Sermons 2006

"Hard Sayings and Sharp Words", Proper 21B, 1 October 2006, Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Home | "Light and Darkness", Christmas 2C, 31 December 2006, John 1:1-18 | Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2006 | "What then shall we do?", Advent 3C , 17 December 2006, Luke 3:7-18 | "Luke's Gospel", Advent 1C, 3 Dec 2006, Luke 21:25-31 | Which Jesus? Proper 29B 2006, 26 November 2006, John 18:33-37 | Apocalypticism and Fundamentalism, Proper 28B, 19 Nov 2006, Daniel12; Mark 13:14-23 | "The Widow's Mite: All and Everything", Proper 27B, 12 November 2006, Mark 12:38-44 | "The Commandments to love God, Neighbor, One Another" Proper 26B, 5 November 2006, Mark 12:28-34 | "Sight -- and Seeing" Proper 25B, 29 October 2006, Mark 10:46-52 | "Baptism: Overwhelming Washing", Proper 24B, 22 October 2006 Mark 10:35-45 | "God's Transforming Love", Proper 23B, 15 October 2006, Mark 10:17-31 | "Divorce", Proper 22B, 8 February 2006, Mark 10: 2-9 | "Hard Sayings and Sharp Words", Proper 21B, 1 October 2006, Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 | "First or Last?" Proper 20B, 24 September 2006, Mark 9:30-37 | "Unintended Consequences", Proper 19B, 17 September 2006, Mark 8:27-38 | "Ephphatha! Open up!" Proper 18B, 10 September 2006, Mark 7:31-37 | "Rituals", Proper 17B, 3 September 2006, Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 | "Choices." Proper 16B, 30 August 2006, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-25; John 6:60-69 | "Come to the Table." Proper 15B, 20 August 2006, John 6:53-59 | "Do not be afraid." Proper 12B, 30 July 2006, Mark6:45-52 | "General Convention and Jesus' Compassion", Proper 11B, 23 July 2006, Mark 6: 30-44 | "Basics for the Journey", Proper 10B, 16 July 2006, Mark 6:7-13 | "Jesus and Rejection", Proper 9B, 9 July 2006, Mark 6:1-6 | "Trust, Faith, and Belief" Proper 8B, 2 July 2006, Mark 5:22-43 | "Storms, Fear, and Faith" Proper 7B, 25 June 2006, Mark 4:35-41 | Mighty things from Small, Proper 6B, 18 June 2006, Mark 4:26-34 | Trinity, Pentecost 1, 11 June 2006, Exodus 3:1-6; John 3:1-16 | The King Jesus Fire-Baptized Holy Spirit Church, Pentecost , 4 June, Acts 2:1-11; Jn 20:19-23 | "That they may be one" General Convention 2006, Easter 7B 28 May 2006, John 5:9-15 | "Friends, friendship, and love" Easter 6B, 21 May 2006, John 15:9-17 | Mother's Day, two mothers' love!" Easter 5B, 14 April 2006, John 14:15-21 | "Interesting, this Good Shepherd!" Easter 4B, 7 May 2006, John 10:11-16 | "How do you prove you are alive?", Easter 3B, 30 April 2006, Luke 24:36b-48 | "Do you believe because...." Easter 2B, 23 April 2006, John 20:19-31 | "He goes before you to Galilee...." Easter B 2006, 16 April, Mark 16:1-8 | "Journey into darkness", Palm Sunday B, 9 April 2006. Mark 11:1-11, 14:32-15:47 | "Sir, we would see Jesus!" Lent 5B, 2 April 2006, John 12:20-33 | "Miracles and Faith, Ordinary and Not", Lent 4B 2006, 26 March 2006, John 6:4-15 | "Rage, Rampage, and Outrage", Lent 3B, 19 March 2006, John 2: 13-22 | "Images of the Cross", Lent 2B, 12 March 2006, Mark 8:31-38 | "Baptism, Temptation, Redemption," Lent 1B, 5 March 2005, Mark 1:9-13 | Ash Wednesday , 1 March 2006, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 | ""Nanny McPhee' and transfiguration", Epiphany Last B, Mark 9:2-9 | "Jesus, leprosy, and the law of Moses", Epiphany 6B, 12 February 2006, Mark 1:40-45 | "Healing, wholeness, forgiveness, and love", Epiphany 5B, 5 February 2006, Mark 1:29-39 | "Haints, Unclean spirits, and demons" Epiphany 4B, 22 January 2006, Mark 1:21-28 | Epiphany 3B, 22 January 2006, "God's Call -- and Our Response", Mark 1:14-20 | Epiphany 2B, 15 January 2006, "Call and Response", John 1:43-51 | Epiphany 1B, 8 January 2006, "The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours", Mark 1:7-11 | The Holy Name, 1 January 2006, Luke 2: 15-21

Proper 21B 2006 Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

What do we make of such a gospel passage as this one today, filled with hard sayings of Jesus? Here we are, focused on the God who loves us, and suddenly Jesus is lashing out at his disciples. Obviously he is angry at their obtuseness. Even after all the miracles, even after all the sitting down at the table with the outcasts and unclean of society, even after Jesus’s mission to the Gentiles of the Decapolis, they still don’t get it. Not a clue what Jesus is about. Not a clue about who he really is beyond the holy sounding titles that Peter occasionally uses to label Jesus.

