Sermon from 10th Oct 2021 (Pentecost 20)

Mark 10:17-31 (ESV)

17 And as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may be made good through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth with all their wonders and delights. And it was good!

As part of God’s good creation, he made human beings as male and female – complementary creations who were made to be in relationship with each other and have a close and trusting relationship with their Creator. And it was very good!

Our good God placed every good thing on earth under the stewardship of his dearly loved and precious humans. They were only forbidden one part of God’s good creation for their own good: the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good…and evil.

But, even though God had clearly defined for them what was good and what wasn’t good for them, the humans didn’t trust God’s word, thinking God was still withholding something good from them. So, in order to define goodness and evil for themselves, they took the fruit of the forbidden tree and ate it.

That’s where we lost our goodness. And from that time on, humans have been trying to either re-obtain their goodness, or attempt to redefine goodness for themselves.

As you read through Scripture, every attempt by humans to gain goodness or glory for themselves by building towers, or establishing kingdoms, or seeking fame, or gathering fortune, end up in disaster. Despite this, God still wanted to restore his goodness to his dearly loved and precious humans and chose to promise his restoration of goodness to the earth through a childless and homeless man named Abraham.

What God promised Abraham was good, but Abraham and his family line kept showing our natural human tendency to rebel against God’s word and his good plans. Despite God’s faithfulness and goodness to them, they kept trying to define good and evil for themselves – again with disastrous results.

Despite their constant recalcitrance and rebelllion, God remained faithful to his good promises and continually helped them by rescuing them from oppression, granting them access to his forgiveness and goodness through sacrificial worship, and establishing them in a good land with a good king to rule over them.

But every generation needed to re-learn obedience to their good and faithful God. God needed to rescue every generation from themselves, gather them back from their times of exile, and lead them to trust his promises.

By the end of Old Testament times, some of his faithful ones continued to wait patiently for God’s good promises to be fulfilled and they dedicated themselves to keeping God’s good laws in the hope that by doing so, they would bring about the promised salvation and re-establish the kingdom of God. But it wasn’t their goodness which would bring this about, but God’s goodness.

You see, our good God himself came down into this corrupted and disobedient world to live as a human being among his own people.

Jesus, who is God in human flesh, taught God’s goodness. He restored people to good health by his words and touch. He told them God’s good plan would involve his own sacrifice, death, and resurrection. He gathered people to follow him, including many people who wouldn’t normally be defined as ‘good’, such as tax-collectors and sinners. He welcomed all people, including women and children, so they would know of God’s goodness.

And today we hear how one young man came to our good God-in-human-flesh, and he recognised Jesus as someone good. But Jesus knows the truth of Scripture that only one is good, and it’s not you or me or this young man. He knows only God is truly good and only God can create anything good. Only God can truly define what goodness is, and only God can restore the world or its people to his benchmark of true goodness.

But the question is this: Does this young man recognise Jesus is his own good God in human flesh, or is he still too focused on his own definition of goodness?

Well, we soon hear this young man reckons he’s a good man who deserves entry into God’s good eternal kingdom, and he wants Jesus as the good teacher to confirm the young man’s goodness in front of everyone. After all, he’s kept all of God’s commands, he’s been faithful, and he’s done all the right things. If he stood among us today, we may even point to him and say “Yes, he’s a good man!”

But, like this young man, I wonder if we also want to be known as ‘good’. Most Christians do. We all want to be known as a good person and we try hard to do all the right things. We don’t want to be wrong, get in trouble, or be found out that we’re not as good as we thought.

Now, maybe you think you’re good, or maybe you don’t. But either way, how do you react when your reputation as a ‘good person’ is threatened?

If you, or someone else, questions your goodness, what, or whom, are you prepared to sacrifice in order that you can still be known as ‘good’?

What excuses or denials do you make when someone points out your goodness falls short of their expectations?

What good things about yourself are you tempted to point to in order to justify your own goodness over against someone else’s?

The irony is, even though we know and accept the truth of Scripture, which teaches no-one is good except God alone, why do we expect ourselves, or anyone else, to be good?

Why are we surprised if anyone, including ourselves, fall short of the goodness that either God or we expect? Why are we always so judgmental and critical of others when Scripture tells us they’re not as good as they pretend to be? Why are we tempted to despair of God’s people when God tells us this community is made up of sinners who will always fall short of the expectations God requires of us?

