Sermon for September 30, 2018


Mark 9:38-50

38. John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39. But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40. Whoever is not against us is for us. 41. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

 42. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you 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 to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.  49. “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you restore its saltiness? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Quite a few years back Sylvia reminded me of the Old Testament Jacob referring to his life as a sojourn. Though not a new thought, it struck me that life is a journey and we’re just sojourners passing through. She then pointed out that when we get out on the highway, there are cars going everywhere.  When we get to the city, there are people everywhere—helter-skelter, like ants.  Thousands, everywhere! So many of us—sojourners passing through.

The question is: on our sojourn through life are we making a difference?  After our journey, our sojourn, will the world be a better place because we passed by?  If so, we’re emulating Jesus who’s sojourn made the world a better place.  Not for a few, but for all.

Today we read about an exorcist who was not a part of the Jesus gathering—not of the twelve, nor even of the 72, but was doing good, and in the name of Jesus.  And, because he was not a part of that circle, John tried to stop him from using Jesus name, thus upsetting Jesus, who told John, “He who is not against us is for us.”

Even during Jesus lifetime, there appears to be a division…another branch of Christendom. 

Today there are many branches of Christendom. I once read a preacher who spoke of the thousand faces of Christianity, and he listed some of the faces, saying: 

• It worships in grand cathedrals and in storefronts. • In lovely little chapels and in big, barn-like buildings. • In cathedrals shaped like a cross and in 1960s buildings shaped oddly like a fish. • In classic white churches and in brick churches with steeples reaching to the sky. • And in churches of ivy-covered stone.

The he also said that the church also has a thousand names:

• African Methodist Episcopal • African Methodist Episcopal Zion • American Baptist • Amish • Anabaptist • Anglican • Armenian Evangelical • Armenian Orthodox • Assemblies of God • Associated Gospel Churches • Association of Vineyard Churches • And those are just the A’s.

All these divisions remind me of the story of two strangers on a bridge, talking.  One of them asked, “You Protestant or Catholic?” and the other replied, “Protestant.”  “Me, too!” said the first one. 

“What denomination?”  “Baptist.”  “Me too!”

“Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”  “Northern Baptist.”  “Me, too!”

They kept comparing notes and agreeing.  Finally, they came to this exchange.  The first person asked: “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

To which the other responded, “Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” Then the other’s face turned red as he said, “You heretic!”

It’s ridiculous the extent to which we take our beliefs when we really have no idea of what we’re just a tiny part of.  That’s the case this morning when John tries stopping a man from using the name of Jesus to exorcise demons. John—who thought he knew all there was to know about Jesus’ teachings and about who is and who isn’t allowed to use the name of Jesus.  “How dast he to use our master’s name in doing his own work.  The nerve!”

Jesus’ response interestingly, simply refers to the man as a child, an infant, and tells his apostles that if they put a stumbling block in the way of such a little one, it would be better for them to be cast into the sea.  This entire paragraph is hard to follow, but in essence he is saying that His follower are the sinners if they interfere in anyway with those who are striking out on their own. “If they’re not against us, they’re for us.”

What does that say about those who insist that everyone must believe as they do?  That there’s only one way to worship, or baptize? Hogwash!

As I’ve mentioned in here before, there’s over 3,000 different Protestant religions.  These break-aways all believe differently, and, in their ignorance, they believe strongly enough to start a new denomination, often focusing on only one part of scripture and insist that their way is the only way—7th Day Adventists, are but one example

You know why Jesus said what He said this morning?  Because no matter what we believe, we’re wrong.  We’re wrong because, as human beings, we don’t have the whole picture.  There’s an adage that says, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.” What we have is a little bit of knowledge.  We have not a clue about how much we don’t know; we’re flesh and God is Spirit.  We know nothing about the spirit—only what we speculate to be true.

Life is about learning to live the teachings of Jesus—learning to love, first God, then one another as we do ourselves.  When we do that, everything else falls into place. From that time on we are simply gaining experience, learning from our experience, then growing from what we’ve learned.  Spiritually, when it comes to learning, we’re all infants, no matter what our age or our educational level.  We start out as babies, and we learn.  And, all through our lives we keep learning—or not—depending on our disposition. We either grow or we don’t.  However, I do believe that life is about learning and, as we learn, then it becomes about changing.

What we change from—without looking any different—is from animal into spiritual citizens of God’s Kingdom.  I remember as a kid I knew all there was to know about life and God; I was a fundamentalist Roman Catholic and in my mind, that’s all there was.  If you weren’t Catholic, you were going to hell.  You simply didn’t have a prayer and that’s all there was to it.  I was sure God was a Catholic.  Now I know better.  But I’ve also learned that every time I think I know the answers, I’m in for a rude awakening. 

When I was in the 4th or 5th I learned that we are part of the animal kingdom.  I found that so ridiculous; “I’m not an animal!”  Somehow I had always thought we—or at least I—was different.  Later on I realized she was right.  We are animals, but we’re different.

Jesus shed some light on this when he said, “the flesh is useless.  It is the spirit that gives life.”  It is our spirits—our souls—that give us life, setting us apart from animals. But that is an earned status by living the type of life Jesus laid out in the Gospels. He was very clear.

Many of us have read books about near death experiences.  It’s the soul of the person that has the experience. Never does the body leave the operating table, or wherever. The soul looks down, sees its body and is blasé about it.  (Relate my own story about looking at my body.  I was confused and didn’t know what had happened.)

Jesus called this morning’s exorcist an infant.  In upbraiding John, He was essentially saying the same thing about him.  The truth is, we’re all infants in the Kingdom of God. But when we make that commitment to Him, He accepts us where we are, on whatever level, welcomes us Home, and the changes begin.

Thanks be to God.