon a throne. He sees - and hears - the mysterious heavenly creatures who hover around the Lord, singing his praises: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
The temple was God’s special dwelling place among his people. All believers knew that he could be approached there.
But the ordinary outward appearance of the temple may have led them to forget what they, by faith, were to believe about the extraordinary things that were also going on there, all the time, behind the scenes.
The thrice-holy God, though hidden from human sight, was truly present in his holy temple, to forgive the sins of his penitent people, and to cover them with his protection. His holy angels, the cherubim and the seraphim, were there as well, to worship him and to declare his praises.
They were always there. But they were always invisible - except on this one unusual occasion, recorded in today’s text from Isaiah.
On this Trinity Sunday, we are thinking together - in a focused way - about the God who created us, who redeemed us, and who sanctifies us. We ponder supernatural mysteries that we cannot see, and confess our faith in a God who is invisible to our eyes.
But God is here, too. He is right here, where we are, right now.
You can see the building where we have gathered, with its altar and pulpit, and other appointments. But there’s much more going on than what meets the eyes!
Jesus promised his disciples: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” He also said: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
And he speaks to us as well about “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
And so, according to what Jesus teaches us, the Triune God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - is dwelling with us, in this place. We cannot see that this is so with our physical eyes - just as Isaiah could not usually see the Lord dwelling in his temple in Jerusalem.
But the Lord was always there, where he had promised to be in the days of the Old Testament. And he is here too, according to his promise, where his people are gathered in the name of Jesus.
And the angels of the Lord are also here. They are singing his praises, and declaring the wonders of his power and majesty.
This is all really happening. And, it is happening for a purpose.
When Isaiah experienced the extraordinary vision that he had in the temple - where the sacrifices for sin were continually offered - he became very much aware of his sin.
He was confronted by the holiness of God. And this immediately led him to a vivid and frightening awareness of his own unholiness - and of the unholiness of his nation.
“Woe is me!,” he exclaimed. “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
“Woe is me!” should also be the exclamation that comes forth from your mouth, when you realize that you are now in the presence of “the King, the Lord of hosts.” Don’t think that God is not really here, just because you can’t see him.
He is here. And he is holy.
A few minutes ago we talked about the temptations that often come to us from the evil side of the spiritual realm: temptations to sins of deception and dishonesty, sins of thievery and a lack of respect for the property of others, sins of lust and impurity.
And there are many more temptations like this that have no doubt come upon us at many different times. Have you always successfully resisted these temptations?
Or have you welcomed those dark forces into your life, by succumbing to them? Are you infested with these sins even now, even here?
Well, if you are in fact now thinking this thought, “Woe is me!”, as you should be - even if you are not verbalizing it out loud - please do listen to the rest of the story from today’s Old Testament lesson:
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’”
There are “burning coals” like this here, too, where we are gathered right now.
When the Lord’s absolution is pronounced to you, these are not merely human words. Remember what Jesus said when he entrusted the office of the keys to his church and her ministers: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.”
This absolution is a burning coal. You cannot see the divine, cleansing power that stands within and behind this simple pastoral act.
But that power is there, because God is there. He is taking away your guilt for the sake of Christ.
And if you are a communicant, a burning coal of the Lord’s forgiveness will touch your lips today too. Under the form of simple bread and ordinary wine, the Lord’s body and blood, given into death and shed for your salvation, will be placed into your mouth.
You will not see Jesus, as he comes to you in this sacramental action. But he will be there nevertheless, and he will make you clean and pure. With his righteousness he will make you righteous, and worthy to stand before God and to serve God.
God’s powerful presence, which by his own pledge and promise is linked to his Word and Sacrament, is a presence that brings peace and reconciliation to you, who repent and believe on his name.
But it is a presence that brings fear and dread to the demons, who scurry away from this place - and from your life - when the victory of Christ over sin and Satan is proclaimed and applied to you.
Wherever the Gospel is preached, that place is truly a sanctuary, where God dwells with his people, and from which Satan and all devils are vanquished.