I would like to think that those of us who know the rest of the story are different. We are, after all, the Easter people. We know that the Good News story never ends. But somehow these sharp words of Jesus stop us cold, with their stark images of being thrown into hell where the fire is never quenched.

”When people today hear Jesus' warning about hell, how many people seriously think they might end up there? According to a recent Harris poll, not too many. The survey found that while more than two-thirds of all Americans believe in hell, only 1% think they personally will go there. More than one-fourth think they will be reincarnated.” (1)

It is important at this point to try to make some differentiation between evil and sin. One can say that all evil is sinful, but not all sin is necessarily evil. Nazi Germany was evil with its notions of racial superiority and genocide. The terrorist destruction of the 3000 lives in the twin towers on 9 11 was evil. Murder, rape, and child abuse are evil. We know evil when we see it.

I have always understood sin as being directly related to anything that separates us from the love of God. But in this secular humanist world I suspect we are a little more tolerant of ordinary every day sinfulness than once we were.

We as a society are very focused on physical healing these days—or more accurately, physical relief from various ailments. Television commercials push medications that promise fast relief. Whether we have a headache, cold, toenail fungus, or a serious medical problem such as high cholesterol or asthma, there are over-the-counter or prescription medications that promise to make us feel better. Not only better, but better than their competition’s brand would. Whatever our ailment, the message is that something out there can fix us.

Sometimes, in focusing on relieving our physical pain, we fail to look at the cause of the problem. Why are we getting so many headaches -- and find ourselves snapping at members of our family, or find our shoulders constantly in pain from tension. Why is our cholesterol high? Could it be all of the fast food we’ve consumed in our refusal to take good care of our bodies, or the fact that we overeat in order to push aside the emotional pain we’re feeling?

It is estimated that over half of the physical ailments in our country are caused or exacerbated by emotional stress -- and spiritual stress. Anger can cause headaches. Envy can cause stomach upset. Gluttony can cause obesity. Sloth. Greed. Lust. Pride. They aren’t called the seven deadly sins for nothing. As we harbor these and other sins in our bodies, they often find ways of expressing themselves, no matter how hard we try to suppress them. (2)

In addition to these seven classical sins, there are modern ones – rather ones that have always been with us but which in more recent times we have recognized as sinfulness. Take exclusion and certain forms of intolerance, for example.

In our gospel for today, the disciples are very resentful that a man who is not one of their group casts out demons in Jesus' name. Other people not in the “in” group are learning about and celebrating Jesus without organized connection to the apostles. In our own time, fundamentalist sects, with what we view as their narrow approaches to Christian life and learning, are growing. "Master, what shall we do?" we ask. And Jesus says "He that is not against us is for us." Let them be. The matters of the kingdom are not issues of control and accreditation but faith and intention toward God. A cup of water in the name of Christ is enough. Jesus' response is generous, tolerant, and spacious; relaxed and optimistic; not restrictive and defensive.

Now Jesus' tolerance is not spineless. Mark immediately sets forth some of Jesus' hardest words. Allowing others their own witness does not mean "Anything goes." Judgments have to be made, not only of others but of our own faithfulness. As Saint James puts it, "Anyone, then who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it commits sin." (4:17)

These sharp words of Jesus in Mark 9 again use the metaphor of children. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin" would be better off drowned. Just think of what has happened to many of our little ones in recent years--the larger percentages below the poverty line, lacking good education, lacking health care, and so on and on.

We really know little about either heaven or hell, but this we do know, and this Jesus emphasizes: Making a faithful life, and caring for the world rather than adding to its misery is terribly serious business. Destroying either the Creation or a neighbor or being a stumbling block to one of these little ones is not good. Faithfulness demands that we cut it out, that we do what is right. (3)

Christians can be secure in God's grace, but they cannot be secure in treating the good of the community and the world flippantly. Christians are called to faithfulness, and this can be costly and demanding. But then Jesus never said it would be easy.


1. LectionAid, Proper 21B 2003,
2. LectionAid, Proper 21B 2006,
3. Gaylord Noyce, “Sharp Words”, SermonMall for Proper 21B

Wicomico Parish Church
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Wicomico Church, Virginia 22579