Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday in Lent 5 - Mark 14:50

My chapel message today at Christ Our Savior Lutheran High School went something like this:

The basis for this morning’s sermon is the final sentence of the Gospel reading: “Then [the disciples] all left Him and fled.” (Mark 14:50)

Have you ever been left behind and abandoned?

Those of you who watched basketball last night probably saw how Michigan St. players wanted to be left alone after they lost to Purdue.

My mom knew how to get me to leave her alone - especially if I said I was bored, she would start listing all the housework I could do. I instantly deserted her. There was another, more serious time. We were on vacation and went to a mall. Something caught my eye, so I stopped to look at it. I did not realize that my parents had assumed that I was still walking with them. I turned around and they were gone. I remember being so scared, thinking I would never find them again. I went out to the car, but they were not there. I went back to the store and a woman helped me find them. Only since adulthood have I realized that they were probably as scared of being without me as I was without them.

I noticed a group on Facebook is called something like “I survived a Mrs. Ryherd class.” I’m guessing a few of you have felt pretty lost in her courses. Worse yet is when it seems like you’ve been left behind because everyone else understands the material better than you do.

Some of the mission offerings at our local LCMS churches go to the Lutheran Church in South Africa. Rather than pretend they were strong enough to handle one of their problems on their own, the South African Lutherans asked some of our Southern Illinois pastors for advice. They thought that since we had so much more experience at being Lutheran, we had the answer to their question of how to stop kids from abandoning church after they have been confirmed.

Christ did not create us to be “Lone Ranger” Christians. Christ created the Church for times such as these - for times when we feel alone, like we are the only one suffering what we suffer. By His death, He brought us into a community of other sinners who have no strength of their own. Relying together upon God’s strength, we share our burdens as well as our joys. As God says in Ecclesiastes 4:10, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”

That verse was probably not in the Disciples’ minds on this particular evening. Mark 14 emphasizes their abandonment with three significant uses of the word “all.” Earlier in verse 27, Christ told them that they would ALL desert Him. They ALL protested, saying they would follow Him even if they had to die. At the arrest of Jesus, “They ALL left Him and fled” to different places. The proud, self-confident assertions of a few hours earlier were forgotten.

It might be easy for us here and now to look down on the Disciples for being weak. But what about out in the world? When the moment comes for you to stand up for Christ or commit a sin, how often do we desert Christ, fleeing at the first sign of danger to seek an easier life by giving in to temptation. At those moments, we find it hard to believe that God protects us from facing more than we can handle.

We have not been deserted by God. Neither was this scared and scattered band of Disciples. What soon would happen to them was nothing short of a miracle. ALL eleven went through a major change. These same men who were scared to face imprisonment together go through much worse over the course of their later lives. Imprisonment, beatings, tortures, shipwrecks, all but one of the Apostles were put to death.

What changed these men was the day God abandoned His own Son to death on the cross. Jesus cried out in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The reason God turned His back on Jesus is so that He would not turn His back on us, so that He would not forsake us. By being abandoned, Jesus paid for all the times that we desert God, for all the times that we love our earthly lives more than we love our Heavenly Father.

But this is only part of the miracle that changed the lives of the scattered followers. The Father abandoned His only Son to the Cross. However, He did not abandon His Son to the grave. He did not let His Holy One see decay. On the third day, God raised Him from the dead. Then Jesus showed Himself to ALL eleven Disciples. In spite of their fear and desertion, ALL eleven were saved. ALL eleven were looked upon with God’s forgiving love. This saving and forgiving love is what transformed a quivering, scared and scattered band of men into heroes of the faith. Men who stood with boldness, confidently proclaiming that God had suffered a criminal’s death, abandoned by all so that you and I would never be alone.

It is these men who wrote down the words and actions of Christ so that we today would know that He is still with us. Men who wrote down what it was like when the road of life got rough for them and sometimes got lonely. But we have a God who knows how it feels to be alone. They tell us we have a God who is certainly on the “Holy” ground of church, but He does not keep Himself locked away in the sanctuary. He does not abandon you to the world. Jesus said, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Not just the day you are baptized. Not just on Sunday mornings. Not just at church. As I send you out, I also go with you.”

Because God has walked with us when we were lonely, we can share Christ with the lonely people we meet along the way. Picture it this way: You are walking along with a friend, and you meet up with your friend. “How’s it going, Jaret? Have you met this friend of mine before? This is Jesus.” Maybe nothing changes immediately for Jaret, but a seed has been planted. Perhaps in the years to come, Jaret will learn that there are Christians who have faced many of the same things that he does. Then there will be one less person who is lonely and one more person who will know that he is not alone. One more person united by Christ to believers around the world and believers in Heaven. One more person who will know that God is with him. One more person who will know that Christ was abandoned to the cross so that we would not be alone in this life, nor in the life to come. Amen.

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