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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Finding Faithful Footing

Mark 9:38-50

New Revised Standard Version

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.”

I don’t know how many of you are very familiar with video games. (Ask: “have you watched someone play or played yourself?”). I’m not an expert in video games but I have watched my boys, and now my grandkids, play and have played a few here and there. I want to give you a newbie primer on video games. One of the most popular games and one that has been around for decades – Mario Brothers (Super Mario today).

The goal of the game is to pass enough levels to reach the end goal, meeting the boss at the end of the stage. Once you finish enough stages, you complete a land. When you complete all the lands you beat the game. My grandson tells me that once you beat the game you put it away for a year and a half before you play it again since you have to start over from the beginning.

In the game you have a cute little guy named Mario who wears a cute little hat who runs along avoiding obstacles and collecting coins (the other main character is Luigi – hence Mario Brothers – although he isn’t part of many of the levels).

He has to jump over some things, bounce on mushrooms, and avoid the bad guys trying to stop him so he will lose a life. Mario has a limited number of lives and once he loses them all, he has to start the level over. Along the way, Mario gains powers and earns points by collecting the coins. Once he reaches the end of the level a little flag raises, everyone says “Yay!” and he gets to start the next level and do it all over again. This is the very short version.

Note that Mario is always on a journey from one place to another, trying to land on the right objects to gain powers and avoid those that will hurt him. When he gets to the end of the stage to fight the big boss, he can use the powers he has gained to defeat the enemy at the end. Most of all, he needs to not stumble.

We all need to realize that we need to not stumble. I find when I am walking somewhere unfamiliar, I am watching the ground to make sure I don’t trip on something, stumble, and fall. Of course, I miss a lot by looking at the ground, but the options are miss a lot or fall and get hurt.

If you have ever tried to cross a stream by stepping on rocks, you know that you put your foot on the rock ahead to see if it is stable. You don’t want to step on one that will wobble and dump you into the water, so you cautiously go step by step to ensure that you cross safely. Unless you are a daredevil and run quickly across hoping for the best, but you might still stumble and fall.

This passage in Mark brings together several vignettes that don’t seem like they connect. The first one has the disciples going to Jesus telling him that there is a man who is casting out demons but isn’t following them. He isn’t doing it the way you (what they really mean is we) do it. Mark is making a connection with the previous section where the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest. They are concerned about who fits and who doesn’t, about who belongs in their group and who doesn’t.

Jesus addresses that very issue. Not as we would do it by directly by telling the man to stop because he isn’t doing it Jesus’ way. We would expect Jesus to get right to the point by saying that everyone who does things in his name belongs. Then they could continue their journey. Rather, Jesus continues the conversation by talking about the “little ones.”

Just as he talked before about welcoming a child, talks now about those little ones who belong to him. The ones who seek to follow him who really are part of the group of disciples even if they don’t realize they are. Jesus tells his disciples not to put a stumbling block before them.

You may be wondering how you could put a stumbling block before one of the little ones who is seeking to be a believer or is already a believer. You just don’t roll a log in front of them that they might trip over. No, it is by words we say or things we do.

We read in this passage those difficult words about cutting off your hand or your foot or gouging out your eye. Why would Jesus use such terminology? We remember that, especially in Mark, Jesus always teaches in parables. So, we know there is an underlying message in these words. What might that be? Don’t put a stumbling block in front of the little ones. That’s his message.

You never know when your foot takes you places you shouldn’t go. It may take you in direction that is in the opposite way that Jesus would want you to go. If you go the wrong direction, you may take someone with you who might lose sight of who they are, walk away from Jesus Christ. You could, without knowing it, trip them up by taking them down a path that is not the path of Jesus.

A hand can reach out where it shouldn’t. A hand that grasps onto the things of the world that pull us away from the faith from the one who truly is deserving of it, Jesus Christ. A hand can grab onto an idol, a thing, a place, or status that becomes more important than Jesus. Our hand can grab another’s to either take them to Jesus or take them away from him.

Our eyes look everywhere. They may look at our feet to see where to place each step. Eyes may look at the landscape or the people around us or other things that we ought not look at.

