Monday, July 27, 2009

I will admit that I am more frightened tonight of tomorrow's doctor's visit than I was the evening before the surgery in June. That is saying a lot.

Do you believe silence can speak louder than words? I do.

I do and I believe that this evening's silence told me that I need to stop chasing after something that is simply not for me.

I finally heard. And so I've decided to quit.

I am hoping that in doing so, in no longer banging my head against a brick wall, that the reason for my futile chase will get easier to bear. Ought that not to be the case?

Just as the pastor said in his sermon yesterday, sometimes we humans are far dumber than sheep. Boy, don't I know it!

While I am not sure that Pastor D will be able to track down that sermon, he did forward to me one that the newly ordained Pastor Y preached a few weeks ago at St. Athanasius.

Even though English is his second language and he struggles with grammar, I believe Pastor Y speaks far more eloquently about Objective Grace than I have done here in my attempts to share what I have been learning.

As I emailed Pastor D in response to sharing this sermon, I really liked two bits best: 1) I am not saying against preaching of faith. What I am saying is that this kind of preaching only intensifies the struggle of faith, a painful struggle without any comfort. 2) Our faith is the humble reception of grace.

May you savor this sweet offering of the Word as did I!

“How Do People Get Saved?”
Text: Mark 5:21-43


In the Name of Jesus, Amen!

How do people get saved? This is a question that many people ask. Our classic Lutheran answer, which is also a biblical one comes from Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, — not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” This is certainly a correct answer. But how do we understand it? Many people and denominations take this out of the context of the whole Bible, especially the narrative of the Gospel, the story of God-man Jesus, who is the Bible all about; what He says and what He has done for our salvation.

Today’s Gospel text is not just about Jesus’ miracles and healings, but also it’s about how people are saved. The reason that I say this is that the word “saved” in Greek “sozo” is used in our text, when Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and implored him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be SAVED and live." Jesus also said to the woman with issue of blood, “Daughter, your faith has SAVED you.” The issue of blood is a discharge from the body, therefore, is considered as the consequence of uncleanness and sin in the Old Testament. So, the woman represents all people whose sins are forgiven and who are cleansed from all unrighteousness. The little girl who was raised up by Jesus from the dead is a picture of our resurrection. The number 12 is also significant. The woman had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. And the little girl was twelve years old when Jesus raised her. The number 12 in the Bible is a symbol of people of God because of the twelve tribes of Israel. So, we can see here, there are two kinds of people who are saved; one represented by the woman with issue of blood, who had chronic disease and was healed by Jesus, the other is represented by the little girl; who had a sudden death and was raised up by Jesus.

[I. Struggle of Faith]

Faith is a chronic struggle. Christians of all times struggle with faith all the time, especially Protestant Christians. Justification by faith is greatly misunderstood by many. Many people concentrate on the action of their faith, how serious I believed, how hard I tried, and how faithful I was doing the good works, especially in the church. When they come to today’s text, they preach about faith and about how the faith of that woman has saved her.” And they also point to verse 36, where Jesus said to Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe." I am not saying against preaching of faith. What I am saying is that this kind of preaching only intensifies the struggle of faith, a painful struggle with out any comfort.

The woman with issue of blood did have strong faith. However, before Jesus came, she put her strong faith to the wrong places. She trusted in money and trusted in doctors. But the story tells us that she had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. For many years, her body had been an arena of suffering. Everyday, unceasing pain she could endure no more. She was desperate and she was in anguish. Similarly, we all have a chronic disease called sin. We suffer pains of this disease spiritually as well as physically. Some people addict to drugs, alcohol, or food. Some addict to pornography. Some struggle with tempers. Some complain or bad mouth others a lot. Like the woman we don’t have peace. We constantly struggle to find a cure. We trust in money as if money is the security of our life. Like the woman who sought after doctors, we seek after different ways to salvation, different religions and different faith. Book stores and libraries are full of self-improvement books. Result? Everyday, we may be not all like the woman who endured pain physically. But we endure pains in our heart, and shame emotionally. Sins are slowly killing us. Life like a fountain of blood is flowing away within us. Especially, when we do not confess our sins, they inflict us like a chronic disease. King David says in Psalm 32, “For by day and by night [God’s] hand was heavy on me; my strength or my sap was turned into the droughts of summer.” Do you think that by hiding your sins and by struggling with them by yourself you can be better off? Do you think by chasing after false gods and the vanity of this world, you can have peace?

