Be at Peace with Each Other

Sermon 1764 Mark 9.38-50 September 26, 2021

Kids fight. O my, how kids fight. They fight in the back seat, even when they are in car seats. One reaches over and pokes his brother. They fight at the dinner table. The other wants sister’s ice cream after he has inhaled his own scoop. As they get older they fight over who sits next to the window or up front with dad. As teens they will fight over who has to sit up front and neither of them will—you feel like the chauffer in “Driving Miss Daisy.” As you watch your angelic little girl lift her broken leg resting on the back of the couch and conk her brother over the head with her cast as he is sitting at the other end, you come to the conclusion your kids fight because they like to fight. It is the unwelcome job of every parent to restore order, or else! And don’t make me say it again!

What happens when we grow up and there are no parents to restore order?

Be at Peace with Each Other

1. There is only “us” in Jesus (38-41).

2. Make it a priority (42-48).

3. Be true to the you God made you (49-50).

Be at peace with each other. There is only “us” in Jesus.

“‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward (38-39).’”

The disciples had come across a believer working powerful miracles—driving out demons—by the power of Jesus’ name. John, the beloved disciple, was upset someone was horning in on the Jesus franchise, infringing on their territory. The disciples tried to stop him. We would call this partisanship. The disciples were the party of Jesus. No one else had a claim on Jesus. No one else could use the power of Jesus. They had divided the world into “us” and “them” and John was not going to let “them” win.

I understand that. It is human nature—sinful human nature. We like to divide and draw distinctions. We like to gather together into cliques, teams, cohorts or, as the police call them, gangs. And then, to boost our group, we try to demean and tear down the other groups we are facing. We could try to do something constructive so our group would look more attractive, but that’s not how the sinful human nature works. It wants to follow the devil’s guiding and tear down everything around it. Be the tallest tree by cutting down the rest of the forest. The goal is to make your group in charge of the wreck you’ve all created.

You see it in the outward Christian church. One side mean-mouths the other. One side denigrates the other. Oh, this goes beyond pointing out the differences in teaching. A Lutheran pastor has to warn his people of the dangers of thinking you can help Jesus along with your good works—“believe and be good to get to heaven.” It is faith alone which gets us to heaven. Works flow from a saving faith like a cart follows the horse which pulls it. No, what I am talking about is discriminating against someone because they belong to the “wrong” denomination or claiming they aren’t Christians at all. At one denominational holiday every partisan wants to march around the other guy’s church with torches and pitchforks. At the other denomination’s big day their folks want to take bulldozers to the other guy’s church.

There is only “us” in Jesus. What faith in Jesus to use his powerful name to drive out demons! It is impossible to then turn around and mean-mouth Jesus! “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Other Christians in the world are for Jesus. They believe in the Triune God. They believe Jesus is the Savior from sin. They will get to heaven through faith in him. They want others to believe that message, too. That is the heart and core of Christianity. We confess it when we say we believe in “one, holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.” So instead of tormenting others because they are not Lutherans, rejoice that so many people so different from us believe in the same Lord and Savior. Even an act of humanity as small as giving someone a drink of water because they are a Christian will not go unnoticed before God’s throne of grace.

That’s what Jesus came to do. He came to die for the sins of the world. He came to heal the biggest divide, Jew and Gentile, removing the divisions caused by the Old Testament ceremonial laws, so that the two might meet as one people of God, equally forgiven, equally loved, equally gifted.

Be at peace with each other. Make it a priority.

Sin damages individuals. Fight against sin. That’s the message Jesus is giving us. It is a priority. To stress that priority, Jesus uses picturesque language. No one would want to be thrown into the ocean with a boulder hung around their neck. No one would want to lose a hand or an eye or a foot. We’d do everything in the world, take all sorts of precautions, to avoid that. In the same way, fight with everything you have not to fall into sin. Use your best judgment to avoid getting into situations where you might fall into sin and cause other believers, some even children, to follow your bad example.

“And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. 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 into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and 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 to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”(42-48) ’”

Now some may say I am watering down Jesus’ words. He clearly says cut your foot off if it causes you to sin. Cut your hand off if it causes you to sin. Gouge out your eye if it causes you to sin. What could be more clear than that?

Do you hear the devil behind those words? It is his latest version of “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” He wants to make God look so extreme, so out-of-touch, that nobody in their right mind would listen to him, much less carry out his commands. In effect, the devil is working so that we don’t take religion so seriously. Judging by America’s skin deep commitment to Jesus, it is working.

What the devil doesn’t want you to do is to look at all the words of Jesus, to take them in context. The devil wants to teach you a lesson. He doesn’t want to teach you to think. Ever since Martin Luther translated the Bible into a language the people could understand it is obvious Lutherans want to teach people how to think for themselves when it comes to God.

