Sunday, 30 September 2012

Mark 9- he isn't one of us


Mark 9:38-50


New International Version (NIV)

Whoever Is Not Against Us Is for Us


38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

Causing to Stumble


42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44] [a] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46] [b] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’[c]

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

50 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Footnotes:

  1. Mark 9:44 Some manuscripts include here the words of verse 48.
  2. Mark 9:46 Some manuscripts include here the words of verse 48.
  3. Mark 9:48 Isaiah 66:24

 

 

Questions based on Mark 9:38-50-

1) Does the disciples' argument in verses 33-37 about who among them is the greatest have anything to tell us about verses 38-40?

2) When have you noticed a tendency in yourself to draw a line dividing people who belong and those who don't? Do those lines exist? If they exist how do our lines compare to Jesus' lines?

3) When have you experienced someone labeling you as belonging or not belonging?

4) Compare verse 40 to Matthew 12:30. How can these both be true? How does the context of both verses help us answer that question?

5) Consider what you believe about spiritual consequences for our actions. Are there consequences in this life and/or the afterlife? How does what you believe compare to what Jesus says in this passage?   

 

 

            One day my grandpa went to church. For some reason my Nan wasn't with him that day. So there he was in a pew at church trying to get 4 young kids to behave. It is a battle every parent who wants to bring kids to church knows. We try to keep our kids from tearing each other apart. We worry about them distracting others (though the sound of children is always a welcome sound in God's church). We try to get them to pay attention, and on top of all that we try to focus on worshipping and hearing at least part of the sermon. Well my grandpa was losing the battle when the priest spoke out from the pulpit telling my grandpa to make his children be quiet. That was the last day my grandpa ever went to church. ... I didn't hear that story from his own lips so I don't know what he thought about that event, but I'm sure he felt embarrassed, at least. Some might say, "well he must not have taken it that seriously if that's all it took for him to leave", ... He likely didn't, but that's the point. 

            There are plenty of examples of Christian leaders behaving badly that are more offensive than this. I don't think I need to give any examples. However, Christian leaders don't have a monopoly on being offensive. In our culture words associated with "Christian" are judgmental, prejudiced, close-minded, and arrogant, among others.

            My own temptation here is to explain it away. Culture has changed and so people are suspicious of authority now, that's why they talk badly about the church. I'm also tempted to disassociate myself from those who give the church a bad name. We're not like "those" Christians. They are a loud minority. They are the televangelists, and the crazy people who picket funerals. They just seem to get a lot of press ... But, of course they are my brothers and sisters too- as hard as that can be to admit to myself. I also have to admit that I have my own darkness. I've said and done things I shouldn't have. As Christians we have a lot of apologizing to do- for our own actions, and on behalf of Christians in general.

            Jesus gives us a warning in our reading today. Jesus says 42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea."  My grandpa was a "little one". He was a little one who didn't have a firm grip on Jesus, but he was still open. He was there in a pew with his children.  He was one of the little ones Jesus spoke about. 

            On Sunday morning there are plenty of us who are hanging onto our faith by our fingernails. There are plenty of us who aren't sure what we believe anymore. There are plenty of us who are going through illness or a broken relationship, or friendship and we feel an absence of spiritual power. We have difficult unanswered questions and doubts. Some of us are just bored. And there are some of us for whom all this spiritual stuff is pretty new and we are still finding our footing.  

            There are plenty of us who are just hanging on by our fingertips, but we are hopeful. We hope to hear a word from God that will resolve our doubts. We hope to feel God's presence fill our loneliness. We hope to hear and believe that we are loved, known, and forgiven. When our faith feels fragile we are Jesus' "little one's". When our faith is new we are Jesus' "little one's".

            Some of us, though, feel pretty comfortable in a pew. We might not have it all together, but we at least feel like we are where we belong.  Jesus has a severe warning for those of us who feel comfortable here. He warns us to not cause his little ones to stumble. The word in the original Greek is actually close to our word "scandalize". Jesus warns us to not scandalize his little ones- to not cause such a severe offence that his little ones would cause someone to turn their back on Jesus. Jesus says it would better if that person tied a large stone around their neck and swam in a lake, rather than causing his little one to stumble.

