Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Simple Faith

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 2009
Mark 9:38-50

Sometimes you’re met with a passage of Scripture and the only thing you’re convinced of is that you don’t know what it means. You struggle with interpreting it, understanding the meaning of it, and you walk away with an uneasy feeling, that maybe your faith is now a little weaker. You wonder that if it’s this hard then maybe it’s better just to stick with the basics, Jesus died for you and has saved you. You know that. Faith ultimately tells you that. Your faith at least clings to that.

If you look at the words of Christ in the Gospel reading and you’re left scratching your head, know this—He is doing His usual thing: He’s preaching Himself into your life. He’s calling you to and instilling in you faith. And if it seems it makes no sense then take comfort that He’s calling you to a simple faith.

This in no way means a simplistic faith. You might not want to hear it, but it doesn’t mean an easy faith, either. But it is simple.

Life often is not easy. Some seem to have a simplistic life. Most people I know have anything but. Lots going on all over the place and difficulty trying to keep up with it all. We might wish to come in here on Sunday morning, away from our hectic lives, and hear a nice simplistic message from God. But God’s life and message are not simplistic anymore than our lives are not simplistic.

But simple is something He is very willing to offer. Simplistic things don’t have much to them. Simple things can be as profound as anything. This is what we have here. Far from not having much to it, the simple faith Jesus calls us to and instills in us has more to it than we can ever imagine.

We tend to approach faith, our Christian life in a simplistic way. We get a little too full of ourselves and think that the Kingdom of God will go astray if it’s not under our tight control. Jesus nudges us back a little and says, “Don’t worry about it, the Kingdom of God will increase by all those people over there preaching the Gospel in a way that doesn’t fit into our mold.”

But what about heresy? What if they’re teaching false doctrine? Shouldn’t we be spending our time preventing those people from engaging in Ministry that could lead people astray? Jesus Himself vehemently attacked those who were leading people astray. Didn’t He strictly warn us about those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing? Is Jesus going soft on us in today’s Gospel reading?

No softer than when spoke on the cross: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Preaching or teaching false doctrine is an attack on Jesus Christ even as nailing Him to a cross was. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, even those who oppose Him in their false teaching. Jesus died on the cross for everyone—it includes them. Paul says to the Philippians: “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the Gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (ESV) It’s as if Paul was taking his cue from Jesus, hearing the simple message from his Lord: Chill out.

Jesus’ ways are never our ways. We desire a strong faith. A mighty faith. A faith that can move mountains. Jesus calls us to a simple faith. That is what He instills in us, through His very preaching as we have it here today in this Gospel reading. He never justifies false teaching, but even He can work through it. He even uses us in our lives even though we remain sinners.

And maybe that’s the point. We get caught up in personalities and mannerisms and customs and Jesus wants us simply to see Him. A simple faith. That’s what He is calling us to. How else could a simple cup of water be such a big deal in God’s eyes? Anyone can give a cup of water to anyone who’s thirsty and go on their merry way feeling pretty darned pleased with themselves. But to Jesus this is as if it is the very key into the gate of heaven. He will by no means lose his reward.

A simple faith has no thought of it this way. A simple faith simply clings to Christ. It sees in one who is in need not an opportunity for extravagant claims to God of righteousness within oneself but rather simply an opportunity to serve. A simple faith does that. With no thought to it. With no claim to eternal reward but simply out of thanks for that eternal reward. If this were simplistic Jesus would just say: Help people out who are in need so that you may be rewarded for it. That is the way of the world and is therefore the dominant world religion. Jesus counters with a simple faith: cling to the one who hung on the cross and thirsted so that we may drink freely of the water of life and share that simple cup with others.

That’s where a simple faith is always looking to. Where it is always focusing on. Jesus. Christ and Him crucified. It takes the words that He says and takes them for what they are: an opportunity to be slain by the Lord Himself in order to be raised to new life in which we are sustained daily in simple faith. Being sustained in this faith means a daily dying and rising. While the picture of a man being weighted down to the bottom of the sea is a frightening one, and a warning to those who are in the faith, one who is in the faith cannot help but notice this is the kind of God we’re dealing with. One who likes to operate in this dying and rising mode. Jesus Himself going to the cross. Jesus Himself conquering the very death that had captured Him by rising from death. Jesus Himself slaying our sinful nature in the waters of Baptism. While His words of the Gospel reading are a warning, the actual occurrence of what happens in Baptism is that we drowned in those waters. We die. We are joined to Christ in His death. This is what faith always clings to and it is first given in Baptism. Faith makes that Old Adam come alive in the form of a New Man. The old sinful nature that clung to us is drowned and raised to new life.

It is a life of faith. Simple but never simplistic. It is a constant battle, one of scratching our heads of what is Jesus talking about? We look at His words in the Gospel reading and He seems to be all over the map. Maybe He’s trying to keep up with us. Because our faith, simple as it is, often seems to us simplistic and we find ourselves searching more. Things that entice us sometime get a hold of us. Our clinging to Christ seems to slip away. You are Baptized. You may lose your grip but He’s not going to let you go. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Our sinful nature says: There won’t be any of me left! A simple faith says: Maybe that’s the point.

There shouldn’t be any of you left. Only Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. It is by faith I live. Simple. Constantly clinging to Christ, not those urges I have to tell a white lie, or think that that other guy over there is going about things all the wrong way, or sneaking a peak at someone else’s wife, or using your feet to go into places you shouldn’t be going—even if it’s a restaurant during the time you should be here.

A simple faith sees in the life God has given us an opportunity for sacrifice. Thank God you don’t have to get out your knife and start chopping yourself up when you sin. Christ has made that sacrifice. It was whole and it covers your sins. A simple faith clings to that and that alone. Your life is now a sacrifice. You can thank of it as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. This is the sacrifice of the whole body. Or rather, your whole life. Old Testament sacrifices were seasoned with salt—it’s amazing what you learn when you keep going back to the Scriptures. I didn’t know that, or had forgotten it long ago. You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. “You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” (Leviticus 2:13 ESV) Now Jesus is saying that we are the sacrifice. Rather than cut off your hand or pluck out your eye, your whole being, your life, all who you are is seasoned with the salt of fire.

A simple faith clings to Christ. It seeks what our Lord seeks. We subdue our selfish desires and seek to be at peace with one another. Have you tried that? It’s hard. It’s easy to argue, to get the upper hand. In fact, hey, I know some people like that. The disciples had just gotten through with a session of who is the greatest apostle. They had just tried to tell off an outsider that he wasn’t one of them so he should bug off. But to be at peace with one another, that often seems a fantasy rather than a reality.

But Jesus is simple in His call to faith and instilling it in us: Be at peace with one another. Have salt in yourselves. He doesn’t simply exhort us to that way of life but brings about what it says. Paul in Colossians says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” I can only attribute it to the power and grace of God that I have held my tongue at times and have been at peace with certain people. A simple faith does that. Because Christ is, simply, your Savior. Amen.


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