Pentecost 19 – Sunday, September 30, 2018

September 30, 2018  

Mark 9:38-50

This is a tough text…
I don’t mean tough to figure out I mean tough to hear.
This text calls us to examine ourselves. This text calls us to look inside ourselves, to see our sin, and to make every effort to turn things around. And—we are called to do those things not necessarily for ourselves (although it might save us from a lifetime of suffering), but for others.
Jesus does not want us to become stumbling blocks for others. He doesn’t want us to get in the way of others who are trying to live as his followers.

The disciples saw someone “casting out demons” in the name of Jesus. The person doing the “casting out” wasn’t one of them, wasn’t a disciple. So they tried to stop him.
The disciples’ attempts to silence the man smack of arrogance. He wasn’t a member of their group—he was an outsider. He needed to be stopped.

There’s an ethical theory known as Cultural Relativism which teaches that moral decision-making is dependent upon our cultures. So, what might be morally correct in one culture could be morally incorrect in another. The goal of the theory it to teach both respect and tolerance.

Applied to today’s gospel reading, the theory would tell us:
The disciples have created their own cultural identity. Their culture tells them they have a certain knowledge of right and wrong. Their knowledge of right and wrong tells them: only they can cast out demons in Jesus’ name.

The other man thinks it is ok for him to cast out demons. No one knows how or why he believes he believes this. The theory says, whatever the roots of his belief, He can believe his actions are ok. He has that freedom.

According to the theory, what the disciples and the man casting our demons need to recognize is that they each have different moral beliefs on the subject of casting out demons, and then respect those different beliefs. Cultural Relativism calls them to co-exist, respecting their differences.

The problem with Cultural Relativism is exactly the point Jesus made to his disciples. Sometimes what we think is right, or what our culture or group tells us is right, is actually wrong! According to Jesus, the disciples were wrong in their thinking because their thinking led them to believe there is only one way to do things: their way. Which meant other people weren’t being given the chance to minister in the name of Jesus.

The disciples were being exclusive. They were being arrogant. They were becoming, in the language of Jesus, stumbling blocks.

The reason we are having a service of Corporate Confession and Forgiveness today is because of what Jesus tells the disciples to do. He tells them to stop calling other people out for what they are doing, and to look inside themselves. What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are they doing? If what they think, feel, do causes themselves or others to stumble, they need to cut it out.

Literally.
Stop it.

And so we are told to look inside ourselves. What are we thinking? What are we feeling? What are we doing? If what we think, what we feel, what we do causes us to stumble, and more importantly causes others to stumble, we need to cut it out.

Maybe, like the disciples, we think our way of doing things is the only way to do things.
Cut it out. Be open to new ways of thinking and new ways of doing. Our arrogance will kill us.

What Jesus offers the disciples, and what the gospel offers us by telling this story, is a new way of living. He offers, the gospel story provides a moral principle—a statement of belief we can base our decisions on.

Jesus believes “whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40).

Jesus is trying to expand the disciples’ vision of community.
May we, as we examine our hearts and minds and actions, expand our understandings of community. May we open ourselves to new ideas and new ways of doing.

None of us wants to be stumbling blocks.
We want to be loved and we want to be loving.
Thanks be to God, God does love us. And God forgives us our sin—even as God calls us to do and to be better.
Amen.