Sermon for 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 21
September 30, 2012, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Mark 9:38-50
Sermon Theme: The One Not Against Us Is For Us
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary for Proper 21; Emphasis online Illustrations for Mark 9:38-50; original ideas; Anderson s Preaching Workbook, Cycle B)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Some sermon texts are made up of Bible verses which are memorable and popular. In todays sermon text from Mark, I dont think you are going to find your favorite Bible verse. For example, Mark 9:40, Whoever is not against us is for us, is not likely to turn up on needlepoint wall-hangings nor on bumper stickers. Yet, it is true because Jesus said it.
And were not sure wed like to be salted by fire either, are we? Some of the verses sound like strange stuff, yet Jesus is saying it.
All of the Scriptures for today seem to raise the question, Is the world bad or good? Are Christians supposed to be a part of the world, or are we basically supposed to avoid any kind of worldliness? Todays sermon text is not so much concerned with worldly things but worldly people.
Are Gods people found only within the church, only among believers? Or does God work also through others, in ways that we may neither expect nor detect?
Jesus Himself is often depicted in the Bible as acting in ways that are considered worldly, to the point that He comes to be called in Matthew 11:19, a glutton and a drunkard. He wined and dined with sinners and tax collectors. But, at the same time, Jesus directs us to seek that which does not perish, to store our treasures in heaven, as He said in Matthew 11:19.
Those of us who are brand-name Christians, such as Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists, for example, have a little trouble knowing how to deal with or relate to generic Christians. Because of the Prussian Union, our German and Wendish ancestors were forced to become generic Christians in Germany and thus came to America so that they could be specifically and fully Lutheran.
In most cities, there are small, informal groups of people who meet in their homes each week, who have faith in Christ and who pray and worship together. What should be our attitude toward such people? Lets look at the text and see what it tells us.
In our text, the disciples came to Jesus with the complaint that a man outside their group was casting out demons in Jesus name. He was not a part of the regular followers of Jesus. Obviously, they were very upset about this, and they tried to stop the man from ministering in the name of Christ. To be sure, the man wasnt teaching false doctrine or living in sin, he simply did not join up with the group of Jesus followers John belonged to.
Look what Jesus said to them: 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. 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. Whoever is not against Christ in service must be against Satan and therefore ON Christs side. Although they do not belong to the original group, they must be treated with tolerance and love.
Even a cup of water given in Christs name should be rewarded, thus casting out a demon is even more spectacular and precious to God.
Just as in James letter, Mark is focusing on the importance of deeds, of actions, and these are to be rewarded (which of course does not mean salvation by good deeds). Jesus cautions, It would be better to be drowned with a millstone around ones neck than to cause a little one to stray from the path of holiness and truth. In other words, where your actions would cause a person of little faith and little godliness to sin.
Then Jesus goes on to use hyperbole (deliberate exaggeration or the sake of effect) to emphasize the necessity for your actions and your behavior to be pure. Jesus deliberately uses the hand, the foot, and the eye to explain that it would be better to radically do away with them than to be led into hell by them. I say deliberately because each of these parts of the body have special meaning.
The hand, if it causes you to sin, should be cut off; the foot, if it causes you to sin, should also be cut off; and the eye, you should tear it out.
These three are the most dangerous. The hand represents the actions you should do or should not do, your deeds, good or bad.
The foot represents your walk on this earth, — your walk with God or your walk with the devil. Dont just talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Walk it with God, not with the devil.
The eye not only represents the things we crave but also the things we lust for. Pornography has been referred to as eye candy by some people. Our eyes can lust for things God does not want us to have.
The doctor told a friend of mine that his lungs were so bad he really needed to quit smoking. So he enrolled in a class that would help you give up the bad habit. First, they were asked to set a date in the future when they expected to quit smoking altogether. Then they were taught how to reduce their smoking gradually.
They were told to place their cigarettes in a different spot than normal. If you normally carried your cigarettes in your right shirt pocket, you were to start carrying them in your left pocket. That way, when your hand reached automatically for the pack and did not find it, you were reminded to not take one. Thats similar to Jesus saying if your hand caused you to sin, cut it off, etc. In other words, dont just resolve to resist temptation, instead, get rid of the means so that you can be free.
You see, the point of the text is that, as a child of God, you are to take responsibility for your actions. When God confronted Adam about his sin of eating the forbidden fruit, Adam said it was because of that woman You gave me. He blamed Eve and indirectly, God, for his sin.
Taking a cavalier attitude toward sin is not taking responsibility. A few years ago, there was this newspaper story about a 50 year old man in Italy who was arrested for reckless driving when his car ended up in a ditch.
In court, the man defended himself by saying that the reason his car swerved like it did was because he had taken his hands off the steering wheel and was letting God drive. But the judge still found the man guilty and fined him, saying that even if God was driving, God was not a legally insured driver in Italy and had never passed a drivers test.
Jesus warns us that our carelessness with regard to sin endangers not only ourselves but also those with whom we come into contact.
Our text closes with the command for us to have salt in ourselves. You know, today, with high blood pressure and low salt or no salt diets, we tend to look at salt as a bad thing; however, it is obvious Jesus meant it as a good thing.
Keep in mind that salt is one of the most important minerals for both human and animal life. Without salt, our hearts wouldnt beat, our stomachs wouldnt digest food, our muscles wouldnt contract. Without salt, we would die. In addition, salt is a disinfectant and preservative. According to Jesus, the only thing bad about salt is when it loses its saltiness. So He is warning us about low-salt faith.
John Wesley believed that the salt Jesus is referring to in this passage is Gods grace. Grace preserves us in our faith, disinfects us of sin, gives life, health, and energy to do Gods will. It is Gods grace that remedies our
low-salt faith. We are saved by grace through faith alone, and I think this ties the text together. For the one who is not against us is for us.
Jesus died for our sins. He arose and we are redeemed through no merit of ours. Grace is brought to each of us and is accepted by Faith (which is also brought to us by the Holy Spirit). There is no need to fear being part of the world; in fact, being a part of the world is a part of our saltiness. Jesus commands us to be the salt of the earth in Matthew 5:13.
The world leaches the salt from us, but Christ salts us with His Word and Spirit to have peace with one another. May Christ so live in each of us in peace. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.