< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 27 September 2015

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

4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” 10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the LORD became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.” 16 So the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.” 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD‘s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

PSALM Psalm 104:27-35

27 There go the ships to and fro, and Leviathan, which you made for the sport of it.
28 All of them look to you to give them their food in due season.
29 You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
30 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
31 You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.
32 May the glory of the Lord endure forever; O Lord, rejoice in all your works.
33 You look at the earth and it trembles; you touch the mountains and they smoke.
34 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will praise my God while I have my being.
35May these words of mine please God.I will rejoice in the Lord.

SECOND READING James 5:12-20

12 Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. 13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. 19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

GOSPEL Mark 9:38-50

38 John said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, we saw someone 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, 48 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 season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”


There was once an ancient king who asked his three daughters how much they loved him. One daughter said she loved him more than all the gold in the world. One said she loved him more than all the diamonds in the world. The youngest daughter thought a moment then said that she loved him more than salt. The king wasn’t pleased with this answer and made everyone leave his presence. The cook, who was a wise man, overheard the conversation and decided the next day to prepare a good meal for the king, but left out the salt. The food was so bland that the king couldn’t eat it. But the king, being wise himself, thought about the answer his youngest daughter gave the day before and then understood what she meant. He was suddenly reminded about the value of salt. It doesn’t take a lot, but that small amount can make a huge difference.
In the ancient world salt was a valuable and scarce commodity. In some countries it was used as currency even into modern times. In the late 19th century, during an invasion of Ethiopia, Italian soldiers found blocks of salt stored in bank vaults along with other familiar forms of currency. In our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus wasn’t just teaching the disciples an important principle, He was also paying them a compliment when He called them salt. It was a message that let them know, that even though they were few, they could change the world. All it takes is one person, armed with the Gospel of peace, and thy have what they need to change the world. Telemachus did. His is a story of courage.
Telemachus was a monk who lived in the 5th century. He felt God saying to him, “Go to Rome.” He lived in a cloistered monastery, but in obedience to God’s call, he put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked why all the excitement and was told that this was the day that the gladiators would be fighting in the coliseum, the day of the games, the circus. He thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other, for enjoyment?” He ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar” and he thought, “this isn’t right.” He jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, and tried to stop them. The crowd became enraged and stoned the peacemaker to death.
When the Emperor of Rome, Honorius, heard about the monk, he declared him a Christian martyr and put an end to the games. Legend has it that the very last Gladiatorial game was the one in which Telemachus died.
Jesus said, “Have salt in yourselves – be at peace with each other.” Sometimes it seems we have gladiatorial games going on inside the church, inside our homes, at work. And these games have been going on for as long as we can remember! The question being asked is, who will be a Telemachus? Who will be the monk who jumps into the arena, sacrifices themselves, and brings peace? Peace can be made, but it sometimes comes at a heavy price. The question I’ve been asking myself is, why are we so often at odds with one another? Why don’t we have peace in our lives?
It’s hard to feel like you have any peace when the nightly news is filled with the conflict in Syria, the turmoil in Europe who are trying desperately trying to deal with a refugee crisis and here, on our side of the pond, the political fighting that has been the battle ground for determining who will be nominated to run for president. More locally we have fights over taxes as well as dealing with state and local budgets that can’t seem to meet the basic needs. We see clashes as a result of court rulings, disagreements between groups over what flags are being flown where, and over monuments commemorating events of the past. This is of course just to name a few. We have race struggles, class struggles, religious struggles and political struggles; the conflicts seem endless. But why? What is the reason for all the turmoil?