That means that you are safe here, in this humble place, because the Lord is here, in all of his hidden glory, to keep you safe.
His angels are also hovering here, where he is. And they are ceaselessly singing his praises.
All of this is true, even though you don’t see it, or hear it. But then again, maybe we shouldn’t be so sure that we cannot in some sense hear the angels singing.
In anticipation of the Lord’s sacramental entry into our midst, we will chant words that are essentially the same as what the cherubim and seraphim sing around the throne of God: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
As the text of our Liturgy indicates, we are aware of the fact that we are singing this together with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.
And as we sing with them, we can know, because of the testimony of God’s Word, that they are singing with us. We are all singing together.
The choirs of heaven are indeed hidden from our eyes. They perform their Liturgy in a realm and dimension to which we, in this life, do not yet have access - at least not by means of our physical senses.
Yet we know that they are all around us, praising the Triune God who, though invisible, is likewise intimately close to us. Close your eyes, and listen, and by faith you will hear them.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
14 June 2009 - Pentecost 2 - Mark 4:26-34
“Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.” That’s what we say when we are trying to encourage a friend to back away from a worrisome situation that he is trying to “fix” in an obsessive or overly-focused way.
That’s also what we say when we are defending our lack of obsessive worrying about a problem that a friend thinks we should be paying closer attention to. “Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.”
Usually, when people say this, it is true. A lot of things in life do have a way of working themselves out. If we just stand back, and leave something that may not be exactly right alone, it will usually end up straightening out on its own.
Boys often have arguments and disagreements with their friends. Sometimes these disagreements wind up in the exchanging of blows. But usually, even when that happens, everything is back to normal the next day, and the friendship picks up where it left off.
But if the mothers of those boys happen to find out about the fight, things may not go as smoothly. I hate to stereotype a certain class of people, but mothers tend to blow things like this all out of proportion.
If a mother finds out that her son had a fight with one of his friends, she has a tendency to think about it, and talk about it, and keep the memory of the fight alive in her own mind, long after the boys involved have forgotten all about it, and have resumed their friendship as if nothing had ever happened.
Most of the time, ladies, when you learn that your son had a fight with one of his pals, the best advice would be “Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.”
But sometimes, we might recite that phrase to ourselves as an excuse, to avoid taking responsibility for a more serious problem that we have caused, and that will not just blow over in time.
If you have hurt someone by your words or deeds; if you have broken a promise or betrayed a trust; if your actions have caused a painful rift in a relationship with a friend or family member, you cannot just say, “Don’t worry. It will take care of itself,” and then forget about the trouble you have stirred up.
You have an obligation to swallow your pride, to go to the person you have offended, and to apologize. You have an obligation to do what you can to undo the damage you have caused.
Don’t forgive yourself, and dismiss your sin from your own mind, until you have asked the one you have hurt to forgive you. Don’t presume on that person’s goodwill and forbearance. In humility ask for it, with a sincere pledge to do better in the future.
St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians: “Be at peace among yourselves.” If your actions are the reason why there is no peace between you and someone else, then that is a problem you need to take care of.
Do not say, in the face of such a problem, “Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.” It will not.
Also, we can sometimes find ourselves using this phrase in our laziness, and in our desire to pursue recreation rather than duty. God has given each of you a set of obligations, which are tied up with the specific callings or vocations that he has entrusted to you.
And these callings are not a matter of subjective feelings, so that if you don’t feel like doing something, you can conclude that you don’t have to do it. Rather, your vocations are rooted in objective reality.
St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: “let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.”
If you have a wedding band on your finger, you have a calling from the Lord to be a faithful and loving spouse, regardless of your inclinations on any given day. If there is at least one young person in this world who has 50% of your genes, you have a calling from the Lord to be a responsible and attentive parent, regardless of what other things you would rather be doing.
Your job or livelihood also require your devotion and dedication. Your employer or clients don’t have an obligation to pay you, if you don’t earn your pay by hard work and honest effort.
