BP21 MK 09.38-50 Welcoming Strangers and Little Ones a sermon by Dr. Ted Coleman, Atlanta, GA 30328 CLCM 09.27.15 www.advchr.biz copyright c2015 Theodore H. Coleman. All rights reserved. May be reproduced or copied for personal use or for preaching purposes. All other reproduction rights reserved except by written permission of the copyright holder.
Grace to you and peace from the Lord Jesus Christ, the risen Son of the Holy Father, who long ago sent us the Holy Spirit to tell us about new life with God. When a person feels that he or she is in need of help, this person often says, I need all the help I can get! This applies to Jesus. Think of the magnitude of his task: Win the souls of 4 billion people generation after generation, and wipe out all the injustice, poverty, and human misery.
What one person or organization could accomplish the salvation of the world, generation after generation?
In our gospel text today Jesus approves of the help he is getting from a non-follower, a stranger who is not yet a Christian. This person is driving demons out of sick people by the use of Jesus’ name and making them healthy. Jesus says to his disciples, the person who is not against us is for us. To do his big job, Jesus needs the help of everyone, strangers, non-Christians, disciples, and little ones. The needs are so great that non-Christian help is needed.
Part of Jesus’ big job is changing the unhealthy attitudes of his disciples. Last week, in the passage right before this one in Mark 9, Mark showed us the disciples discussing which one of them was the greatest. Who is the top dog in this outfit? they were saying. The disciples desire glory, honor, and high status. They think highly of themselves. Indeed, the disciples think more highly of themselves than they do of Jesus Messiah, the one who selected them to be with him as his followers. Why don’t we just take down Jesus’ name from the church, and put up our own names instead of his?
The disciples want to be first, first in high status, first in glory, first in authority, first in honor.
Yet to be first in the kingdom of God, says Jesus, is to be the last, to be the least of all, to be the servant of all.
In this section of Mark’s Gospel, notice how the disciples delegate to themselves the authority to use Jesus’ name for healing purposes. Notice how the disciples delegate to themselves the authority as gatekeepers to determine who gets access to Jesus for a blessing. And they decide to keep children and little ones out! John Zebedee’s complaint about the strange man casting out demons in Jesus’ name is that he was not following us. (9.38).
Although Jesus changes the us of John to my name and me, the point is that the disciples, who had themselves just failed to cast out a demon (9.14-29), now want to stop a successful healer mainly because he was not part of their group. They want him stopped because he was a stranger, and they didn’t like strangers.
Do not forbid him, said Jesus. We see a contrast here between the spirit of John Zebedee and Jesus. John Zebedee has a sectarian view of the Gospel and the Christian enterprise. Only Lutherans are good enough to do the work of the gospel. Or, only Baptists, or only Catholics are good enough. Do you know that spirit? Have you seen it in action? We are gatekeepers to Jesus, aren’t we?
Jesus, however, feels differently. Jesus ordered John Zebedee not to forbid the man’s good work of healing. Jesus is not afraid of competition. Jesus is here to get as much work done for God as possible, regardless of who does it, whether it is official or non-official. There are only two possible positions to be taken: for Jesus or against Jesus.
Who are the little people here? People who are weak or who are disenfranchised, people cut off from the sources of political and economic power, people perhaps like the stranger casting out demons, and people like the divorced wife in chapter 10.
The little ones (microi) refer here to followers of Jesus who may be children, who may be new Christians, Christians weak in the faith, or perhaps ordinary Christian people who do not pretend to be big shots in the church.
One of my little followers, one of these little souls who trust in me is perhaps a better translation of microi.
The little ones are innocent, trusting in Jesus, vulnerable, and maybe easily misled.
To lead a Christian follower, a little one, down the wrong path is a terrible sin, says Jesus. Whoever does this, says Jesus, deserves to be drowned instantly. It is bad enough to sin and send oneself to hell, but, says Jesus, it is far worse to do this to an impressionable brother or sister in the faith.
Hello. Hello. Hello. Three times hell is mentioned by Jesus in this short passage. It is clear that Jesus believed in the reality of hell. The condition of hell is misery and terrible torment. Here there is no thought that all people ultimately will be saved and live forever with God in heaven.
Hell is a reality to Jesus and to the early church. Some of us may not believe in the description of hell as a place of fire, but all of us can agree that hell is a condition of misery resulting from sin and separation from God.
I don’t know about you but this language of Jesus scares me. This part about cutting off your hand, cutting off your foot, or poking out your eye disturbs me.
Why is Jesus talking like this? Why such extreme language? Jesus wants his followers to enjoy the fullness of life with God. That is why Jesus healed people. This advice, however, is just the opposite of Jesus’ action of restoring the use of a hand, a leg, or an eye. All that God created is good. However, if any part of us or any habit causes us to sin habitually against God, we are to get rid of it. It would be better to abstain and deny ourselves certain pleasures and privileges that to allow one thing we do to ruin our chance of our whole self, our soul, for life with God beyond this earthly life.
Soon, on the cross, Jesus himself will lose the use of more than his hands and feet, more than the use of his eyes, as he is dying for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Why is Jesus talking like this? Because Jesus wants us to take seriously how our sin destroys us and destroys others and perhaps our chance for life with God if we don’t repent.
Just a little while later, the disciples will ignore Jesus’ words about welcoming strangers and little ones. In Mark chp. 10, the disciples criticize and stop people who are trying to bring little children to Jesus for his blessing. The disciples are not receiving children, just as they are not receiving the kingdom of God and are not receiving Jesus as God’s servant king who does servant tasks.
Since the disciples desire earthly greatness, they think it is not children who should enter the kingdom of God but rather rich people, rich people like the rich young ruler in chapter 10.
When Jesus remarks that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, the disciples are completely astonished.
Who then, they ask, can be saved? Jesus replies: Salvation lies beyond the control of all humans, for to bestow salvation is the prerogative of God alone.
With humans, Jesus says, it is impossible, but not with God.
For all things are possible with God.
Whoever gives you one cup of water to drink, says Jesus, because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose the reward. Jesus needs all the help he can get. Jesus especially wants us to welcome strangers and little ones so that we all may have the fullness of life with God. Amen.
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1. “Little ones” can refer to children, new Christians, Christians weak in the faith, and perhaps ordinary Christians who do not pretend to be ____ ______ in the church. 2. _____ is mentioned three times by Jesus in this short passage. 3. A person who gives a ___ of cold water in Jesus’ name will have a reward from God. Discussion/reflection question: Who do you think are the “little ones” in these sayings?