The uncomfortable biblical fact is that all of us aren’t good. We also can’t make ourselves good, no matter how hard we try.

Now, even though Jesus knew the truth about this man’s attempt at goodness, Jesus looked at him and loved him.

He loves you too.

No matter how good (or bad) you think you are, Jesus loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about this!

Jesus loved this young man who wrongly thought his own goodness could earn his way into God’s good kingdom. Jesus knew this young man’s goodness still wasn’t good enough. There was still something lacking. But what he lacked was hindered by the very thing he was already trusting in.

Jesus tells this ‘good’ young man to get rid of everything he has by giving it to those he considered less worthy, not good enough, and undeserving. Only then could he truly follow Jesus.

But if he did this, how would anyone know he’s ‘good’? Without the signs of God’s blessings for his faithfulness and goodness, how could he prove his goodness and worth to others?

You see, like many followers of God, he thought God blessed him with riches and success because he was ‘good’.

And don’t we also often think this way? Don’t we wonder, when bad things happen to people, what they did to deserve this, as if any blessings we have are signs of God’s favour, and any misfortune we suffer are signs of God’s judgment? Don’t we often accept the human way of thinking which expects goodness to be rewarded and evil punished?

But Jesus challenges and turns this false theology upside down by saying the first shall be last and the last first.

This doesn’t seem fair to us! But Jesus isn’t here to be fair. He’s here to be good. He’s here to bring about God’s goodness through his obedience, suffering, death and resurrection. His cruel suffering and death for the forgiveness of our sins isn’t fair. But what he did was good for us. He did this because we’re not good enough!

What it boils down to is this: Do you trust your own goodness or God’s goodness?

If you trust your own goodness, like this rich young man, you’ll end up despairing because you’ll never be good enough – not by human standards, and definitely not by God’s standards!

However, if you trust God’s goodness, it doesn’t matter whether you’re good or not; it doesn’t matter whether anyone else is good enough; it doesn’t matter whether you have many good things in this life or not. It doesn’t matter because you know, and trust, God is good!

But, how do you know God is good?

Well, apart from his good creation and his good work of repeatedly rescuing the children of Abraham, he fulfilled his good plan of salvation by sending his own dearly beloved and good Son to be the one true human being who would perfectly keep all of God’s commands because you and I can’t.

God’s good Son would not only fulfill and complete all of God’s laws, but he would also suffer and die in the place of everyone who isn’t good enough, including you and me. This means he forgives you for all the times you’re not good enough for the sake the holy innocent sufferings and death of his dearly beloved Son.

Knowing you can’t be good enough, you’re not to trust your own goodness, but you trust God’s forgiveness is what makes you good and holy in God’s sight once more.

God’s goodness is spoken to you when he removes your sin through his forgiveness. God’s goodness is also given to you in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as he replaces your sin with his goodness of holiness and purity.

In other words, you’ll never be good enough in yourself through your own words, actions, or intentions, but you receive the goodness of Christ through faith, who is good enough!

Not only this, but God raised Jesus from death to live in God’s good kingdom forever, and he promises everyone who believes in him will receive the same good inheritance. This same good teacher who the young man approached is the only One who is good because he is God’s only Son and also your Great High Priest who forever intercedes for you.

This is all because God is good. We know this because God’s Word is good, and our incarnate God in the person of Jesus Christ is good.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to be good, but you do need to keep on trusting the One who is good, because you’re only made good through faith in Jesus Christ…

…so that the peace and goodness of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon from 3rd Oct 2021 (Pentecost 19)

Genesis 2:18-24 (EHV)

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is a suitable partner for him.” 19 Out of the soil the Lord God had formed every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them. Whatever the man called every living creature, that became its name. 20 The man gave names to all the livestock, and to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal, but for Adam no helper was found who was a suitable partner for him. 21 The Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. As the man slept, the Lord God took a rib and closed up the flesh where it had been. 22 The Lord God built a woman from the rib that he had taken from the man and brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

Now this one is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh.

She will be called “woman,”

because she was taken out of man.

24 For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother

and will remain united with his wife,

and they will become one flesh.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may honour and respect your plan for marriage for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

It can be rather daunting for any pastor to preach about marriage.

