The text as I read it had two parts. The first being something of a travel itinerary. And it was travel that was done under some uncertainty and stress. First Paul wanted to go West, but the Spirit stopped him. And he drifted north. When he runs out of North he decides to go east, but the Spirit of Jesus stops him. And eventually Paul has a vision, “come help us in Macedonia.” It’s not that Paul was doing anything wrong; he just didn’t have the necessary figured out yet. But when you figure out the necessary, there is only one choice – obedience. The sermon reads Paul’s itinerary as a metaphor for the life of discipleship. The second part of the text is what happens when you arrive at a new point. Paul and his traveling companions have gone to Philippi, a Roman Colony. And what they encounter is different. When we’ve come to something new in our discipleship walk, we have a choice.
The text is the capstone both to Mark 10, which is the toughest chapter in the gospels, and the ministry of Jesus. The rest of the gospel of Mark is passion week which really is something separate. What we’ve seen in the rest of Mark 10 is a bunch of ways that people misunderstand or outright reject discipleship. But here with the story of blind Bartimaeus we have a lesson of true discipleship. This sermon is a meditation on how Bartimaeus sees more clearly – even though blind – than most of the sighted. And it is an encouragement to “walk the way.”
The Jonah story is so much more than just a fish tale. It is a tale of repentance. It is a tale of what moves God. It is a tale of prophets going the wrong way while everyone around them goes the right way. It is a tale about learning to desire grace. It is a tale of seeing the signs and applying them to ourselves. It is about walking in joy even if the way is strange and hard. In short it is a tale of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. This sermon attempts to bring that stuff into the foreground, and put the whale in background.
We live in a time that definitions of words can’t be taken for granted. People use the same word but often have radically different meanings. That is the case in this text for the idea of Christ. Jesus and the Father have a definition that centers on the cross. Peter’s Christ can’t include the cross. That must be sorted out. Likewise understanding was The Cross means for Jesus and what it means for his followers is important discipleship stuff. This sermon attempts to make clear what Christ and the Cross mean for the Christian.
The text presents us with the basic message of Jesus – “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – and two ways that this reign of God becomes evident to us. Those two ways are the immediate preaching and miracles of Jesus and his specific calling of the disciples with the promise to make them fishers of men. So this sermon asks us to repent – to change our minds about the order of this world toward Jesus – and to join in discipleship.
The place where Jesus gets the roughest, at least to modern ears, especially modern protestant ears, is anytime the idea of discipleship or faithfulness or sanctification comes up. When Jesus turns the crowd and says something offensive or obnoxious or just strange, you can bet he’s talking about walking the Christian way. And that is what today’s text is about.
As this sermon lays out, following Jesus’ pictures, the financing of the tower is secure. Jesus has already paid it. Likewise Jesus has already won the victory over the enemy. We need not fear. But the tower needs to be built. The war needs to be fought. And we are called to do that. Yet many will turn away from it. And they will make peace with the world simply because they wish to avoid the cross.
I had to re-record this, sorry. I forgot to hit start.
The theme here is the mission and work of Jesus accomplished when he “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. All of that gets applied to us by grace, through faith. But it is a graceious and faithful call. A call not simply to a mental activity, like those sly foxes, nor a call to simply industriousness, like the bird. It is a call to follow Jesus. To set our faces for Jerusalem. We often walk toward and earthly Jerusalem that does to us that same thing it did to Jesus, rejects us. But we are always walking toward the New Jerusalem. By faith we can see that city, whose builder is God.
Living the Christian life isn’t always easy. I’m not talking about easy choices like things coded into the 10 commandments or lines of the creed. Those things are easy. I’m also not talking about those times of clear persecution. Those are easy in the way I’m talking about, but hard in reality. What this sermon addresses is what the text addresses which is the normal life of discipleship. Jesus’ words put a couple of things in tension. On the one side discipleship is a serious thing. I call it the discipleship of commitment. We are to be committed to each other in that we are responsible for our brother’s faith. Likewise we are to be committed to holiness for the sake of our own faith. Jesus is serious as a literal hell. On the other side, this commitment never excuses a lack of openness or grace. The disciple, as long as who they are interacting with in not against Christ, is to act as if they are with you. What that will lead you into sometimes is getting burned. But that is to be expected as Jesus says “we will all be salted with fire.” We are to be living sacrifices. Salted in ourselves. Ready to be at peace. This sermon expands on that and explores what that might mean in concrete situations.
I’ve always been fascinated by the synoptic gospel accounts of the disciples juts leaving, dropping their nets and following Jesus. For a long time I thought it doesn’t make any literal sense. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t history, but that there had to be a lot more behind those stories. John’s gospel I believe gives us some of that more. John and probably Andrew had been watching this Jesus for a while because of the Baptist. So when he comes by the Sea calling, they drop their nets and follow. But there is more psychological depth to these stories. They are stories of longing, and stories of opportunity. God passes by, the moment moves quickly on, do you live, or go on with life? Do you embark on something original, or stay in well worn ways?
These stories are important to moderns because we have a twofold problem. We are surrounded by origin stories and new beginnings, but then none of ours satisfy, because we don’t actually live them. The call of Christ is the call to true life. It is not something we can live at a remove. We can stay in the boat, or get go toward the shore. We can leave the nets, or hold on, but not both. This sermon attempts to explore that area of necessity and longing.
In the text I find two themes that follow each other. The first is that the way of grace in this world is the way of meekness. Then the way of meekness leads to the cross. God chose grace and meekness, not the artillery of heaven to deal with sinful man. What that means for the disciple whose life is conformed to Christ and not the other way around is that in living lives of grace we expect the cross.
The tough sayings of the second part of the text are directed as warnings at the disciple, the person whose life has been re-oriented away from the self and towards God. There are more palatable ways to say the same things. I would take the parable of the soils to be that more palatable way, but in the context Jesus is after the shock value. No disciple should be able to say “you fooled me”.
The way of the cross is only made possible first by the fact that Jesus walked it already. Second it is enabled by the promises of God. Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. We set our faces to the New Jerusalem. That is how we stay on the straight path.
Worship note: I’ve left in the recording Lutheran Service Book 856, O Christ Who Called the Twelve. The tune should be familiar, It is My Father’s World is probably what you might hear. But that is the magic of hymn tunes. They are often repurposed. It is a good prayer hymn to end a service on. I didn’t include it in the recording, but the text also allowed us to sing a wonderful hymn, LSB 753, All For Christ I Have Forsaken. I linked up another congregation singing it because copyright. It has that haunting Southern Harmony melody. This is an example of a song that would never be sung in most “contemporary” churches. The text reflects Jesus’ words which are not exactly “stay on the sunny side”. But when the theme is the thorns of discipleship, it is beautiful. Something that he gospel allows that therapeutic Christianity doesn’t. “Though my cross shaped path grows steeper, with the Lord I am secure.”