Saturday, June 9, 2012

God's Towtruck Operators

Installation of Pr. Rob Nelson
Grace Lutheran Church, Detroit Lakes, MN
June 10, 2012
Mark 3:20-35

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Have you ever gotten stuck?  Whether you were driving a car or truck in winter….or a tractor in the spring….have you ever gotten stuck?

When I was growing up on a farm in southern Minnesota my dad warned me repeatedly NOT to get a tractor stuck in the mud.   “Go around the wet spot, but don’t get too close.”

For my dad, getting stuck was almost the unforgiveable sin.   Because if I got stuck, he would have to come with another tractor and pull me out….and if he got too close to the mud, he might get stuck.   Then there would be two of us stuck….and we’d have to call in yet someone else to help us.

Because when you’re stuck, you can’t get yourself unstuck.

In this gospel lesson from Mark 3, there are three groups of persons who appear to be stuck.

First there is the crowd—not a hostile crowd--but a crowd seemingly stuck in fascination with Jesus.   That’s how crowds tend to be—always on the hunt for something new to tickle their fancy.

The crowd that gathers around Jesus is so stuck in their fascination with him that they couldn’t even eat; they had Jesus and his disciples hemmed in, stuck, as well.

Second there is Jesus’ family, his kinfolk.   They appear to be stuck in fear—the fear that Jesus is off his rocker.  “He has gone out of his mind.”    Jesus isn’t himself, he seems out of control.  His family is worried about him….and probably concerned as well about their own reputation as a family.   “If we could just get Jesus out of here—and get him some help…”

Third there are the scribes—religious authorities from the “home office” in Jerusalem, trying to figure out all the fuss around Jesus.   And they, too, quickly become stuck…stuck not so much in the fascination of the crowd or the fear of Jesus’ kinfolk….but stuck in their own foregone conclusion that Jesus must be possessed by the devil:  He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” (v.22)

Now even in their “stuckness” these three groups all got one thing straight:  they all recognized Jesus as a Force to be reckoned with.   They knew there was nothing inconsequential about Jesus.  He was shaking things up—transforming what was happening.   In that respect, they didn’t  blow off Jesus the way folks nowadays sometimes blow him off, as interesting perhaps, but certainly not someone who demands our attention.

No.  The fascinated crowd, the fearful family and the anxious scribes all realized Jesus was having an impact, turning the world upside down.   But they were stuck in their assumption that this Force Jesus wielded would never be good for them

The scribes in particular were stuck in assuming Jesus had to be in league with the devil.

But this conclusion, as Jesus quickly pointed out, was completely illogical.  “How can Satan cast out Satan?  Jesus asks them.   “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.”  (vv. 23-26)

In order to get the scribes “unstuck,” Jesus set before them another possibility.   What if Jesus had come, not to side with Satan, but to subdue him….to plunder Satan’s crumbling kingdom?   “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”  (v.27)

And that’s exactly what Jesus was doing.  With every exorcism he performed, Jesus was setting loose another one of the devil’s subjects.  With every sickness he cured, every withered limb or blind eye he healed, Jesus was undercutting the devil’s hold on humanity.  With every good-news-promise he uttered, Jesus was staking out God’s claim to a world Satan mistakenly thought belonged to him.

God is reasserting God’s rightful claim to all that God has made.

This is what’s really happening in everything that Jesus is about—in his life, in his death, in his resurrection.   To ignore that fact, to turn our noses up at God’s astounding decision to come to us in Jesus, is to miss out on all that God intends for us—all the ways God means to get us unstuck from sin, unstuck from the devil, unstuck from death.

We pass this by, we ignore Jesus at our peril.   Jesus says so when he speaks, in this passage, about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, which is (according to Jesus) an unforgiveable “eternal sin.”

Because this has been one of the most difficult and troubling teachings in the New Testament, we need to realize what’s being said here.  For centuries, sensitive souls have wondered whether they might unwittingly or unintentionally commit this “sin against the Holy Spirit.”   And if that were to happen—what hope would they have?   What could be worse than to think or say or do something for which you cannot be forgiven?

Here’s the thing we need to know, though:  If you’ve ever worried that you’ve committed the unforgiveable sin, such worrying is itself a sign that you haven’t committed the unforgiveable sin.   Because this sin isn’t the sort of thing you accidentally slip into.   No.  This is one sin you really have to want to commit.  For the “sin against the Holy Spirit” is the active, outright, defiant hostility to God and particularly God’s gracious overture to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The unforgiveable sin is unforgiveable—not because God can’t forgive it, but because the sinner doesn’t desire or seek such forgiveness.   Talk about being stuck!  Blaspheming the Holy Spirit means getting stuck so deep in sin that you no longer know or care how deeply you’re stuck in sin.

What hope is there for persons who are that far gone, that far deep in sin?

There is only one hope, really.  It is the hope that Someone will come along who isn’t stuck—Someone who is utterly free enough, strong enough and merciful enough to pull us out.

There is such a Person.  His name is Jesus.  Jesus’ own family got part of it right—he is “out of his mind” in the sense that Jesus is not operating completely under his own control.   The scribes even got some of that right—Jesus is “possessed” all right, possessed by the Holy Spirit of God so completely that Jesus is utterly free enough, merciful enough and strong enough to always pull us out of whatever mess we get ourselves tuck in.

This One, this Stronger One, our Lord Jesus, has gone down to death and the grave for us…to drag us out of the muck and mire and mud of our waywardness….and to set our feet on a wide, dry, level, safe place once again.

Pastor Rob, this morning we are asking you to do that, by Jesus’ authority, here at Grace Lutheran.   Being a pastor is a little like being one of God’s tow truck operators.   You have been called by this congregation to go wherever persons are stuck in sin, death and the power of the devil….and you are invited and authorized to be Jesus’ voice and hands and feet—to get them unstuck.

You will not use a winch or a cable with a big steel hook on it to get persons unstuck.   Jesus gives you simpler, more basic tools:  Words of promise and grace, Water for washing away the mud, and the Bread and Wine of the New Kingdom that God is establishing even now, in the midst of Satan’s old stronghold.

And you are not called, Pastor Rob, to do this all by yourself.  You know that!   You are called to equip others to join Jesus’ “get ‘em unstuck” force in the world, right here in the Detroit Lakes mission field.   You are invited and authorized to get others unstuck and to help them get still others unstuck.

And as you do so, you will help people see how wide and far-reaching is the scope of Jesus’ astonishing mercy.   Toward the end of our gospel lesson, there is a verse that is also sometimes misunderstood.  It sounds, at first, as though Jesus was setting aside his own earthly family….when in reality, Jesus was radically expanding his family…opening the door so far that anyone and everyone can gain a foothold in God’s Kingdom:  “Here are my mother and my brothers!,” says Jesus.  Whoever does the will of God” is no longer stuck…but “is my brother and sister and mother.”

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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