This isn’t because it’s a difficult topic, but because it’s quite possible that among those listening to the sermon will be people who are single, widowed, divorced, or experiencing troubles in marriage. This means there may be many who are not currently experiencing the blessings of marriage as God intended.

For this reason, as you listen to the sermon today, some of you might feel uncomfortable because you’re not married, no longer have your wife or husband, or feel that your own marriage isn’t the source of blessing you hoped it would be.

But despite this, it’s important to look at God’s original plan for marriage, highlight some of the problems we face in marriage because our world is corrupted by sin, and seek to offer some hope through the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

So, with God’s help, let’s look at God’s original plan and the first marriage.

What we discover is that, in the beginning, when God looked at his beautiful and perfect creation, we hear God say something unexpected. After six days of creation where everything has been declared to be good, suddenly he saw something that was not good. He declared it wasn’t good, desirable, pleasing or joyous for God to see the man isolated and alone.

Now, even though the first man had a good relationship with God, and all humans are to ultimately find their fulfillment and joy with God, God decided males need a counterpart.

So, in an effort to find a suitable being as his matching counterpart, God brought every created animal and bird to him to see if any of them offered a perfect match. As they were presented to him, the man also named them. By naming them he asserted his God-given authority over them.

But, despite the wonderful mix of animals and birds being brought before him, none of them were a suitable matching counterpart for him. This means that, while many animals would later become domesticated so we can enjoy their company and working abilities, none of them were designed to be man’s match.

Then God caused this first man to go into a deep sleep and performed a very special operation where he removed one of his ribs (or part of his side), closed up the flesh, and then fashioned another human being from that rib (or side) and brought her to the man as if God himself was giving away the first bride to the first groom!

Then, as God introduced the first woman to the first man, you can hear that the man wasn’t disappointed! He showed his delight at God’s handiwork and announced her to be the perfect match for him because she comes from his own bone and flesh. His name for her beautifully describes their match as he acknowledges she came from his own body.

In this way we learn how God made the woman from the man’s side to complete him, be his match, and to stand by his side as his equal.

We also learn from the body part God chose to make the first woman that she wasn’t taken from the man’s feet so she should be trampled on, and she wasn’t made from his thumb so that she would hold him under her own thumb. Instead, God made woman from the man’s side, from a rib which was close to his heart, so that a woman belongs in that same place; protected under his arm and close to his heart.

Unfortunately, some men have wrongly assumed women are to submit completely to their husbands as if he’s the boss and she’s to attend to, and obey, the husband’s every desire.

Shamefully, because of this misunderstanding, many men have abused women, which is a corruption of the male’s role in his relationship.

When a man misunderstands and misuses his relationship with a woman, he sins against the woman and against God. Similarly, a woman who sins against a man through shameful gossip or emotional manipulation, or other forms of abuse or unfaithfulness, she would also be sinning against him and against God.

Husbands and wives have been designed to stand at each other’s side as an integral part of their lives and as each other’s counterpart. You could also argue a man and a woman are only biblically complete when they stand side by side as equals who work together within God’s given order.

God’s Word then says this joining of a man and a woman in this Garden of Eden is the reason a man leaves his parents to be united in one flesh with his wife.

But this seems odd, because the first man didn’t have any parents for him to leave. It also sounds counter-cultural, because usually it’s the woman who leaves her parents to move in with the man. But here God is making an important point which emphasizes how marriage between a man and a woman has a huge impact on family relationships.

You see, when a man and a woman join in marriage, they’ll still have strong ties to their families of origin, but from now on their first priority is to be to their husband or wife.

Therefore, it’s not so much a leaving, but a forsaking of the old priorities and making new ones in their place. This means that while the previous family ties will still need to be nourished and valued, from the day of their marriage the husband’s and wife’s first priority is now to be toward their spouse.

In this way, their becoming one flesh is not just a sexual union, or for the purpose of producing children, or having a strong emotional or spiritual bond, but their union forms a new and primary kinship relationship that’s to be just as strong, or even stronger, than their kinship with their blood relatives.

Therefore, marriage is much more than a marriage certificate on a wall, because somehow and mysteriously, two previously unrelated people become so intimately connected through the bond of marriage that they become as closely related to each other as their own blood relatives.

