Sermon by Andrew Linn 26.09.2021

Sermon by Andrew Linn 26.09.2021

Mark 9:38-50 

There can be times when reading the gospels where you are left wondering what is going on. Where it can be difficult to unpick the flow of the discussion. This passage from Mark’s account of the life of Jesus is one such passage

It goes from John telling Jesus he has reprimanded someone not of their group who was using the name of Jesus, to millstones round necks, to bodily mutilation and fire and salt. We can be left wondering what on earth is going on.

Well, when approaching such a passage, it is good to bear a few things in mind.  Firstly, what is the overall context – especially how have we got here? Secondly, who is involved – who is the audience? Thirdly, we should trust that this is not random and that either Jesus at the time or the author has brought these things together for a reason.

In this case, the immediate context is a discussion among the disciples about who was the greatest, to which Jesus lays out the path of servanthood as the path of greatness, using the example of a little child to point out that welcoming a little child is welcoming Jesus. It is at this point that John makes his statement about silencing this other person not in their group.

The people involved here are the disciples, rather than the crowd. This is a message for those, as it were, “inside” rather than “outside”; we might say those inside the church rather than those outside the church.

And finally, I do believe there is a theme running through this. It can perhaps be summarised as a message by Jesus to his followers saying don’t put barriers in place of other people coming to Jesus or working for Jesus rather do deal with the barriers in your own lives that can impact your relationship with Jesus and the work of the kingdom.

How do we see these in the passage?

Firstly, don’t put barriers between people and Jesus comes out of the context and the first part of the passage v38-42. The discussion about being the greatest is a partisan discussion. It is about being part of this elite group surrounding Jesus. It is about having worth or value or power because of who you are in this group. Hence the idea that someone outside of this group was doing miracles was not to be allowed. They are not part of the exclusive in-crowd, handpicked by Jesus himself, how dare they then claim the name of Jesus?

This is how the world works with the desire to be part of the right crowd. Near the influential people, if not at the pinnacle of that, be the influencer and hence have status and value.

How does anyone then enter this right crowd? Well, that depends on the group. Perhaps it is wearing the right clothes or having this right house, living in the right area. Going to the right schools or university – indeed going to university at all. Having the right politics or views or morals. There are so many things that it could be.

Sadly, we the church do the same sort of things.  We say: to be a true Christian you need to be part of our denomination or have our view on theology or do services in our way. We add secondary things to the gospel of Jesus and make them compulsory. In doing so we either say to others you are not doing things right and should stop and do it our way or put burdens and stumbling blocks in place with all these added bits.

 

To this Jesus says: no, the life of the disciple or apprentice to Jesus is not like that, this is not how the kingdom of God works. If people are for Jesus, then that is the critical factor, and for those coming into the faith, especially children, we should not burden them with extra rules.

The focus is Jesus himself and specifically Jesus as Christ, that is Messiah, that is saviour.                   As Jesus himself uses the title in v41. It is not a free-for-all, it is not about us allowing anything and everything, but it is about not putting barriers between people and Jesus and not looking down on other faithful believers in Jesus as saviour as they live out their faith as God has called them to. Being humbler about our ways, our traditions, our callings.

 

But if we are warned against putting barriers between people and Jesus with respect to others, Jesus takes a different approach when talking how we are to consider our own lives and we see that from v43-50

Now in looking at this we need to first go back to our context. Jesus is talking to the disciples, and hence to those who are, in a way, on the inside. What Jesus is saying here is about life as disciples and apprentices of Jesus, the life of the kingdom, not about how we become disciples of Jesus, how we enter the kingdom of God.

This is not a salvation by works. Any of these things, even taken to the extreme, do not earn salvation, that is by grace through trust in the work of Jesus. But as the people of the kingdom, as people seeking to live the way Jesus lived, we are to deal drastically, Jesus says, with sin and the things that can lead to sin.

Now there is no sense that this is to be taken literally but the extreme sense of the action of removing a limb or an eye shows how seriously Jesus thinks we should take sin. Indeed, the warning repeated three times is that people calling themselves Jesus’ disciples, who show no inclination to become like Jesus, will show themselves to be outside of the kingdom. Literally on the rubbish heap, cut off from God, in hell. On the one hand is the path of sin which is the path away from God; on the other there is the path of Jesus which rejects sin.

The range perhaps points to all areas of our lives. Eyes in what we look at and focus our attention on. Hands in what we do and get involved in. Feet in where we go.

But there is one more thing to note in this instruction. It is not the bad thing that is cut off, rather it is a good thing which could lead us into sin which is removed. Jesus is saying that we should be prepared to curtail what we do, regardless of what it is, if it will either draw us away from him or make that more likely.

There is nothing wrong with using the Internet or phones, but if our use technology increases temptation to sin, perhaps we need to think about when and how this is done. There is nothing wrong with meeting friends down the pub, but if that could increase a temptation to drunkenness, perhaps a café is better. It may be great to catch up with friends, but if that leads to a temptation for malicious gossip, perhaps we need to be a little careful about the topic of conversation or mix of friends.

If we are honest with ourselves, I am sure we all know of where we are prone to sin and to fall away from God and equally what circumstances make this more likely. To use Jesus’ final images in this passage we are to be purified by fire, allowing the dross to go and the worth of the Kingdom to come out and we are to be salty – preserved from decay and putrefaction. Linking this with the sermon on the mount where we are called to be salt and light it is being salty so, we as Jesus’ apprentices, can do the same for the world around.

This passage at first seems all over the place but Jesus is saying: don’t put barriers in place of other people coming to Jesus or working for Jesus and do deal with the barriers in your own lives that can impact your relationship with Jesus and the work of the kingdom.

Our example and guide? The one who removed all barriers between us and God through his death on the cross. The one who enables us, through the work of the Spirit in our lives to change, to deal with sin, to grow as apprentices to Jesus. It is Jesus himself.

As the writer of Hebrews says

“let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”