Blue Mountains Franciscan Church
Sermon preached by Br. Andrew at Maroubra on 27th September 2015
Esther 7:1-6,9-10;9:20-22; Psalms 124; James 5:12-20; Mark 9:38-50
Upon first reading the readings for today I noticed that the common denominator was “Deliverance” each Reading giving us accounts of Deliverance:
from the Pogrom of 14th Adar 522 BCE, in the story of Queen Esther; during the many confrontations with the enemies of Israel as David sings in the Psalm; from Sickness and Sin set down by James in his Epistle and from daemon Possession; deliverance from Hell and damnation in the Gospel according to Mark.
Our Gospel is a gruesome one in many ways and if some of us took it literally we might be rather abstract forms of humanity by the time we entered the Kingdom of Heaven. This passage is obviously not intended to be taken literally, say the scholars, rather the particular parts of our bodies refer to individual aspects or variations of support and their corresponding sins when indulged in too intensely.
Our eyes are our great delight with which to behold the Creation, our dearest ones they also represent those who are closest and dearest to us, our families and friends. What Jesus tells us that if any of these dear ones lead us into temptation it will be best for us to abandon them and go alone into the Kingdom of God rather than follow them to perdition to be plagued by our consciences, the undying worm, forever. Gihinnon, the perennially burning rubbish dump outside of Jerusalem served as a metaphor for Hell, something with which everyone was familiar. A place whose flames appeared never to go out continually fueled by all things polluted and unwanted from the city.
Our hands, those who are our dearest friends who walk beside us whom we trust, whom we hold onto in times of need, should they fail us and lead us terribly astray then it is better to enter eternal life alone. Likewise, our legs that support us, uphold us by which we walk to and from work, our work mates yet should these suggest any kind of calumny, libel or mischief against our workplace then it is better not to have such friends as these to join us in the fire that quenches not.
Any of these activities might cause the little ones of God to stumble and not even the saltiness of the ocean will quench the unquenchable fire nor salve the conscience from its burning guilt.
In the Epistle James writes of the early church’s beginning with the formalising of Rites dealing with those who were sick or who had sinned. Though the Gospels were yet to be written James, who wrote this Epistle approximately 49AD would certainly have remembered Jesus interesting teachings about where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ Mark 9:48 (NIV) therefore the early Church did recognise the need Christians had of being at peace with God.
For the Roman Church this passage is cited among others as an example for the instigation of two of what are known now as: The Sacraments of the Church, (Sacrament of the Sick and Confession) not given to his Priests by Jesus himself but developed by the early church community to attending to illness and mainly spiritual dis-ease within the Church and with those who desired forgiveness of their sins.
For the Roman Church these became two of the 7 Sacraments and for churches such of ours they formed two traditions, the First of the Rite of Healing with Anointing and the other of the Laying on of Hands by those members of the Community with special Ministries of Prayer and Healing.
Of Confession, this is something of the general nature of advice, suggestion, comfort or serious Spiritual Direction. (I will not look here at the complicated traditions held in the various Jurisdictions and types of Anglican Rites)
The Laying on of Hands was not expected to physically heal people of their illnesses though sometimes did, rather their spiritual dis-ease. James tells the Christians in his community,”…..make it your habit to confess your sins to one another and to pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. ”
In our Community we pray for the sick and the sick of heart among us each week during the Intercessions and make it our habit to ensure each week that these lists are kept up to date. AND to thank God when prayers are answered.
From Esther to James acts of deliverance depend upon courageous believers placing all their trust and Faith in Our God and in his Christ.
In the Gospel record by St Mark we have the original
Words, of Jesus from which all the other readings take their sense. The cost of righteousness, of discipleship can come dearly, metaphorically tearing us limb from limb for the sake of the Kingdom.
Esther was willing to die for her people right then had her husband King Ahasuerus wished it, rather than watch them die but a few days later.
David sang a Psalm that rejoiced in the many times God had delivered Jerusalem, Israel from her enemies -our Lord speaks to those in his day to stress that they must be willing to make sacrifices which will rend them asunder for the sake of their home in the kingdom of God.’
It is the part of those within the Ministry of prayer to impress upon those to whom they minister, the saving Graces of God, and I have always found comfort in the verses below– because in every situation where two or three are gathered together in His name He is in the midst of them and what follows on from below is the comfort and the rejoicing and the petitions to our lord whereby we know we are delivered from the Laws of Sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
In Philippians 4: 4 – 7 Paul writes:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV)