Sermon - 9/23/18
2018.09.27 00:22:20

PROPER 20/B (2018): Jeremiah 11:18-20; James 3:13—4:10; Mark 9:30-37


Passions,    What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (vv. 4:1-3). 


As between falling into the hands of men or into the hand of the Lord, King David declared, “Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand men” (2 Sam. 24:14). 


For the sake of Jesus, God’s great mercy is abundant and absolute. It is only toward those who spurn his Son and the Covenant in his blood that the author of Hebrews makes this qualification, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:29-31). 


For the love of men God would hand-over Jesus, like Abel and Joseph ben Jacob, to the “tender mercies” of his brothers to do to him whatever they pleased (Mk 9:13).  Jesus teaches his disciples, a second time, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (v. 31). 


On the previous occasion of this teaching the Apostles passionately contradicted Jesus, to which he called them, “Satan”, adversaries of God.  On this occasion however his disciples are afraid to engage Jesus’ about his Passion teaching.  They would rather move the discussion away from the scandal that for them is the cross.  


How could it be otherwise? You and I do not really believe St. James, when he says, we deny God on account of our passions.  But Jesus does not let the matter of his Passion drop; instead he redirects the subject to his Apostles’ roiling passions; their jealousy toward one another and self-ambition for status in the kingdom of heaven.


The apostolic band had returned from a Gentile mission, in the Decapolis, to their house church in Jewish Capernaum; Jesus inquired of them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (v. 33).  The question contains a double implication; the disciples think Jesus is asking about the road trip, but in asking about their discussion Jesus deftly returns them to the subject his teaching, of following him on the Way of the cross, his Passion, predicting he will fall into the hands of ruthless and violent men.   


On the road the Apostles had been quarreling, “who [among them] was the greatest” (v. 34).  Perhaps there was animus against Peter, whom Jesus designated the body’s titular head, “Rock”; or angst might have involved James and John, who with Peter were invited to an exclusive audience with the Father on the Mt. of Transfiguration. 


At Jesus’ inquiry the disciples are ashamed and remain silent; a turning point in apostolic hearts and consciences; and the beginning of repentance and a new understanding of what it means to be in the Way.


In following Jesus, Christians must define their fruitfulness, or the lack, in terms of understanding Jesus’ teaching as the HS gives light, first about the Loaves and second the Passion. So far Jesus’ teaching in word and action had fallen on deaf apostolic ears and recalcitrant hearts. 


The disciples did not understand; to their horror Jesus’ revelation of a new exodus that was to be shared with Gentiles in a common feeding. Gentiles were not mere tag-a-long sojourners but co-equal followers in the Way.  Nor did the Jewish disciples understand or agree with the necessity of Jesus’ rejection and death at the hands of the Jewish elders (Mk. 6:52; 9:32).  They opposed both divine NT programs, and so continued to be adversaries of God. 


But it is precisely the Christian understanding about the Loaves and the Passion as two sides of the same singular reality; Supper and Cross, Cross and Supper, each informing and integral of the other wherein the kerygma, the proclamation of the gospel, is fully received in the NT church by word and sacrament.


Today’s OT Reading provides a portrait of Jesus by the prophet Jeremiah, saying of himself, “I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter” (Jer. 11:19).  Jesus, on his Way to slaughter, was inexorably led to confront man and Satan’s hatred of God’s absolute reign and rule through his “gentle” Lamb.  


On the cross Jesus is Son of Man, brother of all men, voluntarily submitting to the violent hands of men. For the sake of man’s righteousness before God, Jesus on the cross has made himself least and servant of us and among us in sacrificial death for sin. 


Apostolic shame over worldly passions that denies God’s righteousness and mercy gives us pause, as well, to repent in light of Jesus’ teaching the necessity of his Passion on account of sin.


In the Way the Apostles quarreled over their individual status in the church of Christ; but worldly authority is upside-down and against heaven’s realm and rule. The gold standard for true greatness in the church is Christ crucified in the hope and faith of justification and resurrection.  


Teaching his Passion, Jesus broached that which the Apostles wanted to avoid. By refusing to understand the necessity of his Passion, these apostolic foundation stones of the Kingdom were sabotaging the Kingdom’s existence in which they sought “greatness”.  Tragically they misconstrued the character of their Office into which called. 


The baskets of remaining loaves and fish from the two feedings were emblematic of their servant Office; but the lesson had become remote and inconsequential. And so also the Baptized, who absent themselves from word and sacraments misconstrue their priestly character for worldly passions. 


Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom reality; he selected “a pearl of great price” for which he would give his all (Mt. 13:46).  In the house-church he took-up and enfolded a child, whose status by world standards is least and servant of all in family circumstance. 


The conundrum on display for the Apostles, and for you and I is that we must reconcile the upside-down Kingdom reality; that greatness understands the things of God and of heaven without being puffed-up; and with each advance in understanding we are increasingly humbled to repentance, inspired to put aside quarrels, and more and more extend forgiveness and service to brothers and sisters enfolded into Christ’s love.


By enfolding the child in the midst of his princes of the NT church, Jesus ended the quarrel; next to himself on the Way to the cross, this “gentle” child is the one who is “greatest among them” and whom they must now emulate in faithful service.


When worldly passions dominate, inherent in our sin nature, murder, specifically fratricide, is a very real danger. Biblical examples abound: certainly Cain and Abel; and the sons of Jacob desiring to kill their brother Joseph. 


In the mind of Joseph’s elder brothers their father wrongly elevated him to authoritative family office, bestowing on him “a robe of many colors” (Gen. 37:3).  His brothers deposited Joseph in a pit for dead, a grave if you will, from which he was resurrected.  Such jealous passions bespeak the murder of which St. James warns, that unchecked by grace unto faith can destroy the family, the church.


All of us have observed the worldly passions in the Christian congregation, most prominently on display in numerically large congregations. Quarrels increase for lack of love and factious isolations exacerbate; the family becomes less nuclear.  In extreme cases sides are chosen-up around the congregation’s distributive servant of the things given for greatness, word and sacrament.  When that occurs the impulse to fratricide advances to suicide. 


When we have children among us, he and she are living parables of heaven’s kingdom and the greatness which all Baptized aspire. The first lilting words taught our children are, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so”. 


Yet how sad when that song is not unpacked Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day, from faith to faith, in ever greater understanding of our unity in the Loaves and the Passion of God’s gentle Servant Lamb.


Last Sunday a father approached Jesus because his disciples were impotent to cast-out a demon; they were hardhearted, refusing to understand the Loaves and the Passion. To all present, Jesus said, “All things are possible for the one who believes” (Mk. 9:21); to which the father, immediately and in advance of the disciples expressed his repentant prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief” (v.24). 


In fact the Gentile father spoke for the disciples, even then moving out of unbelief; and by Jesus’ ensuing exorcism he again directed attention to a child as “greatest” in their midst whose salvation and restoration is of grace alone received in a child’s helpless humility; so also for us who repentantly receive the Loaves and the Passion of Christ. Amen. 





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