Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mark 3:20 -35 An Eternal Priceless Treasure

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,
              Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God: healing, hope, rescue from death and the devil. Just before his encounter with teachers of the law in this morning’s gospel, he cast out a demon from a man who couldn’t speak. The people marveled. What a blessing Jesus had brought to a disabled man. Not only could he speak now, but he could think clearly. His emotions were balanced. He didn’t have a feeling that life was against him. He could look ahead to good days, worshipping and praising God, knowing where his blessings came from.
We, too, are blessed. Jesus frees us from the clutches of the devil. We enjoy peace with God. Our sins are forgiven. We have the hope of rest in eternity. Our lives are not perfect, of course. Troubles vex us and most of us know what it’s like to wrestle with problems that can’t be solved easily, if at all. But by clinging to Jesus, our problems shrink. We trust that the Lord will work out all things. We wait for the great day of his return. As citizens of his kingdom, we believe that he delivers us from all evil powers, that he brings us to himself, and that he rules over us as our king of righteousness, salvation, and life. As Luther wrote, his strength works on our behalf against sin, death, and a bad conscience.
Still, we live in a mixed world, and God’s kingdom has enemies. The teachers of the law, for example, leveled a terrible accusation against the Lord who came to save. They said he was an agent of the devil, working to deceive people. We know perfectly well why they spoke this way. They had developed a religious system that they wanted to protect. They thought that by blaspheming Christ, they might increase their livelihood and raise their position in society. But anxiety is no excuse for falsehood or for breaking God’s commandments. The need to protect ourselves never makes blasphemy okay. This morning’s text contains a good lesson for us. Pressures don’t excuse bad behavior. Some pressures are good for us, especially the ones that keep us on our toes. Jesus wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was trying to bring his people a better way than they had known before, with a permanent place in God’s kingdom that would be better for them than the system they lived by all their lives.
Jesus knew they would reject him, but instead of resorting to their tactics, he answered them in a clear, level-headed, yet forceful way. He said that if the devil acted against himself, this meant that his household was tottering. Jesus is stronger than the devil; he has bound him. That Jesus could cast out demons is a sign of the devil’s weakness. Now everyone can enjoy a healthy and wholesome spiritual life through faith in Christ. Satan couldn’t successfully stand between all mankind and God as he did in the Garden of Eden. Jesus overcame the devil when he resisted him in the wilderness. He would complete his victory on the cross. Satan has been in chains ever since. In Christ, God came into his creation with deliverance and salvation. The humble of heart, the wise, those who look for righteousness accept him.
Just as was the case in Bible times, Jesus’ Word meets quite a bit of opposition today. But as we said he is stronger than Satan. The victory he won over the devil during his earthly ministry is still effective. Jesus restricts the devil’s activity so that he can’t stop us from spreading the gospel or bringing people into the church.
We’re here this morning by God’s will. He claims us for his kingdom and commissions us to spread his Word. We should feel heartened when we think about all the people God has reached through St. Peter’s. God’s kingdom grows one person at a time. We each proclaim his victory over Satan by our faith in him. He has worked a miracle at St. Peter’s. We trust that he will keep that miracle going.         
But back to our test. When Jesus began his ministry, some in his own family thought he was out of his mind and wanted to protect him. The spiritual authorities of the day argued that a demon possessed him. Some people will always say that God doesn’t know what he’s doing. Since the Garden of Eden, humans have loved to claim heaven’s prerogatives for themselves. The old Adam that resides in all of us forever pushes at the boundaries. We should quickly add, though, in the words of our Lord that all sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them, except for one and we’ll return to that in a moment. As we confess the sin of questioning God’s wisdom, we take hold of his forgiveness and the kingdom is ours again. His strength and power work on us to keep us in harmony with his will.  He makes sure that we don’t forfeit through our foolishness the blessings he intends to shower on us.
Let’s suppose for a moment that a very terrible day comes when we’re tempted to doubt God’s intentions for us, such a day for example that befell Job when calamity struck or that the author of Psalm 88 describes. “My soul is full of troubles. I am a man who has no strength, like one forsaken among the dead. Your wrath lies heavy upon me. O Lord, why do you cast me off? I suffer your terrors. I am helpless. You have caused lover and friend to shun me; my companions are in darkness.” Days like that can have a powerful impact. Martin Luther said that times come when even faithful Christians complain that God acts toward them as if he were the devil. If we lose something to which we are attached, we might blame God and say that he doesn’t act like God to us. The teachers of the law must have felt like that. The God they had tried to serve, they must have figured, would never threaten their way of life. They were so set in their ways of thinking that it didn’t occur to them that the Lord was bringing them something better and more fulfilling than anything they’d previously known.
People are the same today. If we have to give up an activity we like very much or if we lose someone who has meant a lot to us or even when the time comes to set aside our holidays and return to our duties, we may become irritable and blame God for taking away our joys. Then we get mad at ourselves for thinking and feeling in unchristian ways.
The path out of this maze is to recall, deep in our souls, that God is not angry with us. He claims us as his children. He gives us good things. He pardons us. Didn’t Jesus say that all sins are forgiven except the sin against the Holy Spirit. Somebody put it this way: the sin against the Holy Spirit is not remaining in unbelief until the end, since many people are in this category, nor is it blasphemy, since Paul considered himself a blasphemer before he knew Christ nor is it denial of the truth, since Peter was among the deniers, nor is it resistance to the work of the Spirit, since by nature all of us resist. The sin against the Holy Spirit occurs when the Spirit convinces a person in his heart of God’s truth and then that person not only rejects the truth that he once believed but also blasphemes it. In other words, the teachers of the law, who of all people ought to have known better, said that God himself was possessed of the devil. They persistently and without repenting betrayed what they once believed in. That is the sin against the Holy Spirit, which I’m sure no one at St. Peter’s is guilty of.
Now, sometimes faithful Christians are afraid they’ve committed of that sin. The sort of fear is a pretty good sign that a person hasn’t done anything of the kind. The Lord died even for our surliness toward him on very bad days. We repent of this and our other sins and thank him that he has our best interests at heart.
Our blessed Savior knows that life is a struggle for us, as it was for him. He knows that Satan tempts us, but he is not as we are. He is strong and perfect and all-loving. We don’t see him, but his strength strengthens us. He empowers us to endure even a succession of very bad days. The wiles of the devil cann’t defeat us, for our strong Lord has tied a chain around his enemy. In the words of another Psalm: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. We will not fear though the earth should change and the mountains shake in the heart of the sea…the Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.”
As we said before, the strength of St. Peter’s is a miracle.  God works quietly. He doesn’t draw attention to himself. He builds us up in his own way. On our own, we are weak, irascible, and faithless. God strengthens us through our congregation. He makes us loving, gentle, and patient. He fills our hearts and minds and souls with faith. When we speak about God’s kingdom with our neighbors, we tell them about the strength he offers them.
Another cure for blaming God is to look ahead to the future. We live in the kingdom now by faith. The kingdom is here, but its full revelation is still to come. The here and now with its joys and discomforts claims a lot of our attention.  The way things are now, though, isn’t the way they will be. When Christ returns, the kingdom in all its glory will be open to us. There will be eternal rejoicing in the presence of God. Meanwhile, we know that God is with us. We are confident of Jesus’ victory over the devil. We are on guard. We resist evil with the Spirit’s help. As Paul said, we put on the whole armor of God. We also pray that the kingdom will come.
Luther once wrote that when we pray for God’s kingdom, we aren’t praying for a crust of bread or a fleeting earthly blessing but for an eternal priceless treasure. We’re asking God for everything he himself possesses. On our own, we wouldn’t dare to look for such things, but God has commanded us to ask for the best he has to give. He is far more generous than anyone can imagine. He’s like an inexhaustible fountain that continues to give the more it overflows. He is angry if we don’t ask for such things from him. Our problem may be that often we don’t ask enough. We dishonor God if we don’t expect to receive great things from his loving and generous hand.
Blaming God arises from unbelief, which does’t expect God to provide our daily bread, let alone eternal blessings. We should strengthen ourselves against unbelief and ask for God’s kingdom first of all. In the words of our Lord, “Seek first the kingdom of God and all good earthly things will be yours as well.” He won’t let us suffer want in earthly things when he promises eternal and imperishable joys.
I know perfectly well that we trust God and rejoice in his gifts. Today’s message is a reminder, an encouragement to open our hearts and ask God for his most bountiful blessings. The One who gave his Son and the kingdom and the promise of indescribable joys to come will never let us down. He will sustain and provide and satisfy our hearts in ways that we can only dimly foresee. In Jesus Name, Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.

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