18th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 21 – B)
September 26, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. Mark.
A word you may have heard thrown around lately is radical. Radical is the word, not that the word is radical. With me? Anyway, when someone uses the term radical, our minds usually go to something negative. ANTIFA is a radical, fascist group which promotes and carries out violence. Some say Islamic terrorists are radicals. On most college campuses you’ll find students and professors radically pushing for socialism. These kinds of radicals we can do without, but radical doesn’t have to be used only in a negative sense. Radical simply means very different from the usual or traditional, and we Christians are very different from the norm. We’re not radical in the sense that we support bombing abortion clinics, that’s radically unchristian. Rather, we’re radical because that’s not only what Jesus has called us to be it’s what He empowers us to be.
Usually when Jesus says something, we can follow right along. We know what it means to love our neighbor and to not focus on earthly wealth. Then we get to verses like these from Mark and we’re not quite sure what to do with them. We’re supposed to be radical but cutting off limbs seems to be a little extreme. To get some insight, especially on passages that are harder to understand, I like to read Luther’s sermons. While he’s a ton wordier than I am, his sermons are very good, and yet, I couldn’t find a single sermon of his in English on this text. I should say there were two, but they were both about angels and children. He completely skipped the whole amputation part of the lesson.
While I’m almost certain Luther didn’t ignore this chapter, I wouldn’t blame him if he did. It can be hard to understand and even harder to apply to our lives. Jesus wants me to cut off my legs, my hands? I’m supposed to gouge out my eye? If you want to talk about radical, this is it. Besides, how’s it even going to work? If a guy must rip out an eye because he checked out a woman walking by, how long until the other one must be removed? How far exactly do we take this? If I swear, do I lose my tongue? If I think sinfully, do I have to get a lobotomy? Jesus is giving us radical and ridiculous commands.
We know that Jesus isn’t kidding around when we hear the horrifying consequences of not being radical. He says, “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” This is God telling you about eternal hell and divine judgment. A never-ending fire which burns but never consumes and worms that never die. At the risk of grossing you out, the worms that Mark is talking about are maggots that feed on putrid flesh. How’s that for a visual? Don’t blame me, Jesus started it. I get it though. This isn’t stuff we like talking about in church. We like to hear about Jesus, the little children, His death for our sins. That’s what we like to hear, not this junk about hell, maggots, and damnation.
Let me ask you something though. Is anything in God’s Word junk? Of course not. If Jesus takes the time to teach us about radical behavior and the consequences of not being radical, it’s obviously something He wants us to know. That’s why we have to talk about them, and that’s why we have to talk about being radical in a non-radical world. To be radical is to be different than the norm. It’s to be countercultural. It’s to do the opposite of the sinful world. While we could spend all day listing the sinful norms that should have people amputating limbs one after another, that’s not what I want to do. Instead, I want you to look at yourself and contemplate the radical surgery that you need to make.
When Jesus tells us to cut off our hand and foot and to gouge out our eye, He doesn’t mean that we’re to literally perform surgery on ourselves. He’s using what’s called hyperbole, He’s exaggerating to make a point, and the point is simple – our sinful behavior requires a radical change. When Jesus says, “if your hand causes you to sin” He means if your “hand entraps you”. This is the kind of trap where the prey sees the bait, goes to get it and then the stick is pulled out and the trap falls down around them. Your sinful hands, feet, eyes, tongue, brain all seek to trap you, and when they do there are consequences. Radical change means that you’re to think about the traps your bodies set in front of you, focus on the sins that can cause you to trip up and then do what you can to avoid them and fight them.
Do certain cable television shows get your attention for the wrong reasons? Do your feet march you places you know you shouldn’t be going? Does your hand do violence? Or is it slothful and wasteful? Do your fingers walk across the keyboard in inappropriate ways? Does your will convince you to do the opposite of what you know you really should be doing? Does you brain plot and scheme to find some way to justify your behavior? We have to be aware of these sins. The danger is that by being comfortable in our sins we miss the warning bells that alert us to the seriousness of what we’re doing. We’re missing God’s call to be radical.
When Jesus tells us to amputate our limbs, the spotlight isn’t really on our hands or feet, it’s on our heart. He’s talking about heart changes. It’s better to give up what you like or enjoy if it means saving your souls. It’s better to cut off your intellect and fear, love, and trust in God above all things. So what if you can’t watch the types of movies, check out certain favorite websites, or party your way into through the weekend. What you give up on earth is nothing compared to what you will give up by not amputating your sinful members and entering the darkness of unquenchable fires and maggots. What you give up on earth is nothing compared to what you will receive in Heaven. What you’re giving up won’t matter at all when God destroys this current world and places us in a new and perfect one. We radically cut everything out of our lives that tempt us and lead us into sin.
Some radicals are influenced by Che Guevara or Karl Marx or AOC. We’re influenced by Jesus Christ, more than that we are saved by Jesus. Everything He says and does is a departure from the norm. Your eyes look where they’re not suppose to look. His eyes look at the lost, the hurting, the sinful, the cross. Your feet march you into forbidden places and trudge you away from the church. His feet took Him from Gethsemane to the Temple to Pilates to the whipping post and to the cross. Your hands do violence and theft, His hands were stretched and nailed. Your heart loves the wrong things, His heart was pierced with a spear.
Because Jesus is a radical, He’s the one who delivered us from that eternal hell, and He’s the only one who will lead us through successful amputations. In the meantime, Christ salts us through His Word. This means that by enduring physical and spiritual amputation from His Father, Jesus earned the forgiveness of your sins. Now, after radical repentance of your sins, you hear the radical absolution: “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. How’s this for radical! Your sins are completely gone, and those parts you amputated in a battle for your soul are restored because you’re forgiven! The Holy Spirit made His home in you and He will train you to keep your sinful desires in check through the salt that is His Word. Your eyes now gaze on His beauty, your hands now serve the needy, your feet bring you to His house to be salted and prepared for everlasting life, and your restored heart loves Him above all else.
In the middle of our reading Jesus says something else radically unexpected. He says, “For everyone will be salted with fire.” This sounds frightening or at least concerning, it’s not though. When we die, we’re purged (we’re salted) of all sin, evil, and wickedness and brought into God’s Kingdom. It’s good to be salted for then God welcomes us into His kingdom with all our appendages and senses restored to what He created them to be, sinless, holy, and in perfect service to Him.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen