The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 21B (Sept. 27, 2015)

Lessons:Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 Psalm 19:7-14 (8) James 5:13-20 St. Mark 9:38-50 Semicontinuous Series: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 Psalm 124 (7)

Prayer of the Day: Generous God, your Son gave his life that we might come to peace with you. Give us a share of your Spirit, and in all we do empower us to bear the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

9:38 John said to him, “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. 43If 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. 47And 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.”

St. Mark 9:38-50 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Do No Harm

Hippocrates (460 b.c. – 370 b.c.) was an ancient Greek physician, regarded by many as the father of western Medicine, largely due to his work as the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine. The Hippocratic Oath, a mission statement of sorts for practicing physicians, continues still to inspire medical professionals today, and includes the phrase, "to abstain from doing harm" (ἐπὶ δηλήσει δὲ καὶ ἀδικίῃ εἴρξειν). When providing medical care to patients, physicians, at the very least, are to do nothing that harms them in any way.

In this week’s Gospel lesson, it appears that Jesus is commending a similar oath to us. Do not put a stumbling block before one of these little ones. Do not put a stumbling block in your own path. What’s more, he heightens our awareness of how important this is by declaring that those who violate this first oath would be better off to be thrown into the sea with a great millstone around their necks. Those who violate the second would be better off to mutilate themselves. When it comes to the influence we have on others, and when it comes to our own vulnerability to temptation, the rule seems to be, “do no harm.” (We ignore this rule at our own great peril.)

Jesus is not commending prophylactic amputation to us as a general rule, of course, but he calls us to embody the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all that we say and do. There are times when our bodies are used in service of our Lord, and become vehicles of healing and hope and faith. A warm embrace, a back rub, a smile, a helping hand, a kind word… these are among the many ways that we can use our bodies to be a blessing to someone else. But there are also times when any part of us could lead us into sin: causing us to pay too much attention to what tempts us, and too little attention to God.

So we turn to the one who teaches us in this lesson, and approach him for help. We turn to the font that contains his promise, and remember that as he was raised from the dead, so that which is dead in us can be raised. Rather than taking an axe to any body part that might become a source of temptation, we would be better off to sprinkle with water, as a reminder of what Christ has done for us. He has saved us from a terrible fate. By his grace he has both restored us to a right relationship with God, and empowered us to turn from sin. The first truth we learn from this morning’s Gospel is that there are terrible consequences to allowing sin to draw us away from God: no less that an eternity of pain; an eternity of separation from God.

The second truth is that our Lord has taken the first step, offering us the invitation into his eternal family. We are now invited to let him live through us, that our words and our deeds might be a loving response to his grace. In this week’s Gospel he gives us a glimpse of what that might look like. Specifically, it would mean the opposite of what is prohibited here. It would mean encouraging all those who work in Jesus’ name; helping little ones, or those young in faith, to believe in Christ; refraining from the kinds of sin that our hands or feet or eyes tempt us to consider. As these become the signs of our discipleship, we become signs for others of what God is doing in this world.

Our desire to grow in faith and faithfulness is based, in part, on the hope that others might come to glimpse in us the love of God that has transformed our lives — that we might become the salt that helps to season their lives. God has spoken to us. Let us now live in ways that echo those words, so that the whole world might come to know the faith that has shaped our lives. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What examples are there in the Bible of someone whose witness did more harm that good?
  2. Why did Jesus use such strong language to talk about sin?
  3. How does sin separate people from God?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What body parts cause me to sin?
  2. How have those sins put distance between me and God?
  3. When have I felt forgiven by Christ, and given a new start by forgiveness?