James 5: 13-20, Mark 9: 38-50.
Lord God, please grant that my words may be fruitful, and may they be acceptable in your sight I pray, amen
In both readings today we see Our Lord Jesus and His Brother James pointing out to us the depth and scope of God’s saving mission. Our Lord Jesus tells us the serious effect ignoring our sins will have on our eventual destination; his brother James also, at the end of the reading, points out the cost of wandering away from the saving message of Christ. Let us not deceive ourselves about what we are doing in the Body of Christ, His Church. This is a life-or-death journey we are all on. Make no mistake, the wages of sin is death.
In the reading from Mark, we see the disciples trying, as is the human way, to circle the wagons and form an exclusive club. They see someone doing a wonderful thing in the name of our Lord Jesus, but because he doesn’t have a membership card, they want him to stop what he is doing. Our Lord Jesus immediately stamps that fire out. Those who are not against us must be for us. A message for the churches there, I think.
But then He goes on to point out to His disciples what He is truly about, what He is really trying to achieve, the saving of humanity from the abomination that is death through sin. This is a mission only God could even contemplate taking on and completing successfully. The whole story of Christ’s mission, the mission of his Church, the broken body of Christ made strong and effective by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is about completing God’s creation, according to His plan. God created the world and the heavens through and for Christ. We are meant to be God’s stewards of this creation. If you doubt that walk through a jungle or a wilderness onto a golf course. But, through Adam and Eve, we threw a spanner in the works and opened the door to sin and death. It’s no use saying it wasn’t me who ate the apple. If there is one person here who can say that, if they had been there, they wouldn’t have fallen for the evil ones lies, let him or her stand up now and tell us how she or he would have managed that. No, we are all sinners. But God would not and will not abandon us to our own devices, no matter how hard we try to make Him.
Hebrews 13: 5. For He Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not, in any degree, leave you helpless, nor forsake you, nor let you down, nor relax my hold on you. Assuredly not. God has stuck with us through the entire history of humanity. A history of war and oppression and unspeakable terrors visited upon one group of His children by another group of His children. Now, one of the realities we should consider is that God did not and does not have to stay with us.
Take the most powerful telescope and gaze out at the stars as far as is humanly possible; hundreds and thousands light years away. That is still God’s kingdom, God’s creation. There must be countless other planets out there that God could have just written us off as a bad lot and gone there to start again. But no, our wonderful God has stayed with us through thick and thin because He loves us perfectly, in a way that we would find frightening if another human being loved us that way; in a way only God can love us, and He has a place for us in His creation and only we can fill that place to the satisfaction of our God. But our God knows us so well and loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to spend eternity in His kingdom feasting at His table, not believing that we deserve to be there. God wants us to be happy to be there and secure in the knowledge that we did everything we could to deserve our place; but we have to make the climb out of the pit we dived into when we sinned in the Garden; and we cannot do it alone. God knows that and He has sent us His Son, His Church and His Holy Spirit to guide us and to help us. Not to do it for us; to help us do it for ourselves. God has never stopped in His battle to return humanity to its rightful place as the stewards of His Kingdom. But He wants us to be secure and content and happy in the knowledge that we deserve to be there because we earned our place through the once for all perfect sacrifice of our Lord Jesus and the part each and every one of His children has played in the establishment of His church and the glorification of our God, through our works and our devotions and our prayers.
Our Lord Jesus doesn’t pull any punches here, He makes it absolutely clear how serious our mission is. If your eye causes you to sin gouge it out, for it is better for you to enter into Heaven with one eye than to go into Hell with two; can’t get much more urgent than that. Now I don’t believe that our Lord Jesus is actually telling us to gouge our own eye out here. What He is telling us is that He is fully aware of how sin can become an integral part of our life and how seriously we should take it and how completely we should deal with it. If you have a bad habit that is causing you to stumble, then you need to face it and deal with it. And do not be deceived by those who would try to comfort you with soft words. You must take on this battle, this struggle for the sake of your immortal soul. And you’re not alone. We all have our weaknesses, we all have our faults, we all have our sinful habits. And don’t give up because you think you’re never going to win that battle. It’s not about us winning the battle; the battle is yours Lord; it’s about us fighting our battle, in the best way we can.
Matthew 24:13. He who endures to the end will be saved.
Not who wins, not he who is triumphant, he who endures to the end. Only God can be triumphant in this battle for the souls of humanity. Our God knows it’s a battle we can only fight through His Grace with the help and comfort of The Holy Spirit and the guidance of our Lord Jesus and Scripture.
These are our armour and our weapons with which we fight our battle; our ammunition is our prayers and as any soldier will tell you it’s all about the ammunition, because a rifle without ammunition is just a useless weight to carry and you can only carry enough ammunition for one battle; so you have to keep going back for more ammunition, you have to keep praying regularly, alone in private for your personal weapon, and as a group for the artillery, we have keep our weapons loaded. Our God will never punish us for not winning not being perfect; but He will also never reward us if we never try. And don’t ever forget the perfect once for all sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. He didn’t go through all that struggle all that pain all that suffering all that shame just for show. He did it for us, in order to establish His Church upon the earth, to call us to Him; to save us. The church, the broken body of Christ made whole and effective through the inspiration of The Holy Spirit. If you believe in and ask for the Holy Spirit to come and help you the Holy Spirit will come and help you. But more importantly, from a human point of view, if you fully enter into the body of Christ, His church, of whatever denomination, as long as it works to the glory of God honestly and openly, then you will be on your journey to salvation; you will be fighting the best fight you can to save your immortal soul. Remember, you don’t have to reach the top of the mountain; but you do have to put your boots on and set out up the hill, stay on the right path and endure to the end. If you have a mountain to climb but spend all your time staring at the summit then you’re probably never going to start the climb. If you start the climb but keep staring at the summit, you’re going to fall over a lot. Deal with what’s in front of you. Watch where you put your feet, work with your companion climbers and watch out for them, scan each section of the climb in front of you, plan your route carefully and always be prepared for unforeseen problems. Because there will always be unforeseen problems, and they usually hit you when you least expect them. That’s how you climb a mountain; that’s how you fight a battle; and it’s not all about reaching the top or winning the battle, remember the battle is yours Lord. For us, it’s about making the climb, fighting our part of the battle. If Christ has called you to Himself, you need to answer the call the best way you can. We need to answer that call as best we can. And we must learn from today’s reading how important our calling is; and one other thing. We don’t get to choose who is called. That is God’s work. We are called to work as a team, as a family; to get each other as far up the mountain as we can. We are called, to hold the rope for whoever is on the other end of it. We are called to carry those who are hurt and need our support. We are called to go after those who have wandered off or become lost and help them back to the right path. We are also called to celebrate with one another when we’ve fought the good fight, when we’ve reached the top of the mountain, when we’re sitting at God’s table feasting in the kingdom of God; knowing we did it through the grace of God and our own efforts as a team; and what a celebration that will be. Amen.