And you do have an obligation to do the best job you can, and to hold yourself to the highest standards of your profession, if you expect to be compensated in such a way that you can support yourself and your family.
In the face of these personal and professional responsibilities, you cannot throw a cloak over your selfishness or negligence with the phrase, “Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.” It will not take care of itself. It is your calling - from almighty God - to take care of it.
I hesitate to bring this up, but there is a serious concern among the lay leaders of our parish that before long, we may not be able to pay all our bills, or meet all our financial obligations. We are, to be frank, running out of money.
The bad economic times no doubt have a lot to do with this. I am quite certain that most if not all of the households of our parish have been affected in a negative way by the economic downturn, some more than others. But let’s not forget that the church is also being affected.
If we want the ministry of our congregation to be able to move forward, and if we want the means of grace to continue to be fully available to us and to our neighbors, this will require some sacrifices on the part of all of us.
We all need to remember the directive that St. Paul gives to the Christians in Corinth: “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper...” St. Paul does not say, “Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.”
But at a deeper level, in regard to the kingdom of God as a whole, and the spreading of the Gospel to all nations, God’s Word does actually say, in effect, “Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.” In today’s text from St. Mark, Jesus said:
“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
This is one of Jesus’ parables. The frame of reference is the way in which a farmer sows his seed, and then just leaves it alone. The seed develops and grows on the basis of the power and the life principle that reside within it.
A farmer might be tempted to dig up the seed and look at it, to see what is happening. He might be tempted to try to figure out some way to help it along, and cause it to sprout and grow.
But there is really nothing he can do once the seed is planted - as far as the biology of the seed is concerned - that would have any positive affect on the growth of the seed. The seed will grow on its own.
It will develop within the earth at its own pace. It will become what it is destined to become, according to its own internal timing. A worried farmer can be told, “Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.” And it will.
And that, according to Jesus, is the way the kingdom of God works, when the seed of God’s Word is planted among men.
The Epistle to the Hebrews says: “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
God’s Word has power within itself to accomplish what it is destined to accomplished. And that’s why the Lord himself makes this declaration, through the prophet Isaiah:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
And the reason why God has sent his Word among men is to bring his eternal kingdom to those who live in this world, and by grace to bring his elect into that eternal kingdom.
God gives no guarantee that his Word will remain everywhere where it has been in the past. There are places in the world where the Word of God, and the kingdom of God, once thrived, even for many centuries, but where now hardly a trace of the Christian Church remains.
But there are also places in the world where the Gospel of Christ was previously unheard, but where God’s kingdom is now spreading and growing, and where God’s Word is bearing its fruit.
When God’s Word is removed from a place or a people, God’s kingdom is thereby removed from them. But wherever God’s Word is present, it is at work. It is never idle or dormant.
The power that resides within that Word is bringing people to conviction because of their sins. And it is bringing people to faith, lifting them up into the forgiveness and love of Christ.
Nothing that any mortal man can do will bring this process to an end, as long as God’s Word is preached, taught, read, studied, and pondered. When the Gospel is planted in these ways, it will live and grow.
God’s kingdom will be established. Souls will be saved and transformed according to the gracious will of our heavenly Father.
And there is also nothing that we can add to the seed of God’s Word that will contribute toward its ability to bear its proper fruit. The power of spiritual life resides within that seed, because the Spirit of the living God lives and works from within that seed.
The cleverness of a particular teacher, and the eloquence of a particular preacher, do not add to the message of law and Gospel any supernatural power or effectiveness that are not already there.
This is all true in regard to the spreading of God’s kingdom to all nations, in spite of the efforts of the world, the flesh, and the devil to halt its spread. And this is all true in regard to the growth and preservation of the kingdom of God in you, and in your life.
If you have God’s Word, you have everything that is necessary to know and to believe, so that your sins can be forgiven, and so that you can have the hope of eternal life.
In the midst of the trials and temptations you face in this life, you might wonder if your faith will survive. As you honestly consider the human weaknesses that afflict you and your religious life, you might be afraid that at some point the Holy Spirit will give up on you, and depart.
