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This is the sermon I preached on Sunday Sept. 27 at St.Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is Mark 9:38-50.

Today's gospel continues where last week's left off. The theme is still that of discipleship. Jesus teaches his disciples that ministry involves service and sacrifice and illustrates this by the disciples' wrong attitude.

There are a couple of things going on as background to the disciples' desire to control how God works. Earlier, the disciples were unable to cast a demon out of someone. Then along comes this person whom they do not know. What does he do? He successfully casts out a demon.

How do Jesus' disciples respond to this? For one thing, they're jealous. Then just like little children, they go running to Jesus to tell him how this man was not following them. Does the disciples' verbiage strike you as odd? Wouldn't you think that their concern would be whether or not he was following Jesus?

The man was not part of their group! The twelve felt threatened and seemed to claim a monopoly on the authority given them by Jesus. And yet, the man was casting out demons in Jesus' name. Jesus was given the glory and getting the credit for the work that was done. The man was not exalting himself as anyone special. The disciples needed to learn to work and play well with others.
The issue continues to be how Jesus' authority is mediated in the community of faith.

What does it mean to do something in Jesus' name? It is not the doing of miracles that keeps one from speaking against Jesus, but the doing of them "in Jesus' name." In this chapter of Mark, the phrase is used repeatedly: welcoming a child in his name (v. 37), casting out demons in his name (v. 38), doing deeds of power in his name (v. 39) and giving a cup of water to drink because one bears the name of Christ  (v. 41).

"In Jesus' name" indicates the motivation by which something is done. Bearing the name of Christ and acting in his name signify belonging to Christ or acting as a representative of Christ or perhaps even being Christ's presence.

The main point of this entire passage is the importance of wholehearted commitment to the divine reign of God, which involves being inclusive rather than exclusive. Do you remember in last week's gospel how Jesus held a child and taught the disciples that even those who are regarded as little and of no status were beloved by God? The disciples still didn't get it. They are still concerned about the pecking order of power. Someone doing works in Jesus' name, that weren't part of their group was an outsider who should be reprimanded instead of being included.

In the second part of the gospel, the issue of making others fall away from following Jesus is raised.Basically, putting a stumbling block in front of someone is causing someone to abandon the faith. This may be done with very good intentions. People want to protect what they know, namely the good name of Jesus. We want to preserve our heritage and traditions at a time when everything seems up for grabs.

The extreme metaphors used here would have been easily understood by the audience as Jesus speaking metaphorically and not literally regarding removing the offending body part. The matter is so serious that Jesus uses the language of extreme measures to show how important this is. To amputate one's hand, foot or take out one's eye is to avoid the unimaginable worse fate of the condemned. The disciples are to reflect on their own style of life and ministry in the light of such metaphors. They are to examine themselves and determine if there are specific features of their lives that prevent service to God (vv. 43-48).

Rather than erecting false barriers made by humans to keep people out, Jesus wants his disciples to feed the hungry, love our enemies and to forgive our brothers and sisters repeatedly. We are called to have open hands and open hearts toward those on the outside.

A lot of people have struggled with the meaning of the salt and fire of the last two verses of this passage from Mark. Basically, it is a warning about persecution and the trials Jesus' followers will experience. They are being urged to retain their distinctiveness. The disciples are not to cave in to the pressures of adopting the standards of the dominant society in which they live. No one can escape. Such trials are necessary salt that preserves and strengthens integrity and faith.

"Be at peace with one another" (v. 50). I love these final words of today's gospel because it beautifully sums up the point of how God's people are to live in harmony with one another. If the future brings persecution, being salted with fire, then Jesus' disciples can be at peace.

How do we strengthen one another to "maintain salt" and be at peace instead of trying to outdo one another (v. 34) or to exclude one another (vv. 38-41)? How we preserve the community is by caring for the least of these and strengthening each other--including those outside our community.

Who are the "exorcists" in our community who are casting out proverbial demons in the spirit or name of Jesus? Do we work with them or are we threatened by them?

We too need to exercise inclusivity rather than exclusivity. There may be certain outsiders that we are uncomfortable with. Yes, they are God's beloved children, but they don't do things the way we think they should be done.

God calls his children to work together for the sake of the gospel. Churches do not need to duplicate each other's services to the larger community. A great example of non-duplication is the work we do with other churches on behalf of the Honduras mission. No one person or church is taking the credit, lives are changed and God is receiving the glory.

God is issuing us a challenge. Listen to the way Bible scholar Pheme Perkins expresses it:

           Is following Jesus at the core of our being, something too precious to be 
surrendered lightly? Or is our Christianity merely a matter of taste and convenience,something we shelve at the slightest difficulty or inconvenience? Belief that is easily set aside cannot be the faith that Jesus calls for among his disciples.

How will we respond to Jesus' call to us?

Amen.

References:

M. Eugene Boring, The New Testament Library: Mark, a Commentary

Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume VIII, Matthew and Mark

Brian Stoffregen, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/mark9x38.htm


 

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