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Sermon: Expendable

September 25, 2009

Mark 9:38-50

Missionary Glenn Adsit and his family served in China after the Revolution.  Eventually, the authorities put him under house arrest.  One day, the soldiers came to his house and told him he was able to return to the United States.  They said to him,

“You can take two hundred pounds with you.”

Well, they’d been there for years.  Two hundred pounds.  They got the scales and started the family arguments: two children, wife, husband.  Must have this vase.  Well, this is a new typewriter.  What about my books?  What about this?  And they weighed everything and took it off and weighed this and took it off and weighed this and, finally, right on the dot, two hundred pounds.

The soldier asked, “Ready to go?”


“Did you weigh everything?”


“You weighed the kids?”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Weigh the kids.”

And in a moment, typewriter and vase and all became trash.  Trash.  (Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories.  Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, eds. [St. Louis: Chalice, 2001], 22-23.)

Every once in a while, we are blessed with a moment of clarity about what is truly important in our lives.  Usually this comes to us during a moment of chaos and trauma such as an accident or a serious illness.    Then we remember what we really care about and what makes life worth living.  In the ordinary moments of our lives, we rarely ask that question, “what is truly important.”  The reason for this is that it is a hard question and we don’t like to consider making hard choices.

As Jesus approached the moment of crisis in his own life, he spoke more and more about the hard choices.  We are reading from chapter nine of the gospel according to Mark, and Jesus has already described his suffering and death, again and again.  He has told his disciples and the crowds, that if they intend to follow him, they must pick up their own crosses.

In the lesson today, Jesus chastised the disciples because they had tried to stop an unauthorized healer from driving out demons in Jesus’ name.  In essence, the disciples didn’t think this man had the right to use Jesus’ name in the exorcisms because he wasn’t among the “authorized” crowd of disciples.

We can certainly understand their feelings.  Our United Methodist Church has its own Board of Ordained Ministry.  If you want to serve Jesus as a Methodist pastor, you have to pass their test.  If you want to practice medicine in California, you must meet the state’s requirements.  We even have trademark and copyright laws that prevent people from misusing names and images that belong to others.  The disciples just wanted to keep things clean and legal.

But Jesus wasn’t too happy about that.  “Don’t stop him.  If somebody performs deeds of power in my name, pretty soon, they’ll be on our side—if they aren’t already.”  This is good advice to those of us who have lots of practice protecting our territory.  Serve God and let others do their own thing serving God without criticism or nitpicking.

Jesus even went so far as to indicate that when we are trying to prevent others from serving Christ, we are actually putting a stumbling block in the way of other disciples, especially those who are newer Christians.  Jesus used the term “little ones,” which probably refers to brand new Christians.  And what are those new Christians learning if they see the long time disciples arguing over turf?  Jesus said, “If you are going to be a stumbling block to others, you might as well just go ahead and put a millstone around your neck and then jump off the Vincent Thomas Bridge.  That would be better for you.”

“In fact,” he continued, “if there is any occasion of sin in your own body—your hand, your foot, your eye, anything—go ahead and cut it off.  It is far better to be a part of the kingdom of God with one eye than it is to be rotting in hell with two.”

You can imagine the reaction this got just from analyzing your own reaction.  Cut off any body part that is involved in my sin?  The first to go would be my tongue.  I have said more rotten and stupid things than I care to imagine.  Any of you who are accustomed to using hand gestures to other drivers on the road might have to cut off a finger or two.  And, come to think of it, my brain has been responsible for several bushels full of sinful thoughts.  Am I supposed to cut out my brain?

Really, Jesus seems to be more than a little zealous here.  Is he serious?  Could he really want us to be amputating body parts whenever we sin?  If that were the case, we shouldn’t be worshipping in a sanctuary, but in a M.A.S.H. unit.

No, these are some of the many verses in scripture that we were never expected to take literally.  The device Jesus used was hyperbole.  That is, he intentionally made a statement so over the top that it would leave a deep impression in our minds and emphasize how serious is this matter of entering the kingdom of God.  We should not take Jesus’ words literally, but very seriously.

In other places in scripture, Jesus spoke about the immense value of the kingdom of God.  He said the kingdom is like a man who found a pearl of great beauty and value, and so the man sold everything he had—everything—in order to buy that pearl.  That is what life in the kingdom of God is worth, that we should be willing to empty ourselves of everything in order to be a part of that kingdom.  When Glen Adsit learned that his children were included in his allowable 200 pounds, everything else, everything that had at one time seemed so important and valuable became as trash, rubbish.  In the same manner, Jesus tells us that life in the kingdom of God is so valuable as to render everything else—possessions, our own bodies, perhaps even our own families—as worthless.

The kingdom is the great goal.  The kingdom is the place where our will is fully in line with God’s will.  Our lives are perfectly aligned with God’s intention for humanity.  Our motives are the motives of loving God and loving neighbor.  And so Jesus asked his disciples to consider what is truly important to them.  “Are you willing—as you follow me—to put entrance into the kingdom of God ahead of all else.  The journey to the cross will be dangerous.  You must be ready to sacrifice many important things in order to lay hold of the one thing that is of surpassing value.”

These words of Jesus were not to be taken literally.  Much of scripture uses rhetoric that was never intended to be taken literally.  Do not leave here, go home and take up a butcher knife.  But we should always take Jesus’ words seriously.  Our scripture lesson today can lead each of us to consider what is really important.  If you had to strip your life down to the bare essentials—to the 200 pounds you could take with you out of China—what would be the most important?  Does the way you live your life reflect what is truly important to you?

And then recognize that there is something still more valuable—the kingdom of God, where your will is aligned with God’s will, where love of God and neighbor is the highest good, where grace is like the air we breathe.  Be willing to do whatever it takes to live in that kingdom.

Let us pray…

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