The Gospel text assigned for today is the second half of a pair that occurs in all the Synoptic Gospels (Matt, Mark and Luke). The first part is the transfiguration, when Peter, James and John are taken up the mountain and see Jesus transfigured in glory. The second part is this story of arguments, crowds, fathers, sons and evil. It is a story of the confusion that reigns here on the plain, here at the bottom of the mount. And since they are always juxtaposed the text invites us to ponder, what is the difference between the mountaintop experience and life down below. The big difference is the role of faith. The mountaintop is not about faith, because you see. You might have trouble comprehending what you see. Integrating what you see might be tough. But you don’t have to have faith in it. Life on the plain is about faith. This sermon ponders that difference and the meaning of a prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief”, and prayer in general (“This kind only comes out by prayer”) in the life of faith lived here on the plain.
Sometimes the smallest thing in the text can inspire a thought. Here it is the travel notice -“He returned from the region of Tyre through Sidon…”. Jesus goes north to return south. But the travel notice state or implies a much longer journey, something of a great circular route, a long way. But even when you take the long way, you eventually end up where you are going. And that is what confronts Jesus when he completes the circle. It is often what confronts us on our spiritual walk-abouts. When we’ve taken the long way, the spiritual question remains, and how we are going to answer it. That is what this sermon is about.
Biblical Text: Mark 7:14-23, Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Both of these texts are holding up the law. Moses encouraging Israel about to cross the Jordan to remember it, to keep and do it. And the Jesus describing the natural state of our hearts in regard to the law. Out of the heart come all evil thing. But in each case the law serves a specific purpose. It isn’t salvific – it doesn’t have the power to save. Neither is the point purely to damn us. The point is to hold before us the love of God, to point us to the gospel. And it is that love of God held before our eyes that keeps it in the heart – that give us a clean heart and renewed spirit.
The prophets were the institution in Israel that were supposed to be dedicated to the truth. What happens when they became corrupted? How could they be restored when the truth is lost? I think this has more than a little to instruct us today. This sermon is an attempt to work through the text and keep its truth. It’s a tough one.
This week’s sermon is a little different. I imagine it might come off a little testy. But the text calls for something like this, and the week calls for something like this. And I have a hard time summarizing it other than as a “come to Jesus” moment. The past week – carefully stitched together first – should make clear how hollow we are. Hollow due to trying to live by the letter, live by the law. And what Jesus has to offer is himself – his body as true food and his blood and true drink. And it is only this that will fill that hollowness. And like all calls to a true spirituality, many cannot listen to it. But some hear, and believe, and then know.
There is a fundamental conflict in our existence. It was present before Jesus, but in Jesus it has come in its fullness. And that conflict is the one the Elijah fought against the prophets of Baal and against himself. What is more important, what we see, or what has been given us in the Word? It is not that God has not given signs of himself. Elijah saw the fire from heaven. The people ate the bread in the wilderness. But those signs do not sustain forever. We file them away, or can’t process them correctly. Jesus gives to us the Bread of Heaven, the Word, himself. And this sustains on our 40 days and 40 nights here on our journey to the mountain of God, on our way to the Father.
The lectionary has us in John 6 for three weeks. It is one of those long watershed chapters. It all takes place in the aftermath of the feeding of the 5000. In the Gospel according to John the feeding and that crowd are a little more specific about their desires than in the other gospels. They wanted to make Jesus their King. But the type of King they wanted was not the King Jesus is. The crowds were seeking, but they were not willing to be found. God was offering the bread of life, but they wanted their bread. This sermon explores that dichotomy.
Blame it on reading a little Boethius recently, but in reading the feeding of the 5000 two things jumped out at me. The first was the repetition of “a desolate place.” Jesus wanted to bring the disciples to a desolate place, and when the action starts the disciples mention that they are in a desolate place. The second phrase that jumped out is the summary that “all ate and were satisfied.” What does it mean to be satisfied? This sermon looks at the ways we typically answer that, or how we look for satisfaction. And then it puts forward one more. Call it the foolish, the wise and the gospel. Only one truly gives satisfaction in a desolate place.
The image from the Text is a plumb line, something that checks if you built straight. The Northern Kingdom, specifically the house of Jeroboam had not, and their time was short. Amos was sent by Yahweh to tell them. But in Amaziah, the Northern Priest, and Amos’ MMA style confrontation we get some vital insight into our calls. This sermon digs into putting the plumb line on our souls.
It happens occasionally, July 4th falls on a Sunday. And unless you’ve got your head in the sand, the role patriotism and nationalism is a cultural divide or some magnitude. This is my attempt to think through a Christian patriotism. The divide is between those from somewhere and those from anywhere. And I think this puts forward a fair case that even though the worries of anywhere are real, somewhere is necessary for the gospel.