Sunday, September 27, 2009

Because of the Name

This is the message I prepared to preach this morning at worship, was based on Mark 9:38-50:
38John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us." 39But 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. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For 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.

"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. 45And 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, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

"For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt 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."
Many things about the Christian faith are painful and irritating. We put up with it because of Jesus—because of the grace and mercy that comes from the good news Jesus has given his life for you! Because of Jesus, we put up with all kinds of confusion and irritation as we learn from our Lord.

What's painful and irritating and confusing?

For one thing, Jesus, the founder of the Christian faith--he exaggerates.

Cut off your hand?

Gouge out your eye?

What Jesus is talking about here is how serious it is when we do things that threaten God's love or God's reputation -- when we cause a scandal -- when we do something that might drive a wedge between ourselves and God -- or, even worse, between someone else and God. He really doesn't want us to cut or gouge -- just to listen and stop doing things that hurt that most precious relationship.

Any attitude, or any action, that makes someone think they aren't worth God's love, those things are huge problems. We need to pay a lot of attention to what we do, what we say, and how we care or don't care for those inside and outside the faith.

Still, it’s irritating, and sometimes I wish the words we read in scripture were more plain.

And speaking of that…

Another thing that's irritating is that Jesus didn't speak English. Why? Because you and I need to rely on Bible translators, and Bible translation is really hard work.
  • Sometimes there are words like "gehenna"--used by Jesus in the original Aramaic – it’s in verses 43, 45 and 47—the word “gehenna” is translated as "hell." The trouble is that as soon as we hear the word "hell" we think we know just what Jesus is talking about... the place where sinners will burn forever… but it's really not that simple. The word "gehenna" refers to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem--fires and worms were there in that dump... honestly, it’s not that simple in scripture—the idea that sinners will burn forever is taken from analogies, not from clear teachings of Christ.
  • And then there's the word "stumble" in verses 42, 43, 45 and 47--such a poor, weak word. The Greek original is "scandalize"... doing something or saying something, like I said, that endangers our relationship--or someone else's--relationship with God.
These things are irritating. Sometimes I wish I could get around it and preach in a way that takes away all ambiguity and makes things more comfortable and civilized…

But that’s not my job. The job of the preacher, and the job of anyone who follows Jesus, our job is to be like Jesus—that means that sometimes we will be irritating too, that we will stir things up, because the purpose of the irritation, the purpose of the pain God’s Word brings, is to stir us up, and to not let us just be satisfied with ourselves the way we are.

When we come to church, we should expect to be bothered. Bothered enough to examine our hearts and change our ways. And it’s all worth it, because, in the end, the one who bothers us most, Jesus Christ, he gives us his life for all of us bound for gehenna and hell—he gives his life for sinners—to bring them back to God, to bring them into a stirring and lively personal relationship with the God who made our bodies and our souls.

It’s important that we not just push aside things that we think are just bothersome. After all, some of those painful words come straight from our Lord. Our Lord does not want us, primarily, to be comforted—except by the cross and resurrection of our Lord.

I think this feeling of being set on edge by Jesus Christ and God’s Word is what Jesus is getting at in verse 49 where it says "Everyone will be salted with fire."
It’s painful when salt is pushed into a wound. God's Word is painful like that. It cuts and it bothers us. It doesn’t leave us in peace.
But it is so much better to be irritated by the Word than to be satisfied and lost in sin.
  • Jesus wants us to be “salted” with fire instead of being burned.
  • We're warned about losing our relationship with God instead of losing it.
  • We come and get preached at instead of being punished.
Back at verse 50 it says "Salt is good..." it's good to let the Word of God cut and convict... but then it says “If salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?”

We should never water down our preaching or lose the edge of our teaching!

That's why some of us are so angry about anything that takes the force out of God's commandments.

When we are convicted by our Lord, it’s good to let it burn... don't run from the pain... it's okay...

God's grace is enough for any sin... our Lord loves us enough, though, to point them out, to not let us just go on hurting ourselves and others... it can bring us to ruin... and if we think we're not needing a savior, that can lead us away from God.

The job of every Christian believer, is to lift up the Word of God and the Law of God, even when it hurts... to preach all the commandments... the ones about loving God above everything else... the ones that teach us how we ought to love and care about others... in so many details of our relationships... financial, sexual, in our attitudes and in our actions... and to not let people explain God's Law away.

We don't need to make ourselves look good in God's sight. God knows all the grimy details anyway. We can let the salt and fire and sword of God's word cut and burn.

As we allow the truth of God to work on our lives, little by little, we will come to the Cross of Jesus laying down our burdens.

We will learn to forgive as we have been forgiven. We will grow in grace, in faith, and in love.

But it does take awhile. It takes awhile to learn that the fire we're being salted with is for our good.

Jesus’ final word in our gospel is to have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

First we apply the salt of God’s Word to our own sin.

And that will keep us plenty busy.

As far as others go, and their attitudes, and their actions, it’s not our job to point out their faults.

We just let the Word of God do its job.

And mostly, that means bringing ourselves, and every sinner, to the cross of our Lord.

Yes, it’s irritating and painful to be confronted with God’s Word. But it’s all worth it because of Jesus name, for he died and rose again to bring love and forgiveness and hope to every sinner.

Including to me.

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