The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (September 27, 2015)

Click here for today’s texts
Click here for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast

Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22

Some might label this text, “What Goes Around Comes Around!” Certainly, the vengeance angle on the bent-for-evil Haman is interesting and in need of some unpacking. But, another angle suggests itself to me. Just what are we, as the Lord’s followers, to expect in terms of the world’s attitude toward us? Esther’s plea could be insightful: “For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.”

Psalm 124

“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…”

Indeed! Why would we, as people of faith, ever want to depend on lesser means for our salvation and deliverance? Oh, but sadly, often we do.

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

It would be easy to discount the “nay sayers” in this passage, right off the bat. After all, they are identified as “the rabble among” the children of Israel.

“Hey, that’s not me! I’m not rabble — I don’t have any rousing to do!” Oh, really? Are you and I so sure that we can’t be counted among this number in our complaining to others — and to the Lord?

Be sure to check out this week’s edition of The Lectionary Lab Live for a pretty extensive discussion of this awesome text.

Psalm 19:7-14

Excellent description of the numerous ways that God’s word is of benefit to us. My personal favorite is in finding the “hidden ways” that I have been less than faithful to God. (v. 12) That convicting power and purpose of the word is so very needed.

James 5:13-20

Short version of the sermon: prayer works! There is much else to dig into here, especially the power of confession between members of a community that care deeply and are unconditionally committed to one another. When we know we need help, and when we are open to those who can help us clear away the infection in our own spirits, a pathway to God’s healing is opened.

Mark 9:38-50

“Whoever is not against us is for us.”

We have lots of trouble with that sometimes; we want others not only to be for us, we often want them to be like us. But that’s not what Jesus says here…so, maybe we have some adjusting of our attitudes to work on?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In the spring of 1980 Mount Saint Helens erupted.  In the early spring of that year the volcanic mountain in Washington State had been showing all the signs.  One expert had even gone on record as saying the chances of an eruption were 100% – it was certain to happen.  While others weren’t that sure, they were sure enough to warn everyone anywhere on or around the mountain to get off and stay off, to get away and stay away.

And almost everybody listened.  Except Harry Randall Truman.  Truman lived at the south end of Spirit Lake at the foot of the mountain.  His house was in the most probable path of the flow of lava. If he stayed in his house he was certainly going to die.  Government officials sternly warned him to leave, friends told him staying was suicidal, family members cried and begged; all to no avail.

When Mount Saint Helens erupted,the lava flowed right over the house with him in it.  Harry Randall Truman died because he could not let go of his home. (Thom Rainer – “Autopsy of a Deceased Church, p.21)

“I your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  And if your foot cause 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.  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 be thrown into hell,”  (Mark 9:43-47) If your house, or car, or land, or boat, or , or, or; you fill in the blank, causes you to stumble, cut it out; for it is better to enter God’s presence without it than to lose out on eternal life because of it.

Today’s Gospel lesson is one that no one, well, almost no one takes literally.  Seriously, if anyone took it literally and were totally and completely honest in that literalness, the world would be full of one-eyed people on crutches eating with their left hand.  No, this is a text which must be taken seriously, but not at all literally.

When Jesus uses hyperbole and exaggeration it is like verbal highlighting; he really wants people to listen and think about what he is saying. We are in the midst of what is sometimes referred to as the “Markan pivot.” This is a turn in Mark’s story where he turns from showing Jesus as building up a following while preaching around in the north to showing us Jesus explaining to his followers the very serious consequences of following after him.  This is both a “pivot,” a “turn” in how the story is told and a pivot in the story itself as Jesus turns south and heads toward Jerusalem and the cross.

In the last few weeks we have considered Gospel lessons in which Jesus repeatedly reminds his disciples that just as he himself will face rejection, suffering and death – so will they. To be a part of the kingdom, they must deny themselves, take up their cross of suffering for others, and follow in Christ’s footsteps – wherever those footsteps might lead.  And the disciples have consistently failed to get it – as do we.

In part we all fail to get it because this is just difficult to get one’s mind around mentally, rationally, intellectually – but it’s more than that – for them and for us.  We also shy away from it spiritually.  We resist it emotionally. We push it away because it calls for sacrifices we are not always willing to make.  Like Harry Randall Truman, unwilling to walk away from his house in the face of certain death; we are often unwilling to part with those parts of our lives that are keeping us away from the fullness of life with God.

One of the reasons Jesus makes a list here; hand, foot, eye, etc. is that everybody’s different.  That which is of value to one means nothing to another.  The point is not the thing itself; the point is whether or not that thing becomes more important to you than God.

In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther commented on the First Commandment “you shall have no other gods,” by saying that the thing that we value and serve above all others is truly our God. That thing may be a good thing, an important thing; but if it is more important to us that God in Christ – then it is an idol and needs to be cut out of our lives for the sake of our souls. It could family, it could be a political or social cause, it could be the church; it could be, for clergy, one’s career in the church.  It doesn’t matter if it is an objective good in itself – if it gets in the way of our relationship with God in Christ it must be removed.

Well, like Jesus, I have been exaggerating a little bit. These things do no not so much need to be cut out as put in their appropriate place.  Family and church and career and social causes are all good and glorious things, but the issue is whether or not they bring us closer to God or drive us away from God.  If they are driving us away from God something needs to change, to be realigned in our lives.

It’s about our saltiness.  Jesus’ concluding image is an interesting one: “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it.” (Mark 9:50)  Salt preserves, salt gives flavor, salt gives live.  The salt of the Christian life is drawn from one’s relationship with God in Christ.  If something is getting in the way of that relationship, if something is causing us to “stumble.” in our walk along the Christian way; we will begin to lose that which makes us God’s people in the world, we will stop being the beacon of hope and love and holy fire that God made and intends us to be.

What is it that is getting in your way?  What is more important to you than following Jesus? What is causing you to trip and stagger, to stumble and occasionally fall?

What is getting in our way as a community of faith, as an assembly of those both called together around word and sacrament and sent out into the world to do the good works God has prepared for us to do?  What is causing us to lose our saltiness?  And do we have the will and the courage to cut it out, to put it in its place? Or will we, like Harry Randall Truman, sit in our house, stubbornly unwilling to give up some “thing” in exchange for everything?

Amen and amen.

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