Stumbling Along, September 30, 2012

Title:Stumbling Along, September 30, 2012

We had 3 services today – 6 at 9am, 36 at 11am and 17 at Virginia Bowen’s home for Evening Prayer. 

This was an exquisite fall day – brilliant sun, moderate temperatures in the fall and the first hint of leaves turning, dying while other flowers were blooming:

Early fall leaves 09-30-2012

Fall Flowers

We celebrated the anniversary of Helmut and Susan Linne von Berg and the birthday of Roger Key coming up this week.

We continued with James and Mark in the readings. The bulletin is here.

As with earlier passages from Mark in July, August, this one is part of a series of passages concerning difficulties among the disciples. Some scholars these are a veiled reference to squabbles within the Christian community of Mark’s time, 50+ years after Christ’s death. 

In Mark 9:14-29, they try to cast out a demon from a boy, but are unable to do so because they forget one little detail: they forget to pray first. How could they forget such an important activity, one that acknowledges the source of the healing’s power? It may be that they were each trying to outdo one another in demonstrating their skills as exorcists and praying just slipped their minds. We do know that after this incident they quickly become embroiled in an argument over who is the greatest among them (9:33-37).

It certainly seems as if, in today’s passage from 9:38-50, the disciples have taken a step beyond allowing their self-centeredness to impede their own ministry. They have progressed to impeding the ministry of someone else. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not with us.”

The images of amputation of hands and feet and blinding of eyes are part of the exaggeration and desperation of Jesus to let them see a larger purpose. Jesus says not to stop someone who is doing good even if they’re not a member of your group, not to refuse the help of someone even if you don’t know whether they believe, and not to place stumbling blocks in way of anyone who is in need or vulnerable. The power of God cannot be contained based on human decisions.

Indeed, great damage is done to the gospel when Christians are preoccupied with infighting and self-righteous proclamations about others. Jesus returns the focus back to our own behaviors, the ways we speak and live good news, and the ways we place obstacles in the way of that good news. 

He concludes by saying, "be at peace with one another."

The sermon provides examples of stumbling blocks. "Our relationships with God are shaped by our relationships to one another. And our relationships with one another are shaped by our relationship to God. When we pray to God for someone else, we enter into a relationship with that person.  James says that if any among us are sick, we should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over us.  

"A stumbling block that we trip over in this society that values self-sufficiency and individualism, is to go it alone—maybe we lay awake at night praying for ourselves over some awful problem, and then the next day, when someone asks us how we are, we say “Oh, I’m fine,” not wanting to burden the other person with our problems. "

"James also says about prayer that we are to confess our sins to one another and to pray for one another, so that we may be healed.  "

The sermon concludes "To pray is to be in relationship with God. When we pray, God’s grace allows us to embrace the miraculous lives that each one of us has been given, to embrace one another, to love one another, to heal one another, to be salt for one another, and to be at peace with one another,  and as we pray to God for one another, we enter together into the immense beauty and peace and hospitality of the kingdom of God right here and right now, here in this place. 

Jesus concludes in Mark by saying, "be at peace with one another." 

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