But at such times of fear and uncertainty, cling to the Word of God - the living seed that God planted in your heart in your baptism.
Cling to the promises of God, which are continually planted in your mind and soul when the message of Christ crucified is proclaimed to you. Cling to that divine seed, with its divine power, and watch it grow.
God’s Word grows inside of you, and strengthens your faith. You don’t strengthen your own faith by your own religious or moral effort. God strengthens your faith through his Word, which abides in you.
God’s Word develops inside of you, and creates within you an ever stronger desire for those things that God wants you to have and to enjoy. You don’t muster up within yourself a desire to serve God and to be devoted to his church on your own, with an independent exercise of your will power.
The Holy Spirit works this desire within you, at a level deeper than you will, and in a way that transforms and molds your will so that it confirms to God’s will. And the means that he uses for this is his Word.
In the literal world of farming, soil in which no seed is planted will not produce fruit. Likewise, if the seed of God’s Word is not planted within you - if it does not abide in your heart and soul, by faith - there will be for you no salvation, no eternal life.
These things are produced by the Word of God. If the Word of God is absent, then these divine gifts will not be there either.
If you harden your heart against the planting of this seed, so that it bounces off the rocky surface of your life, without being embedded in the soil of your soul, then none of the things we have been talking about will apply to you.
But when God’s Word is planted, it will germinate and mature. It will produce what can only be produced by the power of God that resides in his Word.
What God does among all nations through the supernatural seed of his Word, and what God does in your life through the supernatural seed of his Word, is truly miraculous. We don’t understand how it happens - just as the farmer in the Lord’s parable didn’t understand how the seed sprouts and matures.
But it does happen. It happens naturally, and inevitably. And so, for you in whom the Word of God has been planted - for you who repent of your sins, and yearn for the grace of God in Christ - your salvation in certain.
In Christ, and because of the power of God’s Word, no one will be able to pluck you out of the hand of your heavenly Father. In Christ, and because of the power of God’s Word, eternal life is yours.
“Don’t worry. It will take care of itself.” Amen.
21 June 2009 - Pentecost 3 - Mark 4:35-41
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That exasperated declaration, spoken by the disciples in the midst of a driving storm on the sea of Galilee, may seem like an irrational thing to say.
The fact that Jesus was calm and unafraid didn’t mean that he didn’t care about them. It simply meant that he knew more than they did.
And one of the things he knew - which they apparently did not know - was that he was in charge of everything that was happening, and that they would be safe as long as he was around.
It’s easy for us to sit in judgment on the disciples, and on their lack of faith, because from our vantage point we know how it all turned out. We know that Jesus did end up taking care of them and protecting them from the storm.
The disciples, out there in their fishing boat on the stormy seas, actually had no reason to be afraid, because Jesus was with them. They didn’t realize it at the time, but they realized it later.
And we realize it now, as we read this account. Or do we?
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That might not be exactly how we would word it, but I will bet that there have been times in your life when you have said something like this, or at least thought it.
At those times in life when mortal danger is crowding in around us or those we love, we may very well begin to wonder where God is in all of it.
Last Sunday the epistle lesson taught us: We walk by faith, and not by sight. But when you are clearly able to see the threats that surround you, but you can’t actually see Jesus, it’s easy to begin to think that he is not there - that he has abandoned you.
And I’m not just talking about threats that come to us from the outside. A lot of people deal with inner turmoil. They struggle with depression, with addiction, with debilitating health conditions.
Things like this wear us down, and discourage us. And they sometimes make us feel very alone.
In such loneliness, it’s easy to feel that nobody else really understands you, or knows what you’re going through. And in such loneliness, it doesn’t seem that Jesus is doing anything about your problem either.
Oh, you don’t necessarily think that he is contributing toward your pain. But it may feel as if he is, well, ignoring you. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
And the worst, and most frightening storms that we experience, are the storms that rage in our conscience. When the disciples in today’s text were out in the middle of the storm, they felt for a time as if they were going to perish, and that there was nothing they could do to prevent it.
