19th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 9:38-50 Sermon
October 15, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
309 "Thou Whose Almighty Word"
179 "Shepherd Of Tender Youth"
459 "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
532 "Jesus Still Lead On"
KEEPING OUR BODIES INTACT
TEXT (vs. 43-47): ďAnd if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell.Ē
This morning, Iíd like you to consider the content of a story. This story involves a young teenage girl by the name of Tanya. She was with a group of friends one day at the mall, and they were in a department store. After a lot of prodding, her friends coerced her to take a bottle of perfume from the cosmetic counter.
Now Tanya had never stolen anything before. She had a good church upbringing, and she had been taught from the very beginning that stealing was wrong. But in this case, the influence of her friends was just too much; so when she thought nobody was looking, she palmed the bottle of perfume and slipped it into her coat pocket.
Of course she was caught red-handed. The police were called, and so were her parents. She would have to go to court to answer for her wrongdoing. And of course her parents also punished her, and she was grounded.
That night while everyone else was sleeping, Tanya got up and went into her fatherís workshop. Her father woke up and heard something, and decided to go and investigate things.
He went into his shop, and saw Tanya passed out on the floor. To his horror, he saw a pool of blood next to her. His band saw was running. Tanya had successfully cut three fingers off of her right hand before passing out on the floor.
He quickly yelled for his wife; then he picked her up and gathered her severed fingers. His wife met him, and put her fingers into a zip-lock bag with some ice. And they headed for the hospital emergency room with the hope that they hadnít been too late.
When she woke up after hours in surgery reattaching her fingers, her parents asked her, ďWhy in the world did you go and do something like that? What could you have been thinking about?Ē
Her response was, ďI stole that perfume from the store. And itís like the Bible says, ĎIf your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.íĒ
There are other stories like Tanyaís out there. Anybody who has worked in a hospital emergency room or trauma center can relate other such horror stories. People have been brought in with gouged out eyes, cut off limbs, mutilated genitalia, and so forth.
And the reason they all give for what they have done is based upon the words of our Gospel for today, recorded by the evangelist Mark.
In my estimation, I believe that these few verses in the Bible are probably the most misunderstood and mis-applied verses in the entire Bible. People read them, feel guilty for one sin or another, and begin hacking away at themselves and mutilating body parts.
What in the world could Jesus have been thinking about when he spoke those words? Here we see Jesus, the true and only begotten son of God, the person who restores sight to the blind, who makes the lame walk, and who generally is able to restore whatever part of the human body which happens to be ailing. So now why would he now be advising people to cut off their hands and feet and gouge out their eyes? Doesnít this contradict all of those healing miracles that he performed? Doesnít this go against everything he has said and done?
One explanation people like to use, is that Jesus wasnít really serious about what he was saying, and that this was more for ďshock valueĒ than anything.
Quite the contrary! Jesus is deadly serious about what he says, and he means it. He means every word of it! And since he means every word of it, that means we should also take it just as seriously.
Now you probably werenít expecting me to say that. You were probably expecting me to say something along the order that it didnít really apply to us today, or that it was just spoken figuratively, or in some way give you an easy way out.
Now as you are sitting there looking at me, you know that Iíve sinned much in my life. And yet, here I stand with pretty much all of my body intact. I have my eyes, ears, tongue, hands, feet, and so forth. Iíve read this passage many times, and I havenít mutilated myself because of it.
Now, if Jesus says it, and I believe it, and if I seek to do Godís will in my life, and yet I have all of my members intact, does that make me out to be some kind of hypocrite?
Here is the bottom line to this whole situation. We donít steal because we have hands. We donít gossip because we have tongues. We donít sin simply because we have body parts. In and of themselves, these body parts have no ability to cause us to sin. Our body parts move at our will and direction. When we use our various body parts to sin, it is because of what is inside of us, our inmost sinful desires. Our body parts simply carry it out; they donít initiate the sin in and of themselves.
So if it indeed were our tongues and ears and eyes and feet and so on which actually caused us to sin, then we would be obliged to get rid of the offending part. But that canít be.
Hereís a good example. I donít remember when this happened, but it did. A man who had been convicted of numerous counts of brutal rape had been sent to prison. When it came time for him to be considered for parole, he volunteered to be sterilized and otherwise be rendered incapable of any sort of sexual activity.
So he was paroled. Not quite a year later, he attacked a woman walking alone at night. He violated her with a 12 gauge double barrel shotgun, and finished by firing both barrels into her, which essentially blew her apart.
