Monday, September 28, 2009

My sermon from 9/27/09 – Mark 9:38-50 Chop, Chop! Splash, Splash!

TEXT: St. Mark 9:38-50
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

This is some text, but before we start pulling out our axes we should look carefully at this passage. The text is a continuation of the text from last week where the disciples are digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole and Jesus is getting more and more frustrated and angry with them – to the point where his teaching is becoming more stark and blunt. Can you imagine the shock and revulsion that must have run through this group of disciples when Jesus starts talking about severing limbs. We can hear just the whispers – “can he be serious?

Now if you remember from last week this whole episode begins with the disciples trying and failing to perform an exorcism. Jesus is really put out with the disciples as a result. Then Jesus repeats His passion prediction. Now the first time He told them that he was moving towards crucifixion it had not gone over well; but this 2nd time the disciples don’t seem to be paying any attention because they are too busy arguing about who is going to have the most honor and be the greatest in the new Kingdom of God. Again, Jesus reminds them that if they want to be great – then they need to be a servant of all; if they want to have honor they must completely give up honor.

This brings us to the text for this morning and what I’ll call the “copyright” dispute. The disciples have come upon someone who is successfully performing exorcisms in Jesus’ name. So what is the problem with that? Well, as far as the disciples are concerned this person is not qualified or authorized to do this healing because he is not one of them. The disciples are rather indignant about this – remember that this fellow was successfully doing what they themselves had failed at not so long ago. Our text tells us that the disciples told this guy to stop and it suggests that he basically ignored them, so they comes whining to Jesus, “We met this guy who is doing exorcisms in your name, but he’s not one of us, so we told he had to stop.” Jesus is not pleased. “Do not forbid anyone from doing good, from reaching out to others in my name,” he tells them. But as with everything else the disciples don’t understand, they don’t get it. “Doesn’t Jesus understand that His name is really powerful and we need to keep control of it – why so that it can benefit us and put us in positions of importance. You can’t just let anyone use your name!”

That’s why I call it a copyright issue – what is at stake in copyright disputes is control of artistic and intellectual property – which includes ideas, theology and brand names, which is where the disciples are heading with this. The point of copyright laws is that to help us control of what is ours, right? It doesn’t matter if it is a piece of music, a song, a painting, an idea, a belief or our names – we want to keep control of it.

And this is exactly how the disciples felt – Jesus, you must keep control of your name – don’t let others just use it without some kind of authorization. Your ideas and name mean power, and if managed correctly, well everyone would benefit. That makes sense – doesn’t it? Well, but not to Jesus. Jesus had just reminded His disciples that they were heading towards crucifixion – they were on the road towards giving up power and control completely – that this was the only path to the Kingdom of God. So in this way Jesus is re-defining the argument: for Jesus it was not an issue of copyright or control, it was an issue of priority. The question suggested by Jesus response is: what is important? What is important to you, disciples? For Jesus’ disciples the priority is clearly themselves: their position, their authority, their control, their honor and importance.

But for Jesus the priority is people; especially those people who are in need; especially those people in whom faith is beginning to bud (he calls them the “little ones’). What matters to Jesus in this situation is not control of His name, it is that people are being freed from whatever is oppressing them. If that is done by you disciples in my name, great; if it is being done in my name by someone who I don’t know then that is great too; because the important thing is reaching out and caring for and healing people.

So then, what about all this chop, chop stuff – severing of limbs and so forth. Where did that come from? It follows from what has gone before – Jesus’ priority is people, caring for and reaching out to people. The disciples are called to be free from the need to control every detail, free of the need to acquire power because if you are driven by control and power that then will take over as the most important thing in your life and consequently people become less important and the “little ones” get hurt. “If your priorities are such,” suggests Jesus, “that they are hurting the “little ones” then you would be better off if we hung a millstone around your neck and dropped you into the sea. If your priorities are such that they are hurting the little ones it would be better for you to cut off all the body parts that lead you to grasp for control and power. If your priorities are such that they are hurting the little ones, then you need to die!”

And that is it – That is the point! Jesus had started this whole discussion with reminding the disciples that they were heading towards crucifixion and death. Jesus will die and be raised; we too must pick up our cross and die with Him – in order to be raised with Him, in order to be freed and to completely live.

Splash, splash! There it is – right in front of me – the Baptismal Font! In Baptism we are buried with Christ, we die in Christ and we are raised to new life and freedom in our Baptisms into Christ. In Baptism the millstones are hung and disintegrated, and our bodies and souls are restored and renewed. The disciples don’t get it of course – not yet anyway, their time will come. We don’t always get it either, but God nevertheless has restored and freed us in our baptisms and called us to a life of making people priority number #1.

I will close with a story from the sports pages from a few years ago. It was a story about university softball finals in Oregon from a few years ago. With two runners on base and a strike against her, Sara T. did something she had never done before. She hit a home run. But then as she started to run around the bases, she missed first base. Realizing what she had done she started back to tag it but in the process of stopping and turning around she ripped something in her knee and she collapsed with searing pain. She crawled back to first base but couldn’t go on. Now the dilemma: She would be called out if her teammates tried to help her. The umpire said a pinch runner could be called in, but the homer would have to count as a single.

Then, the some members of the opposing softball team did something that stunned spectators. The girl who was playing first base asked the umpire if she and her teammates could help Sara. The umpire consulted with her colleagues and then determined that there was no rule against it. So a couple of the infielders put their arms under Sara’s legs, and she put her arms over their shoulders. The three players headed around the bases, stopping to let Sara touch each base with her good leg. The three-run homer would count. But that is only part of the story. This act of sportsmanship and kindness by the opposing team contributed to their own elimination from the playoffs. There was a price for their compassion.

Of course! There was a price for Jesus, and for the disciples down the road as well. But it is our calling to open ourselves to God’s love and grace, allow Him to help us set aside our need to control, at least a little, and reach out of ourselves to “the little ones,” those whom God has set in our path. There is also a gift – we can expect God to stand with us throughout everything and to grant us a sense of His peace and love and grace.

Thank you to TextWeek for inspiring the title.

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