Pentecost 1918 – “Serving Under the Name of Jesus!” Mark 9:38-50

Pentecost 1918 – “Serving Under the Name of Jesus!” Mark 9:38-50

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

The text for our sermon meditation is taken from the Gospel account of St Mark, the 9th Chapter:

42“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Each of the lessons from Scripture refer to serving the Lord. In serving there is the burden of leadership defined by Moses leading the Children of Israel out of captivity in Egypt. In serving there is the attitude of concern for the neighbor and fellow believer addressed by James in his epistle to the believers in exile for their faith in Jesus. In serving there is the condition of the servant’s heart addressed by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel account. The collect prayed earlier reinforces each of these points as we prayed for the Holy Spirit’s guidance to fulfill the work God prepared for His servants in Christ. We consider what it means to serve under the name of Jesus Christ.

It is well to begin where serving the Lord finds it beginning. Our Lord teaches his disciples by way of a lesson that boarders on being quite ludicrous. He says that if your hand or foot causes you to sin you are to cut it off. To this Jesus adds if your eye causes you to sin pluck it out. These instructions for self-injury are at first glance extreme. Remove the offending body part when caught committing some sin.

If this were to be the case then we would all be crippled and maimed by the age of five or six. We would not be able to see clearly, walk without a cane or crutches, or feed ourselves with our hands. Eyes would be missing. Feet would be gone and hands would be removed. You would eventually have to slice away every part of your body. We would not be able to properly serve one another as God would have us do.

There must be something else that Jesus teaches with these words. Indeed there is something else. Consider your eyes, your hands and your feet. To what are these attached? Do they move independently by themselves? Do they have their own minds? Are they controlling or are they controlled?

A marionette is a puppet with movable limbs controlled by the puppet master. The marionette is controlled by strings which move the limbs. The puppet master pulls the strings and the marionette does only what the puppet master allows.

We are not marionettes, but we are controlled by something. Certainly you know the many parts of your body are controlled by the heart and mind. Eyes, hands and feet are but the tools by which your heart and mind pursue the wants and needs of the body. If you pluck out one eye there is still one eye left. If you cut off one hand, there is still one hand left.  If you cut off one foot there is still one foot left. Where will you look, to what will you set your hand and where will you walk on your foot that will not lead you astray? Jesus is addressing the sinner’s heart and mind.

First the sinner must be led to recognize where sinful pride might lead them. Jesus uncovers the sinful pride of His disciples when he responds to John. John speaks of stopping a man who cast out demons in Jesus’ name but did not walk with the disciples. Notice John’s words which reveal John’s error in understanding his relationship with Jesus. John believes that only those closely associated with Jesus are able to rightly use Jesus’ name.  John fails to see that the right use of Jesus’ name by those who were not part of the group still works to the will and purpose of God.

So it is with Joshua who encourages Moses to silence Eldad and Medad. 70 men were chosen to give assistance to Moses in leading Israel out of captivity. They gathered together at the Tabernacle. God put His Spirit upon them and they began to prophesy. Eldad and Medad were not at this meeting, yet they too were given the Spirit of God. They too began prophesying in the camp.

As God’s people we are called to certain tasks and work that need to be accomplished. To this end we have received the Spirit of God in Baptism. Through the indwelling of God’s Spirit we are given strength and wisdom to work on God’s behalf. That strength is given us in the name of Jesus Christ. God gave us this name and engraved it upon our lives when the cleansing water of Holy Baptism was poured out on us. Along with that water the Word of God was spoken into our hearts and minds to produce the good works God desires of us.

Like John and Joshua, we sometimes fail to realize the importance of work that is done, or needs to be done.  We do not recognize the importance of even the smallest task we are given. It may not seem important, but God deems it important. In every instance there is one result that God sees. That result is how we put His gift of faith into practice. Have we built up one another, or left one another behind. Have we joined with the members of our parish to support our mission and work? Or have we misused our eyes, hands and feet for prideful gain.