This manís incapacity for normal sexual activity didnít cure the problem. He still had the desire to subdue and violate his victims. That never changed. The only thing that did change was the instrument he used. And the results were tragic.
Another example that comes to mind is this situation happening in Whiteclay, Nebraska. Whiteclay is only a few miles from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The sale of alcohol is prohibited on the reservation, but not in Whiteclay. And so the Indians from the reservation go to Whiteclay and buy their alcohol, to the tune of several million gallons each year. Whiteclay, which has a population of less than 50 people, has three thriving liquor establishments.
People are up in arms about this. They are demanding that the government take action and shut these liquor establishments down. They cite the alcoholism rate amongst the Indians on the reservation as the problem, and the only way to cure it is to shut down those businesses in Whiteclay. Thatís their rationale.
Now do you see the real problem here? If the Indians who want alcohol canít get it in Whiteclay, then they can go to Rushville, or Gordon, or Hay Springs. Selling alcohol in Whiteclay isnít illegal; itís just the closest place to the reservation. Closing down those businesses in Whiteclay to cure alcoholism amongst the Indians makes about as much sense as cutting out someoneís tongue to keep them from lying. It just isnít going to work.
Our text for today is one that should point us to the root of the problem, which is sin. In order for us to use our tongue for telling a lie, we have to have the inward desire to do so. If we use our hands to steal, sin has to be present within us. Sin so permeates our lives that the members of our bodies will respond accordingly.
The call for today is not to mutilate our bodies because of sin, but to turn our souls over to Jesus for healing. Getting rid of body parts doesnít cure sinís problem, but Jesus does.
When the Holy Spirit brings us to faith in our Saviour Jesus Christ, something great happens to us. The sin, which so controlled our lives, is eradicated from our souls. And the frustration, which would cause us to harm ourselves, is replaced with the peace of God, which passes all understanding.
When sin seems to be getting the better of us, we need to seek our Saviour all the more. Trying to cure sin by superficial means is like trying to cure a case of skin cancer with a band-aid. We need to see Jesus as the only cure from sin. With him as our Saviour and the Lord of our life, we know that we are redeemed, restored, and forgiven.
Sin is indeed a serious matter. So right along with this, faith is also a very serious matter. In verse 42 of our Gospel lesson for today, we read: ďWhoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.Ē
If youíve ever wondered why pastors wear that special collar around their neck, it represents the millstone. When a pastor puts it on, he is to be reminded of this verse in Mark. The pastor is to faithfully preach and teach the Word, especially the Gospel of Christ to the people. He is not to cause them to sin; and if he does, then he is to be reminded of the consequences.
Thatís how serious Jesus is about faith. The faith in him, which saves peopleís souls, is of prime importance; for without it, there is nothing to look forward to. The only thing that remains is stated in verse 48 where hell is described as a place ďWhere their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.Ē It is certainly not a pleasant prospect at all for those who would intentionally lead the faithful person astray and away from God.
Jesus came to save us and to be the cure for sin. This is something that actually attacks the source of it, and not just some superficial manifestation.
Our text for today talks about Jesus using some rather disturbing imagery when it comes to eliminating sin. And for some Bible readers who donít really understand the source of sin, or who do not read all of what God has to say, the results can be tragic indeed.
As I think of Tanya and her incident with her fatherís band saw, she was possessed by the thought of getting into heaven by removing what she thought were her offending body parts. Of course that wouldnít save her at all.
Itís too bad she didnít think of the words of a familiar hymn: ďO what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer. Have we trials and temptations, is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.Ē
If Tanya would have taken her fingers and folded her hands in prayer instead of trying to hack them off with her fatherís band saw, she would have found the peace and forgiveness she so desperately sought.
If we ever think that our body parts are the cause of our problems, just remember that the ears, which hear gossip, are the same ears that hear Godís Word. The tongue that lies and speaks hurtful things is the same tongue that sings Godís praises and bears witness to his words of love and forgiveness. The hands that steal are the same hands that are lifted up in prayer. Every body part that can be used as an agent of sin can be rightly used to the glory of God and to serve his cause.
Itís up to us then to use ourselves for good and noble purposes. God the Holy Spirit has given us faith to believe and accept Jesus as our Saviour. Certainly weíll be tempted to sin all of the time. But with Jesus in our lives, our sin has lost its power to condemn.
Therefore, let us praise and serve our God with our whole bodies, with all of our members intact.