For one, we don’t have peace in our lives because we fight to protect our own turf. Here’s a good story: A man who was walking across a bridge and came upon another man standing right on the edge, about to plunge to his death. The first man shouted “Stop! Are you a Christian?” “Yes, as a matter of fact I am.” “Well so am I. Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “I’m Protestant,” “Well so am I. Are you Episcopal or Baptist?” “I’m Baptist.” “Wow… I am too. Are you Southern Baptist or American Baptist? “I’m Southern Baptist,” “Me too, that’s amazing! Are you original Southern Baptist or Southern Baptist reformed?” “I’m Southern Baptist reformed.” “I can’t believe it, so am I.” But tell me are you Reformed Southern Baptist of the reformation of 1879, or reformed Southern Baptist of the Reformation of 1915?” He answered, “Reformed Baptist, reformation of 1915.” To which the first man said, “Die you heretic,” and he pushed him off the bridge. Turf wars can be so petty. Jesus even had to deal with this kind of problem with His disciples.
One day as they are walking around the area of Capernaum, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, comes up to his master and gives a report. Teacher, he says, we were out among the people and we saw a man who is not one of us. He was driving out demons and he was doing this in your name. Now we know that he hasn’t been trained like we have. He’s not been chosen as we have, so we told him to stop. Basically, the disciples pushed the man off the bridge.
It’s obvious that the disciples expected to be congratulated. “Good for you!” they expected, “After all, we can’t let this Kingdom of God business get out of hand.” How little they understood where Jesus’ teachings would soon take them. They were the chosen people, the Jews, but soon the doors of Judaism would open to the world. Moses was sent by God to save the Jews from Egyptian bondage, but Jesus would soon save the world. The Jerusalem Temple was the house of God, but the Church around the world would soon house the Spirit of the Lord. Israel was God’s nation, but those borders would soon be gone and a new Holy Nation without borders would be established. History would soon replace the Priest in the Holy of Holies with the priesthood of all believers. The disciples wanted to protect their turf, maintain control, but Jesus had a better way. They were to be the facilitators not manipulators of a new kingdom. If others come along with gifts and talents, do not hinder them. In Jesus’ words, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Here is an interesting statistic. The Society of International Law, in London, observed that during the last 3,550 years of recorded history there have been only 268 years of peace. That means that since the beginning of recorded history, the entire world has been at peace less than eight percent of the time! What’s even more interesting is that during this time, in excess of 8000 peace treaties were made–and broken. That’s a lot of turf wars. Why don’t we have peace in our life? Because, at any cost, we fight to protect our turf and we fight to get the turf of the other fellow.
Second, we don’t have peace in our lives because we destroy the weak among us. But before we go any further, I want to look once again at our gospel lesson. At first glance it seems Jesus is covering several unrelated topics. There’s the disciples’ concern about the man, whom they don’t know, who is driving out demons. Jesus addresses those concerns. Then He instructs them not to cause little ones to sin. It would be better to be thrown into the lake tied to a millstone than to do such a thing, He warns. Then He tells His disciples to cut off their hand, foot or gouge out an eye if it causes them to sin. Better to be crippled or blind in this life than thrown into hell in the next. Finally, a forth idea is presented. Salt. Be like salt Jesus says, be at peace with one another.
These ideas seem thrown together, four sayings of Jesus cobbled together by Mark, unrelated to one another. But maybe not. It would not be unusual in first century Palestine to compile several sayings together onto a single document. Papyrus, the paper of the day, was expensive and every square inch was utilized. But let me suggest that there’s a relationship between these four images that Jesus presents. The relationship is found in the very last verse of chapter nine. In the command, “be at peace with one another.” Have salt Jesus says.
Be like salt: Preserve what is best. If others are working for the Kingdom, don’t stop them. He’s saying, don’t fight turf wars in my name. Those who follow Me and are weak, the children, the defenseless, the poor, protect them. Make sure that they too have peace in their lives. Have peace in your own life. Don’t let sin war among the members of your body. Be salt. Preserve what is good by being at peace. Peace! Peace between God and man and peace between one another. So this second teaching fits in nicely. Do not cause, Jesus says, one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble.
