9-30-12 is Pentecost 18B

Guest Post by Pastor Don Carlson, Assistant to the BishopNumbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29- Murmuring motif.Psalm 19:7-14 – The law is perfect, pure, better than gold. The commandment of the LORD gives light to the eyes. (Ps. 19:8)

James 5:13-20 – Confession. Elders should pray and lay hands on the sick.

Mark 9:38-50 – Whoever is not against us is for us.

This week’s post will be more of a miscellanies collection – an “omnium gatherum” – of thoughts on the texts. But you never know when you might stumble across a “red thread.”

NUMBERS

Even after the “Scissors and Paste Subcommittee on Text Reduction” (founded by Thomas Jefferson) got done with the reading from Numbers 11, it’s still a long way to go for a short drink of something. The text is obviously selected to foreshadow (a term learned in English Lit. 101) the Gospel. Eldad and Medad foreshadow the “unauthorized exorcist” in Mark 9.

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“The Prophets” – Eldad and Medad, center; by John Singer Sargent, Boston Public Library.

And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

The young man sounds suspiciously like that kid on the playground who was always running and telling the teacher about someone. Even Joshua got into the act. (No punctuation in the original Greek text. Maybe it was “My lord! Moses!”) They seem to want to protect someone (The community? Moses?) from these ” presumptuous prophets”, but Moses will have none of it.

I suppose one way you could go with this text is that the spirit of the Lord will find whomever the spirit wants to find, wherever the spirit wants to find them. The truth is that it wasn’t Eldad and Medad that were presumptuous. It was the young man and Joshua; arrogantly presuming that they had some inside exclusive rights. (As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”)

And I suppose that the church has, at times, bought into such arrogance; presuming that it was “bringing God” to the” heathen”. (And, as history has taught us, the church – often in imperial robes – bringing “its God” often wasn’t very “good news” for the natives.) Well, the church may have been bringing “the good news about Jesus” but God was there and the Spirit was at work long before the church showed up.

What does this mean for us today? Maybe we should always be in discernment about what God is already and always “up to” in the communities around us, and then align ourselves with it for Jesus’ sake. Just a thought.

JAMES

Bonhoeffer’s words from Chapter 5 of Life Together are quite profound.

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Bonhoeffer with his confirmation class.

“Confess your faults one to another” (Jas. 5:16). He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.

God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner.

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(I just couldn’t resist. I confess. Mea culpa! Don.)

In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted.

Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power.”

A couple of things about this. First, as I said when preaching at a congregation a couple of weeks ago, “People are not looking for faith communities of ‘niceness;’ they are looking for faith communities of ‘newness’; communities that can bring new beginnings to their lives and the world around them.” (Loosely based on a thought from C.S. Lewis.) 12 step groups are helpful because they are about “newness,” not “niceness.” En vie sans masques!

Second, as I have preached many times, there is no such “thing” as forgiveness. Forgiveness is not a commodity. It does not exist except in relationships. It cannot exist in theory; it is always incarnate.

1197.jpgJesus says in John 20, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

Well, I don’t think Jesus was handing over control of the heavenly purse strings. (We know how the church has abusively run with that theory.) No, I think he was just saying how things are. If you forgive people they are forgiven. If you don’t, they’re not. It ain’t about heavenly theories, it’s about earthly realities. When we forgive the only thing we can give to the other is ourselves. We give community back to them.

MARK

I began one sermon on this text by saying, “Well, I noticed that most of you, like me, have both eyes, hands, and feet intact. What’s that about?” The irony was not lost.

It took me a long time – many years of sermons – to figure out how this text fits, or works, in Mark’s story. And so, yet another recap:

Jesus has now told his disciples twice that he is going to Jerusalem where he will face rejection, judgment, and crucifixion – and then will be raised from the dead. The disciples don’t get it. Jesus rebukes Peter when he objects to what Jesus has said. The disciples heatedly discuss which one of them is the greatest, and Jesus has to again get them back in line.

Then they stop someone from helping people in Jesus’ name because the guy wasn’t “one of them;” he wasn’t part of their “club.” (Even though they have failed to cast out a demon in Jesus’ name, so that had to hurt a bit.) Once more, Jesus has to get them to think about things differently. They’ve got to stop thinking about their prestige and position. And then comes that business about millstones, cutting things off, and plucking things out. And he wraps it up with a mysterious saying about salt. What’s that about? Here’s what I think.

Jesus begins his ministry in Mark by saying something like, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent! In this good news you can follow.” (“Believe in” is pistis. It isn’t mental or theoretical. It has connotations of fidelity, allegiance, and following.) And then, as I’ve said in previous weeks, the first half of Mark is filled with signs that, in Jesus, the kingdom is near. Multitudes are fed, storms are calmed, a dead girl is restored to life, a lame man walks, a man with a withered hand is healed, and a blind man’s sight is restored. (Compare these to the plucking and cutting list!)

The kingdom of God is at hand! And all these people that are healed are given their lives back. They have their relationships restored. Once healed, people are no longer labeled “unclean” and so they are no longer rejected by the community and looked down upon. With the kingdom at hand life is good and connected again!

But then comes the second half of Mark; what Paul Harvey would have called “the rest of the story.” Now there’s talk about denying self, picking up crosses, and going where Jesus is headed. Now there’s talk about being willing to become “unclean” and “rejected” for the sake of being about what the kingdom is about. That’s what the “cutting” and “plucking” is all about. To become maimed was to become unclean and rejected. Followers of Jesus should be willing to become unclean and disconnected so that other people – unconnected people – can experience the good news – the connectedness – of the kingdom of God. (“I have become all things to all people…”Paul. And, as I intimated last week, crucifixion is the ultimate uncleanliness, rejection, and disconnect.)

So, Jesus warned his disciples not to put a stumbling block in front of people who they or society might deem to be of little or no count. (See last week’s text.) And the Greek word for “stumbling block” is “scandalon” – a scandal. Don’t be an offense or a hindrance to people. Don’t be a scandal.

When we think of being a scandal or being scandalous we usually think of being improper or immoral; “not nice” to refer back to C.S. Lewis. Scandals, even scandals in the church, usually are thought of only in terms of sex, money, or political corruption. Scandalous behavior: ” With a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for pool.”

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Millstone in ancient Capernaum.

But I don’t think that’s what Jesus is after. Followers of Jesus are a scandal – followers of Jesus are a “stumbling block” – when they do not live the and prophecy the Gospel. Disciples scandalize people when they leave people on the outside; when people aren’t given some real incarnate gospel “newness.” If anyone, because of our desire to protect whatever it is that we want to protect – like the young man, Joshua, and the disciples….. Because of us, if anyone should believe that the love of God poured out in Christ Jesus is not for them – that is a scandal.

And so, finally comes the weird saying about salt. I think it’s based in Leviticus 2:13: “You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant of your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.” Salt was a precious commodity. (The Roman army was sometimes paid in salt; ergo, “salary“. And the adage, “They’re not worth their salt.”)

Salt? Jesus isn’t talking about savor; he’s talking about sacrifice. Jesus was saying to his disciples, “Have some salt – some willingness to sacrifice – among yourselves. Then you will be at peace with one another. Then maybe there will be no more arguments about who is the greatest. Then maybe you can be about the connectivity of the kingdom.”

OK. It got “red threadier” than I thought it would be. It’s my linear brain. Sorry!

Until next time, let’s be salt worthy.

Yours in Christ,Don Carlson, Assistant to Bishop Rinehart

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About michaelrinehart

Bishop of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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