That woman did not, until Jesus came and saved her. Jesus came to the world through the virgin birth. Our text says, Jesus came to the other side of Sea of Galilee, to where she lived. She had heard the reports about Jesus, the good and wonderful news about Jesus. She touched His garments and was healed. This touch was a touch of faith. This touch was a touch of real presence of Jesus. This touch was a reception of all the benefits of Jesus. His power flew from Him to her. Her flow of blood dried up. She was cleansed and she was saved. Her sins were forgiven and she had peace with God because Jesus’ blood would flow from the cross to cleanse her sins and your sins, and to give her eternal life and your eternal life. Like the woman you may want to be able to do the same thing “If only I could touch his garments, I will be saved.” The good news is that yes, you can. We can touch Jesus through means of grace. Vibration of the air, water, bread and wine are ordinary things just like clothes. But by His Word Jesus ordains His real presence in and around these ordinary elements. You will enjoy His real presence through receiving these elements by touch of faith. By touching his Word, his water, and his bread and wine, you are forgiven. You are cleansed. And you are saved. This is happening right now and this happens Sunday after Sunday. Jesus comes in His Word and Sacraments and He saves you and makes you whole.

[II. in the House of Death]

The story of healing of the woman with issue of blood is sandwiched by the story of raising a little girl. The separation of these two accounts is not just because there was an interruption to the journey so that the little girl would be dead and Jesus would show His power to raise even the dead, but because there is a theological connection between the two stories. One is a chronic disease; the other is a sudden death. Sickness anticipates death. Death is the final outcome of a slowing process of sickness. Ultimately they are all the consequence of sin.
This little girl was the little daughter of Jairus, who was one of the leaders of the synagogue. Though she lived in a believing family, we don’t see any expression of faith from this little girl. Most probably when Jesus was around that area, she was already sick and unconscious. Her father prayed to Jesus and asked Him on behalf of her. We can see, this little girl represents someone who is in the state of grace, who for one reason of anther cannot express his/her faith, and who is sick all of sudden and dies unexpectedly, like infants and little children, mentally retarded, or some elderly and sick persons who cannot speak for themselves. However, they are in the state of grace through baptism. Their family and their church earnestly pray for them.

When Jesus came to the house, they already started to prepare for the funeral. The professional mourners were performing their duties. We say they were professional mourners because of the fact that wailing and tears turned so quickly into laughters when they were absolutely certain that the girl was dead, Jesus said to them, "Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping." Jesus came to a house of death to save a dead person, but got ridiculed. In the same way, Jesus comes into our culture of death with His Gospel to save people, but gets rejected and ridiculed. Unborn babies are killed everyday. Unwanted lives are euthanatized. Yet, we don’t want to talk about death. We reject the Gospel and ridicule the idea that in Christ we will resurrect again. Despite the fact that we are living in a culture of death, despite of the fact that we are ignorant and sometimes don’t have any faith Jesus at all, He comes to us and saves us. Jesus came to this little girl. He took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." And immediately the girl got up and began walking. Jesus came into this world is exactly because we are dead in transgressions, is exactly because we are ignorant and live in darkness. To save and raise people in the house of death is why He came. That’s His Mission for God so loves the world that He gives us His Son. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus not only died to forgive our sins, but also went to Hell, the true house of death. He defeated Satan and swallowed up death. He proclaimed victory in Hell. Jesus raised this little girl from the dead. Jesus will surely raise you up on the last day.

The woman with issue of blood and the little daughter of Jairus represent two kinds of Christians, maybe I should say, two stages in the life of a Christian. One is the Christian who is chronically struggling with sins and diseases; the other is someone who is suddenly facing spiritual crisis or imminent death. In all cases, Jesus is the one who comes to save. He does all the saving work. He heals you and raises you up. He works through the Word and Sacraments. Our faith is the humble reception of His grace. However, no matter how strong your faith is, there are times when you cannot touch Jesus. There are times when you simply lie in the bed unconscious. There are times when accidents happen, instead of crying to Jesus for help, you simply cry out, “Oh, crap.” We cannot be faithful all the time. But Jesus is faithful. And He cares for you. When you are really in trouble when you are truly in the house of death, Jesus will touch you, He will reach out to you and take your hand, and He will raise you up.

May the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, Amen!

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