Don’t Get in the Way of Faith

Don’t Get in the Way of Faith

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Jump to the sermon in the recording

BONUS: Jump to the Baptism in the recording

Service Booklet – you will also need a Book of Common Prayer

This Sunday’s Readings

Gospel: 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.’ 39But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For 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. 43If 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. 45And 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. 47And 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, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

49 ‘For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt 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.’

Afterthoughts: Looking from the Outside In

As I said during last Sunday’s sermon,
the Gospel reading was a doozy.
Not because it was difficult to understand,
but that Jesus, in a very un-Jesus-like way,
uses language that is much more violent and judgment driven
than we see in the rest of the gospels.

It was for a purpose.
A very important purpose.
That purpose was to communicate that we must, at all costs,
keep from getting in the way of another’s faith journey.

The examples given in both the Gospel and in Numbers have people in leadership questioning the actions of others that are not in leadership.
John asks Jesus to tell the “rogue healers” to stop healing.
Joshua asks Moses to do something about the “rogue prophets.”

“They are not with us,” say the disciples.
“How do you figure that?” is Jesus’ response.

The “newbies” were simply healing in the name of Jesus.
Shouldn’t be a big deal.
But it was.
To the Twelve.

I can hear them saying something like,
“They’re not doing it the right way.”

But they were focused on the right part.

The healing was happening in the name of Jesus.
They got it right.

Oh, sure, they may have had bad technique.
But they didn’t need the permission of the disciples.
They were simply responding in faith.

Many times, people will ask me about different parts of the Sunday service: when do you bow, cross yourself, kneel, genuflect and the like. The answer is (really), when your heart, in worship, responds in that way.

Yes, there is a pattern that most follow,
but these “manual acts” are not about what we are doing
or when we are doing it,
but about the response of the heart in the worship of God.

I can tell you as a priest-trainee with Fr Christopher,
there were many things I was trying to learn and get “right,”
but I soon learned that pursuit of being right
can get in the way of being present in worship.

I, like you, approach Sunday services with a worshipful attitude.
In order for this to work,
I have had to lay aside my desire to be right and focus on being present (not easy for someone who tends to be a little OCD).

Now imagine, if I demanded that everyone do it the “right way.”
I don’t think that would be very productive.
People would be more focused on what I said was right
and not on being present in worship with God.

It would distract from the point of gathering together.
It would be a skandalon (a stumbling block) to those gathered.
And, if you remember from the Gospel reading,
Jesus didn’t have kind words for those that create a barrier to God
(chop your foot off, cut your hand off, poke your eye out).

He was serious.

Don’t get in the way.

Which leads to a conversation about the Numbers reading and, in particular, the part that gets omitted in the lectionary (verses 18-20).

So the backstory is the people of Israel are complaining (again).
God has provided food and water for them.
Water and manna.
They were not that excited about the food part.
The manna.
So they complained.

“You know what God?
It would be better for us to be captives in Egypt again.”
“If only we had some meat to eat.”

So….God was not happy with them.
And He had an answer for them in verse 18 through 20.

And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore, the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’”

Numbers 11:18-20

I can understand why those putting the lectionary together would want to omit the “coming out of your nostrils” part.
Not good Sunday reading.
But, I think it lines up with the theme for the morning
and adds an emphasis to it.

I can picture God in heaven.
He hears their complaints.
And says to Himself, “You ungrateful little brats!”
“Better off in Egypt.”
“Have you gone mad?”
“You want meat?”
“I will give you meat”
“Like an all-you-can-eat quail buffet.”
“So much that you will puke it up.”


Why was God so ticked off?
Does He have a power trip?

God knows that their complaining has an effect on others.
The “little ones” part of the others.
Complaining is contagious.
And it is antithetical to a faith relationship.

God’s covenant says, “I will be your God.”
I will care for you.
Provide for you.
Protect you.
Heal you.
Go before you.

Their part of the covenant is to be God’s people.
To receive the gifts that God gives.
To be free from the worry and harsh conditions of their previous life.

But they complained.
They didn’t like how they were provided for.
They felt they deserved more.

And the ears of the little ones around them
(both literally and figuratively) would have heard this.
And it would have been a stumbling block to them.
A scandal.
A hindrance to faith.

Not good.

Adults have that effect on the younger generation.
They can sour the waters.
Predispose someone to distrust.
Be discontent.

People who are interested in faith
are watching those who profess faith
to see what this faith thing is all about.

So don’t be a stumbling block for someone else.
A “little one.”
Realize that the witness of your faith will communicate what you actually believe (and not just what you say you believe).

Try starting each day with a grateful heart and thankful attitude for the things that God has provided for you in your life.
Acknowledge your place in life with God.

And then take that attitude with you wherever you go.
And shun any thoughts or attitudes
(from within or from others) that get in the way.

Be invitational to others with your faith.
And let us echo the words of the Psalmist,

Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14