18th Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 9:38-50 - September 26th/27th
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Man, you thought it couldn't get worse for the disciples. It's been a rough day for them that we've seen our last two weeks. First you've got the 9 disciples who can't cast out a demon, then you've got them arguing about who is the greatest - they have been failing and knocking each other down a peg. Horrible. And then today, it gets even worse. Poor John gets nominated as the disciple who has recently annoyed Jesus the least to pipe up and give Jesus just a bit more information, a bit more context to flavor the day. John said to [Jesus], "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."
Oh. So, disciples, on the day you had that episode where you couldn't cast out a demon, you also tell Jesus that you were trying to stop some other fellow from casting out demons in Jesus' name. And why? Was he a charlatan who wasn't really casting out demons? Was he demanding money and bilking people? Was he also invoking Zeus and Ba'al and stuff? No. He wasn't following... whom? He wasn't following... us. Did you hear it? Power and authority have gone to the disciples' heads. Hey there bub, we're Jesus' disciples, and *we* didn't tell you that you could do that, so cut it out. Do you hear the ego, the pride, the vain glory in what the disciples did? It is horrificially dumb and wrong - and it will be the occasion for Jesus to teach both the disciples and us a bit. Let us learn.
But Jesus said, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in My Name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For the one who is not against us is for us." Now, here I suppose I should quickly address that idea of "in My Name". We don't generally think this way, but a person's name, a person's title designates their authority. When Celia Beck became Celia Brown, she suddenly had access and rights to all my stuff - she can walk up to me and say, "I need you to write a check for ____" and I will, because she's made whatever deal in the name of the Browns... the rest of y'all just don't get to do that. She has my name, she thus has the authority to act for my family and use the family resources. Or if you like cop shows, you have the old fashioned cops who will yell, "Stop in the... name of the law". Not stop because I, Bob, said to stop, but stop because I have the authority to exercise the law as an officer of the peace, so if you disobey me you aren't merely disobeying me, you are disobeying the state, the government, the law. And so Jesus makes the point - this fellow is using My Name, My Authority, he is tied to Me. I've got everyone and their brother complaining about Me, scribes, pharisees, priests, crowds that don't like this or that - some guy casting out demons in My Name isn't going to be complaining about Me since he's relying upon Me, so leave him alone. Make sense?
And then Jesus shifts gears to lay into the disciples a bit. Let's talk about how authority works, how it flows. "For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward." Did you catch it? Not because "you follow Christ" - not because "you are so awesome and do good works" - but rather because you belong to Christ. See, the disciples were thinking that this Jesus thing was going to work like like a ponzi scheme - where you've got the guy at the top, then the second tier... and then a third tier, and hey there bub, you ain't no second tier, we're second tier, you've got to get in down the line, serve us. We'll be the teacher to you and you can be our disciple, and right now bub we say shut it. And Jesus cuts across that - there aren't going to be any tiers in Christianity - rather this. You all, all Christians, belong to Christ. You all share His name and His authority. One baptism (into His name), all of us brothers and sisters... not I'm a brother but you're a third cousin twice removed. And indeed, we are all given to call upon the Name of the Lord - What is the second commandment - You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God (and note, that implies that you have the right and duty to use the name) - what does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. See - call upon the Name in every trouble. Put it to use. And you foolish disciples, there was a man calling upon My Name when there was trouble, demonic trouble - and you told him to stop. He at least understood that demons could only be cast out by prayer, something you lot had forgotten. Do you see how foolish and dumb you were? You told him to stop praying.
And with that we flow into the next verse - a verse that sometimes just gets pulled out of context. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea." Sometimes if we just jump in at this verse we will throw in any particular sin that we happen to be annoyed with that day, particularly if it's something our neighbor has done, and we lambaste them. Not the point. This isn't the pappy looking at the his daughter's date on prom night and saying, "remember, a shotgun works as well as a millstone around the neck, boy!" Well, not directly. What Jesus says here is much more direct. The sin in question, the sin that sets up this whole discussion, is 2nd and 3rd commandment stuff - it is telling folks to not call upon the Lord, to silence the Word of God rather than gladly hearing it. You disciples just told a guy not to pray - you caused him to sin. Jesus is leveling a harsh accusation at the disciples - you messed up big time.
