Lectionary Sermon for September 26, 2021

Mark 9:38-50    God’s on My Team’s Side, Not

Imagine if you would this conversation taking place today instead of over 2000 years ago. The disciples coming to Jesus tell him their trademark was being violated. We need to sue those people who use your name. At the very least a cease-and-desist order should be issued.

Here is the thing, Jesus does not copyright anything. Jesus does not sue. Jesus speaks with wisdom. Jesus speaks with understanding. Jesus understands the battle very well. If someone is doing good in Jesus’s name, then the person is not an enemy but an asset. Those who are not against us are for us.

I have been doing some theological work on suffering. Our world is full of suffering right how. Developed nations are experiencing death from the pandemic in ways all to common to the vast numbers in less developed countries.

Suffering is. It is likely that most people will experience suffering in their life. This common experience that is both individual and communal. Suffering, however, is not what God desires. Suffering must be resisted individually and collectively.

Our world is a very competitive world. I believe this is both good and bad. It is good when we are competing to make each other better (a rare event in our world). It is bad when its processes and goals are not for the good of the community. Jesus is not about competition. Jesus is about the human condition. Jesus knows just how spiritual perilous human beings are. We need all the allies we can get.

To drive the point home. Jesus makes it very clear that to be a stumbling block to anyone who is striving to accomplish good in Jesus’s name because they believe in him it would be better if they drown. Jesus also makes it clear that those who would even do the smallest act in the name of our Lord would be rewarded.

Here is the problem. Jesus disciples had this problem, and it continues in the church today. And what is this problem? The problem is competition.  The disciples did not like any unauthorized competition moving in on their perceived territory. What about the church today? Do we have any issues of competition? If we say we don’t we a deeply self-deceived.

There are over 10,000 Christian denominations in the world today. Are they working for the good of the Kingdom or for their own kingdom? Are they challenging our “territory?” Should they all stop the way they follow Jesus and instead come and follow Jesus the way we do? Do we have the right to say that another denomination is wrong, and we are right? No, we do not! We can say, we believe the way we believe God wants us to believe but we cannot judge the way anyone else believes. We can discuss why we think they are wrong. We can learn to defend why we believe what we do, but that does not change the reality. Those who are not against us are for us in this world of spiritual war and strife.

Jesus does not what his disciples having any doubt how serious the issue of the Kingdom was to God and what was at stake. However, as we look at verses 43-48, we are looking at what is a landmine for many who cannot image a true reality of eternal existence called Hell. (Gehenna)

There was a time that a Christian preacher who did not mention hell in a sermon would be seen as not doing their job. Today, it is rare if a preacher comes even close to talking about hell. A preacher would be accused of using scare tactic. Most people would mentally quit listening to anyone who tried to preach a sermon concerning Hell.

Hell is the ultimate suffering. Let me say that again, “Hell is the ultimate suffering. Jesus obviously understood it to exist. Jesus felt comfortable (or compassionately distressed) enough with the topic to use it in this teaching. Why does Jesus bring up this subject at this time?

Let’s look again at the flow of the passage. Out of a discussion concerning an individual who was doing spiritual work in Jesus’s name the story moves to a warning about what happens if we cause someone to stubble in their faith. Jesus then couches sin in its most serious consequence, so serious that Jesus uses exaggerated word pictures to relate the seriousness of what is being said. We need be careful here with how we understand what is being said.

Jesus does not what us to cut off our hand, our foot, or pluck out our eye. This is the exaggeration I speak of. This kind of language is intended to get our attention and make an impression.

First, these examples drive home the point that there is no excuse for sin. If something seems to be an excuse for sin, deal with it radically. It is a threat. It will be used against you.

Secondly, it calls us to look at our behavior in self-examination that understands how serious sin is and how deceptive it can be. The gruesome acts that Jesus recommends in order to avoid sin, they paint a picture of pain. Sin will bring pain. Sin only gives its pleasure for a season and then will come the pain.

Thirdly, we must be proactive, we must examine and act. This is no time for doublemindedness. To continue allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is not acceptable. We are in a battle for eternity. We cannot allow jealousy, competition, judgementalism, pride, or anything else distract us from the struggle of this world. A struggle with the effects of sin.

Lastly Jesus’s words speak of a situation, a condition, a place, so horrid that it is described in terms of worms and fire. Worms and fire. Not doves. Not peace. Not quiet. Worms and fire.

Jesus says these words out of deep concern for his disciples and for those who would be disciples. Pray for, support, encourage, speak well of any who are seeking to do good, “In Jesus name.”