October 17th, 2021 – Ransomed

Sermon for Pentecost XXI, 2021                                                    10/17/21


Text: Mark 10:35-45, Isaiah 53:4-12, Hebrews 5:1-10

Introduction          “Ransom” is a word we’d rather not hear.  It is usually connected with something captured.  Recently, cyber-criminals, using ransomware, have disrupted the flow of oil in pipelines out east, demanding ransom or payment to release their grip on a vital commodity. Hospitals and other institutions have been hit.  Government agencies are working hard to track down these criminals who disrupt our lives.

            With a longer history, the word “ransom” was the price paid to get a prisoner free.  Kidnappers demanded money to free persons held hostage. 

            But what does the word “ransom” mean in the passage from Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   What does this mean?

            As we pry into the texts for today, we may be surprised to discover that we are among the prisoners who are RANSOMED.

I           It may help us to identify with Jesus’ disciples.  But it will take some humility to see ourselves in them.  When it came to Jesus, James and John and all of the disciples were slow learners.  They were so rooted in usual ways of thinking, it would take a spiritual crowbar to yank them out of captivity to false ideas.  Jesus uses drastic language to keep them from being hardhearted.

            I can’t blame them.  As disciples today, called to faith in Christ, we are saturated with the thinking and attitudes of our times.  So, when we read about James and John looking for success and the top spots in their expected kingdom of God, we can identify with them.

            Crowds of spectators turn out in painted bodies, scream, and jump up and down. They hope that waving colored towels will affect the game, perhaps lead to a championship.  We cheer for winners.  We wear team-colored outfits with names of favorite players. We hope to share the glory of victory.

            And today, our team might be an ethnic group, an ideology, a political party, a school, a church, or one of a myriad of interest groups.  At the core is self-interest.  An excessive adherence to self-interest is what Luther called “sin.” All the striving for our side to win at the expense of God’s will is the prison from which we need to be redeemed.  We need a ransom paid for us to set us free to be more whole, more healthy, more open to divine thinking.  Jesus came to free us.  God’s Son, the Servant came to ransom us all.

            Imagine the early disciples, who were taught from infancy that the Messiah would fulfill all their longings for success.  They thought that one day the wealth of all the nations would flow to them.  Messiah meant receiving, not giving.

            Then, Jesus came along and flipped that thinking upside down.  He came to serve and not to be served.  He was teaching his followers to do the same.

II.         By the time of our Gospel text, Jesus had been using many ways to enlist his followers into a servant-style of life.  He claimed twelve from various backgrounds and proceeded to set an example of service   He healed the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law.  Jesus touched a leper and cleared his skin, so that he could rejoin the community.  Jesus told a paralyzed man that he could carry away his bed and live free of past sins.  The Son of Man declared a  bleeding woman to be a daughter of God’s new rule, and he lifted up a deceased adolescent, so that she could again have something to eat.

            However, in addition to modeling these healing actions, Jesus enlisted his 12 apostles to go to all the surrounding towns, preaching the good news of God’s rule, and healing people with physical and mental illness.  Moreover, when 5000 needed food in the wilderness, Jesus let the 12 disciples serve the bread and fish. The meal started with five loaves and two fish, but the disciples gathered 12 baskets full of leftovers for more hungry people.

            While these acts of power were impressive, it took a while for Peter to guess that Jesus was the Messiah.  But then, the twelve puzzled over what Jesus said the Messiah must do. 

            Jesus explanation was rooted in the reading from Isaiah today. The prophet could see the Servant’s mission so clearly.  He used the past tense:

            Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter…so he did not open his mouth.

By a perversion of justice, he was taken away…He was cut off from the land     of the living, stricken for the transgression of [God’s] people…

The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

            James and John didn’t get it.  They pictured Jesus a victorious king, like Caesar, perhaps, and they volunteered to take the places of honor by the throne. Little did they know that when Jesus ascended the throne of the cross, two anonymous thieves would be to his right and left.  The man in the middle was giving his all as a ransom for all of us sunk in sin and selfishness.

III.        Years later, the writer to the Hebrews got it.  He saw in hindsight that Jesus was the Great High Priest, who was the offering, once for all, to free humankind.  And while in the first part of his writing, the author confessed the divinity of Christ, in the reading today he brings out Jesus’ identity with all of us humans.  Incidentally, a member of the church, who knew well her brokenness, told me this was one of her favorite passages:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with  loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission…and having been perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

IV         Here’s the thing!  The problems of the world are much greater than you or I can grasp.  We see the symptoms: abuse of the earth, struggles for power, gross injustice in all classes, a common refusal to accept reality, various forms of violence.  These are just some of the symptoms of the deep evil we suffer.

            Human blindness to what’s good for us and what would save us made it necessary for our gracious God to provide a giant ransom for us all.  However, by faith in God’s love and all he has done for us in the Christ, we can live more freely and counter the power of evil that still tries to hold us down.

            By God’s grace, we hear his Word and seek to put into practice the servant style of life, that Jesus modelled for us. We can live more fully as followers of the Suffering Servant.  We can live joyfully, faithfully, expecting God’s loving presence everywhere.

Conclusion.                 When I was a student at Concordia Senior College at Fort Wayne, Indiana, I received a personal glimpse of what Jesus was teaching us.         Gradually, I became painfully aware of the human condition, the contrasts between poor and well off, and every one going his/her own way.  I failed to see God’s rule in all of this.  Truthfully, I was having a crisis of faith—trying to understand the problems of human history and present dilemmas in the light of the Word of God.  At spring break, for Holy Week, I returned to my home in New Orleans.

            With all this awareness of confusion, contradictions, and sin, I went to my home church on Good Friday.  My personal glimpse of all that Jesus had done for all of us came into focus when the choir sang words of Isaiah for today:

            But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities;

            Upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we

            are healed.

            All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,

            And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

            The mystery of God’s love for humanity became personal.   Rescued from all the confusion and contradictions of this world, we are all RANSOMED.

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