17th Sunday After Pentecost, October 1, 2006
STAYING IN THE CIRCLE
My father who was a pastor, as I am, told this story about a guided tour of heaven. As the guide and his group approached a certain section of heaven, the guide put his finger to his lips asking the group to be quiet.
He said, “Behind that door are the Lutherans. They think they are the
I recently attended a very wonderful worship service. The music was close to the best that music can be done. (No slight to our musician
In preparing for this message, I finally learned why people are “ordained” for the ministry. It was no other reason that a very strong attempt to assure God’s people that the person assigned to be their pastoral care giver was orthodox. You know, a person who would believe correctly, teach and preach correctly (according to whatever standards that denomination professed to be true and correct).
Well, even those very careful steps have never assured that the man standing in front of a congregation would tell it like it should be told. Aberrations, distortions, even down right errors have been proclaimed by “ordained” orthodox persons!
That inner group of twelve persons, called the disciples of Jesus ran into a situation that I believe is very instructive to us. It tells us a lot. They met a man who was not in this inner circle of Jesus.
Now these twelve ran into a person, as far as they knew who had little connection with Jesus and he was successful in getting rid of evil spirits, casting them out in the name of Jesus! He wasn’t in that inner circle; he wasn’t one of the “chosen”; he shouldn’t be doing that. Well, they tried to get the man to stop doing that wonderful work in the name of Jesus. He apparently just kept right ridding people of evil spirits. Jesus has to hear about this, for sure!
They had tried to stop him. Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. Anybody who does miracle in my name cannot in the next moment say anything bad about me. Whoever is not against me is for me. In fact, you need to know. If someone gives one of you disciples as little as a cup of water in my name, that person isn’t going to lose the reward he deserves getting.” Wow! You’ve got to be kidding, Jesus! That’s too far out! Wouldn’t we say that might be even “unorthodox”?
Where do we draw the circle around those who belong to Christ? Who are members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church? Apparently the members of the inner circle are whoever Jesus decides. Surely there are those who are “against” Jesus. There are unbelievers. There are those who operate their lives without any reference to Jesus and what he taught.
But at the same time, we should know that wherever we draw that circle, Jesus just might very possibly be outside that circle with a great number of people who we might well think are not for Jesus at all.
We might just not want to draw any kind of circle at all, but certainly those who use the name of Jesus to perform miracles, that is, great spiritual acts are with Jesus. Defining “miracles” may have to wait for another time. But certainly they would include all acts done for the glory, the praise and honor of the One and Only Savior of the world, Jesus, God’s one and only Son, the Christ! Despite all we lament as false, wrong, and erroneous (remember “who is without sin, cast the first stone,” Someone said!) in other people, denominations and sects, things done in the name of Jesus will result in much good for the doing and person done to.
So it is important for us to see what we are doing. It is possible for us really to harm people who believe in Jesus. Causing people to sin, to do that which would destroy anybody’s trust in Jesus is really evil.
We need to know that sin here is not the occasional cuss word that escapes our lips, not drinking to excess once in a while, not spending too much of our God-given treasure on frivolous stuff which eventually get thrown out.
Sin is when we deny God’s love for another person. Sin is when we say what God’s says is good is not good. Sin is not caring about those around us and doing anything which God says we should not do or say.
I have heard too many horror stories from disillusioned persons seeing people who were leaders of their congregation doing the very things they had condemned in the presence of these people.
So not only are we to be careful whom we place outside the circle of God’s people, inside we need to be careful that you and I, and that the church by its actions does not cause people to lose the faith.
Drastic steps are called for. Jesus speaks about amputating many parts of our anatomy if that part causes us to sin. I could have suggested to Jesus that other parts should have been included in that list:
Should we have followed Jesus’ words literally (people who say they take the Bible literally are not doing so, if they followed these words of Jesus or these parts never are a problem to them!), I would expect to see nothing but limbless torsos in church!
It is rally not difficult to get the drift of what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about drastic action, not taking lightly what causes us to sin and thereby causes others to sin. We are warned today, even by non-Christian sources, about the danger of violent video games, watching pornography, and even getting warped by the ordinary shows on TV. There is the caring too much about how we live and not enough about our children, who live in an age when we are lead to believe that satisfying my wants, my needs is on top of the list, when this Jesus said something about seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (whatever that whole thing means!).
Sex sells. One of our biggest desires is for intimacy with the opposite sex. This has God’s great approval, since he created this desire and wants people to have this desire satisfied. But everything today is sold to us because if we use this product, take this medicine into our bodies, buy this vehicle, we’ll have this desire better
The problem for our country is not the possibility of terrorists destroying something, but we can be destroyed by divorce, serial marriages, sexual perversions, HIV and AIDS, drug addiction whether that be alcohol, marijuana, speed, uppers or downers, or worse.
So many of those things and so much more lead down the path to depression, despair, utter hopelessness, and destruction of this, our God-created life and body.
Better to get rid of all that causes sin, which leads to hell, where the fire never goes away, and we are eaten up continually by all the anxieties we have foisted on ourselves.
I learned along time ago, that addiction to sexual perversion of any and all kinds, addiction to drugs of any and all kinds, those who believe in astrology and like stuff, those who disregard life whether in high places or in the market place, and those who love and practice that which is false are not in the circle now or in the “then” of heaven (Rev. 22:15). All of that is nothing else but idolatry, for all of those can so easily become your god.
You may or may not be caught up in any of these sins. You may be able to stand before God sinless! But if there is even a hint in your life of that which can destroy people or turn them from receiving the Good News of Jesus as Good News, then we need to repent.
Repent of self-righteous attitudes. Repent of putting other Christians down. Repent of drawing the circle just around “your” kind of people.
Jesus came for the disciples. The “for” means so that they would not be condemned to the place where the first never goes out. He came so that they would be free from believing they are in charge of the circle of believers, when God the Holy Spirit alone is in charge.
If he came for them, he came “for” us as well. Our arrogance, our believing others are wrong because they are not “one of us” should, if we are favored by God at all, lead us to repent of our sins, turn around, look at ourselves and other through the eyes of a Savior who gave his all so that we might live in his presence always.
In the words of Holy Scripture for today, don’t lose your saltiness, that which marks you as a disciple of our Lord. The result will be peace among people—all the people who are in the circle that the arms of Jesus enfolds. Amen.
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor