Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 9/27

The gospel of the Lord; praise to you O Christ.  It’s hard to find much gospel, much good news to offer praise about in today’s lessons.  I tried, but I didn’t find much in any of them.  The psalm is pretty ordinary, praise for the law of the Lord; there are lots of psalms like that which is OK; it’s a good reminder, perhaps a bit of a warning.  The second lesson from James is not real noteworthy, just James being James providing useful advice which is fine.  Both the Psalm and James are more instruction than good news though; not a whole lot of gospel there.  But still, it’s the other two lessons, the Old Testament and the Gospel that I struggled even more with in search of the good news, but no matter how I tried to twist them, I didn’t find much.  It’s not that these texts don’t have points of interest, they do; for example…

Today’s first lesson gives us one of the most interesting prayers in the entire Bible.  The people of Israel were complaining…again.  Nothing new there really; they complained regularly during their wilderness wanderings and usually the Lord responded.  They complained about a lack of food and the Lord provided manna; they complained about bitter water and the Lord, through Moses made it sweet.  They complained about no water at all and the Lord, again through Moses provided water from the rock. 

But some people are hard to satisfy and…some people have very short memories, so in today’s lesson the people are no longer happy with the manna.  They want meat to eat!  They remember those carefree days of slavery back in Egypt (you see, their memories were not only short, they weren’t very good either) so they remember fish and cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic, without question a much more tasty menu than manna, but of course they were conveniently forgetting the endless production quotas that went along with that tastier menu as they labored in Pharaoh’s brickyard.  For the people of Israel it was what have you done for me lately, Moses?  What have you done for me lately, God?” 

          Then it gets interesting.  Moses wound up in the middle of things, as was often the case, in the middle between the people and the Lord.  He heard the weeping and complaining of the people, but I think the Lord’s response surprised him.  The Lord got mad at the weeping and complaining of the people…and then…Moses snapped!  He lost it, not at the people, but at God!  “Why have you treated me so badly?  Why have you laid the burden of these people on me?  Did I conceive them?  Did I give birth to them?  Where am I going to get meat to feed all these people?  I can’t do it.  I’m sick and tired of all this! I’ve had it!  If this is how you’re going to treat me, just kill me, kill me now and put me out of my misery!” 

          Who of us hasn’t been there at some point?  You’ve had all you can take of someone or something, you’re at the end of your rope and your emotions get the best of you.  Even with the calmest of people it can happen and you wind up saying things that you wish you hadn’t said.  As soon as you say it you know you shouldn’t have and in Moses’ case he does it to God.  Not exactly what we think of as prayer, but if prayer is conversation with God, that’s what this is.

          Perhaps surprisingly though, God responds positively to this unusual prayer.  It’s like he says to Moses, “Why didn’t you say something sooner if you’re that stressed out?” and the Lord gave some of his spirit to the 70 elders so they could help Moses, so that he wouldn’t have to bear the burden of the people alone. 

That seems like good news.  It is good news; God answers prayer, even angry prayer.  Unfortunately there’s more to the story.  God answered the prayer of the people too, in a different way, but the lectionary omits that part.  Remember they wanted meat to eat?  Well, this is a case of be careful what you pray for because you just might get it. The Lord’s response is “You want meat?  I’ll give you meat; I’ll give you meat until it comes out your nostrils,” and that’s what he does, striking the people with a great plague so that many of them died.

          This isn’t good news.  This is a word of caution.  The Lord had responded positively in the past…when the people were in slavery to Pharaoh, when they were hungry and had no food, when they were thirsty and had no water.  The Lord provided for them.  But this time it was different.  They were already being provided for, but they weren’t satisfied and so the response is different.  The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, but this story says that there are limits. Slow to anger doesn’t mean never to anger, a word of caution that warrants our attention, but still, not much gospel, not much good news.

          Then there’s the gospel lesson itself.  It’s mostly about sin which is not really our favorite topic. (Actually pastors find that people like sermons about sin because they tend to assume you’re talking about someone else).  This text is about sin and it’s a not very gentle reminder that Jesus takes sin seriously.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.  This is not a pleasant text.  Now of course even Biblical literalists understand this as hyperbole, overstatement on the part of part of Jesus, or at least I think they do otherwise there would be a lot of people out there with missing body parts.  So either the literalists don’t take this literally or they don’t sin. 

          This is overstatement on the part of Jesus in order to make a point but it doesn’t overstate his concern about sin.  It doesn’t overstate his call for each of us to look carefully at ourselves, not at everybody else, but at ourselves in order to recognize the things that cause us to stumble, the things that keep us from being who Jesus would have us be.  Recognizing these things, then the call is for radical action in order to eliminate them as sources of temptation; much easier said than done. 

This is not gospel, this is caution and I think it’s significant that this comes right after the disciples came to Jesus complaining about what others were doing.  He quickly turns their accusation back on them using these harsh images.  In effect he’s saying “Don’t worry about what everybody else is doing.  Take a look at yourself, and then take appropriate action.”

          We are justified by grace Lutherans.  We understand that we are not saved by what we do.  We can’t earn salvation.  But this text is a reminder that justified by grace or not we are called to address sin in our lives.  Justified by grace doesn’t mean anything goes, another word of caution that warrants our attention especially combined with the caution from the first lesson about limits.

          So is there any good news today?  Well, there’s always good news if we remember that every Sunday worship service is a reminder of Easter.  The early Jewish Christians moved worship from Saturday to Sunday as a reminder of the resurrection so no matter what’s in the lessons of the day, the Risen Christ is still a part of things.  This may be one of those days that we’re thankful that we celebrate communion at every service because in the bread and wine we physically encounter the good news of the real presence of the Risen Christ.

          As far as the lessons go, I really don’t think there is much gospel here.  But keep in mind that in today’s part of Mark, the disciples were on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus.  Along the way he is still teaching, and sometimes that teaching involves words of caution, sometimes words of reprimand, because they needed it and so do we.  When they get to Jerusalem, things will get even more confusing as they encounter the reality of the cross.  It doesn’t seem to represent good news either, but we know that it does.  So this morning, we keep walking with the disciples, we keep reading these lessons and paying attention to what Jesus says because we know where he is taking us, and that it is good news.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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