18th Sunday after Pentecost: Offenses

First Reading: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

4The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
  10Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”
  16So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.”
  24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
  26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord‘s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Psalm: Psalm 19:7-14

7The teaching of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;
  the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to |the simple.
8The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
  the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9The fear of the Lord is clean and endures forever;
  the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,
  sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 
11By them also is your servant enlightened,
  and in keeping them there is great reward.
12Who can detect one’s own offenses?
  Cleanse me from my secret faults.
13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get          dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of          a great offense.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be     acceptable in your sight,
  O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. 

Second Reading: James 5:13-20

13Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.
  19My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Gospel: Mark 9:38-50

38John said to [Jesus,] “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 afterward 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.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  I often go to Aesop’s tale, The Lion and the Mouse.  I love it.  A little mouse runs across a lion’s nose, disturbing his sleep.  The lion is going to eat it but the mouse pleads for mercy and promises to return the favor some day.  The lion frummmps, impossible.  Yet one day when the lion is caught in a net and roaring, the mouse comes with friends and chews through the ropes to free the lion.

         I’d like to ponder today the question, what offended that lion most?  Was it being disturbed from his nap?  Was it loosing his snack?  Was it the audacity of a small creature thinking it might help the king of the jungle? Or was it the humiliation of being rescued by the mouse?  What do you think?  What is hardest for you – a disturbance of schedule, a poor meal, an atrocious request, or humiliation?  Share with your neighbor.

Let us pray:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


Pentecost season is a time when we look, not so much at who our savior is but how the reality of our faith in Him impacts our lives.  Jesus is now approaching Jerusalem and the cross.  We know that, but the disciples do not.  Last week’s text shared how Jesus was trying to prepare them for what was coming but they were busy arguing like little children about who would be great in the new kingdom. They and we get distracted.  Did I hear an “Amen”?  Our text today seems to deal with several more lessons to the disciples – and us – this time about being distracted by offenses.  Offenses come from

  • social differences – the ones not in the disciples’ group that were doing miracles,
  • from interpersonal relationships – the children, and
  • from internal limitations – our human bodies and desires. 

Let’s reflect together.

         John, the beloved apostle, the one we think of as kind and gentle, comes to Jesus sharing his concern that “others” who are not part of the disciples’ group are casting out demons.  The disciples are offended and try and stop these “wantabees.” Somehow John – and we – think we have a corner on truth and how things should be done.  For sure those other denominations need to be taught about grace, about infant baptism, about proper worship.  For sure we have standards about proper dress, proper language, proper lifestyle and how Christians are to behave.  Likewise we might discover that we have ideas about how God works. Singing praise songs in another language is a challenge to our comfort zone.

         When God works outside our boxes, we struggle to understand.  John does the right thing.  He goes to Jesus.  Before we launch our critique, it is often important to pray and search Scripture, to seek the Lord’s mind on the matter.  We tell each other, “Count to ten!”  We might ask ourselves, “Where is God’s hand in this scenario?”  God might not be leading the person on my path but he may be leading the other on a path that works for that person.  First step, ask Jesus.

         Surprisingly Jesus defends the “wantabees.”  We are not to stop those who are working in Jesus’ name that are not necessarily part of our group.  Jesus affirms that the mere act of drawing near to Jesus and understanding that power comes through Jesus, means the person is on the faith journey.  I have said it many times but it needs to be said again, faith is not just a magic moment of confession and a spiritual high but it is a lifelong journey of drawing near to Christ and growing in relationship.  A five year old child does not express faith like an 85 year who has gone through the trials of life.  Those “others” may not be doing faith like the disciples but they are on the right track and will grow in relationship to Christ.  Experiences of grace grow our faith.  This gives me hope for my children and grandchildren as they handle faith other than I would hope they would.  As Bethany ponders partnering with another church, one temptation we might well face is the temptation to critique each other’s style of worship or…. and to focus on the differences rather than focus on the things we have in common.  It’s a pothole we need to be aware of.

         Jesus assures John that God sees everyone’s heart and rewards us so we need not be afraid if that other church is bigger, has a better choir, or seems more popular.  God sees us and works with us as we are.  The temptation for competition in ministry is always there and Jesus urges us not to be offended by social differences but to keep our relationship with him functioning and continue doing the task he has laid before us.  I can hear Jesus saying – “Don’t worry, come to me, I care and I am working with you on what is best for you.“  Did I hear us say, “Thank you, Lord!”