And the rest of the lesson flows from there. "And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire" - and likewise your foot or your eye. And here Jesus is making a simple point - if any of us were to go into the hospital and the doc says, "there's gangrene in your hand, we have to amputate or you die" - well, you amputate. And that's just to avoid death in this life - that's saying nothing of unquenchable fire for eternity. And so, disciples, you were messing up big time in telling that guy to stop calling upon My Name. What drove you to that - what led to you think that? Was it your hand or your eye? No. Now, was it your pride and ego - then you better cut off your pride and ego lest that pride and ego get you tossed into hell. What is it that makes you hate your neighbor and despise him so - well, cut it out.
Now, dear friends, it's time to turn away from the disciples' vileness, and consider our own. In order to apply this lesson to us, let me ask you a question. Who do you not want here? In this place, in this church - who do you not want to be here? Dimes to donuts every one of you has someone whom you wouldn't want to see here. Maybe it's family history and bad blood, maybe there's a jerk from school or work? Someone who has hurt you in the past and you have a grudge against them? Someone who wanted the church to do X when you wanted it to do Y? Or even maybe they just have the wrong skin color, eh? Maybe they just happen to be a bit too poor, come from the wrong side of the tracks - just enough to make you uncomfortable and you're glad folks like that aren't around here? Fight those feelings down, smack them down, crucify them, repent of them. Cut them off. Because - they - are - bad. Evil. Millstone around the next bad, worm does not die and fire is not quenched evil.
You see, for the disciples, Satan attacked them via their pride - they wanted everything done their way, they wanted power and control. And let's be honest, Satan probably attacks some of you the same way, in your pride - where you want the congregation to ask how high when you say jump. It happens. That's not good. That, in fact, drives people away from the Church - because you've taught them that opposition to any of your tomfool ideas is opposition to Christ Jesus and His forgiveness. But we really need to expand this out because Satan attacks more than just pride. Anything in us, anything that would drive sinners who need Jesus away from this place needs to be repented of - and please note, I don't mean drive away in some milquetoast modern way - where it's "we can't talk about this sin because it might offend people". No, this is a place of God's Word - full bore Law, full bore Gospel. The question now is what makes us want to separate people from hearing that Word of Law and Gospel, from calling upon the Name of the Lord. No, we will call sin a sin here -- but sinners are welcome here, to fight against sin and to receive forgiveness, even the sinners we really don't like. So whether it's pride, or ego, or hurt feelings, or being grossed out or any -isms that we deal with, we need to beat that down and repent of that.
Jesus wraps up the section with something that is a bit cryptic at first. "Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." At first this seems like a bit of a shift - but this is the idea - you are the salt of the earth... in Christ. In Christ Jesus you have been made salty, you've been filled with His life and forgiveness and salvation, life, forgiveness, and salvation that you freely share! And what happens when you look and find out that... eh, with this fella over here, I'm not really being very salty, am I... I'm not really wanting that forgiveness or life or salvation to flow over towards him? How are you going to be salty again? Cause if left on it's own - salt that has lost its saltiness is worthless... and you, in your sin, are weak and powerless. Christ Jesus, though, is not weak and powerless. There was a big word there in that last sentence - "and be at peace with one another". Peace - that's the big word - Shalom, it's peace, forgiveness, love, joy, everything put back right again. And Jesus is the one who does it... because He forgives you. When you find yourself running a bit low on love, a bit frugal with your forgiveness - come here, come here to this place - and what happens? Here in this place, God gives you His peace - communion Sundays, we hear the peace of the Lord be with you always. Be salty, take and eat, take and drink. Or even today in Matins, which really is a lovely service. What do we hear? So, you had a hard time showing love, didn't want to call upon God's name, wanted to cut other folks off. O Lord, open my lips, cause You've got to be the One to do it -- and then my mouth will declare Your praise, even to that person my sinful flesh doesn't like. And make haste, hurry up and deliver me, help me - for my own flesh is frail and I am weak. And He does. He gives you grace, He gives you forgiveness. Everything that Christ Jesus did upon the Cross, every drop of His death and resurrection is poured upon you here in His Word, and so you are forgiven, you are salt again - because He is merciful and good to you, and His prayer from the Cross "Father, forgive them" has great power in its working upon you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +