June 27th, 2013
Last week our text culminated with Jesus’ unqualified exhortation to forgive when you have anything against anyone. You can’t listen to Jesus long without being silenced by those kinds of sweeping, seemingly impossible commands. And they are impossible–apart from the context of the cross. Unless we see our own immeasurably desperate need of the very thing the cross accomplishes, we will never find an enduring motivation to forsake the vengeance that might be ours (which too often becomes the bitterness we cherish), and pursue restoration at cost to us in view of what it cost Jesus to bring us to God. I read two posts (here and here) last week that speak of a man-centered motive for forgiveness, and the cross-centered one.
This week we turn to Jesus’ final week and the series of confrontations he faced. We’re in Mark 12:13-17 which famously ends:
“render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s–to God the things that are God’s”
It has surely been a week when debate over the place of government in private lives and consciences has taken center stage. Wisdom calls for more extended reflection on what Jesus’ pithy phrase says to the week just past. But I will focus in this week’s sermon on the latter half of His answer to insincere objectors.
A few quotes that put the sermon in context:
- We have all read in scientific books, and, indeed, in all romances, the story of the man who has forgotten his name. This man walks about the streets and can see and appreciate everything; only he cannot remember who he is. Well, every man is that man in the story. Every man has forgotten who he is. –G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
- The Judeo-Christian ethic of charity derives from the assertion that human beings are made in the image of God, that is, that reverence is owed to human beings simply as such, and also that their misery or neglect or destruction is not, for God, a matter of indifference, or of merely compassionate interest, but is something in the nature of sacrilege. –Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
- We are God’s money. But we are like coins that have wandered away from the treasury. What once was stamped upon us has been worn down by our wandering. The One who restamps his image upon us is the One who first formed us. –Augustine
I think Jesus wants us to know, feel, and do particular things in view of His succinct exhortation. I pray this Sunday might help us all walk away with a little more clarity on what that is.
Two things of community note:
- Rachel Kull is back home from the hospital and resting comfortably. Medications hope to get her heart back to behaving normally, though the discovery of a dearly-departed rooster in their backyard (I suspect fowl play) was not exactly conducive to her recovery.
- And on another note that will make your heart skip a beat, Lance and Lisa Qualmann and their little Will are relocating to Pennsylvania next week. Lance was offered a good job doing similar work as a chaplain at the VA, but no longer as a resident. I’m attaching a letter from him with this email. It is a bittersweet parting, to be sure. But we are grateful for their life in our lives even if it wasn’t for as long as we’d have liked.
Finally, everyone–Jesus’ repeated calls to ask boldly of God, and Frederick Bruner’s comment that “disciples must learn to count to eight” (cf. Mark 6: 37-44) compel me to ask that we all get (back?) in the habit of praying with a new abandon, for things that seem absurd to even utter for their apparent unreasonableness. But if there’s fault in asking for the unimaginable, let the fault lie with Jesus, so to speak. For it is He who gave us license. So pray. Pray…
- that we would be a community who welcomes those of every kind, way, and background
- that we would be known as a people who’ve so found the forgiveness we have in Jesus to demonstrate forgiveness of like kind
- that we would find that elusive aptitude of speaking truth in love, where any who hear are as convinced of our love as they are clear on our conviction
- and that we would be given opportunity to speak up for Him–even in slight ways–among those who are looking for what He offers, even if they don’t know it’s Him they want or need.
These are just a few things on face value that seem like paintings: projections of our fertile imagination, ideals on canvas. But who would fault us for asking God to do in and through us what we cannot do? In the cross, He has surely set a precedent for doing just that.
What would you add to our absurd list?
“We have heard the fact; let us seek the mystery.” –Augustine