Sinful pride and God’s grace never live together in one place. Sinful pride always seeks to push aside the grace of God that bought the sinner and gave new life. Dr Luther learned this truth and spoke this truth when he taught what truly happens in Baptism. In the Fourth Part of his teaching on Baptism, Dr Luther writes this for our edification.

 What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

This is how we address the instruction from Jesus to remove the offending eye, foot or hand. Recognize that our actions flow from the condition of the heart. Believe there is a battle raging within us between what we were as impenitent sinners and what we are as redeemed children of God. While we walk this earth we will daily be influenced by the world and our sinful desires, or by the Spirit of God who guards our faith and life. This influence will be revealed in how we use the gifts which God gives.

So each day we are to begin in humble contrition before God. We plead God’s mercy and seek His strength to live in faithful obedience to His will. We ask God to use our hands, eyes, feet, mouths, indeed our whole body and life to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever we have we acknowledge it comes from the hand of God. Therefore we are but stewards of these gifts from God. We use them to serve the Lord and show mercy to our neighbor.

We will sing words in a few moments that embrace this truth and reinforce this truth in our heart and mind.

Take my hands and let them move

At the impulse of Thy love;

Take my feet and let them be

Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Jesus speaks of the service given as seeming insignificant as giving a drink of water. Jesus says if this is done in His name there is great reward. It is not the giving of the drink that earns the reward. Rather it is from where the gift of water flows. The believer who seeks to meet the need of his or her neighbor does so because of faith in Jesus Christ.

So we speak now of the fruit of faith. These are the works which God accomplishes in us and through us. Instead of being self-serving we now live in a Christ-serving manner. Our Lord clearly speaks of this new way of life as he warns against misleading others to make a shipwreck of their faith and lives. Hear Jesus words.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

What we say and how we act goes a long way to encouraging faith or hindering faith. For this reason you are encouraged to gather for worship each week and to attend the study of God’s Word. It is at these times set aside for worship and study that we build on the foundation laid for us in Holy Baptism. Each week a meal is provided for you here in God’s house. The meal that is served is the Bread of Heaven and the Water of Life. This is God’s grace and mercy placed before you to increase your faith and strengthen your witness to Jesus Christ.

To this end Jesus speaks of everyone being “salted with fire, and every sacrifice being salted with salt.” In the Old Testament the sacrifices brought into the Tabernacle or the Temple were salted. Grain and meat were salted to purify them and keep them from spoiling. The fire which Jesus speaks is the purifying and preserving presence of the Holy Spirit. You have been purified and preserved from the corruption of death to serve the Lord and bring into His house the sacrifices and offerings appropriate for the people of God.

Those sacrifices and offerings are certainly the pledges you will place on the Lord’s altar today.  You return to the Lord a regular offering of all you receive from His hand.  More than that you show your faith in the God who redeemed you with the blood bought sacrifice of His only Son who gave all that you might have all.

Moreover, Paul also calls upon us to show our lives as living sacrifices now that we are cleansed and set apart by God. Paul writes in his epistle to the Roman Christians these words. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1,2 ESV

Hindrances to faith come in many ways. You may have coworkers, friends or family members who are unbelievers. They may encourage you to do and say things that you know are wrong. How are you to handle such situations? You are to separate yourself from their influence. Such choices are difficult because of the relationship you have with these people. Yet, try as you might to bring them into the faith, separation will have greater effect on them than if you continue to be in contact with them. The danger for you is that you will conform to their influence rather than they conform to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Salted with the Holy Spirit and Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are led to discern what is good and acceptable to God. Repentance and faith flow from this salting. Salvation and eternal life are the rewards of serving under the name of Jesus. Those salted with the Gospel live these words.

Take my will and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine;

Take my heart, it is Thine own,

It shall be Thy royal throne.

 

Take my love, my Lord, I pour

At Thy feet its treasure store;

Take myself, and I will be

Ever, only, all for Thee.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.