Monday, October 1, 2018

Father Riley's homily from September 30, 2018

 Breaking News:  

...Pledge letters for 2019 are being mailed out at this time.  If you do not receive a pledge letter and wish to, please contact Mrs. Brenda Funderburg at

… Mrs. Jane Barnett will lead us in Morning Prayer Sunday, October 7th.

 ...The Rev. Canon Gregg Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist Sundays,  October 14, 21, and 28th.

...Diocesan Convention will be held in Pineville, Nov 3rd.  Sam & Faye will be attending for CEC.

...Ordination of seminarian Garrett Boyte (and others) to the transitional diaconate will be held at Saint James, Alexandria, Nov. 24th at 10am.

19 PENTECOST, PROPER XXI - B - 18                               MARK 9. 38-50

There are at least three sermons in today’s passage. It all begins with a dialogue between Jesus and the disciple John who raises the question of the legitimacy of an independent proclaimer of the gospel, that is, one who is outside the fellowship of the 12.

The question is whether or not they should be stopped. Jesus answers John’s objection with “Whoever is not against us is for us.” There is a sermon in that.

But the heart of today’s passage lies in the stern warning Jesus gives in regards to the difficulty and demands of discipleship. True discipleship calls for sacrifice, that is, anything that gets in our way of being a disciple must go. Jesus uses the foot, hand and eye to make his point.

The warning, however, comes in his reference to hell’s unquenchable fire.  Hell is the Greek word used by the New Testament writers for the final place, after death, for those who reject God. Gehenna is the Greek word for the valley of Hemmon that runs past the southwest corner of the old city of Jerusalem.

In ancient times it was as a place where children were sacrificed by fire to an idol. The idol and its practice were later abolished by Josiah. These inhumane practices gave the place a horrible character, and caused its name to be detested and used a figure for a place of torment. Later it was used as Jerusalem’s rubbish heap, smoldering perpetually; by Jesus’ day it had already become a metaphor for the fate, after death, of those who rejected God.

Thus in his warning, Jesus combines two meanings: he continually warns his contemporaries that unless they follow his way of the kingdom, his way of peace, they, together with the nation and its capitol city, were heading for literal physical destruction, in a great cataclysm that would reduce Jerusalem to a large-scale and horrifying extension of its own smoldering rubbish heap.

He draws on this larger theme to make the personal warning: don’t think that you can keep doing whatever you feel like. The kingdom is breaking in; sacrifices are required; to think otherwise is to risk total ruin. Those who are headed down the wrong road are headed for the rubbish heap, the opposite of life as God intends and away from the kingdom of God.

Jesus is in the process of teaching his chosen 12 what it means to be a disciple. Yet they still have both feet firmly planted in earthly thinking. Their idea of power and glory is based on what they know and what they have seen demonstrated around them by both the Romans and the Pharisees.

Recall last week’s passage where the 12 were arguing over who was the greatest, as if they had ignored, or did they, what Jesus had said for the second time about his being handed over into the hands of sinful men, that he would be killed and raised on the third day.

Not much, if anything, has changed over the centuries. Many would be followers of Jesus are still interested in what is in it for them. They live their lives believing that they can do or say whatever they wish and treat their neighbor in any manner in which they wish and all will be well in the end, that is, the gates of heaven will swing open to receive them and the angels will rejoice at their appearing.

However, Jesus’ warning in today’s passage is clear. Do not think that you can continue to do whatever you feel like. There is a cost to discipleship. Thomas Merton said it well in his “Seven Story Mountain.” “In order to become what God has created me to be I have to give up being what I want to be.” The kingdom is breaking in, as Jesus said, and sacrifices are required.

And they are different for each of us. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Today’s contemporary translations uses the word “stumble” in relation to what prevents us from being what God has created us to be. But the original translation is “sin.” Too often we want to shy away from that word as if the very idea does not exist at all.

Obviously, Jesus did not literally mean one should cut off one’s hand, one’s foot, or to pluck out one’s eye. What he meant was we are to give up, surrender, sacrifice whatever it is that tempts us and prevents us from entering the kingdom. It could be pride, or self-interests, or any number of other things that constitute sin, that is, our living the opposite life that God intends and in a direction that will take us away from the kingdom.

Many today write and speak as if the only purpose in following Jesus were to find complete personal fulfillment and satisfaction, to follow a way or a path of personal spirituality which will meet our felt needs.

The cross, however, turns that kind of thinking up-side down. There is no time or space for self-indulgent spiritualities that shirk the slightest personal cost. God’s love is free, but there is a cost of discipleship. It begins with the sacrifice of self, with a capitol s, in order to receive the love of God. In doing so we discover our true self and who and what it is God has created us to be and do.

Sermon three come at the end of the chapter and brings us back to the squabbling disciples.

Salt purifies, so does fire. The disciples are called, as we all are, to be the salt of the earth, but we must be aware of losing our particular flavor and so become worthless. It is easy to do. We do it by blending in with the crowd so that we are no longer distinguishable from those who believe and those who do not. It is a temptation that we are all faced with on a daily basis.

Finally, if we are to be true followers of the prince of peace we must learn to live at peace within ourselves. Looking at today’s passage in light of the previous week’s gospel readings it would appear that at this point in their following Jesus, the disciples had not yet learned the lesson. The question is, have we?

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