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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 11/18/2012

I’ve mentioned before how gospel readings like today’s scared me when I first read them, which, if I remember correctly, was as a kid in confirmation class; I remember in confirmation we were supposed to read though each of the gospels so I think that’s when I first ran into this stuff.  In any case, when I read about wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes and famines, I thought, “Check them all off.”  It was all happening.  Back in the early sixties with the Cuban missile crisis, backyard fallout shelters, the assassination of President Kennedy, there were some scary things going on or at least it seemed that way to me; if you’re old enough you remember.  For a twelve year old, it seemed like the end was near and I was pretty sure I wasn’t ready for it.

I don’t worry so much about it anymore.  After awhile you figure out that wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, earthquakes and famines are part of every time period although it’s true that some times are scarier than others but I don’t see those things so much as signs of the end anymore; it doesn’t bother me so much.  It’s a different part of this reading that gets my attention these days, a part that I didn’t pay much attention to back when I was a kid.  It’s the “Beware that no one leads you astray” part.  “Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’”

As a Christian pastor, when I think about the current Christian landscape, I think there are many who are being led astray by versions of Christianity that don’t seem to have a whole lot to do with what Jesus taught or who he is.  A lot of what you hear about Christianity in the media anyway, has more to do with political and moral agendas and ideologies. Some of it comes from the right and some from the left, some from churches that have just a few members but are outrageous enough to get attention, some from churches that are attracting thousands of members which can make people think they must have the right message; they must have Jesus figured out.  Maybe, maybe not.    

I don’t want to be too self-righteous here because we all get sucked into promoting our own agendas and ideologies, so in a lot of ways it gets back to what I talked about last week; there can be the temptation to think that we’re speaking for Jesus when really it’s our own ideas we’re pushing.  There can be the temptation to skew the message or just say or do whatever it takes to bring people in and to bring money in.  That temptation is there partly because…to take the teachings of Jesus seriously is often very difficult; they’re not easy for most of us to accept because they don’t fit with our modern American lifestyle.  They can challenge us to be something we’re not sure we want to be.    

That means that those of us who are involved in the church need to beware of accommodating the gospel to make it more user friendly or of twisting the gospel to meet our own personal agendas.  If we claim to speak for Jesus, we better be very careful about what we say and we’d better be able to back it up not just with an isolated verse or two of scripture but with the Bible’s overarching message, that bulls eye of grace and hope and second chances and steadfast love that I talked about a few weeks ago.  Beware that no one leads you astray.  

The gospels are not just accounts of what Jesus said and did, but that for each of the gospel writers there is more going on and with all of them some of what is going on is that they are commenting not just on the life and times of Jesus but also on what was happening at the time they wrote which in the case of Mark was some 30-35 years later.  A verse like “Beware that no one leads you astray,” probably indicates that Mark must have thought that’s what was happening at the time he wrote; people were being led astray by different interpretations of Jesus or at least there were other voices out there that one could listen to. 

This text turns out to be one of those times when knowing what was going on at the time can be helpful.  Mark wrote this during the time of the Jewish-Roman war, around the years 66-70.  This was an insurrection aimed at restoring the glory days of the Kingdom of Israel when it was ruled by King David.  You remember that that’s what Jews thought the Messiah was going to do?   When Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday that’s what his followers were expecting. 

Well, that’s not what Jesus did, but in the year of 66, there was another group that tried.  There were Jewish resistance fighters trying to remove the Romans from power and they were trying to recruit other Jews, including Jewish-Christians, followers of Jesus, to join the battle to defend Jerusalem and the Temple, the Temple that they admired: “What large stones and what large buildings!”  The call was out; the moment had arrived and it had to be tempting. 

For so long the goal had been to make Jerusalem what they remembered it to be.  For those early followers of Jesus there would have been pressure too; if they didn’t join with the rebels they could be seen as traitors to their people which would open them up for persecution. 

The temptation and the pressure had to be there, but then there were people like Mark reminding them that this wasn’t the way of Jesus.  Beware that no one leads you astray.  Mark’s gospel comes out of this time period with the reminder that Jesus’ mission and ministry were about something else, something other than the world’s way of taking care of business. But still there are the efforts to use the world’s ways, to attach one’s political or ideological agenda to Jesus’ wagon and to run with it.

Think about the election just past, you had full page ads in newspapers across the country, I guess paid for by Billy Graham, with him urging people to cast their votes based on “biblical values.”  It sounds like good advice, for Christians anyway, and it would be good advice if they were talking about more than just a couple of issues, marriage and abortion, which the Bible doesn’t really say much about while ignoring a lot of things that the Bible does say a lot about.  Still, forgetting that for a moment, in general terms, considering biblical values is a good idea, a noble goal.

From the other side for many years now churches like the ELCA have struggled with issue of sexuality, particularly the place of gays and lesbians in society and in the church with advocates proclaiming that this is the way to move toward the goal of justice and equality for all people.  Again, for a Christian, justice and equality for all is a good and noble goal, one worth trying to achieve, another biblical value.  From both sides then there are noble goals, ones that a well meaning Christian might even find worth fighting for, but if such goals are met, if your candidate is elected or your agenda is passed, does that mean that God’s goal has been met? 

For awhile I subscribed to two religious journals, one called First Things which is very conservative in its outlook, one called Sojourners which is very liberal.  Their agendas are very different, but both would claim to be representing good Christian values, biblical values even though the way they come at it is very different.  The question then is, is one right and one wrong?  Can they both be right?  Can they both be wrong?  The answers are probably no, yes and yes.  A fair and balanced reading would say that both have important points to make, one can learn from both of them, they can learn from each other, so in that sense they’re both right.  When they make those points the be all and end all, they’re both wrong because they can quickly lose sight of the fact that the reason for the incarnation, the reason Jesus came into the world was about more than any ideological agenda.  He came into the world for the sake and salvation of all people; that was his agenda.  Beware that no one leads you astray.

Jesus came into a broken world to reveal God to that world.  His agenda was to make God’s love and forgiveness known to people who are often not very lovable or forgivable, to people who may think that they are not very lovable or forgivable.  He came to do what we can’t do for ourselves which is to make us beloved children of God, a gift that we can’t earn, but only receive.  He came to invite us into a relationship that goes beyond any of our earthly agendas, whatever they might be, as noble as they might be.  It’s a relationship that joins us to Christ in this life and beyond.

It’s not to say that there aren’t earthly agendas worth working for; there are.  God kingdom can be revealed as we live according to his commands.  But still, that’s not the ultimate goal.  The relationship is the goal.

The Jewish-Roman war ended in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; it failed, you could say.  It didn’t end Judaism though and it didn’t end the message of Jesus that Jewish Christians were proclaiming.  It didn’t end the power of God’s presence in the world because it is a presence that persists and transcends all of our programs and agendas.  We live in and with that presence, the real presence of Jesus, and that’s the goal.   

Rev. Warren Geier


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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