Monthly Archives: September 2015

Cup of Water or Confession of Faith? (Mark 9:38-50)

So here’s my question: What does it mean to be a “Christian”? Is it a set of one or more beliefs you agree to? Is it one or more rules for how we are to live in the world? Is it being a good person? Is it something else?

Ask three Christians to answer that question and you’re likely to get five different answers.

But one thing we all know for sure, and that’s that our way of being Christian is right, which means their way is obviously wrong (whoever “they” are).  That’s sarcasm, by the way. . .

Bible scholars say that the gospel writer of Mark included this little section because the people of Mark’s own congregation were likely all pretty much in agreement about following Jesus, but then met people from another congregation who believed, lived, trusted in Jesus differently. An argument broke out; one that hasn’t stopped yet.

Isn’t that one of Christianity’s weaknesses? That we just can’t get along with each other? Instead of supporting — or even learning from — each other, we turn our Christian faith into a competition.

So the disciples complain in this gospel that someone else is doing it wrong. They found someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but wasn’t part of their group. They believed, then, that this wayward disciple of Jesus must be stopped. There must be an end to his activity, because something about it must be wrong.

So who’s right? Which way of being Christian is best? Who is the most devout follower of Jesus? Jesus answers this by telling them that whoever gives you even just a cup of water because you are bear the name of Christ is right. He says that whoever even gets in the way of anyone who believes in Jesus is wrong.

And he says this in the strongest terms possible: drowning and cutting of limbs is better than getting in the way of anyone’s discipleship. Apparently Jesus thinks this is kind of important! If you tell someone their way of following Jesus is inferior to yours, you are getting in their way. Instead of competing with them over whose version is better, give them a cup of water to drink.

These verses today are right in the middle of a whole bunch of stuff about serving others in humility, that the greatest one is the servant, that the ones who don’t matter actually matter the most, the last are actually first. The thing that matters to Jesus seems to be that his followers be the ones taking care of the least, the lost, the littlest ones, and not competing with each other about who’s the greatest or who’s the best disciple, or who’s beliefs are most orthodox.

Whether or not you agree with all the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, is there any doubt about the discipleship of Pope Francis as he’s made his way along the eastern part of the US?

Many of you know I grew up in Utah, and one of the favorite topics of conversation is whether or not Mormons are really Christian. I’ve taken an active role in those arguments over the years, I’m embarrassed to say.

How much time I’ve wasted! While I was arguing with someone about who are “real” Christians, many of my Mormon friends were out serving their neighbors. While I was busy perfecting my true Christan theology, many of my Mormon friends were going around the world talking about their faith. Whoever gives even a cup of water in my name, Jesus says, will not lose their reward.

Apparently being a Christian is more about serving the least than having better beliefs. It’s more about loving the unloved than following rules. It’s more about bringing water to a thirsty person than being first and best. Maybe all Jesus wants out of us is to love others the way God loves us.

So, yeah, let the guy cast out demons! Why would you stop him? Because he isn’t part of our elite group? Because he believes differently? Because emphasizes different things than we do? No! Regardless of how much the disciples may disagree with his theology, he’s helping a demon-possessed person while they’re arguing about who the real followers of Jesus are!

So, what does it mean to be a Christian? Maybe the answer is that we should quit arguing about it. Maybe following Jesus is broader than my way of doing it. Maybe I could learn something new about serving in Jesus’ name from someone who believes differently. Maybe there’s someone who would be better served by a cup of water than by a confession of faith.

Maybe being a Christian is just as simple as Jesus makes it out to be: love God, love your neighbor.

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Posted by on September 28, 2015 in Sermon


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Who *Really* Wants to Take the Kingdom of God Seriously? (Mark 9:30-37)

I want you to notice the difference between Jesus and his disciples in this text today. It begins here with Jesus and his disciples on their way through Galiliee, and Jesus “did not want anyone to know it”. Travelling incognito, unknown, quietly, without fanfare or recognition.

On the way he is teaching his disciples that he will be betrayed, killed, and will rise again. And this is the second time he’s told them this.

They get to the house in Capernaum, and the whole journey Jesus is trying not to call attention to himself, to lay low, helping them understand the role of suffering and even dying—tremendously humble and meek topics.

The disciples, meanwhile, too frightened to ask him about all this, had been arguing about which one of them is the greatest.

Humble, suffering Jesus. Frightened, boasting disciples.

Jesus deflecting attention from himself to God’s will in the world. Disciples who want recognition, deserved or not (and it’s definitely not).

Jesus: it’s all about others. Disciples: it’s all about us.

What the disciples never seem to get in Mark’s gospel is how differently God works in the world than we usually do. Jesus is continually trying to teach and show his disciples what God’s kingdom is actually like. It is so opposite of what they experience that they just can’t seem to understand it. Today’s verses shine a light on that misunderstanding.

In God’s kingdom, Jesus says, the greatest are the servants. The least in our world should be treated like Christ himself. The one who serves others has their life given to them. The one who is ignored is the one in the center.

If God had God’s way, this would be the normal way of the world. The disciples never seem to catch onto that.

When Jesus goes on about how different God’s way is, it just doesn’t click with the disciples. All this “serve others, love enemies, forgive everyone, last are first, weak is strong” business Jesus tells them may as well be “up is down, red is green, and squares are round.” It doesn’t connect with them.

As I suspect it still doesn’t with us. God’s way is soooooo different from how the world actually operates that we usually find it easier to just kind of ignore it.

