Sermon: XVIII Pentecost (21b)

Patrick Allen on October 5, 2012

XVIII Pentecost (21b)
Mk 9.38-50 
September 30, 2012
Fr. M. Dow Sanderson
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Well, dearly beloved… it seems as if the scriptures this morning… are aimed smack dab at the ministers of religion…
Which might lull you momentarily into a false sense of security…After all, preachers get to get in the pulpit and yack all the time about how the lay folk should be more faithful.  It would seem only fair for the shoe to be on the other foot.
Of course, I would like to remind you that the catechism instructs us that the ministers of the church are: Lay People, Bishops, priests, and deacons…
But truth in advertising laws require me to reveal… that these scriptures… today… really do seem most directed towards the vocational ministry.  Those that are in some sense called, set apart, ordained or commissioned.
And of all the vocations in the world… it would seem that those who serve in the name of God, dare to speak in the name of God, administer rites and rituals that are said to convey the love and grace of God…. that these servants of all servants would be humble, devout, fair, filled with compassion…
But that really would be the triumph of hope over experience!
Because it can be empirically proven… by the heavy evidence of much data… that vocational ministers are no more immune from pride, arrogance, stubbornness, and your garden variety sin than the rest of humanity.
And of course, there are various ways in which this is manifest.  We could probably do a good job of culling out the charlatans first….  The ones who don’t actually believe a word of what they preach.  Those who love the big arena… the jumbo tron… the hideously tastelessly appointed McMansion complete with air conditioned dog house… the mega ministry Six Flags-over-Jesus theme park and light show… the ministry Center complete with star bucks and credit union in the foyer.  
And then, of course, would come the intellectually arrogant… the scholars who are convinced that every thing that was ever taught, uttered, revealed, or otherwise held dear by the faithful was false, misguided, ignorant, or somehow shrouded in mystery… until of course…they wrote their book.  The first definitive thing on the subject of God ever recorded…and just coincidentally… it is now on sale… in hard cover or kindle… and it can be yours right now…if only you will kindly give your credit card number to
The Lutheran theologian Carl Braaten… who is a real hero for orthodoxy and has spent his entire life defending Christianity against all the isms that daily spew forth from the innovation factories that we call seminaries… was once asked the question:
If a trendy pastor decided that the old name for the Trinity was no longer politically correct, and chose to baptize a child instead in the name of the Parent, Child, and Spirit… would that baptism be valid.. and would the child be saved?
Dr. Braaten quickly replied:  the Child surely would be saved… It is the pastor who would go directly to hell!
As his friend and fellow Lutheran professor Robert Jensen put it:  A Church that is ashamed of the name of its God is a Church ashamed of its God.
No, the charlatans, even with their media empires and church-a-toriums are not the problem… they may seem to be successful… but they are just an unsustainable flash in the pan.  All trends are..well, trendy.
And the intellectual innovators aren’t that impressive either.  They will have their day in the sun and their hour on Oprah… but eventually, their books will be tossed in the rubbish bin with all the other silly heretics… 
But what about the rest of us?  The ones who really care…are totally committed… feel sincerely called… and have given every fiber of their being for the cause?  What about servants like… Moses, for example?
Lets be very Southern, shall we?
Moses…bless his heart…
He had had about enough belly aching…
He had actually had a fairly decent life… grew up in Pharaoh’s court, for goodness sake!  He could have lived out his days in luxury…
But no!  He was a fugitive… on account of his passion for these people…
And even that could have turned out OK… being married to Jethro’s daughter was kind of nice…tending the sheep…having a normal, quiet life… what’s wrong with that…?
But then God got all involved… what with that that burning bush incident… and after that, it had been utter chaos!
And these people he had been called on to lead!  They got on his last nerve!
Did I conceive these people? Did I bring them forth? Did I nurse them at my bosom?
Interesting, is it not, that the great Patriarch and Father of Israel should use exclusively as metaphors for being put upon, taken for granted, neglected and generally unappreciated…those of motherhood.
What does that tell us?
Poor Moses cared a great deal indeed.  But he didn’t think that he had anyone who cared as much as he did… basically, because he didn’t ask for help.  Really didn’t think anyone else was up to the job… and so instead of sharing the burden… he grew more and more resentful…
And resentment… just in case you might wonder… is not a healthy state from which to minister.
Turning the pages a bit… we pick up the Gospel for today.
And as President Reagan might have said… There they go again…
Those Dunderheaded disciples!
Why just a week ago, we caught them arguing about who was the greatest… and that… just as the words were leaving the lips of Jesus that he was headed to the cross!  Tactless…thoughtless…idiotic…and oh, so typical.
And in this morning’s Gospel… why, it is more of the same.
Teacher, we saw a man doing good things in your name but don’t worry… we made him stop.  He doesn’t have credentials like we do.
Moses needed help and wouldn’t ask… the disciples received help… and turned it away!
But you see,,, both are grounded in that same old disease Fr. Patrick reminded us of last Sunday… Pride.
And in response… Jesus offers a little hyperbole of his own.
Do you know what I mean by that?
Let’s just say you were a smart mouthed teenager… and lets just say you were anywhere on earth… just for conversation’s sake, lets say, LaGuardia Airport.
And just suppose you had been unspeakably disrespectful, to which your mother might have said…Boy, say that again and I will knock you under that bus!   
Now, of course… that is not really what she had in mind… she just wanted to make a point… that she was Mom and you were rude.
(And just for the record… I would not recommend in such circumstances to offer as reply:  I’d like to see you try…)
Jesus said: 
If your hand offends you, cut it off…it is better to enter heaven maimed than to be thrown into the smoldering burning worm infested garbage heap of Gehenna!
If you take the office of teacher and preacher and pastor and lead the little innocent ones astray… it is better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown head first into the sea!
If your eye causes you to sin… pluck it out of your head!
Wow, Jwsus. You have my attention now.  I thought you were meek… mild- mannered… kind and compassionate!
Well yes, He is those things… but He also speaks the truth because He IS the Truth.
And the office to which we are all called as the mobilized army of the baptized… is holy… and the task is sacred… and the only commitment that Jesus wants from us is a total commitment.
Half hearted and feeble is worse than nothing at all.
And once we commit…we need to realize that we stand on the shoulders of giants…. Those saints who came before us… they actually knew a thing or two… Generational arrogance is… well… arrogant.  We feebly struggle… they in Glory shine.
And once we are totally committed and also totally committed to the Truth and develop the appropriate allergies to innovation and silly novelties…
Then, we need finally to remember that the church is community.  There is no such thing as solo Christians.  Doing it all alone without asking for help is spiritually dangerous… and turning down help when it is offered is foolish…
Now two men, Eldad and Medad remained outside the Camp… and yet the Spirit fell on them too.  And they too prophesied.  And Joshua…said to Moses, My Lord, Forbid them!  But Moses said to him, Are you jealous?  Would to God that all the people were prophets.
Indeed, would to God that they were.