a priest's musings on the journey

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 21B - 01 October 2006

"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire." Mark 9:42-43

So, the annual lectionary sermon on hell. Granted it is not the main point of today's Gospel reaidng, but Jesus' words do get our attention, as I imagine they caught the attention of the 12. Let me back up a bit and put it in context. John had just complained to Jesus that someone was healing in Jesus' name who was not a member of thier group. Imagine it! A follower of Jesus complaining because someone different from them is also trying to follow Jesus by doing a good work. (I know you've never experienced that). Jesus' reply is that whoever is doing good in Jesus' name is really a part of his mission; they are all members of his team; "whoever is for us is not against us." Jesus said that all who are following him should be embraced and even rewarded for their acts.

Once again Mark is using a story to make the point that all are included in the household of God. No one is to be rejected or excluded. This time, however, Mark includes Jesus' teaching on the responsibilities that come with one's inclusion into God's family. Quite simply, because one has been loved and accepted, one is to accept and love others. Hatred, judgement and exclusion lead to serious consequences. Jesus said that would be better off for a person to hang a millstone around his neck and jump into the sea, than to cause another person to stumble- that is to hurt them or tempt them to sin (sin is, of course, the choices we make which lead us to reject God's inclusive love). Jesus goes on to say that if there are parts of oneself that place a stumbling block in one's own path- that disrupt your realtionships with God and others- then they should be dealt with, in order to save oneself from final torment in the fires of hell.

What exactly are the fires hell? The word translated hell here is actually the word Gehenna- that place in Ancient Israel where children were burnt on the altar in sacrifice. The unquenhable fire is the destructive fire that pride ignites in our soul, fueled by our sinful and selfish passions, that destroys our humanity, dignity, and connectedness to God and each other. The fires of hell are not torments that God creates to punish us; they are the torments that we create for ourselves when we reject God's Love, push others away, seek our own way and our own pleasures, and remove ourselves from the Source of Life and the Way of Love. The fires are hell are never quenched, because we have disconnected the conduit through which God's love and grace can flood our souls with the living water which nurtures our life in God.

This text concludes with a way to stay connected to God, and thus keep the fires of hell quenched. Jesus says that all "should have salt in themselves and be at peace with one another." Salt refers to the cultic sacrifice rituals. In Christ's community, we are called to sacrificial love and acceptance; we are called to season the life of the community by our own integrity and purity of heart; we are called to lives of unconditional love which embrace others, and lead to peace and goodwill.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:30 AM


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