Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron Pentecost 18. Proper 21 Year B. Mark 9:38-50
John 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.” 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.
“For everyone will be salted with fire. 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.”
“for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…
Good morning. Summer is over. I’m sorry, but it truly is. Did anybody out there have a great summer? Time spent at a cottage or on the beach? Maybe camping at one of the state parks… Perhaps you went to church camp, or boy scout camp, or to the boundary waters. Did anybody get a leach on them this summer? How about a tick? How about a mosquito bite?
Sorry for all of the audience participation, but our friends from Oklahoma came to visit this weekend. Alexis and Bella are here from Tulsa. Alexis is married to an Episcopal Priest and we were neighbors in Texas in seminary. Well, she told me yesterday that whenever an episcopal priest gets up to speak, something gets shut-off. She just stops listening. And although I was completely offended, I decided to accept the challenge.
I’ll bet that whatever you did this summer, you were near the water. Maybe you have been able to squeeze out a bit more of summer from this fall. It has been nice weather. I sure have stretched the summer this week. In fact yesterday i went fishing on Lake Michigan with one of our very own Grace folks. It was so wonderful to watch the sun rise over the dunes. To feel the wind cross the water and to watch as waves picked up and tossed us around… back and forth. To chat about the Great Lakes fishery and the water quality. Remembering the alewife beach problems of my childhood. Anybody remember those smells? Whew! I remember as a boy clearing a path among the alewife from our beach spot to the water moving those little fish out of the way to get to the cool lake. Like many smells, they help me to remember those scenes well.
Is there anybody that was here last Sunday for church? The Bishop was here. It was a wonderful day. We were able to host him and then continue to participate in the future of our local parish in a strategic doing session. One of the things that Bishop Hougland said in his sermon has stuck with me all week. In fact,I think it will always stick with me, forever. He mentioned the fact that our Diocese and our State has miles and miles of beachfront and miles and miles of waterfront. It was very powerful to hear him connect the significance of the largest sources of freshwater, In the world… with our baptism and the use and significance of water in the scriptures.
It changed how I fished this week. Yesterday I took our guests to the beach. Their first time to Lake Michigan. It changed how I saw the beach and the water and my thoughts as I watched the kids swim and play in the waves. As they immersed themselves and explored the shallow water and how they wanted to get out deeper. Deeper into the water over their heads. Into the water that was definitely… not… safe…
In the gospel today, I read something kind of scary. There is talk about hell and unquenchable fire. The text uses a violent example of cutting off your own hand or foot or gouging out your own eye if they cause you to stumble. I read a story about water. I read a story about water and baptism and how to care for one another.
The passage starts with the disciples talking about a group of people doing the same work that they are called to. The same work that Jesus is doing. The kind of work that brings freedom to all. They say to Jesus in their whiniest voices, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” This is so great. The author is intentionally poking fun at the disciples here because in the previous chapter he mentions that the disciples were not able to perform this exact task. I won’t spend any time talking about this little nugget, but you can see the irony of them rebuking these prophets that are not following the disciples.
And so Jesus gently helps them to see the importance of a universal moralism. He says, “Look guys, Goodness belongs to God. Healing and freedom belong to the Kingdom. Competition is not one of the fruits of the spirit. Those who dwell in the Kingdom are filled with ‘charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity’.”
He goes on to make his point with an example… He connects the prophets who are performing miracles and setting people free, with offering a cold drink of water to those who are thirsty.
This is the baptism connection: Through our baptismal covenant, we are called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself, and striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. For our purposes today, this translates as “Give a drink to those who are thirsty.” So simple, and at the same time, the most difficult thing for any of us.
The bad news is that Jesus then gives an example of a different kind of baptism. He starts by talking about a baptism of immersion… the kind of immersion via millstone. The kind of baptism that leads to suffering: our own and the suffering of those around us. He goes on to talk about a baptism of fire. A baptism of immersion of Hell on earth. A baptism of unquenchable fire. Powerful and extreme and provocative language. Offensive language that is meant to shock and repel.
The bishop’s mention of Lake Michigan and baptism and our local context will stick with me. But there is another recent image that will stick with me a as I think about baptism and sin and drowning. I think about the Syrian refugee… the three year old Aylan that drowned in the Mediterranean, seeking asylum from violence and war. A violence and war that he knew nothing about. A casualty of war because of the sins of the powerful around him. A refusal and an unwillingness of the world to treat each other with dignity and respect… an unwillingness to live inside the Kingdom of God.
I will not be able to forget that red shirt… the blue pants… the tiny shoes… And I wonder about millstones. I wonder who may need to wear one. I wonder how large mine is and if there is something I can do for penance. Something that can help usher in the Kingdom and keep me from any culpability.
Where can I find a glass of water to offer those who are thirsty? Where can I be the hands and feet of Jesus and bless all of those I encounter…
I’ll wrap up my sermon by telling you another quick story… I was on a boat this week. Maybe a boat like the boat Aylan was on. I usually fish with people I don’t know very well. I meet folks on an online fishing bulletin board that I have begged to ride along on their boats and fish for salmon and trout. The conversation at some point gets to vocation and work and I proudly tell them that I work for the Episcopal Church. This always leads to more conversations. Sometimes these folks see our time together as an opportunity to ask a priest all of the questions they have about God or to tell stories of harm that the Church has done. This week, one of the fishermen asked me this question, “So, Christian, what do you think about the Pope?” I was glad for the question because I happen to really like the pope. I REALLY like this pope. So I was able to share a couple of examples of how Francis has refused much of the power and esteem that goes with the position, and instead spends a large amount of time with those who have no power or agency. People that are ugly, and messy and broken. People who are down and out and homeless and helpless.
And then, the other fisherman says, “I haven’t been to church in over 20 years. But I like this guy. I heard he refused to live in the Pope Palace and instead lives in the servant’s apartment. I heard that in Washington, he ate with homeless people instead of eating with Senators and political big-wigs. He seems different from most of the church people that I’ve met. He seems like a guy I can follow”
Ughh! This was both a millstone for me as well as a glass of water. While I don’t need to take on all the responsibility for the hurt and pain of this fisherman’s religious past, there is still some personal pain when somebody feels damaged and hurt by the Church. The Church of which I belong. The one Church of Jesus Christ. And, I feel like he offered me a glass of cold water and an outside perspective of the Church. He gave me a little nugget of the work that we have to do.
While I don’t really believe that Jesus has made a millstone for you or for me, it is helpful for me to think about the water that I offer to those who are thirsty as a way to chip away at that granite stone.
I’ll finish with this quote from Pope Francis that makes me glad to be a part of a parish that gets dirty…
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Pope Francis
May we continue to seek to put the needs of “the other” over our own and to seek areas in in the life of our Church our personal lives that we still need to chip away at our millstones.