The text is the capstone both to Mark 10, which is the toughest chapter in the gospels, and the ministry of Jesus. The rest of the gospel of Mark is passion week which really is something separate. What we’ve seen in the rest of Mark 10 is a bunch of ways that people misunderstand or outright reject discipleship. But here with the story of blind Bartimaeus we have a lesson of true discipleship. This sermon is a meditation on how Bartimaeus sees more clearly – even though blind – than most of the sighted. And it is an encouragement to “walk the way.”
The text contains a couple of Jesus’ classic aphorisms, but this sermon really isn’t about those aphorisms. Those aphorisms are given to heighten the shock that the disciples are feeling. They can’t believe what has just happened between Jesus and the Rich Young Man. Even less can they believe what Jesus says about it. Their surprise is our entry to think about our attitude to wealth. How does wealth form the soul? What are the deep dangers that Jesus is warning about? The sermon ponders these. It then follows Peter’s blunt but natural question: who gets it right, the disciples or the rich young man? If you saw Elon Musk walking away, wouldn’t you have some questions about the deal? Jesus’ answer, just like all of Mark Chapter 10, is necessary for the modern church to hear. And it leaves us with stuff to ponder.
You become what you love. We either love God, and with loving God love the truth and love our neighbor; or we have something else we love. And whatever else that something is, it isn’t enough, not to be the primary love that forms our souls. The biblical text is Jesus’ encounter with what is typically called the rich young ruler. The man – the individual soul – knows something is wrong. He is actually quite sharp, sharper than we tend to be these days. This sermon meditates upon this encounter of love, and what questions our souls should be asking? Into what are we forming our eternal life?
There are lots of biblical texts about human sexuality. There are also lots of texts about freedom. This text has more to say about both and their intersection than any of the rest. This is Jesus talking about how God made it, and this is Jesus giving the gospel key to understand the rest. This text, just as it was in its day, is a nuclear explosion against all the settled pieties and selfish claims of our cultural moment. This is my attempt to preach it. I’m content with this.
In some ways it is a harmless diversion. But there are other ways that the lottery, especially when it is so big and has persisted at this level, can be straight from the devil. The first part of this sermon is a old fashioned moral inventory – a preparation for confession – based on the fact of the lottery’s effect on this soul. It seemed appropriate given the text based in camels threading they way through needle’s eyes. Since it is not our typical failing it gets the shorter time, but there is the flip side of money troubles, pride in asceticism. Both of the ditches highlight how it is not possible with man. But all things are possible with God.
In my reading one of the biggest shifts from the church fathers to the kids of stuff written and preached today is the concentration on the person of God. The church fathers would preach and write constantly about what we might call metaphysical or philosophical points – like the goodness of God. When you read modern works there is rarely if ever any words on the person or attributes of God. Everything for the modern is about the human experience. When I reflect on that the human experience is quite varied, and we have a giant ability to lie to ourselves. Generalizing from human experience is tough. The church Fathers through some sturdy logic, rhetoric and understanding of the sacred text come to a solid understanding of what God has revealed about himself. And when you have a solid understanding of who God is, both a general application and specific applications to our varied situations are possible.
The text today is a perfect example. The church Fathers all were interested in the goodness of God. In my experience this text, combined with next weeks, are typically turned into stewardship items. The difference I think is between the gospel in the text and the law. The gospel is that God is good, and he invites us to share in that goodness. In no other way can we or anything be good, other that a participation in the divine.
This sermon is in part an invitation to that goodness. It is also an examination about what that goodness means to how Christians then prioritize actions in light of that goodness. It is a pondering of the call of the first commandment.
Worship Note: I moved out hymn of the day to the end of the recording. LSB 753, All For Christ I Have Forsaken, is one of my favorite hymns. It never fails to just kill me. If you do a little research on it and it author Calvin Chao you’ll be torn up more. They’ve set a very Chinese text to the Southern Harmony tune “Restoration”, and it works wonderfully. I usually don’t do this, primarily because it is illegal, but I’m doing it here because this hymn is so good. Most of us will never live a life as dedicated as Calvin Chao, but here are the words of many who heard the invitation clearly.
Reflecting Chesterton, it isn’t that Jesus’ teaching on marriage and sexuality is hard to grasp and not worth the time, it is that it is easy to grasp and not desired to give it the time. The teaching is real simple. Marriage is a first thing; sexuality is part of marriage. It is the desires of our heart that wish to make marriage one potential form of a sex life. It is the desires of our heart that take God’s good order and wish to remake it in some other design. This sermon has three parts. The first is an examination of the heart, “where does sin come from?” The second is an examination of Jesus’ teaching from the text and also how it is taught clearly through the church’s wedding liturgy. The last part is an attempt to reconcile “what do we do” when we are so far away from that teaching.
Worship Note: I haven’t been leaving in the music sections as much because the recordings haven’t been as good. I’m not sure this one a great recording, but I want to mention the hymn. It was our opening. I’ve moved it to the end in the recording. LSB 858, O Father, All Creating. It is a marriage or wedding hymn, but we so rarely sing at our weddings anymore as they are special occasions and not congregational celebrations anymore. This particular song is not so specific to a bride and groom standing before the gathered as to prevent general use. It appropriates a good hymn tune familiar from The Church’s One Foundation. And the text well celebrates both the biblical foundations and directions of marriage, and the prayers that we would ask of God for our individual marriages. And our organist had a wonderful introduction.
Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell is a fascinating character. Nobody would ever believe me, but I once wrote up a Character Study of the guy for school that was titled – “Historical Libel”. The thesis was what she did for the man much better. Anyway, one of her lines she gives him is “Choose your prince carefully.” It is a fascinating insight to the character and the time. Mantel’s books don’t have much theology, well, because Henry’s Reformation wasn’t really about theology, but that phrase I think is surprisingly deep theologically. This sermon starts there. But moves into a meditation on Jesus’ words that the son of man cam not to be served but to serve. There are plenty of moralistic sermons about how we can serve God. I get some of that in here riffing off our Hymn of the Day – “Go to Dark Gethsemane”. But for me the much more fascinating pondering is choosing what we serve. Thinking in gentile lines we are aiming not to serve but to Lord it over. But the truth is that these deals with the devil, the world and our flesh always end in serving them. It is only Jesus whose yoke it easy. Because his hierarchy is inverted. The greatest was the slave of all. So Choose Your Prince, carefully.
This sermon is a little longer than my typical one. The subject from the gospel text is marriage and divorce. Because the contextual density of the topic and because of its high profile in our general culture this sermon takes its time and spells out all the steps. I believe I arrive at the proclamation of the gospel, but it might not be the gospel we always want to hear.
It is March Madness. It is also deep lent. The text is from right before Holy Week on the march to Jerusalem. This sermon connects all those 10 seeds or less, all those good teams that draw Duke, to our Spiritual reality. Yeah, we are going to lose. That dance is going to end. We will drink the cup Jesus drinks in the fact that we die, but that cup now contains our salvation. His baptism now saves us. Do we play these minutes with The Spirit, or do we stumble through them like the walking dead?
Two recording notes: 1) I think I’ve solved some of the quality problems by knocking down the line level before the recording and 2) I included our opening hymn – Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain (LSB 435) – which contains many of the themes in the sermon and service. I wish I could have included our choir piece, but not being directly mic’ed, knocking down the line live made the start just a little too quiet.