Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 28, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 9: 38-43,45,47-48 
Sermon: "Discipleship Means Commitment"

The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Gospel:

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." 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.  Whoever is not against us is for us.  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.  "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. If 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.  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.  And 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, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Mark 9: 38-43,45,47-48 


Discipleship Means Commitment

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 28, 2003

A chicken and a pig were two companions on the road. They had started on their journey early in the day. As they were walking down the road they saw a sign that said, Momma's Home Cooking, one quarter mile ahead, specialty of the day, ham and eggs, $1.99. 

The chicken turned to the pig and said, "Boy, I sure am hungry. What do you say we stop and eat at this restaurant? The price is right. I could go for that ham and eggs." 

The pig replied, "Naw, I'm not hungry. When we get there let's keep going." The chicken didn't reply and so the two companions continued on their journey. A ways further down the road they saw another sign for Momma's restaurant. This one read, Momma's Down Home Cooking only two hundred yards ahead around the bend. Specialty of the day, Ham and eggs, $1.99. 

The chicken turned to the pig and said, "I am really hungry now. That restaurant is real close. Let's stop and get some breakfast. You have to be hungry by now." 

The pig replied, "I am not hungry and 1 told you 1 don't want to eat at Momma's." The chicken didn't reply but she ruffled her feathers a bit and started to sulk. While she was sulking they came around the bend and saw Momma's restaurant in front of them. Over the door was a sign that read, Momma's Restaurant. Best Home Cooking Around. Special of the Day Ham and Eggs, $1.99. 

The chicken turned to the pig and cried, "Look, I have got to have something to eat. I am famished. Everyone knows the food here is great and I love ham and eggs." 

The pig just looked at the chicken and said, “I’m not hungry.

The chicken nearly exploded with frustration. I am hungry and I want you to give me just one good reason for not eating some ham and eggs here at Momma's", she said. 

The pig looked the chicken in the eye and said, "Look, for you ham and eggs is a contribution; for me it's whole hog commitment." 

Today's lesson concerning the amputation of body parts is not an easy one for Christians, for us, to hear. We don't like hearing words of plucking eyes or cutting off hands. We don't like the possibility of being condemned to hell. We don't like these sayings because we tend to take these sayings somewhat literally. We try to understand them in legalistic terms. If a part of me sins then it is condemned forever. Therefore, in order for me to have a chance at eternal life in heaven I have to remove the offending body part. I tell you if we go out on the street with that idea we won't have to worry about full pews in this church for some time. Can you imagine telling someone this story? Yes, I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is Lord. I believe Jesus loves me and takes care of me. The person you are talking to says, “Well, What happened to your hand, your foot and your eye?” “Oh, I committed a sin with those parts of my body and the church made me cut them off.” The pews will be full the next Sunday. 

All right, so the stories are not meant to be taken literally. So what do they actually mean? The stories are to be understood metaphorically. The people to whom Jesus was speaking would have understood the references a little more clearly than us. Most of the people to whom Jesus was speaking were farmers. The injuries to hands, feet and eyes were the kinds of injuries farmers incurred frequently. So they would not have flinched at the type of injury. Also, by the time of Jesus, the idea of losing an offensive body part in order to prevent one's self from falling into sin was a common type of proverbial saying. Not only did proverbs and sayings exist of this type, but stories were also written with this underlying thought. The entire story of Oedipus is an example. Oedipus removes his own eyes rather than look at the children he had through his own mother. Jesus' audience would have fully understood these sayings at metaphors. 

So what are the sayings speaking of metaphorically? They are talking about one's level of commitment. The people to whom Jesus is talking are his disciples. Jesus is talking to people who have agreed and want to follow him. To follow Jesus means to follow God and not the ways of the world. The disciples are to forego all sinful desires and follow Jesus. These metaphors explain to the disciples just how serious sin really is. I guess one can say Jesus is asking them, "Just what do you believe? Do you believe in me as the Messiah? Do you believe in my way or do you believe in the ways of the world?" 

I would guess the disciples found it easy to respond to themselves, "Lord, we believe in you." Yet, Judas would betray him. Peter would deny him. The other disciples would scatter on the night Jesus was arrested. In fact, none of the twelve followed his body to the tomb or went back on the third morning. They would not go to the tomb until after the women told them he had risen. 

Well, how do we fare today? What do we believe about our discipleship to Jesus? It is easy to stay committed when the times are easy. It is easy to say, "Yes, Lord, I believe," when we are not asked to do anything particular at the moment. How about when the times are tough? What do we believe when we are asked to do something we really don't want to do? How do we respond when we are asked if we believe in Jesus Christ when society seems to be turning the other way? The real question for us is: Is following Jesus Christ the most important thing in our lives? Or does something else take its place when being a Christian is not convenient? 

Jesus calls us to a radical faith in God. I don't mean radical as in being crazy. Radical in this context means something different. That it turns the world's understanding of life upside down. Jesus is calling us to a radical faith in God. Jesus wants us to care for the sick and lonely. Jesus asks us to feed the poor, from our own tables if necessary. Jesus calls us to love our enemies when the world says destroy them. Jesus says the greatest gift we can give is to give our lives for the sake of another. These are radical ideas for this world. 

By ourselves we could not hope to attain them. However, with God all things are possible. Jesus has set the example. He cured the sick. He fed the hungry. He offered his life for us. Furthermore, he taught the twelve how to do the same. Yes, they scattered at first, but eventually, they did start to get it right. I'm sure they were not perfect, but they believed. Jesus is calling us to do the same. We may not always get it right. Sometimes we may falter. Jesus calls us to that radical belief in God. As we attempt to follow there will be those times when our belief will shine through. There will be those times when we will get it right. At those times we can say, Thank you, Lord. When we falter we can simply say, Help me, Lord, to do better the next time. 

AMEN


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