Tear It Out

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Preached at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church – Tifton, Georgia

Mark 9:38-50

In Stan’s sermon last week,
he spoke on the biblical principle
of being willing
to lose,
to let go,
to give.

Like he said,
it’s usually in those moments—
whether we choose them
or they choose us—
that God is finally able
to do something with us:
to shape us, mold us,
and get into our lives.

When we act like we’ve got it all together,
like we’re self-sufficient,
like we don’t actually need anything,
God often can’t get a word in edge-wise.

So, last week,
Jesus took a child from the crowd,
held him close, and said,
“Folks, you need to be more like this.
Stop with the competition.
Stop with the one-upsmanship.
Stop taking advantage of one another.

“Instead, be small.
Be least.
Be unimportant.

“Let God be God,
and you’ll be surprised
what God can do.”

And pulling from Stan’s good word last week,
this is my first point for us today.
Our God is a generous God, a giving God.
Since before the beginning,
it has been in God’s nature to give.
But too often we cannot receive
because we cannot let go.

Jesus is saying,
“If you’re going to be my follower,
you’ve got to let go a little
and see what God is doing.”

*    *    *

I mention all of this from last week
because today’s Gospel reading
picks up right where we left off.

Same people.
Same place.
Same conversation.

As far as we know,
Jesus is still holding that child, [1]
and he has just said,
“Stop with the selfishness.
Stop with the politics and bravado.
Be more like this child.”

And yet—and yet!—John,
one of his key disciples,
pipes up and says,
“Teacher, we saw someone
casting out demons in your name,
and we tried to stop him,
because he was not following us.”

Again with the selfishness,
the resentment,
the trying to contain and control
the things of God.

Jesus looks at John,
and you know what he says?
He says, “Don’t stop him.
Whoever is not against us is for us.”

It would be as though one of you
came to me and said,
“Lonnie, you know what I heard?
I heard the Baptist church up the road
is growing, and growing fast!
What are we going to do about it?!”

You know what I would say?
I’d say, “Good! We’re not going to ‘do’ anything about it.
God is doing something good in our neighborhood.
Blessed be the name of the Lord!”

And this is my second point.
Our God is a generous and giving God,
but the more you try to control
where the blessings spill out next,
the less likely they are
to spill out of you.

We see this here with John being so worried
about rogue blessings happening “over there”
that he’s not even thinking about the blessings
that could be happening here.

Same thing in the Old Testament today.
Joshua gets so angry
when he sees blessings
pouring out of Eldad and Medad,
two guys who did not go to
the official blessings boot camp
Moses arranged for the 70 elders.

Joshua comes running to Moses
and says, “Moses, those guys
are prophesying like crazy over there,
but they weren’t at the meeting!
What are you going to do about it?!”

“Get a grip, Joshua,” Moses says.
“I wish this would happen to everyone!
I wish everyone in Israel
were this open and receptive
to allowing God to use them.”

Like Joshua and John,
we are so reliant on control,
so afraid of losing something,
that we forget the fact
that it is God who is in the business
of pouring out the blessings, not us.

Being angry that he’s doing it through others
just makes it less likely
that he’ll be able
to do it through us.

*    *    *

Finally, we get to the part in Jesus’ teaching today
where Jesus—still holding the child in his arms—
says, “Look. If y’all keep focusing only on yourselves,
you’re going to become a stumbling block
to the those who are like this little child.

“It would be better for you
to cut off your hand, your foot, your eye
than to keep going the way you are
and wind up in hell.”

Each time he makes reference to hell here,
he uses the word Gehenna.

By then, Gehenna was a commonplace word for “hell,”
but it was also the name of an actual place
with a ton of deep meanings and associations.

Gehenna was a valley outside of Jerusalem
where people had once made child sacrifices.
By the time of Jesus it was considered so accursed
that it was used only as the continually burning trash-heap
for everyone who lived in the city.
Not only was this the smoldering dump
where people threw their garbage;
it was also the place where the bodies of criminals
undeserving of a righteous burial were thrown. [2]

Knowing that,
you can see how it became
synonymous with hell.

It is as though Jesus is saying,
“Whatever it is inside you that makes you sinful and selfish,
whatever makes you manipulative, abusive, and controlling,
whatever makes you worry over scarcity,
whatever makes you doubt the goodness and enoughness of God . . .
tear it out and go throw it in the dump.
You don’t need it.”

There’s a word for this in the Christian life.
It’s called “repentance.”

Would that the so-called leaders
of our churches,
of our governments,
of our society
would hear and heed that message.

Turns out, the One who would one day
stand silent before Pilate
for something he didn’t even do
has no need of disciples
who bluster and bully
their way to the top.

And this is my final point.
Our God is a generous and giving God,
and if that’s the case,
then you and I are made
to be generous and giving, too.

In all things—
with our money,
with our love,
with our support,
with our friendship,
with our forbearance
with our forgiveness
with our grace—
in all things,
you and I have
a spiritual need to give.

Why? Because that’s what God is like,
and God has made us in his image.

Anything that gets in the way,
it’s time to tear it out
and let it go.

*    *    *

I do not have to tell you
that we live in a selfish world.
That’s not new news.
In fact, it’s very old news.
There’s nothing happening today
that hasn’t been going on
for generations and generations before.

But the very fact that it’s old news
gives all the more reason and need
for Good News.

So, what’s the Good News for us today?
What’s the grace?

The grace for us is that you and I
serve a generous, giving, good God . . .
a God who has made us in his image
and has created us to be generous and giving, too.

The moment we let go
of our own selfish ambitions and inclinations,
that same God is ready to pour
that same generous, giving, goodness
out through us
to a broken and wayward world.

Your God is ready.

Give up your control;
put yourself last;
and let God’s blessings pour forth.

Amen.

 

 

 

[1]Ruge-Jones, Philip. “Commentary on Mark 9:38-50.” Working Preacher.Luther Seminary. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3787. 28 Sept. 2018
[2]Barclay, William. The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark.Westminster John Knox: Louisville, 2001. 268-269.