Look at all of Jesus’ words. Cut off your hand or foot or gouge out your eye. It is better to do that and be one-eyed, one-footed and one-handed in heaven, than to have your whole body cast into hell. Stop and think. Can you live forever in a perfect heaven lame or blinded or with only one hand? No! Even if you were torn apart by a school of sharks, your body would be restored and made perfectly whole in heaven. “This corruptible must put on incorruptibility (1 Corinthians 15.53).” The Bible does not contradict itself. We must have perfect, restored bodies in heaven. So it is impossible for these words of Jesus to be taken literally and have the Bible remain true. These words of Jesus must be picture language—figurative language.

So, what’s his point? Just as you would not want to lose a hand, foot or eye, don’t sin. Sin is damaging. It is not trivial. It is not a laughing matter. Make fighting against sin a priority. Then we will be at peace with each other.

Be at peace with each other. Be true to the you God made you.

“Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other (49-50).”

Salt preserves things. Jesus echoes John the Baptist’s words about fire. There is either the fire of the Holy Spirt (faith) or the fire appointed for unbelievers, hell. Either way, a person’s eternal destiny is preserved, frozen, fixed. Salt does that as a preservative. Jesus runs the two ideas together and gets salted with fire.

But then his thoughts turn to his own words spoken in the Sermon on the Mount. “You are the salt of the earth.” That is what the Holy Spirit has made us. We are salt. We are a preservative for this world. Because of his believers, God keeps this world going. Remember how he promised Abraham he would spare Sodom and Gomorrah if only ten believers lived in those perverted and godless towns? Our presence in this world keeps it from destruction. You are the salt of the earth.

We are the salt of the earth because that is what God has made us. His Holy Spirit brought us to faith, purging away the doubt and unbelief like fire purifies precious metals. The Holy Spirit kept working on us, strengthening our faith in the face of troubles, increasing our reliance on God’s mercy as he led us by God’s Word. We are different people than before we started our walk with God. The Holy Spirit accomplished that in us, bringing forth fruits of the Spirit—like faith, hope and love.

It is now part of our Christian DNA. It is unthinkable, illogical, nonsense that salt could lose its saltiness. Saltless salt would be the most useless substance on earth! It is also unthinkable that we would desert Jesus and become unbelievers. How foolish, how illogical that would be to have tasted the goodness of our Lord, his mercy and grace, and then walk away from it. May that never be!

So be true to the you God made you. Live up to our calling as Christians. Be at peace with each other.

Of course that means we will not be the ones poking the bear, instigating disruption and discord. We will not be causing such a stink that others would be offended, and by that, I don’t mean offended in a social media way, but so shaken by our actions that they question their own faith and end up walking away from God. I remember beloved members in my first congregation relating how their son gave up on religion when their young pastor, who the boy really liked, started preaching false doctrine, starting saying things about God’s will for our lives that were not true, and had to be removed from the preaching ministry. The congregation did everything right. They opposed the lies of the devil, even if they were coming from their pastor. The pastor was in the wrong. Yet, this couple’s son suffered for it. Because of broken trust he gave up on faith. I think we’ve also covered this territory in the previous section of this sermon. Resisting sin in a priority of ours.

But it also means that we will go the extra mile to make sure peace is established on earth. We do that by spreading God’s forgiveness. Like Joseph, we forgive those who sin against us, even when they are the closest to us and have hurt us the most. We listen to Jesus’ words about forgiveness and take the first step. If someone has sinned against us and hurt us, we go to them and “show them their fault, just between the two of you (Matthew 18.15).” It takes courage to do that. The unbelieving world does not believe in forgiveness. That’s why they are cowards when it comes to carrying out these words of Jesus. They say things like, “They were the ones who hurt me, let them come to me first.” “They should know what they have done.” That attitude won’t restore peace. It will only let wrongs fester so that relationships fall by the wayside forever. And in matters that aren’t particularly sinful, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile. We may not appreciate what has been done to us, but we don’t want to make a scene. We don’t want to get on our high horse, yell and scream and demand our rights. Better to live in peace.

Far from being some magical component of our soul, like we are another one of those movie superheroes, it is part of the birthright we have been given as Christians. As God has forgiven us, we forgive others. That will bring peace. It’s the you God made you to be. Just live up to our calling as Christians.

Be at Peace with Each Other

1. There is only “us” in Jesus (38-41).

2. Make it a priority (42-48).

3. Be true to the you God made you (49-50).

Kids can certainly fight, but so can adults. With broken hearts we see it every day on the news, in the papers. It is enough to make you lose our faith in humanity. It’s almost enough to give up on living the Christian life above the battles and petty skirmishes of this world. Fights don’t bring victories. They only bring defeats. The one who loses less wins. And the teams that array themselves against each other in forever war have to keep their emotions high and their ranks united by reminding each other, “There is no I in idiot.”

Be the adult God has put in the room. Be at peace with each other.

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