Your conscience tells you the same thing, when you become aware of two important facts: That God is pure and holy, and cannot ignore and tolerate the corruption and rebellion of sin; and that you have sinned against God - wilfully and deliberately - and have thereby called down upon yourself his just judgments.
King David was acutely aware of these frightening truths. In Psalm 88 he expressed this awareness in these words, addressed in a trembling prayer to the righteous God whom he knew his sins had offended:
“For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.”
“You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.”
“You overwhelm me with all your waves.” That imagery sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The events on the Sea of Galilee, at the deepest level, serve as an illustration of the judgments of God against human sin.
As rebellious sinners who have defied God and his goodness, we have thereby placed our souls in a small, fragile “boat,” as it were - a “boat” that will not survive the Lord’s anger, but will be dashed to pieces by the waves of divine wrath - that is, unless someone who can save us intervenes, and prevents it from happening.
And this, my friends, is one of the deepest mysteries of who God is, and what God is like: it is God himself who intervenes, and who saves us from the storms of his own judgment.
According to his holiness, God cannot ignore sin. It offends him to the depth of his being.
But according to his love, God cannot ignore the fact that he created the human race in his own image, and for the purpose of enjoying eternal fellowship with God. And so, God himself, in the person of his Son, entered into his beloved creation, and became a man.
As a man, he himself redeemed fallen humanity, and offered an atoning sacrifice for those whom he so deeply loved. In Christ, God placed himself between us and his own wrath.
He absorbed into himself all the raging storms of his own divine holiness. He deflects away from us the crashing waves of divine wrath, so that those waves will not destroy us.
In today’s text, the disciples, in their amazement, wonder out loud: “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” Who this is, is the eternal Son of God in human flesh!
He calms the storm that threatens us, and stills the waves that are hanging over us. That’s another way of saying that Jesus reveals to our conscience a God who forgives, and who does not only condemn.
Jesus reveals to our conscience a God who does not want to punish us, as our sins deserve, and who has therefore found a way to save us from our sins, and to cause us to be reconciled to him. St. John Chrysostom said it in this way: “His advent arrested the wrath of God, and caused us to live by faith.”
Ah, yes: “faith.” Jesus gently rebuked the disciples in today’s text because of their lack of faith.
He said to them: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And perhaps he needs to speak this gentle rebuke to us too.
If you are afraid of the storms of this dangerous world that swirl around you, or if you are afraid of the storms of human suffering that well up within you, know, my friends, that Jesus is indeed in the “boat” with you.
The Lord has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And he has kept that promise. You will never face any threat or challenge alone.
In Christ, God is with you every step of the way. He is carrying you through every storm. He is bearing you up in the face of every crashing wave.
And when your conscience tells you that the storm of God’s punishment is bearing upon you, and that the waves of his judgment are on the verge of crashing into you, your first reaction should indeed be to admit that this is in fact what you deserve.
Your sins are not a small matter. They do stir up the wrath of almighty God.
But then, immediately after this penitential honesty, please make sure you turn around, and by faith be assured of the saving truth that Jesus is actually in the boat with you already! He united himself to you in your baptism.
In your baptism, he brought you under the protection of his cross, where your sins were paid for. In your baptism, as the living, resurrected Savior, he came “on board.”
And he remains as a part of your life, covering you with his righteousness, and turning away God’s wrath forever.
In today’s text, Jesus said to the sea: “Peace! Be still!” As often as he needs to do it, he still causes the storm to be at peace, and commands the waves to be still, in the forgiveness and reconciliation that are declared to you in his Holy Supper.
When Jesus says, “Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you,” he is speaking a word of peace, for the sake of your salvation. St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Colossians:
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
When Jesus says, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins,” he is speaking a word of stillness, for the soothing and healing of your heart. St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Romans:
“Since...we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
And so, whenever you sense that you may be on the verge of perishing; whenever you feel that you are sinking in the stormy seas of worldly threats, inner discouragements, or the guilt of a troubled conscience; remember, and never forget, that Jesus is with you in the boat!