         Secondly, I think we stumble and have problems not only because we compare our ministry to another’s outside our group but because we compare ourselves to another within our group.  Jesus puts a little child on his lap again.  Remember he did this last week also so it must be important.  

         Perhaps we might first ask, why did Jesus choose a child?  On this journey of faith that we are on, some of us have been traveling for decades and been knocked around by life enough that our faith has developed some muscles.  We are not baby Christians anymore.  Others of us are more like little children.  Perhaps we have had to work so hard we have never been to a Bible study so we live on a spiritual starvation diet.  Our chronological age is not the same as our spiritual age or maturity.  Some of us are traveling through dark valleys while others of us are on a spiritual high and are in good spiritual shape.

         When we critique each other and are offended by another in our group and treat them like children, and cause them to stumble in their faith, Jesus says it would be better for us to be drown.  Ouch, ouch, ouch.  If that doesn’t drive us to our knees, I don’t know what will.  Our news media majors on who is not wearing the mask, who is not correct politically, who does not appreciate the horribleness of the sins of our ethnicity or environment and on and on.  Seeing the splinter in the other’s eye is a major pass time. Jesus does not advise ignoring the insult, not forgiveness or prayer or compassion.  When we find ourselves being critical of another, hurting another, and being a stumbling block to another, we need to kill those thoughts and actions right on the spot and tell Satan to get behind us.  Being a stumbling block for another’s faith is a problem worthy of death.  Lord! Guard us from a critical spirit!!! And the people of God said, Amen!

         Thirdly Jesus lists offenses that originate within ourselves and are acted out by our bodies.  Jesus names our hands, our feet, and our eyes.  Do we like Judas, say, “surely not me Lord” and dismiss this.  Let’s think.  How can our hands offend?  One of our family stories that my second son loves to tell is how when he was young and we were living in a former famine relief camp  with starving people, one day his mother served fish.  The people considered fish a form of snake and did not eat fish even if they had them.  My son had suddenly decided he was not eating fish either and refused his lunch.  He tells of his black and blue marks hand-mark on his rump .  I learned a lesson.  Pitting my will against a four year old was a battle not worth fighting AND I had to confront my temper and my issues around eating.  Now that I am older and overweight, I cannot blame my hand for reaching for that dessert.  Our hands are instrumental in acting out the desires of our hearts.

         Our feet take us to places we know we would be best to avoid.  If I know I need to work on a sermon but somehow end up at a party…err, it is not the foot’s fault but the foot obeying the heart – procrastination, avoidance, or otherwise.  We don’t want to go home to face the argument that started in the morning that may well involve needing to apologize.  We go to the mall … just to look of course but there was a sale and we just had to … finish the sentence.  Our feet can be offending because they act out the desires of the heart.

         Eyes are a more obvious stumbling block.  They are the windows that allow lust to control our passions.  Pornography is a real problem with technology.  The eye is the portal that opens our hearts to problems.

         Can you not just hear Jesus saying, “STOP it, Just STOP IT!”  Prayer may help but I suspect spiritual discipline and spiritual muscles need to be grown.  Offenses spiral us downward and away from God.  Whether the offense is from looking at others working their faith in ways we would not, or the offense comes from looks at others in our community, or even if the offense comes from the desires that war within us, the end result is moving away from God and not towards him.

         Jesus closes our text today saying that we will all be offended and salted by fire.  We are all tempted.  This sermon is not about someone else but a challenge to look at our own hearts and our own walk with Christ.  Are we on automatic pilot, speed control working, so we cruise in our faith or are we keeping our eyes on Christ and not on others?  It is possible for us to become numb to those offenses as we dabble with sin. Jesus says that it is then possible for salt to loose its saltiness.  The temptation looses its flavor and so we go deeper and deeper.  Jesus’ goal for us is peace.  Peace with other Christian groups, peace with others in our congregation, and peace within ourselves.

         Our lion from the children’s sermon could have been offended that his sleep was disturbed and the tasty morsel begged for mercy.  His natural tendency was to eat the dude. 

         The lion’s pride could have been offended that a mere mouse could one day help him, the king of the jungle.  It hurts our pride to be compared to a child.  We can be offended that a spiritual giant like ourselves might need help.

         The lion’s humiliation at being caught, caught in sin, and needing help was hard for him.  It is hard for us to admit we need help.

         The mice gnawed through the ropes and freed the lion.  The Holy Spirit and fellow Christians are there to help us.  He wants us to be free, to be at peace with him in his kingdom. 

         Do I hear the people of God saying AMEN!11

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