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St Mark 9:38-50

Pastor Dean M. Bell

Unknown Location  

Sun, Sep 27, 2009 

+In Nomine Iesu+

+In Nomine Iesu+

Pentecost 17

St Mark 9:38-50

27 September 2009

I don't know about you, but when I read today's Gospel I become very uneasy.  To describe this text as scary would not be an over statement.  Look at the language.  "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea."  And then there is talk of cutting off hands and feet; of plucking out eyes.  What are we to make of this?  And most important, what is the "sin" that is being spoken of here?


Perhaps we can provide some clarity right at the start.  Before God, what is the greatest sin?  Is the greatest sin something we do?  Murder, perhaps, or adultery?  Something like that?  Or, is there something prior?  Is there one primary sin from which all other sins flow?  In other words, is there one commandment that stands over all the others?  Here, I think, is the key.  One commandment does take priority over all the rest.  It is, as we might expect, the first.  "You shall have no other gods."  Remember how Martin Luther explained that commandment?  "We should fear, love and trust in God above all things."  So, what is the greatest sin?  It is unbelief - the lack of fear, love and trust in God above all things. 


And here we must stop for a moment.  Unbelief is not simply to doubt the existence of God.  Such thinking is but one possible facet.  To deny that God exists is to deny there is an ordered creation.  But unbelief goes far deeper than that.  Unbelief is the doubt - the fear, the suspicion, the reservation, the anxiety - the wondering if God will care for us.  That what He provides for us will not only be adequate, but best.  That all He gives us - all He sends us - will be for our benefit.  This is the greatest sin.  Not to doubt that God exists, but to doubt that He can be counted on.  Really, unbelief is a perverse form of faith.  It is a perverseness that believes we must provide for our self.  That we must ultimately believe in our self above all else.


Now we are in a position to begin considering the concept of 'sin' as it is presented here by Jesus.  What is He speaking of when He warns of causing "little ones who believe in me to sin?" Well, first of all, the "little ones" are not simply children.  They are all those who in innocent sincerity believe that Jesus is their Savior.  It isn't a matter of children over against adults.  It is all those who believe in Jesus with a child-like faith.  And what is the sin that is warned against?  To destroy that innocent faith.  To teach, or act, or live, or speak in a way that causes others - in the simple-ness of their faith - to doubt the promises of Jesus.  To teach, act, live, and speak in ways that cause others to turn from trust in God to trust in themselves.  The sin here is to cause doubt.  To cause others to leave the faith and thus deny God, thereby becoming - themselves - guilty of the First Commandment.


Secondly, this same admonition is directed toward us individually.  We are to be on guard that we do not deny the faith.  It isn't so much that with our hands, feet or eyes we do something wrong against our neighbor.  Such sins are addressed elsewhere.  Rather, we are warned that our own physical members can lead us into unbelief - lead us away from trust in the One True God who promises all good.


But there is something more here, too.  Hands and feet don't "cause" sin, do they?  "If your hand causes you to sin."  Rather, they become agents of sin.  They can become the agents of unbelief.  Our physical members can lead us away from God.  In the final analysis the cause of sin - the seat of sin - is the heart.  "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander."  Such sins are the fruit of unbelief?  Unbelief - doubt that God will provide what is best for us - unbelief causes us to take matters into our own hands.  It's as if we say that God cannot be trusted.  "God can't be counted on to take care of me, therefore I must take care of myself."  And that thinking becomes the underlying excuse for all manner of sin.


And if "hands, feet, eyes" are allowed to continue as agents of sin what results?  The forfeiting of eternal life.  Either God saves us completely, or not at all.  But if the heart remains unconverted how many hands and feet must be cut off so we will stop sinning?  Answer: all of them, and more.  That's what I mean when I say that either God saves us completely, or not at all.  Either God converts us completely, or not at all.  No amount of chopping up of hands or feet or eyes will overcome the sinful heart.  Conversion - Christianity - is a matter of the heart that exhibits itself in the hands, feet, and eyes as they live out life.


So, what do we do?  Cut out our heart in order to remove the source of the problem?  No.  Such only compounds the problem.  Cut out the heart and all hope ceases because life ceases.  Here we must depend upon the Great Physician.  Listen to His promise: "And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them.  I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh. . . . And they shall be My people, and I will be their God."  With the creation of a new heart, new directions are given to hands, and feet, and eyes.


There you have it.  Man creates the problem.  God provides the solution.  God provides for His people new hearts.  New hearts that direct hands, and feet, and eyes in new directions.  And that new heart you already have!  Right now!  You have this new heart!  It was implanted in you when you were baptized.  Some call it the "new birth."  Better, perhaps, is the idea of being born from above.  It is all a work of God.  A work that comes to you.  A work on your behalf from God.


Think of it in this way, when you were baptized Jesus took you up into His arms.  As St Paul describes it, you were baptized into the death of Jesus.  Now, Jesus holds you in His arms.  Jesus died with you in His arms.  He rose from the dead with you in His arms.  He ascended into heaven with you in His arms.  And now, He stands before God the Father - with you in His arms.  With Jesus, you have become the beloved Son - the beloved daughter - in whom God the Father is well pleased.


Perhaps now we can begin to understand the present tense reality of our baptism.  It isn't that we were baptized.  It is always that we are baptized.  And every day this baptism is meant to be a new dying to sin, and a new rising to life again.  Daily dying to sin.  Daily rising to new life.


Do this - when you wake up in the morning make the sign of the cross upon yourself.  The sign which Christ has given to you - the sign He has engraved upon you.  And with the sign of the cross, repeat the words of the invocation.  "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  That invocation, dear friends answers a very important question.  It answers the question: "Where am I?" Answer: you are in God.  Being in and under the name of God you are in and under God.  Or, to use St Paul's language, you are "hidden with Christ in God."  That's where you are.  That's your inheritance from Jesus.  Then confess the Apostles' Creed.  That answers another question: "Who is God?" Answer: He is the Father who created me, the Son who died for my salvation, the Holy Spirit who teaches me how to live and how to pray.  And then, pray the Lord's Prayer.  Again, a question is answered here.  "What does God do for me?" Answer: He makes me holy in His name - He incorporates me into His kingdom - He accomplishes His will for me - He provides for all my needs - He forgives me and helps me to forgive others - He never leads me into temptation - He will deliver me from the Evil One.  And then?  Then go about your day.  Reminded again of where you are, whose you are, and who takes care of you.


Finally, Jesus says, "everyone will be salted with fire."  There are two kinds of fire.  There is fire that destroys.  And there is fire that cleanses, makes perfect, preserves.  It is that second fire - that fire that is compared to salt - that Jesus gives.  This fire is the Holy Spirit.  You were salted with that Spirit in your baptism - for your preserving.  It's an on-going "salting," really.  You are salted again every time the words of absolution are directed to you.  You are preserved.  Salted again in the Lord's Supper.  More preserving.  Indeed, in the words of this sermon you are being salted.  Brought once again to believe that Jesus is for you.  That He continues to forgive you.  Here, Sunday after Sunday, you are being salted by Jesus in order that you may be preserved forever.


+orate pro invicem+

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