I put the title as “the Spiritual Crisis of the Christ” because just the existence of Jesus and his claims puts everyone in the position of having to make a choice. The technical term for what I try to describe in the sermon is a Chiasm. It would normally be outlined or diagrammed as A B C B’ A’. The “C” part is the deepest and most important part. The truth of that “C” part ripples out in the B/B’ and A/A’ parts like a stone dropped in the water. The truth at the center is that we live in Satan’s house, but Christ has bound Satan and is stealing as many as he can from Satan’s Kingdom for the eternal Kingdom. That is the gospel proclamation. You have been freed from the bondage to Satan.
That proclamation is met by two levels of crisis. At the easiest level the claims of the Christ are just crazy talk. The claims demand that we re-order our most natural selves – like our family – around the His missional family. Of course it might not be family, it is really whatever we take as the core of our personal identity. This must be subsumed under the mission of Christ to be part of God’s family. The more dangerous level is when that crisis demands a resolution. When all our status and power are defined by the idols of our age and we are called to say what we believe about Jesus, and crazy won’t be enough. You will be called to call Jesus demonic, the adversary. And this is the unforgiveable sin, calling the Spirit a liar.
Because the Spirit testifies to the truth of Jesus’ claims. Are you going to call God a liar, or allow him to free you from the bondage that Satan has you in?
I list some biblical texts above, and it is correct to say those are the seed bed for this sermon, but this sermon is more topical that is my normal pattern. The specific topic might be suicide, but the more general one would simply be The Christian Life. It is hard for me to summarize or evaluate this work. There are all kinds of ways I can pick it apart, but I think it stands as an emotional whole. The promise of the gospel is not that it gets better. The promise of the gospel is that what we experience here, any slight momentary affliction, is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. Today we have this treasure – life – in jars of clay or in tents. Not yet, but soon, we will have the resurrection body, the building not made with hands. And yes, this rests on faith and out experience of God in Christ. So do me a favor, and believe it.
The biblical text has two stories turned in to one of Mark’s famous sandwiches. Jesus’ natural family are the outside and the Scribes from Jerusalem are the inside. What this structure invites us to do is compare and contrast. It invites us to learn the lesson at the core or in the meat of the sandwich and apply it to the outside. Part of that core is a three step argument with the somewhat shocking image of Jesus as a thief. The work and words of Jesus are Binding the Strong Man, Satan. His family may think he’s crazy putting them on the outside right now, but the Scribes are saying that Jesus’ work and words are the work and words of Satan. Jesus’ words to them are a judgment. The only unforgivable sin is calling the Spirit a liar. The deliberate rejection of the word of God and antagonism toward those who hold to it, is a dire place to be. All sins and blasphemies can be forgiven, except calling the Spirit a liar. Even thinking Jesus is nuts. The difference is the one who is far off or outside can still be called near and take their appointed place as brother or sister or mother, while the one who says God’s work is Satan’s has chosen the side which is being bound. And what is bound is thrown into the fire.
The sermon looks at these themes in the text and pulls out three applications to our lives. The hymn of the day included in the recording and reflected at places in the sermon is Luther’s A Mighty Fortress with its themes of spiritual warfare against the strong man and what Christ has already done to bring us near. The title here is the biggest challenge application and the one I leave to conscience. The world teaches the brotherhood of man, or attempts to, and it can be a tempting vision. But that is not what Christ teaches. The brotherhood of man would be under the bondage of Satan. The true brotherhood is in Christ alone.
This past Sunday we sang one of the most haunting hymns in the Lutheran Tradition – I Walk in Danger All the Way. It is one of those songs where the melody is clear and rather light, but the words are deep. It has a history within the LCMS as it was sung on the floor of a Synodical convention after a particularly ugly fight. My guess is that those there took the wrong message from its words. If I was picking my 10 favorite, this on has a place on that list. But we rarely pick it for the congregation because I think the words are just too far removed from comfortable American middle class existence. We live a daily existence that is largely materialist. Rarely do we give a nod to spiritual things outside of maybe Sunday mornings or that odd deja vu/coincidence. The third stanza talks about death. That is breaking the rules in the United States. It takes those three stanzas to make a turn and the fourth starts to remind us of the gospel. Basically my gut tells me when I have the congregation sing it, in one sense I’m putting falsehoods on their lips. Not that the words are false, just that we don’t feel them.
So what does that have to do with the sermon. Well, that hymn is a hymn of spiritual maturity. The text is a call to belief, and not just to belief, but discipleship. It presents us with three groups of people and puts on Jesus lips the challenge to do the will of the Father. The text doesn’t use the metaphor, but the disciple Walks with the Lord. And that is not always easy. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death (stanza 3), but we fear no evil (stanza 5). The mature Christian will accept that walk.