September 27, 2015–A Matter of Faith

Posted on September 22, 2015 by faithlens

Scott Mims, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Warm-up Question

  • Do you have any personal heroes?  Any people in your life who have encouraged, inspired, or set an example you’d like to follow?  If so, who are they and why do you look up to them?
  • Have you ever helped to teach, guide, mentor, or encourage someone else?  What did you learn from the experience?
  • If you could snap your fingers and know that you couldn’t fail, what is one thing that you would do?

A Matter of Faith

[Note: As I write this, the case of Kim Davis, County Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, is very much in the news.  My intent is NOT to generate discussion around the appropriateness of same-sex marriage, but rather a conversation about how we, as Christians, can address together difficult and divisive topics.  You may find it appropriate to choose a different example for your own setting.]

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Kim Davis, County Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky has been very much in the news lately for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that legalized gay marriage.  Citing her Christian faith as the reason for being unable to comply with a court order to begin issuing such licenses, Davis recently spent five days in jail.  She has been released under an arrangement which allows her deputies to issue marriage licenses which do not bear her signature.

Though the case of Kim Davis has ignited a national furor, drawing people and groups from all sides of the debate on same-sex marriage, she is not the only county clerk in Kentucky having to weigh their personal convictions against the requirements of the law.  Some have joined Davis in refusing to issue marriage licenses.  Others have reached different conclusions.  You can read more about the tension they face here: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/religious-clerks-in-kentucky-follow-law-but-see-conflict/ar-AAej6u3?ocid=spartandhp&fullscreen=true#image=1.

Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever had to defend or “make a stand” on what you believe?
  • Do you believe that Christians can disagree, even on “big” issues, and still consider each other legitimate followers of Jesus?  Why or why not?  Are there any issues that you believe we must agree on?
  • Try seeing things from a different viewpoint:
    • For instance, if you agree with the position that Kim Davis has taken, how have her actions and the subsequent responses from other groups been a stumbling block for some people when it comes to Christianity and following Jesus?
    •  If you don’t agree with Davis’ position, how has her willingness to go to jail for what she believes been a witness to faith?
  • Is there any situation or matter of faith that you would go to jail for?  How about die for?

Lectionary 26/Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

James 5:13-20

Mark 9:38-50

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

On the Road with Jesus

We are on the road again with Jesus this week as he and his disciples travel through Galilee.  Jesus is trying to keep his presence a secret, for his focus at this point is on teaching his disciples. Yet Galilee is more than just a place.  In Mark’s gospel especially, Galilee is symbolic of our home turf – the everyday places in which we, as disciples, live and work and play.  Thus, Jesus’ teaching today is not so much for the world at large, but for those who seek to follow him.

Whoever is Not Against Us

And what is it that Jesus teaches?  In part, today’s gospel is a collection of Jesus’ sayings that have been woven together around a chain of word associations.  For example, having just argued with one another of who is the greatest (9:33 – 37), the disciples are confronted once more with what it means to welcome Jesus.  This time, the “welcome” that is offered has to do with using Jesus’ name to cast out evil spirits.  The irony here is that the disciples themselves had recently failed at such an attempt (9:17 – 18), yet want to stop this un-named exorcist because “he was not following us.”  That is, he was not following in the disciples’ footsteps.  Of course, even in the church today it is easy to get hung up on thinking that Jesus somehow belongs to us – that the ways in which we believe and do things are the only right way.  Yet Jesus forbids them to interfere.  Aside from using his name to work deeds of power, if even those who offer the smallest gesture of hospitality to a disciple won’t miss out on the reward, then perhaps the family of Christ is much broader than we often like think.

Stumbling Blocks, Millstones & One-Eyed Christians

Is sin a serious matter?  Yes, and a deadly one at that!  “Stumbling” is the connecting idea in this section, as Jesus addresses both the things that we might do to cause others to sin and the things in our own lives that lead us astray.  The “little ones” here are not just children, but anyone who is “young” in their Christian faith.  Quite simply, we are to be careful in our actions and words lest we put up obstacles to people believing in and following Jesus.  Jesus’ image of being tossed into the sea while chained to a giant millstone is over the top, of course, but it makes the point in no uncertain terms, as do the images that follow.

Are there things in your own life – perhaps even normally “good” things – that cause you to sin?  Are there attitudes, thoughts, or habits that are leading you away from God?  Again, like the millstone image above, the language of chopping off hands, cutting off feet, and plucking out eyes is not meant to be taken literally.  However, it is meant to be taken seriously.  The stakes are high, and living as God’s people calls us into a different way of life.  Discipleship – following Jesus – at times demands the sacrifices of repentance and self-discipline.

Low Salt, No Salt

The image of fire (in this case, the fires of hell) provides the final connection in this week’s gospel.  Here, Jesus encourages us to live as “salty” Christians.  What does it mean to be “salted with fire?”  In the sacrificial system of Jesus’ day, salt was commonly offered as part of worship, so early on someone wrote in the margin of Mark 9:49 a quote from Leviticus 2:13.  Later copyists included this note into the text, where it still appears in some versions of the Bible today.  Nevertheless, salt, like fire, was seen as a purifying agent.  A very precious commodity in the Ancient world, salt was used to preserve food as well as to season it.  Yet it often wasn’t pure, and so could lose its taste leaving only a useless white residue behind.  In a similar fashion, those who claim to follow Jesus, but whose lives are not characterized by service, care for others – especially those who are “young” in the faith – or by self-discipline and mutual love, are like this no-salt – empty of any true flavor.

Discussion Questions

  • It has been reported that the fastest growing religious groups in America are those who have no association with any particular church.  What are some of the “stumbling blocks” that make it difficult for people in our time and culture to believe in Jesus or God?  How might you address some of these issues?  What do you think – can the ways in which you live your life truly make a difference?
  • Do we really need to worry about sin if we have grace?  Why or why not?
  • To borrow a phrase from a popular brand, what types of beliefs, actions, and attitudes do you think should characterize a Christian “Salt Life?”
  • In the Affirmation of Baptism we promise to:
    •  live among God’s faithful people
    •  to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper
    •  to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed
    •  to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and
    • to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
  • What do these things mean to you? Discuss how these promises can guide and shape us as “salty” Christians.  For example, what does it actually mean to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

Activity Suggestions

  • What are some of the things that cause you to “stumble” in your walk with God? As a group, brainstorm a list of things, attitudes, or behaviors that cause you to sin. If your list needs some expanding, consider the Ten Commandments as Martin Luther explains them in the Small Catechism.  Don’t forget to think about the positive things that we often leave undone.
    • Look over your list. How many are things that “everyone” does? Does that make these things less harmful?  Any less of a sin?
    • Are there things on your list that you might support one another in actively resisting or addressing?
  • Be salt and let your lights shine:  What needs, issues, or causes do you feel strongly about?  Brainstorm some things that your group might do to make a difference in one of these areas, be it through prayer, advocacy, or direct action.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, you call us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow you.   Help us to do so.  Give us eyes to see the many ways that you act in our lives and the grace that you give to us day by day.  Give us feet to walk in your way, and catch us when we stumble.  And give us hands to reach out in love and action that we may be living signs of your grace. This we pray in your holy name.  Amen

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