Sermon on Mark 9:38-50
19th Sunday after Pentecost | September 30, 2018
Grace, mercy and peace be yours in abundance. Amen.
The lesson for your consideration is recorded in the Gospel of Mark 9:38-50.
Dear brothers and sisters, you who are salt for the world. Well, are you? Salty, that is? In the past, when visitors entered a Russian or Ukrainian household, they were usually greeted by their hosts with bread and salt. The bread was a sign of the prosperity of that household, and a desire to share that prosperity with guests. The salt was a reminder to Christians to be salty. But what does that mean? Jesus explains it in our lesson for today. This lesson seems to be a loose grouping of admonitions: don't discourage the man driving out demons in my name; don't lead anyone into sin; don't let your body lead you into sin; and finally, be salty. All this is, in fact, a recipe—for The Well-Seasoned Disciple.
I. TWSD Honors the Savior
"Teacher," said John. "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."
Note how John addresses him. Jesus was first and foremost their teacher. John's question is the question of a student and follower who is looking for information and approval.
The disciples had seen a man who knew of Jesus and the power connected with Jesus' name. Whether the man knew Jesus as his Savior through faith, we are not told. Yet the man was using the name of Jesus as his source of authority and power over evil spirits. His intentions were honorable, and his goal appears to have been a proper honoring of Jesus' name. To top it all off, his efforts in Jesus' name were successful!
Yet when they saw him doing this, the disciples took issue with the man. They criticized his use of Jesus' name, because he wasn't one of the Twelve. John was upset because the man wasn't acting "officially" as a representative of Jesus.
"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me."
If John was looking for a pat on the back, he wasn't getting one from Jesus. Instead he tells them not to stop him. The fact is, Jesus points out, that the man's use of his name would bring honor to him. In addition, the use of Jesus' name tells us something about the man's heart. He also loved the name of Jesus. Even though his knowledge may have been limited, he was still on the right side of the fence.
"For whoever is not against us is for us."
In his relationship to Christ, a person is either with him or against him. There is no middle ground. Even though this man did not have the same associations or credentials as the apostles, he was not an enemy of Jesus, and he should not be treated as such. Jesus' disciples rather should rejoice in his success and not get in the way of his work in Jesus' name.
"I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward."
Faith in the heart is revealed through the actions that it produces. That's what James is saying when he says "faith without works is dead." Even a cup of water given to someone because that person is a disciple of Jesus is a display of faith and love. Kindness done for a disciple is kindness done for his master, too. And Jesus gives the solemn promise that love for Christ in the heart, demonstrated by actions of the hands, will not go unrewarded.
The salty heart, full of faith, leads to a life full of good works done in Jesus' name, and these deeds of mercy do honor to the name of Christ that we bear.
II. TWSD Causes No One to Stumble
"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck."
When asked why I often wear a clerical collar, while so many Lutheran pastors do not, I cite this verse. The collar, among other things, reminds me of that millstone. We could all do with a visible reminder of this admonition of Jesus.
The wide-reaching nature of this statement should cause every Christian to take notice. The term "little ones" includes not just small children, but all who are infants or weak, young in their faith, regardless of their physical age. The Greek word we translate as "sin" refers to the trigger stick attached to the bait in a deadfall trap. When the bait is moved, the stick is dislodged, and the heavy weight comes crashing down.
The picture here refers to someone causing another person to stumble and fall into sin, or even away from faith in Jesus. The Lord will hold accountable anyone who injures or hinders another person's faith. It would be better for that offending person to be taken out of the way before the offense occurs. This millstone, 3 or more feet across and weighing some 500 pounds or more, hung around a person's neck and dragging him to the bottom of the sea would certainly prevent him from harming someone's faith.
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, 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, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched."
Falling away from faith has deadly consequences. It must be avoided at all costs. If a hand or foot or eye is badly infected and presents a life-threatening danger to the whole body, a surgeon will remove the infected member to save the person's life.
Dear friends, Jesus means exactly what he says here. If any member of your body causes you to sin and endangers your salvation, get rid of it! Of course, we know that the source of the problem is in the heart, not in the hand or foot or eye. Yet, anything that leads us astray from God needs to be dealt with, and often the only solution is a radical "ectomy" of some sort. Turn off the television or computer or iPod, throw away the magazine or book or Kindle, break a friendship or association, "unfriend" someone, or even get a different job. Change any personal habit, and part of your life, that is leading you away from faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, if cutting off, tearing out, and throwing away sounds too terrible to you, then consider the alternative, the result of falling away from faith—an eternity in hell. The fire of hell cannot be extinguished. It is eternal. It burns without consuming. Endless torment—the worms or maggots of agony and regret never die. They feast forever on your rotting flesh, without consuming the body, without any end to its misery.
Consider the eternal consequences, not just for yourself but for anyone you might lead astray. Maintaining your own faith and encouraging the faith of others must be greater than any other goal in your life.
The salty Christian has his priorities straight: remove that which leads to sin and hell, and be salt for others, that they, too, will not stumble or stray.
III. TWSD IS Filled with the Word
"Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."
Salt as a preservative is mentioned several times in the Scriptures. In Matthew Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the earth. In our lesson today the salt is something in the disciples—and in us. The powerful Word of God in the hearts and minds of believers is the salt that will preserve them in faith. You have that salt now, my friends, but you can lose it. If you stop using God's Word to preserve your faith and guide you in Christian living.
We who are ambassadors of the gospel need to be full of salt. When our hearts are filled with the "salt" of the gospel, questions of "greatness," which we talked about last week, will be forgotten, and our actions will be guided by that same "salt." Then we can live at peace, filled with the assurance of forgiveness and the promise us heaven, and share that good news of God with the world.
The well-seasoned disciple is the salt of the earth. So be salty, my friends. Honor your Savior with works of mercy in his name; lead no one astray, least of all yourselves; and be filled with God's Word, the only source for your faith and your strength. This is the recipe for the Christian life. This is the way that leads to heaven, for you and for those you love.
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.