Think about if everyone took Jesus seriously when he says that the greatest of all is the servant of all. That would mean that the night janitor at McDonald’s has more status than any of our current presidential candidates . . . (OK, maybe a bad example). It would mean that everyone would accept that the homeless alcoholic man with a cardboard sign at the traffic light is just as valuable in the world as the person in the Mercedes who gives him money and food. Or the totally nerdiest kid in school is elected student body president over the most popular kid.

If everyone took Jesus seriously, can you imagine how badly it would turn out if we actually did love our enemies? Makes it kind of hard to fight a war, don’t you think? Capitalism kind of falls apart.

How about Jesus taking a child, the most powerless and most vulnerable person in his society, and telling us to welcome these as if they were Christ himself? If everyone actually welcomed and embraced the most vulnerable, most powerless people in our culture, imagine the changes in immigration and how we’d deal with the Syrian refugee crisis?

Then there’s the whole suffering and dying thing Jesus talks about. Can you imagine if everyone trusted so fully in God that they would go to that extreme for the sake of others?

Hard to even imagine that, isn’t it? God’s ways are just too different. The world would turn upside down if everyone took all that stuff seriously. And let’s be honest, not everyone even wants God’s ways, much less be willing to live them.

No, not everyone will. Hardly anyone. Maybe no one.

This is where the church comes in. Jesus calls his followers to do it. We are the ones Jesus sends into the world to be last of all and servant of all. How about if we, as Lutheran Church of the Master, were willing to suffer as a congregation because showing God’s mercy and compassion for others was more important to us than our own comfort or even survival?

God is so committed to this that God keeps removing the barriers that get in the way of following Jesus. So God keeps forgiving us, coming among us, giving us gifts, equipping us, and loving us so that we can love others.

Do you think we’ll do this perfectly? Nope, not gonna happen. But we can serve someone today. Then stand up for someone else tomorrow. Then show love to an undeserving person the next day. Sometimes it will cost us. Sometimes it will be hard. Sometimes we won’t benefit ourselves at all. But God is seen. Jesus is lifted up. God’s kingdom is exposed. Maybe without fanfare or recognition. Usually with humility and meekness. Not everyone wants it. May we be among those who do.

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Posted by on September 21, 2015 in Sermon


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Right Belief: Making a Case that it Doesn’t Really Matter (Mark 8:27-38)


Have you ever had this experience? When people discover that you come here to church, you get a response like, Yeah, I believe in God but I’m just not into the church thing.

Most people are pretty moral, trustworthy, knowledgeable, faithful, people of good character. Society usually thinks well of them, and most people respect them and hold them in high regard. Most of us believe in God and many would call Jesus “Messiah.”

So what’s the problem? If they’re good people, believe in God, not bothering anyone, is anything wrong?

Most of us, honestly, would say, “Can’t think of much wrong.”

Perhaps that’s the problem. We’re focusing on what we think instead of what God thinks. Peter gets the answer right, “You’re the Messiah,” and though Jesus tells him he got the answer right, he also ends up telling Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  So apparently, believing in God and recognizing who Jesus is may not be what God is after.

From a human perspective, we try hard to do the right things and believe the right things. But again, according to Jesus’ response to Peter, God’s perspective is different.

Peter was the first disciple to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but was also the one who Jesus called Satan and who denied even knowing Jesus later. When our emphasis is limited to correct beliefs, our minds are on human things.

And yet we still pour all our effort into climbing this ladder of righteousness. And Jesus calls us Satan. And Jesus is still denied by us. And in trying to save our lives by believing correctly, we lose them. Our minds are still set on human things.

So we try even harder –proclaim the highest morality in God’s name, put a fish on our car, avoid any semblance of hypocrisy, maintain the highest integrity, tell others about Jesus, become a model for others.And Jesus still calls us Satan. And Jesus is still denied by us. And in trying to save our lives by believing correctly, we lose them. Our minds are still set on human things.

The problem isn’t our effort at believing correctly. The problem is that we think our correct belief counts. We think this belief is what ultimately makes us right before God. But no matter how much we get it right, how high we climb, how good we are, Jesus still calls us Satan. And Jesus is still denied by us. And in trying to save our lives by believing correctly, we lose them. Our minds are still set on human things.

As long as we are measuring our own beliefs we are setting our minds on human things, not divine things. And our best efforts end up with our lives denying the things of God.

Jesus reveals the divine things, the things of God. God comes down and meets us in our brokenness, helplessness, unbelief. God comes among us, separate from our correct beliefs. God offers forgiveness and life in a way unconnected from our own righteousness. And God loves us not because of our beliefs, but because it is the divine thing.

God simply loves us. That is the divine thing. This is the role of the Messiah—to put skin on the depth of that love. That is how God makes us new. That is the thing that counts. That can never be changed by good character or right believing. God’s love for you. The divine thing. This is a gift from God revealed through Jesus, the Messiah.

Broken people, sinful people, unworthy people, unbelieving people, cast-off people, people on the edges, even you are loved by God. Because it is God’s way, the divine thing.

That is where God meets us. That is how God comes to us. That is how God makes us new. That is the good news of Jesus the Messiah. That is how God is entering our lives even now. Love.

Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the religious people, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

God’s love is costly. But it is life. So we give up the life of human thinking and pick up our cross of love, follow Jesus in the way of loving others, and we experience the gift of our lives being given to us through love.

The fact of being loved by God is our experience of the divine thing. That love oozing out of us for the sake of others is setting our minds on the divine thing.

Calling Jesus the Messiah is the right thing. But following that Messiah in love is the divine thing: loving our enemies, loving those we disagree with, loving those who hurt us, loving those who don’t deserve it. And that is the love that God pours on you continuously. That is the love God has for you. The divine thing is love.

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Posted by on September 14, 2015 in Sermon


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