Monday, June 11, 2012

Proper 5 of Series B (Mark 3:20-35)

“Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the third chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, there once was a strong man. He dwelt in a house full of riches, seized through treachery long ago. He was the ruler of that house; everything that he owned was under his control, in his grasp, bound to him. He was indeed the ruler of this world, for his bounty, his riches, his goods were people, they were you and me. His strength gained him the entire world when he overwhelmed Adam and Eve. The woman put it perfectly: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” With that deception, the strong man seized all people for himself, a treasure sitting safe and secure within his house. For no one was stronger than he; not a single one of his possessions could stand up and set themselves free. They couldn’t, for they had been under his power and control from the very moment of conception; no one was stronger than the strong man. Everything they did was tainted by his influence; whether they wanted to or not, they served the strong man, and the strong man alone. They were doomed to live under his influence, chained and shackled to his whims. He delighted in seeing them suffer, he rejoiced to see them fight, and he was deeply satisfied to see them die.

The strong man thought that he had it made; he sat, safe and secure, in his house, knowing that he held all the cards, that his possessions couldn’t walk away, for he held them in the strong grasp of his influence. But on the day when he seized his riches, a promise had been made. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” One of his possessions would rise up, the offspring of a woman according to the flesh, but yet also true God, Jesus Christ. Only He was stronger than the strong man; only He could triumph where Adam and Eve had failed. Jesus said this about His mission: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”

Christ entered the house of the strong man and bound Him; He came into this world, the domain of the strong man, and defeated Him as had been prophesied of old. Yes, the strong man bruised His heel as God had also prophesied; Jesus suffered, Jesus died. In humiliation, He bore the cross. But in suffering, in dying, Jesus won the victory. He bruised the strong man’s head; He struck Him a blow from which He could never recover. When Jesus cried out ‘It is finished,’ the strong man was defeated, overwhelmed by the only one stronger than he, overwhelmed as he had overwhelmed Adam and Eve so long ago. On the third day, when He ripped apart the shackles of death and rose from the grave, Jesus, the stronger one, bound the strong man. The cords and chains that the strong man had used to hold his possessions were used against him. Jesus bound up the strong man in his own house and left him there for the day of his destruction.

Now came the plunder, as Jesus said Himself: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” With ten plagues, God struck the strong man Pharaoh on the head, and then He plundered the house of Egypt, bringing forth His people Israel, liberated from their captivity. Now the ultimate strong man was bound, struck on the head by the mighty foot of the Savior, and it was time to plunder the house; Jesus went forth to set the strong man’s possessions free. He proclaimed to all people that they had been set free, their bonds had been loosed, their chains broken, their bondage ended. There was no one on this earth who wasn’t part of the strong man’s riches, and so there was no one on this earth who wasn’t now set free.

Jesus came and set you free from your bondage. The people of Israel passed through water to freedom; you have done the same, as Christ Himself brought you through the font to the Promised Land of freedom. Jesus has proclaimed to you this freedom through His messengers, releasing you from your bondage through their words. You are free! Your captivity is ended, for the strong man, who held you in his grasp, has been struck by your Savior, then bound with cords that he cannot break. He can’t do anything but watch as Jesus plunders his house, removing all the riches he was so proud to hoard. The strong man doesn’t have any authority over you anymore! You are set free, freed from sin, freed from death, freed from domination and oppression. You, me, and the entire world, the prize possessions of the strong man, are no longer his, you are no longer goods for him to control, for your bonds have been broken by the one who died for you!

All are free; the freedom from the strong man won by Jesus is true, objectively true. All people are free, that is a fact. But some plunder refuses to be freed. Some plunder chooses to remain in the strong man’s house; so many who are set free reject this freedom. They refuse to believe in the One who set them free. Some even believe that He is in league with the strong man. “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘by the prince of demons He casts out demons.’” Others simply believe that He’s crazy. “And when His family heard it, they went out to seize Him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of His mind.’” They reject Him, because they either think that they can free themselves or they don’t think they need freedom in the first place. The strong man is bound, lying on the floor; the doors are open, the One who bound him is leading the captives free, but so many simply refuse to leave. They let the strong man, who has been triumphed over, who is bound by Christ, still exert his influence upon them. What is even more baffling is those who have been freed and yet return to the house. They put themselves back into bondage.

And unfortunately, those who choose to remain in the strong man’s house will face the same destruction that he is doomed to experience. “Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” By rejecting the Holy Spirit, by refusing the freedom won by Jesus, they have doomed themselves to eternal destruction. They have associated Christ with the strong man, for they have called Jesus a liar. The strong man deals in lies; that is his specialty, and by saying either that they have no need of freedom or that they can free themselves, they make Jesus instead of the strong man the father of lies. They trample upon the freedom and forgiveness He so freely offers. The sin against the Holy Spirit is continual, persistent rejection of the freedom offered by Jesus, and one who rejects freedom will remain in bondage forever.

This tragedy surrounds us, for we encounter those who remain in bondage each and every day. For Jesus Himself, it hit particularly close to home: “And when His family heard it, they went out to seize Him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of His mind.’” We feel the pain, the isolation that Christians have felt throughout the ages, as our friends and families stubbornly refuse freedom and chose to dwell in the strong man’s house. It literally breaks our hearts to see a child, a sibling, a parent dwell in bondage, to watch them sit in the strong man’s house while the strong man lies there bound and his doors are wide open. And nearly all of you have those in your life who are living in the strong man’s house, or at least are thinking about walking back through his doors.

What is even worse is the ridicule and opposition you face, whether spoken or unspoken. Jesus was called crazy by His family; you have perhaps been called worse by those who reject the freedom you enjoy. They think that you are foolish to spend so much time at church, to pray, to set aside time each week for worship. They either have rejected such things or have little time for them, and they cannot understand why you think they are so important. With or without words, they say, “You are out of your mind!” Jesus knows what you have experienced. He was ridiculed by His own family; He knew the pain of having loved ones reject the freedom He won for them. He was called crazy long before you were. He knows the tragedy of a divided family, and so He calls into being a new family, which will dwell in a new house.

The strong man’s house has been plundered, and in its place, Christ builds a new house, a house, as St. Paul says, “not made with hands.” His mother and His brothers, His family according to the flesh, stand outside that house, calling to Jesus, summoning Him to cease His crazy ways and join them in bondage. “And He answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around Him, He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” A new family dwells in Christ’s house, the family of those set free from bondage. You are His family, for He has plundered the strong man’s house and set you free. Only in the household of faith can you be comforted in a world that calls you crazy and your Lord a liar.

This assembly gathered here today is part of that family, linked together by the freedom we share. We want our natural family to be a part of this family as well; we pray for them, we speak of this freedom to them, in the hope that they will leave the strong man bound in his house, and go in freedom to the house that Christ has established. That house will stand for eternity, for it is a house and a family established by Christ’s own blood, shed on the cross to set you, me, and all people free. That is your home, that is your family, with Christ at its head, forever and ever. In His Name, Amen.

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