            In our reading someone was using Jesus name to help someone. The person was using Jesus' name in an exorcism. I know that is a difficult word for us to hear and just pass by, but that is a sermon for another day. In our reading someone was in trouble- they were sick and trapped- and someone used Jesus' name to help them. One of Jesus' disciples, John, told them to stop because they weren't part of the in-group- he wasn't one of the disciples. John was thinking of the group of disciples as a club. You are either in or out. You are a part of this special group of people or you aren't. The in-group has special privileges. Jesus, though, doesn't think that way. He thinks in terms of which way you are facing. Is the person facing Jesus, or are they facing away from Jesus. Even if they are a long way off, it is more important that they are facing Jesus. If the person was using Jesus' name to bring healing, then it is very likely that they are facing Jesus.  John, however, was thinking of the group of disciples as a club.    

            We can sometimes do that in the church as well. Church can sometimes become a social club. It can become all about us and our friends. It's not that there is anything wrong with having friends at church, but it can never be a closed group.  That is exactly what Jesus is speaking against. A club is hard to get into. There is a membership fee, maybe there is a hazing. Maybe there is a special handshake. There is etiquette that if not followed will bring embarrassment. Jesus does not want that kind of church.  

            The Church Jesus wants is a church where it is easy to learn about him, and even meet him. If anyone shows any interest in Jesus there is to be no obstacle placed in their way. Anyone who places an obstacle between that person and Jesus would be better off jumping into a lake with a large stone around their neck.

            Now Jesus isn't counselling suicide or murder here, but he wants us to know how seriously he takes this situation. Anyone who shows any sympathy towards Jesus or his followers are to be treated with utmost respect. They are not to be tested and tried to see if they are worthy of the club. They are to be helped along. Their questions are to be taken seriously. As the church we are to be a place where we are free to question and disagree and still love and care for each other.   It is to be a place where we can search for God together. Church is where we gather and hope to be found by God. It is a place where we experiment and learn and grow.    

            I'm not sure where you find yourself on this spectrum. Do you feel comfortable here? Is this your home? Or are you just hanging onto your faith by your fingertips? Or maybe you are just beginning your journey with Jesus. Maybe you bounce back and forth and it depends on the week.

            I want you to notice how Jesus speaks to both groups and I want you hear his words to you. First, to those who are just hanging on, or those who are just learning about Jesus. Jesus speaks tenderly to you. He calls you his "little one". He will reward you for the smallest act you do to honour his name. Even a cup of water given out of care for Jesus will be rewarded. His severe warning is to protect you. It is a sign of his love and care fore you.

            To leaders and disciples Jesus says hard words of warning. To you who are comfortable and secure Jesus warns us to not place a stumbling block in front of Jesus' little one's. It would be better to go swimming in a lake with a large stone hung around our necks. For those who feel like they are a part of the in-group Jesus expects a lot. He especially expects that his little ones will be treated with special respect, dignity, and gentleness. Jesus warns us to remove all obstacles on the path to him, because there are serious consequences. Remove anything that causes someone to stumble. Even if it means removing your own hand, foot, or eye. Again, Jesus is telling us how important this is. He's not hoping for us to hack off body parts. It isn't my hand that causes me to sin, or my hand that causes other people to stumble. That is a deeper part of me. I don't cut off my hand to prevent sin. Instead, I have to carve sin out of my heart, soul, and mind- with God's help. That is where my sin is rooted. That is what will cause others to stumble by looking at my hypocritical life.        

            Why does Jesus take this so seriously? He cares about this because he cares about my grandpa who never set foot in the church again. He cares about this because he cares about people who are offended and abused by those who claim to represent Jesus. He makes a big deal out of this because the church is not a club where we get together with our buddies once per week. The church is the body of Christ. Archbishop William Temple once said, "The church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of its non-members". Maybe it's a slight exaggeration, but there is plenty of truth in the statement, regardless. The church can never be turned in on itself entirely, or it is in danger of losing its very identity.  The Church exists for the benefit of those outside it. The church exists as an expression of God's love for the creation. And God's love cannot exist only within the walls of the church. When it becomes a club it has lost itself.

            It is not our job to determine who is in or out. Our job is to create a clear and straight path to Jesus for those who want to know him better. John shouldn't have stopped the man from using Jesus' name. He should have showed him the path to Jesus. When the church remembers who it is, that is when all its brilliance shines. It is not our job to draw lines to determine who is in and who is out.

            It is as if Jesus taught his followers a dance. The dance is beautiful and joyful, and it becomes more fun as more people join in.  Some are just watching the dance. They think they can hear the music, but they aren't quite ready to dance. Some know just a few steps. Others swing across the floor as if their feet aren't touching the ground. The dance isn't just for the benefit of those who know it. The dance is for the joy of the one who invented it.     

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