In the darkest hours of your human fear and weakness, he may seem to be sleeping, and indifferent to what you are going through. But he never is.
He does care that you are perishing. And he does something about it!
He is the eternal Son of God, who in his divine majesty and power never slumbers. He is always in charge of what is going on, and he always knows what he is doing.
And what he is doing, is saving you from these threats and fears:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” Amen.
28 June 2009 - Pentecost 4 - Mark 5:21-43
The Old Testament Mosaic law included many regulations regarding “uncleanness.” If a person’s situation caused him or her to fall within the definition of an “unclean” person, he or she was to be separated physically from other people until the designated period of uncleanness was over.
During the time when a woman was experiencing her monthly menstrual cycle, she fell within the provisions of these laws of uncleanness. We read in the Book of Leviticus:
“When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean.”
And not only would the woman and the things she touched be considered to be unclean, but anyone else who touched her, or who touched those things that she had touched, would likewise be considered as unclean. Again, we read in Leviticus:
“And whoever touches her bed shall...be unclean until the evening. And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall...be unclean until the evening. Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening.”
These rules may seem to be overly intrusive, or even cruel and heartless. But they did serve as illustrations and reminders of the deeper spiritual truths regarding the stain and contamination of human sin, and regarding the disruption that sin brings to our relationships with God and his people. And, of course, these rules also served a practical, hygienic purpose.
But sometimes these rules did result in loneliness and isolation, when they were applied to people who had a chronic and ongoing problem that would cause them to be counted as “unclean” all the time. Such persons would be permanently cut off from normal interaction with others, in the family and in the larger society.
The Book of Leviticus states: “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness.”
In the Jewish society of first-century Palestine, this provision of the Mosaic law would have been applied - continuously, for a dozen years - to the woman in today’s text from St. Mark’s Gospel: “And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”
The woman’s medical problem, whatever it was, was certainly bad enough. The economic hardship that she endured because of all the money she had spent on unsuccessful cures compounded this problem.
Worst of all was the added grief and burden of the social ostracism, and the physical separation from home and family, that resulted from her continuously “unclean” status.
But, as the text tells us, “She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, ‘If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.’”
The woman welcomed a chance to blend anonymously into the crowd, hoping that no one would notice that she was there, or recognize her as an unclean person who was not allowed to be in such close proximity to other people.
She also did not want to come up to Jesus directly and introduce herself to him, and tell him her problem.
She knew that Jesus was a law-abiding, pious Jew. And so she was no doubt afraid that if Jesus noticed her, he would turn away from her and her uncleanness, and send her away, back into the lonely existence that her condition had brought upon her.
The woman was aware of Jesus’ power to heal her and deliver her from her chronic affliction. But she was also aware of her social unworthiness. So, she thought that perhaps she could sneak up on Jesus, and receive a healing from him without his even knowing about it.
But that’s not the way it was going to work. We continue in our text:
“And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ And he looked around to see who had done it.”
The sick woman had wanted to be anonymous. But that was not to be.
She didn’t want Jesus to notice her. She feared that Jesus would depart from her and send her away if he became aware of her presence in the crowd.
But instead, Jesus began to seek her out. He had a very personal interest in her.
And he wasn’t going to stop searching until he found her, and talked to her. So, she came forward, and admitted who she was, and what she had done.
She may have expected a rebuke from Jesus, since she, as an unclean person, had not remained at a distance from other people, and from Jesus, as the Levitical regulations would have required. But that’s not what took place when she made herself known to Jesus. We read:
“...the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. And he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’”
Jesus was not disgusted and repelled by her, as she feared he would be. Instead, he accepted her, and loved her, and set her free from the affliction that had brought so much trouble into her life.
He commended the faith by which she had humbly reached out to touch his garment. And he sent her away in peace. She could now return, finally, to a normal life.