You’ve no doubt heard the poem “A Bag Of Tools” by Roy Sharpe: Isn’t it strange That princes and kings, And clowns that caper In sawdust rings, And common people Like you and me Are builders for eternity? Each is given a bag of tools, A shapeless mass, A book of rules; And each must make — Ere life has flown — A stumbling block Or a stepping stone. When you think about it, it’s a wonderful summary of the Gospel text. Each of us is given a bag of tools. And each of us must choose whether we will be a stumbling block, bringing sin into the lives of others, or a stepping stone bringing peace and holiness. Peacemaking is about stepping stones.
As I mentioned before, we don’t have peace in our lives because we fight hard to protect our own turf: Jesus, John said, we saw someone who isn’t one of us doing work in your name and we stopped him. We don’t have peace in our lives because we destroy the weak among us: Jesus all these children, poor people, sick, and widowed who are following you, we are keeping them away so we can get your work done. And third, we don’t have peace in our lives because we refuse to let go of that which destroys us.
How do you think we’re doing in the area of sin? Are we doing what Jesus commanded; that is, are we getting rid of those things which bring sin into our life? Consider that for a moment. Now how do you think God sees our efforts? For those of you familiar with photography, you know what time-lapse photography is.
Time-lapse photography compresses a series of events into single picture. Such a photo appeared in an issue of National Geographic. Taken from a Rocky Mountain peak during a heavy thunderstorm, the picture captured the brilliant lightning display that had taken place throughout the storm’s duration. The time-lapse technique created a fascinating, spaghetti-like web out of the individual bolts. This is how our sin presents itself before the eyes of God. Where we see only isolated or individual acts, God sees the overall web of our sinning. What might seem insignificant — even sporadic — to us, and passes with hardly a notice, creates a much more dramatic display from God’s panoramic viewpoint. The psalmist was right when he wrote, “Who can discern his own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.” (Psalm 19:12-13). In the 1st epistle of St. John we read, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleans us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9) So, how are we doing in the area of sin?
Have we had any victories lately? Have we listened to the Holy Spirit and allowed Him to guide us in all righteousness or have we experienced mostly failures, giving in to the temptations of this world? Jesus explained how we can experience victory: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better for you 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’s better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This is a difficult passage and leaves many to ask, what does Jesus really mean when He tells us to amputate our appendages or tear out an eye?
What Jesus is saying is that drastic sins call for drastic measures. We should be so intent on eradicating sin that we will cut out, remove, do away with, any stumbling block that causes us to sin. If someone is unable to control their addiction to pornography, cut off the internet connection. If we can’t control our spending habits, then cut up the credit cards. If we cannot live a chaste life end the relationship. If we can’t control our drinking, seek help and remove the temptation from our homes. Furthermore, we might even have to cut out some of our friends who are bad influences. Bad company corrupts good morals. Sin is radical and sometimes it must be dealt with in radical ways. Are we in turmoil because we refuse to remove those things that bring conflict to our lives? We need to cut it off! Shut it down! Turn it off! Say goodbye! We need to be instruments of peace, God’s peace and we can’t do that when our lives are in turmoil. Jesus said have salt in yourselves.
For those who have a knowledge of chemistry, you know that sodium is an extremely active element found naturally only in combined form; it always links itself to another element. Chlorine, on the other hand, is a poisonous gas that can stand by itself. Chlorine is what gives bleach its offensive odor. When sodium and chlorine are combined, the result is sodium chloride. And we know sodium chloride by its common name, salt. We all have it in our homes; plain ole table salt. The substance we use to preserve meat and bring out its flavor. The substance we use to add spice to meals. Let me give you something else to think about. Love and truth can be likened to sodium and chlorine. Love without truth is flighty, sometimes blind, willing to combine with various doctrines. On the other hand, truth by itself can be offensive, sometimes even poisonous. Spoken without love, it can turn people away from the gospel.
However, when truth and love are combined in an individual, a family, a group or even a church, then we become what Jesus called us to be, “the salt of the earth.” (Matt. 5:13-14) And as “salt of the earth, we’re able to preserve and bring out the beauty of our faith. A faith that proclaims peace between God and man and peace between each of us.

< back to Sermon archive