The miracles of Jesus are not just random events. God is not capricious, handing out bennies to some while stiffing others. The miracles have a purpose. This sermon sorts through a couple of different ways of thinking about those purposes. And then it focuses on how we often receive miracles, especially epiphany type. The disciples seeing Jesus walking on the water in quick succession go through the key ones. And Jesus is quick reply answers them. This is for us that we might understand and take courage. The New Creation is already ours.
I didn’t do my normal word cloud for this, instead above is the Icon of Mary Magdalene. She was one of the Mary’s that went to the tomb to spice the body. The icon captures both of those things. In her left is the jar of spice, but in her right is that bright red egg. That egg is a very ancient symbol of the resurrection. That bright red is the blood that bought this day.
The sermon focuses on the uniqueness of Mark. It ends with Mary running from the tomb afraid. It is an existential question. We know what happened with Mary. She took courage and told the others. Mark’s point is a question to us. We’ve seen the empty tomb. We’ve heard the resurrection. It demands we live in hope. Do we take courage? Or do we stay in fear? This Morning is different. Choose to live.
That title is the question of purpose; it is the specter of despair. It is also something that Jesus, in his time on this earth, experienced with us. And in his experience showed us how we should attempt to answer. As with all things Jesus it is so simple anyone could do it, yet not simplistic or limiting in any way. The sermon develops the role of that question in Jesus’ life, the thread of continuity found in the will of the Father through changes in purpose. It then develops that teaching for our lives.
Texts on unclean spirits and demons are tough ones for sermons these days. You can completely spiritualize them, which is dishonest and drains them of all their power. As O’Connor said about the Eucharist, “if it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.” You can take a cessationist line, which could be possible, but ins’t really taught anywhere in the scripture. You could take a charismatic line, but unless you have an active exorcism ministry, that is a stretch. Or you can do what I attempted to do here. I’d invite you to listen. I think this is important stuff proclaimed in a faithful way that has Jesus at its center.
Worship Note: I have left in the record two musical parts. Our choir sang a wonderful little piece today and they were in great voice. That is between the Old Testament and Epistle lessons. I also left in the hymn after the sermon, LSB 583, God Has Spoken By His Prophets. As we were singing it this morning I was struck by how it artistically captured the core of the sermon.
The confrontation of Jesus with the chief priests and elders is the confrontation of the prophet with the stewards of the priest and king roles. It is a confrontation of authority. And the abiding question is how do we know when we’ve heard THE WORD of GOD?
The typical authority granted is of that priestly or kingly type. It comes with the office and the special garb of the office. The authority of the prophet is different. And we still long to hear that prophetic authority. The first part of the hard answer is that the prophetic authority is self-authenticating. You know it in your hearts and guts when you hear it. Our opening hymn was “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding”. That is the part of the response. The second part of the hard answer is that THE WORD comes to us under the cross. It comes in power and can be crucified, the violent can bear it away. It is always “punching up” as it were. If it is not, it might be something you desperately want to be THE WORD, but you are fooling yourselves.
When we hear the prophet the most likely response is repentance. That is the goal of THE WORD – Repent and believe. The Kingdom is here. A contrasting honest response would simply be to have the courage of your convictions. Sit in the seat of the priest or the king and deny that the prophet has any authority. It is at least a courageous honesty response. The worst response is “we don’t know”. Did you hear the Word? “We don’t know”. Stop it. You know. You just don’t like the decision is forces. True repentance or true rebellion. We want it both ways. The safe authority with the romance of the prophet.
Recording Note: You might notice during the sermon a shift in sound direction. For some reason I think the pulpit mic cut out. The altar mic picked it up fine, but it will sound more ambient. I also had to amplify the line just a smidge. We had some great hymns, like the opener mentioned, but I didn’t include any in the recording because it was one of those days where the recording just didn’t sound as good as live. Come to church, a much better experience.
The text is the emergence of Jesus after the arrest of John the Baptist and his calling of disciples. This sermon looks at three sets of comparisons encouraged in the text by their juxtaposition: Jesus and John the Baptist, Andrew/Peter and James/John, and Jesus and his disciples. Each comparison increases our knowledge of God and the path of discipleship. The sermon explores those especially the role of courage in the life of discipleship.
A note on the recording: I’ve included a couple of musical pieces. Our Choir sang an infectious newer hymn, LSB 833 Listen, God is Calling. It has a dramatic African Call/Response structure. I’ve been looking for about three years for a chance to get it into the service. It is just not something that a congregation can take on cold, but the choir sounded great. The second hymn is LSB 856 O Christ, Who Called the Twelve. It also is a newer hymn with some amazing depth paired with probably a familiar tune, Terra Beata formally, but I know it as This is Our Father’s World. (And I am still convinced that the theme song running throughout the Lord of the Rings movies is inspired by this hymn tune. At every moment of near despair, Frodo or Sam remember the shire and this theme plays in the background.) Both of these hymns are great additions to a Lutheran Congregation’s Hymnbook.
If you’re a parent, and you’re sending away to college kids who’ve never been asked to do a task that was too hard, or been given a responsibility they didn’t believe they could bear, or have never been asked to suffer a single moment for the sake of another—you haven’t succeeded. You’ve failed. – Michael Graham on Courage
Imitation can be as good as the real thing, when the real thing is itself bankrupt – Rita Koganzon on Honesty
There the 8 year old flipped and tumbled and fell – gymnasts don’t come from tall peasant stock like ours – but she got up to try it again. I had just limped my way up the sidewalk. My calf pulled in the latest reminder that my jumping days were past. And in the midst of a wince I recognized that pre-eminent virtue of youth – courage. After landing flat on her back making a 270 instead of a 360, she did it again. The gym was full of such amazing courage.
I remember some of that physical courage now sadly traded for those more mature virtues of prudence and patience (ok, I’m still working on patience). But seeing so much courage jogged me into pondering a little Aristotle, “we become brave by practicing bravery”. In our youth we have such physical strength to practice courage with this flesh, this flesh that even now is wasting away. The teacher of Ecclesiastes says something similar in a very Hebrew way, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”” Now is the time of grace. Now is the time to practice.
We practice the faith, so that we might be found faithful. We endure suffering so that we might develop character. Character isn’t revealed, it’s produced. There is hope for us all. While my physical courage is no longer there as it once was – the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak – I pray that I have learned the lesson of youth and that courage has been won in practice. That ultimately I could say with St. Paul, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Phi 1:20)”