Saturday, June 9, 2018

Reconciliation: Unbinding Hearts

Reconciliation:  Unbinding Hearts
NW MN Synod Assembly—Saturday, June 9, 2018
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Moorhead, MN
Mark 3:20-35

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

When I was a lad growing up on a farm in southern Minnesota, there was one unforgivable sin.

The worst thing I could do on our farm, especially in the spring as we tilled the soil to prepare for planting--the unforgivable sin was getting a tractor stuck in the mud.

Why was that so bad?  Because if you get a tractor “good and stuck” in the mud, you can’t get it unstuck.  Someone—namely my dad--would have to stop what he was doing and come with another tractor and the heaviest-duty log chain he had, to get me unstuck…

…and if my Dad happened to get too close to the same mud I was stuck in, he might get stuck, too.   And then we’d have to call a neighboring farmer or the local tow-truck guy to come out to our farm and get us BOTH unstuck.

When you’re really stuck, you’re stuck, and you can’t get yourself unstuck. 

Here in this story from Mark 3, all sorts of folks seem stuck.

First there’s a restless crowd that seems stuck in their sheer fascination with Jesus—so bound up in their determination not to miss a second of “breaking news” about Jesus—so bound up that they can’t even eat!

Then there’s Jesus’ nervous family who seem stuck in their fear that he’s off his rocker, and if they don’t spirit him away and get him some help, the shame of his delirium might somehow cling to them, making them look just as crazy.

As if the restless crowd and the nervous family members aren’t enough, there’s a gaggle of religious experts,  know-it-all scribes from the head office in Jerusalem, who’re watching Jesus like hawks, all the while voicing their foregone conclusion—that Jesus isn’t on God’s side, but that he’s in league with the devil.   He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” (v.22)

So stuck are these spiritual pooh-bahs that they can’t even absorb a simple, logical question that Jesus asks:  Why would someone allied with the Prince of Demons get rid of demons instead of “multiplying” demons wherever he could?

Everyone’s stuck here: the fickle crowd, the anxious relatives,  the suspicious scribes…they’re all really stuck and can’t get themselves unstuck.

…which is exactly what Jesus encountered throughout his earthly ministry…

….and it’s what we, who are the Body of Christ, also experience in our own day.  

Think about it—all the ways we and those around us are stuck nowadays….

So many Americans seem stuck in resentment, fear, incivility and prejudice against neighbors who look, speak or act in ways different from us.

Our society is stuck in an opioid epidemic that could kill half-a million Americans over the next decade…[1]

Our children are stuck wondering every day if their school will be the site of the next mass shooting…

Our culture seems gripped by gridlock…shackled by uncertainty over what we believe or whom we trust…unable to tell whether facts are real or “alternative” or simply fake.

Our churches feel rudderless, stuck in decline, unable to pass on the faith, bereft of the youthful energy we crave so much.

“Stuckness” describes to a tee the condition that prevails in our world, even now in this present moment…

….which is why we constantly find ourselves uttering some of the most honest words that ever fall from our lips:   “We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.”

Think of it:  there’s hardly any other encounter in which we speak with such brutal honesty about how it is with us, than when we confess our utter “stuckness” in sin…when we throw ourselves on the mercy of almighty God who alone can get us unstuck, with God’s liberating word of forgiveness, God’s resurrecting power of reconciliation.

Smack dab in the middle of this story in Mark 3, Jesus speaks this striking one-sentence parable:  “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)

Jesus told that parable to the know-it-all scribes, in order to get them unstuck…to propose another possibility:   that Jesus came not to side with Satan, but to subdue Satan….to plunder Satan’s crumbling kingdom?  

That, my dear friends, is exactly what Jesus did and is still 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 he healed, every blind eye he opened Jesus was unbinding those in the clutches of the Evil One.

With every good-news-promise he uttered, Jesus was staking out God’s claim to a world Satan mistakenly thought belonged to him.

What we witness here in Mark 3 is God reasserting God’s rightful claim to all that God has made.

It’s what Jesus was always about—in his amazing life, through his bitter death, in the surprising power of his resurrection—in all of that Jesus was unbinding sin-stuck hearts.

And this same risen and living Lord Jesus Christ continues to do so even today, through the ministries he has entrusted to us, Christ’s church.

By rights, we who are the church really ought to think of ourselves as a 24-hours-a-day/365 days-a-year tow truck service.   We—the church--exist to get folks unstuck from sin, death and the power of the devil.

We bypass this truth at our peril, according to Jesus when he speaks here about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, which is (according to Jesus) an unforgivable “eternal sin.”

The trick here—when we hear such scary talk about an “unforgivable sin”—the trick here is to realize that Jesus wants to wake us up and shake us loose.  

For there is sin that can’t be forgiven—not because God is stingy to forgive it—but because we can become so stuck in this sin that we don’t even desire or seek God’s forgiveness.   It doesn’t get any worse than that:  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 poor souls who’re that far gone, that  deep into sin?

There is only one hope:  the hope that Someone will come along who isn’t stuck—

Someone who is utterly free enough, strong enough, brave enough, and merciful enough to pull us out.

There is such a Person.  His name is Jesus. 

Jesus’ own family got part of this right—he is “out of his mind” in the sense that Jesus is not operating completely under his own control.  

And the suspicious scribes also got some of this right—Jesus is “possessed” all right--possessed by the Holy Spirit so completely that he’s always “ready, willing and able” to pull us out of whatever mess we get ourselves stuck 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 of our waywardness….and to set our feet on a dry, level, wide and free place once again.

As wonderful as it is to receive such mercy and grace, we can’t help but want to pass this on to those who are still stuck all around us.

God in Christ saves us in order to send us to our neighbors.   God invites us to use—not a tow truck or a winch or a heavy-duty cable with a big steel hook on it--to get others unstuck.

No, the tools for rescuing others that God entrusts to us are entirely different.   God invites us and authorizes us to help others get unstuck with
  • A Word of liberation,
  • 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 crumbling stronghold.

As God calls, authorizes and equips us to partner with God in helping others get unstuck, we behold first-hand how wide and far-reaching the scope of Jesus’ astonishing mercy truly is.

At the very tail end of our gospel lesson, there’s a sentence that’s often misunderstood. 
It can sound as though Jesus is setting aside his own earthly family….when in reality, Jesus is radically expanding his family…opening the door so widely that anyone and everyone can gain a foothold in God’s Kingdom: 

“Here are my mother and my brothers!,” declares Jesus.  Whoever does the will of God”—whoever is no longer stuck!--“is my brother and sister and mother.”

That whoever here in Mark 3:35…that whoever includes anyone and everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

No exceptions!  

No exclusions! 

No one ineligible for God’s reconciling power that never ceases to unbind human hearts.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.