Of course, this is all God’s plan and intention, but somehow we’ve mucked it all up. God’s perfect plan for marriage between a man and a woman has been corrupted, and none of us really experience the perfect marriage that God intended. Instead of our marriages being havens of peace, harmony, love, faithfulness, and equality as God intended, many people experience a very distorted copy.

Too many distort God’s plan for marriage by seeking to gain control over each other through abusive and neglectful relationships. Too many seek to undo what God has joined together in marriage through separation and divorce. Too many try to steal some of the benefits of marriage through sexual encounters and living arrangements without committing themselves to each other and promising to stand side-by-side as God intended. Too many are unfaithful and unloving toward each other.

Not only this, but these days too many seek to corrupt God’s plan for marriage in such a way they try to convince the world a man should stand beside a man, and a woman should stand beside a woman. They ignore God’s original plan of men and women being the only complementary counterparts, and by doing so, they also fail to see how this doesn’t just go against God’s will but will also destabilize human society.

Much of this brokenness and pain is as a direct result of sin entering our world to distort and corrupt every good gift God gives us. It’s only in the next chapter we hear Satan’s deceptive whispers which lead us to doubt God’s Word and his plans.

We also hear the first humans give in to their desires to be like God and take what wasn’t intended for them. This is followed by the almost endless blame-shifting game as to who’s truly at fault. When they sinned, the original man and woman attempted to hide from God and from each other, and we’ve been doing the same ever since.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that sin separates and isolates us. Our selfishness, greed, and desires isolate us from each other through shame, guilt, fear, hate and resentment. Our unfaithfulness to each other fractures the bonds of marriage and Satan delights to see us become easy targets through our enforced or self-imposed isolation.

But God looks and sees it’s not good for us to be alone, so he put his plan in place to heal his creation, to heal our broken and distorted relationships, and to restore us into community by sending his Son Jesus Christ as the man who suffered, died, and rose again from the dead so we may be forgiven and so that we might eternally stand side-by-side with God in his Kingdom.

Jesus, the ultimate groom, of whom every Christian husband is to model himself after, was pierced in his side as he suffered and died for his bride, the church. He paid the bridal price through his innocent blood so that she might stand by his side, innocent and holy.

And God calls, gathers and unites both males and females to be part of his church, the bride of Christ.

This means that, no matter whether you’re currently married or not, you’re part of this church, and therefore a member of the bride of Christ.

God saw it wasn’t good for you to be alone, so he called you into his bride, the church, so that through this community you experience some of what he originally intended through his grace, mercy, forgiveness, love and life. So much so, that even if you’re unfaithful, Jesus remains faithful to you.

In regard to individual marriages, especially those within the church, while God later allowed the possibility for divorce because of our selfish sin-stained hearts, he gives each of us the opportunity to experience the oneness as God intended through the healing forgiveness of Christ.

Therefore, while sin separates and isolates us, the antidote for strained, fractured or broken relationships, married or not, is the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ who suffered and died in order to forgive us and restore us and our relationships with him and each other.

For married couples, but also for single people, the blood of Jesus washes your guilt and shame away. Through faith in Jesus Christ, both the abuser and the abused are forgiven and cleansed. As Jesus forgives you, hate and fear is replaced by love and trust.

By the power of God’s forgiveness for you, you’re able to forgive each other. Through the love and forgiveness of Christ working within marriages, those who currently experience tension, anxiety, bitterness, and defilement, can receive healing, cleansing, reconciliation, and restoration.

It’s sad there are some who don’t get to experience marriage at all, no matter how much they desire it, and it’s also sad those who do marry don’t experience marriage as God first intended.

However, both married people and single people do get the opportunity to experience the love and faithfulness of Christ for his bride through the church. This is one union we can’t break because it totally relies on Jesus Christ who remains faithful so that we may never be alone.

This is because, as God said, it’s not good for you to be alone, so he united you to our Lord Jesus Christ through your baptism so that you’re never truly alone as he promises to never leave you or forsake you.

Therefore, for those who are married, may God bless your marriage so it may reflect some of the love between Christ and his church as he remains faithful to you and continues to forgive and cleanse you.

And for those who are single, widowed, or divorced, may God bless you so that you know you’re never truly alone and that you’ll experience the love of Christ for you through the community of the church as he continues to forgive and cleanse you too.

And so may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.