Sermon: Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018 Proper 21B
The Rev. John M. Atkins
Gospel of Mark 9:38-50
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons
in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not
following us.”  39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who
does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to
speak evil of me.  40 Whoever is not against us is for us.  41 For truly I
tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you
bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42 “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.  43 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. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it
off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and
to be thrown into hell.  47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear
it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye
than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,  48 where their
worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.  50 Salt is good; but if salt has
lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves,
and be at peace with one another.”

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Once again, a disciple of Jesus,
a member of his inner-circle, voices ignorance.
In Mark’s Gospel, the disciples remain clueless of the meaning of Jesus’
teachings throughout the very end.

John expresses concern that someone other than a disciple is exorcising evil out
of people in Jesus’ name. Jesus is taken aback.
With a little child still sitting on his lap,
Jesus looks at his disciples with frustration and disappointment.
He had just taught them, not only to care for those of lower status,
like children, but that God’s presence can be known in them – because
God so intimately identifies with those of lowly degree, or those on the
outside.
Jesus strictly tells John and the others
to leave the person alone.
If he or she is exorcising evil from this world, it is God at work.
This tells us to look for God working in the
world in unexpected ways and places.
Jesus continues his chastising lecture.
Jesus warns his disciples, both then
and now, that being a stumbling block has its consequences.
To trip up those with little status,
few resources, new to the community,
and those possessing inquiring or freshly budding faith
is detrimental to one’s soul.
Jesus speaks of Gehenna, translated hell.
Gehenna was a real place, a garbage dump just outside of Jerusalem,
a trash heap burning both night and day.
No matter your own personal idea of hell, Jesus used this imagery to
emphasize how destructive our behaviors can be
as well as the personal consequences of those behaviors.

Then Jesus talks about salt.
He desires his disciples to be effective in flavoring with peace the Christian
community as well as the world.
I think prayer is a key feature of our Christian responsibility to flavor.
The writer of James says: “Pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b).
As most of you know, we offer Healing Prayers 2 times a month at the
Sunday 10:30 Eucharist and weekly at the Wednesday 9:15 am Eucharist.
This practice is offered so that people may be released from whatever is
binding them in mind, body and spirit. And, prayer makes us more effective
witnesses of God’s grace.

Two questions come to mind from this reading from Mark’s Gospel:
Are we placing any stumbling blocks in the way of people coming to St.
Paul’s?
Are you and I stumbling blocks in any way to God’s grace, love and justice
to people society considers having little to no worth?
Questions like these are difficult to think about, especially right off the top
of our heads. So, I think it’s easier to invert the two questions:
How are we welcoming and including people in the life of St. Paul’s
Christian faith community?
How are we working outside of the church to create opportunities of
experiencing God’s welcome, grace, love and justice for people whom
society considers unworthy?

Judy Mitchell and the First Impression Count Team are examples for the rest of us
in welcoming and including people into the life of St. Paul’s.
Instead of gravitating to those we know, get out of your comfort-zone and
first go to those you don’t know or don’t know well.
Take the risk in reaching your hand to another.
We may live in a world with diminished interest and communication skills
because people are staring at their phones like zombies.
But not here. That behavior has no place in this community of faith.
We are invited by God to greet one another, listen to one another, get to
know and respect one another, and build relationships.
For it’s in relationships where God’s welcome, grace, love and justice
come alive.
On Friday evening I once again saw the
segment on CBS News,
Steve Hartman’s On the Road.
It highlighted a delivery man named Todd
living in Gresham, Oregon. Todd is 45 and autistic.
Todd is very proud to work as a delivery man, not just for the money,
but also to be in relationship daily with others.
He works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week,
and has done so for nearly 20 years and loves it.
And, the people of Gresham love Todd.

In fact, they recently honored him with a parade and a $54,000 bronze statue
of Todd, all given out of love and appreciation for a man making a
difference in their town.
When we share God’s grace, love and
justice, we, too, make positive differences in this world.
And, when we give others opportunities, then they can make significant
contributions to the health of this world, as well.
The Dakota Center’s mission is to provide
a safe community atmosphere engaging Dayton neighborhoods and people
of all ages in programs that educate the whole person – mind, body and
spirit. Simply put 6-decades ago by one of the founders: the mission is “to
fill the needy with good things”.
Sports, help with homework, food, senior resources – the Dakota Center is
hopping with positive activity. Our own Mike Miller is the current Director
of the Dakota Center.
Mike, the small staff, and volunteers are sharing God’s welcome, grace, love
and justice. They are planting seed of change in all lives coming through
the doors.
Our own YOUTH MISSION PROJECT TEAM
will host Trunk or Treat in the parking lot of the Dakota Center on Oct 20,
from 12-2 pm. You and I are invited to help with this activity for the
community.
How are we welcoming and including
people in the life of St. Paul’s Christian faith community?

How are we working outside of the church to create opportunities to experience
God’s welcome, grace, love and justice for people whom society considers
unworthy?
This is our Christian mission. This is our privilege.