I remember hearing about a parent talking with their child who wanted to go to a movie with his friends. A movie that the parent didn’t think was appropriate for the child to see. The parent said no. The child snuck out to meet up with the friend and went to the movie anyway. After watching the movie, he learned that his parent was right. You would think when he got home, he would be in a lot of trouble for sneaking out. Instead, his parent sat him down and told him there was a reason she didn’t want him to see that movie because whatever image you see goes into your mind and never leaves.

When we use our eyes to see images that we ought not be looking at, they stay in our mind. The images can get locked into our heart. They can influence how we see the world around us. We need to be careful about what we are looking at. We need to understand the context of what we see. We know that we can’t avoid looking at the evil in the world. It’s impossible to avoid. When we recognize it is evil and where that evil comes from, we can work on managing its impact on us. The reality, friends, is that we are always in a war, a war against the enemy.

Many of us don’t like to think about the evil in the world. We may want to ignore the fact that it is even there. But if we aren’t careful, we will walk into places where evil exists, evil that takes us away from the path to Christ. If we aren’t careful, our hand will reach out to grab onto something that God wouldn’t want us to grab onto. We might grab and hold on to evil that can harm us without even realizing it. We hear of many these days who do that. Who grab onto to a gun and kill others, or drugs to get high or give to others who might be harmed by taking them or who physically grab someone to kidnap them or inflict bodily harm. But we know that are those that do. If our eyes are watching these things happen and we don’t do anything about it, are we any better?

What are you grabbing onto today? What are we walking towards today? What are we seeing today that God would not want us to see? What are we looking at, what are we grabbing, what are we walking towards that takes us closer to Jesus rather than away from him? These are the big questions of life. The ones put before us everyday to answer. We won’t always answer correctly. We won’t always make the best choice. But, when we know what the choice ought to be we can recognize that the one we made isn’t the best one, we can turn and go back to Jesus.

The little ones, those who are new in their faith or those who are seeking a place to belong are watching those of us who are farther along in our faith journey. Where do we want to take them? Who do we want to take them to?

We may think that putting stumbling block in someone’s way as only hurting them. Yet when we do things that harm others, we also harm ourselves. We take ourselves off the right path. We take ourselves into places we ought not go. In the name of trying to help someone else we might find ourselves in the midst of the evil we are trying to lead the other person out of. We may go farther into the pit. We may go farther into the places in our cities we shouldn’t go unless we have our eyes wide open. The eyes of Christ within us we can use to see the needs but not become part of the problem that evil brings. We can become part of the solution.

Sometimes we must go farther. At times we must reject what is good; what we see as good in our own mind. Reject a friend who has chosen a path we may not agree with or can’t lead them from. We may have to stop doing a favorite activity if it is leading us the wrong way – for example spending so much time on the computer that you don’t get your work done or spend time outside in God’s creation or take time to be with family and others.

One of the challenges that Jesus addresses in the last part of this passage as he talks again to his disciples. They are struggling with the concept of who fits in their group and who doesn’t. Jesus knows their struggle. He shares a brief parable to help them understand.

Jesus talks about salt and its importance. In other passages in the gospels, they and we hear that we are to be the salt of the earth. To be those who bring seasoning to the world. The seasoning of God’s word, of the love of Jesus, of compassion and caring. We are to have an open heart. An open heart filled with these seasonings to pour out upon others allows us to connect with people and invite them into a place where they belong.

When we allow God to be at work within us rather than focus on setting standards that define who fits the mold so that they can become part of our group, we are empowered to be that salt of the earth. The salt that we pour out to season others is the way that we care for the little ones.

It is easy for us to head down a path God doesn’t want us to go, to put our own needs, priorities, and agenda first. To put God’s priorities at the bottom of our agenda. We fill our calendars with activities and appointments, leaving God off.

Have you grabbed onto something good by putting God first?

Today, friends, I want to you to consider how you interact with the world, how you are leading people to Christ, and how you, yourself, are traveling the path to Jesus. I want to encourage you by reminding you that the path is always lit, and the rocks are always stable so you can walk on them in confidence. You will beat the bad guy in the end (with Christ’s help) and collect everything you need to live in the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Know that just as God’s eye is on the sparrow, God’s caring eye is on you.


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