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Sermon based on Mark 9:38-50
Sometimes it is helpful and good for us to pause and recognize that each of us has physical, emotional and spiritual wounds that crave for healing. Whether we are sick with a virus, suffering from depression or other mental illness or we simply feel isolated and alone from God, we are all faced with choosing a path that helps leads us to healing.
Today’s scripture passage urges us to go to whatever lengths necessary to become whole in mind, body, emotion and spirit. In our gospel lesson we see through the words of Jesus that we must first look at ourselves and not project blame outward. We must come to grips with our difficulties and struggles. In Mark’s gospel we see that the disciple John is sharing some important news with Jesus. This is the only place within the gospels where we see John communicating directly with Jesus. John reports the following:
“Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”(Mark 9:38)
On the surface, for John the issue seems to be the fact that an unnamed exorcist does not belong in the company of the twelve disciples. Some scholars have suggested that perhaps John driven by his own guilt of striving for greatness in the Kingdom of God, asked this question about casting out demons to draw Jesus’ attention away from the prior argument with the disciples about who was the greatest among them. Regardless of John’s motive, we see that Jesus used this as an opportunity to communicate and teach his disciples. Jesus’ disciples were proud of their being chosen by Jesus. His disciples concluded that because they were chosen that they were uniquely qualified and competent to represent Jesus. John was concerned that if others could get credit for doing good works in Jesus’ name that would weaken his value and the value of the other disciples. Yet for Jesus, we see he is not concerned that His name is invoked and devils are cast out. Jesus in not rebuking this person’s actions of casting out demons shows us that Jesus was open to widening His circle of discipleship. He communicates this point clearly to his disciples when he said the following:
For he who is not against us is on our side.(Mark 9:40)
We are reminded these verses follow directly Jesus’ invitation to a young child who came to sit with Jesus. Jesus encouraged his disciples to receive and welcome those who came to them, as they would welcome a child. In this passage Jesus goes even further by warning his disciples against the temptations of sin. While cutting off a hand, foot or removing an eye would be barbaric it illustrates clearly that sin is a reality caused by the actions of people.
This morning I would like us to explore three principles that Jesus provides for us in this passage. These are principles that will make our lives as followers of Jesus more fruitful.
Our first principle is that Christ sets the example we need in life. Throughout Scripture we read and learn about the Son of God. Jesus came as one of us born an infant in Bethlehem. Jesus was tempted in ways that we experience yet he was without sin. Jesus gives each of us an opportunity to be transformed and renewed through the act of forgiveness. Jesus gives us a chance for reconciliation through grace. I’ve shared this illustration before but it is worth sharing again because it is so powerful. Bruce Larson, in the book Believe and Belong, reflects how he helped people struggling to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. For many years Larson worked in New York City and counseled in his office located in the heart of Manhattan. Many people who he counseled were wrestling with this decision of surrendering their lives to Christ. Often he would suggest they walk with him from his office down to the RCA Building that was located on Fifth Avenue. In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas, a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. Larson would tell patients this certainly was one way in which we can live. We can try carrying the world and our burdens upon our shoulders. Larson would following this presentation invite these patients to walk across the street with them. Located on the other side of Fifth Avenue is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old. With no effort Jesus is holding the world in one hand. Larson went on to share that in life we have a choice, we can carry the world and our burdens on our shoulders or we can give to our Lord and Savior Jesus our life and our burdens and allow him to carry them for us. Remembering those words from the gospel of Matthew that say:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
A second principle we learn through this passage is that Christ gives the direction we need in life. As we speak of direction the story is told of a captainof a ship who looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message” “Alter your course 10 degrees south.”Promptly a return message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”The captain was angry his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south–I am the captain!” Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north–I am seaman third class Jones.” Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south–I am a battleship.” Then the reply came “Alter your course 10 degrees north–I am a lighthouse.”In the midst of our dark and foggy times, all sorts of voices are shouting orders into the night, telling us what to do and how to adjust our lives. Out of the darkness, one voice signals something quite opposite to the rest. This voice happens to be called among many things the Light of the World. Yet sometimes we choose to ignore this voice and His direction in our lives.
What might the secret of life be in following Christ’s direction? According to Jesus the answer lies in having of all things salt in us. According to Jesus this was the secret. Jesus says:
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. (Mark 9:49-50)
In Scripture we know that in the Old Testament meat sacrifices were seasoned with salt as part of the purification process. Salt has always been recognized as the flavoring and preserving ingredient in meat. While these were practical uses of salt in Biblical times, we should recognize that salt is a metaphor for something else. Salt also represents a covenant relationship that binds people together. In the ancient East, courtesy dictated that a stranger be invited for a meal that included a ritual of eating bread and salt as a symbol of unity. By having salt in ourselves we are reminded that we are called to live our faith in such a way that there is no doubt who we follow and seek direction from in our lives. To have salt in ourselves as Jesus implied was another way of saying that we are responsible for keeping our world pure or in Jesus’ own words, “to be at peace with one another.”
A final principle we are introduced to in this passage is that Christ provides the vision we need in life. In Christ’s vision for humanity we are reminded of our responsibility of sharing Jesus’ message of love, hope and forgiveness. In doing this in our lives some of the things we must do are the following:
- Turn the other cheek.
- Love our enemy.
- Forgive others.
- Show no partiality.
- We must be honest.
- Live a life of integrity.
- Bear our cross for Jesus.
These are not options for us as followers of Christ. They are the order of the day, our minimum requirements and standards by which we are called to live and breathe and relate to people in and outside the church.
The story is told that General Robert E. Lee was speaking in the highest of terms of another officer when one of the men interrupted him. “General, do you know that man is one of your biggest enemies and misses no opportunity to ridicule you?” “Yes,” replied General Lee. “But I was asked to give my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.” Likewise the Son of God calls us to act with the same integrity, no matter what is going on around us. How we act reflects upon Christ. The title of this morning’s sermon is Who Is On Our Side? The answer is pretty simple. Our Lord and Savior is someone on our side. Each day we are called to follow Him in our lives and to live out our faith through our love for and service to others.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
September 30, 2018