- The Rev. Robert P. TravisPentecost 18th Sunday Sermon – 8:00am and 10:30am Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TNRCL Proper 21 Year B 9/30/2012
Scripture Text: Esther 7:1-6,9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50Sermon Text:
I'm going to ask you to do something
a little difficult this morning,
I'm going to ask you to remember the end
of the gospel passage from last week,
so that we can have an entrance
into the Gospel passage for this week.
Do you remember it?
Ok, well, then I'll give it to you,
because honestly, when I was preparing this,
I had to look back at it myself to remember what Jesus said.
In the last verse in last week's Gospel, Jesus said
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Now there's a subtle second meaning in that verse that we often don't get, but it's necessary to what we're reading today.
In Aramaic, the language Jesus was speaking,
The word for child and the word for servant are the same.
So while clearly, taking a child in his arms while saying this,
he was pointing to children.
He is also pointing to welcoming other servants of Jesus.
That's why John, in today's Gospel,
seems to respond immediately in a way that,
if we did not know about what Jesus just said,
we might have missed in connection.
There's a greek word in there that's also not translated,
and basically it shows that John was asking Jesus a question,
“Teacher what about that guy
who was casting out demons in your name?
He's not one of us.
Shouldn't we have stopped him, as we tried to do?”
And Jesus tells him not to stop him,
that just because he doesn't yet belong
to the group of disciples,
doesn't mean he's not serving Jesus.
Indeed, without the faith of a disciple, he couldn't
do works of power in Jesus' name.
There was a time, not too long ago,
when we would not associate with certain people,
even though they were followers of Jesus,
because they weren't in our denomination,
or even just because they did not go to our church.
My mother-in-law, when she was a little girl,
was not allowed to play with the girl her age down the street,
just because that girl was Catholic
and her parents were protestant.
So we're not even a full generation away
from that kind of exclusivity, and distrust of other Christians,
but I'm thankful we seem to be moving away from that.
Jesus goes on to say,
that whoever gives you a even just a cup of water,
because you follow Christ, will be rewarded.
Now some of us might be inclined to jump right to
how we can offer basic needs to others,
and how important it is to do that,
and who we might serve with such basic needs.
And that does connect to Jesus' message,
later when he is exhorting his disciples “whatever you have done for the least of these you have done for me.”
But that is not what he is saying here.
He's talking about it going the other way,
about receiving kindness and love
from others for the sake of Jesus.
I struggled for much of the week with that issue,
and I realized I was struggling with it,
because in the effort to serve others in Jesus' name,
we can easily miss what point there is being one who receives
because of Jesus.
A while back I was visiting someone at the hospital,
and it was lunch time, so after my visit,
I went to the cafeteria, and picked out my food.
I got to the check out line,
I had money in my pocket and was ready to pay,
and this guy in front of me,
who I had never seen before,
said hey, let me buy you lunch.
I said, “really? Why?”
I had no idea who this guy was.
He just said, “you don't do what you do to get rich.”
I accepted, and was glad for the treat of a free lunch.
Now I could have refused,
and said something like,
“I don't need your charity.”
That would have been true,
I had the money to pay,
someone else could have used it more than I could.
But he was getting some reward from this little kindness,
and if I had refused him, he might have been insulted.
Worse yet, if I had refused him,
he might not have offered the next time,
when his heart went out to someone who really needed it.
Maybe that was the only good thing he did that day.
Whatever the reward was,
I believe he got more out of the gift than I did.
Remember the story of the woman who came to annoint Jesus before he was crucified,
and Judas criticized her for wasting that costly perfume on him rather than selling it and giving to the poor?
Imagine what would have happened,
if Jesus had rejected her gift,
as Judas suggested
and told her to go and sell it instead.
She probably would have been hurt,
Maybe she would have gone off and sinned as a result.
Jesus accepted her gift with gratitude,
and said it was a beautiful thing she had done.
In her giving to Jesus,
she probably received more benefit from it than he did,
but he did not hinder her in the giving.
Jesus did not put a stumbling block before her.
Have you ever thought that refusing someone's
loving offer, might actually cause them to stumble?
I never had before this week.
I always thought this passage referred to not causing
children to sin, or leading people away from Christ
with false teaching.
Maybe it does have to do with that,
but it also has to do
with giving and receiving loving kindness.
Anyone who gives generously knows,
that when we give, we receive more reward than
we think we have offered.
Now what would happen, if when we offer love,
no one would receive?
We don't seem to have a problem
in this parish,
with being the ones to offer a cup of water,
with being the ones to offer to serve others,
both inside and outside our parish.
We feed people,
we offer them a place to stay,
we offer a listening ear,
and a heartfelt prayer.
All of those and more that we do at Ascension
are wonderful things.
But sometimes we seem to be reluctant to accept
that cup of water when it is offered to us.
Perhaps that has to do with our serving hearts,
or perhaps it has something to do with
this ingrained American notion,
that as rugged individuals we should never
accept other's charity.
This message from Jesus gives us a different perspective.
When someone offers to care for us,
because we are connected to Christ,
either as members of their church,
or as Christians known to them,
and we refuse,
in a way, we prevent them from receiving the reward,
that they get from offering that ministry.
Now if you're rejecting someone's charity,
because they're offering it in a patronizing way,
or in some other way it is apparent
that their heart is not
in the right place,
that's one thing,
and maybe you're doing them a service,
by rejecting that misguided offer of help.
But I sense that in most cases people really want to help,
and so accepting their help is not only a benefit to you,
but gives them a rewarding experience as well.
This goes to another level when we consider the harmful
effects that our refusal of help can have.
When we isolate ourselves from each other,
so that we don't appear weak or needy,
we find ourselves all alone,
we can get into a dangerous pattern of negative self-talk,
that can lead us into deep depression or worse.
I've seen this happen personally,
and in a few cases within our church
just within the past few months.
In the Christian community
we should be known by our love,
by the love we offer to one another,
and by the vulnerability we have,
our willingness to receive love from each other as well.
That is the kind of community we are trying to encourage,
here at Church of the Ascension.
We have so many people who want to serve,
as Stephen Ministers,
as Eucharistic Visitors,
as Hospital and Home Visitors,
among many other ministries.
Can we out of respect and love for our brothers and sisters, accept their loving service as well?
When we welcome them and their love,
these children of God,
we welcome Jesus' love,
and when we welcome Jesus love,
we welcome God's love,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.