This woman could now enjoy the embrace and companionship of her family and friends. She was delivered not only from her bodily affliction, but also from the isolation and alienation that she had endured, because of that bodily affliction, for twelve long years.
Do you sometimes feel like the woman in today’s story? I’m not talking now about her specific medical disorder, but about the deeper moral and spiritual questions that this story raises.
God’s law makes us aware of our sin, and of the inner uncleanness that corrupts us because of our sin. God’s law also shows us that God, according to his holiness and purity, refuses to be contaminated by human sin.
And your breaking of God’s law is not just an occasional problem - something that happens now and then, off and on. Rather, your violation and neglecting of God’s righteous requirements is an ongoing, chronic, and continual problem.
Your sinfulness is a deeply-seated disease of the soul that endures, not just for twelve years, but for a lifetime. Therefore, whenever you think of the holiness and purity of God, you should indeed hesitate to approach him.
And you also cannot avoid the fact that your sinful behavior has caused division and disharmony in your relationships with other people as well. We have all become isolated from each other, and from God, because of the “uncleanness” of our sin - our selfishness, our greed, our pride, our negligence, our rebellion, our unbelief.
But Jesus steps into the breach that our sin has created, and heals those divisions with his forgiveness. As God and man in one person, he is the mediator between God and man.
By his death, he has procured for us a remedy for the deadly disease of sin. By his resurrection, he has come forth from the tomb in order to bring and apply that life-giving remedy to us.
In his state of glorification Jesus no longer walks among us in a physical and visible way. We cannot literally come up to him and ask him to help us, as the people who knew him during his earthly ministry could do.
But we can still reach out and, as it were, touch his garment. That is, we can believe his Word of pardon and peace, and in faith receive his holy sacraments.
These means of grace are attached to Jesus - as an article of clothing is attached to the person who is wearing it. And therefore these means of grace connect us to the Lord, who loves us, and accepts us.
The power of God’s Son to heal and to forgive goes out from him, to us, through his Word and Sacrament.
And Jesus notices you in the crowd. No one in the fellowship of God’s church is anonymous as far as God is concerned.
Your relationship with your Savior is not private and individualistic. You were, after all, baptized by one Spirit into one body.
Your participation in the Lord’s Supper likewise testifies to the way in which you are a part of the “one loaf” of Christ.
But your relationship with your Savior is nevertheless very personal. You are never just a face in the crowd.
Jesus is aware of your personal sins - and he forgives them. Jesus is aware of your personal needs - and he meets them. Jesus is aware of your personal struggles and fears, and he brings you through them in his grace.
So, when the Lord makes himself available to you in his Word and Sacrament, and when he invites you to approach him with a penitent and contrite heart - seeking the forgiveness and spiritual healing that only he can provide - be assured that he will not turn away from you and flee from you because of your uncleanness.
He embraces you and welcomes you. His blood washes away your sin and makes you clean.
His Spirit instills in you the spiritual life and health that you were meant to have, and that God wants you to have. And he reconciles you.
Christ reconciles you first to God, who now sees you - in him - to be as spotless and clean as he is. And then he reconciles you to each other. He restores broken relationships through the renewed love and mutual forgiveness that his Spirit now brings forth from you.
With reference to the story that is told in today’s Gospel, St. Ambrose encourages each of us also to come to the Lord, in the confidence of faith, to receive from him the supernatural healing that his Word accomplishes. He writes:
“The woman was immediately healed, because she drew to him in faith. And do you with faith touch but the hem of his garment. The torrential flow of worldly passions will be dried up by the warmth of the saving Word, if you but draw near to him with faith, if with like devotion you grasp at least the hem of his garment. O faith richer than all treasures! A faith stronger than all the powers of the body, more health-giving than all the physicians!”
Jesus said to the woman: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
By virtue of the forgiveness that he has won for you on the cross, and that he has bestowed on you in the Gospel, Jesus also says to you today: Daughter, son, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Amen.