Sermon by Pastor Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Scriptures: James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
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Community Mennonite Church 9-30-18
Texts: James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
Jennifer Davis Sensenig
As our country tries to fill the vacancy on the US Supreme Court through hearings and now an FBI investigation into sexual assault allegations against the nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, many Christians across denominations hear proclaimed this Sunday scriptures about sin and confession. It is tempting to externalize this topic of confession, yet Jesus addresses his close followers assuming that all of us have plenty to confess. Confession of sin is not a minor matter for people whose spirituality is oriented toward Jesus. The Lord’s first proclamation, way back when in Galilee was: The time is now. The kingdom is here! Repent and believe the good news. With this message, some strategic miracles, and a social-political movement, Jesus attracts some followers and chooses some followers. I imagine that the healings, the reinterpretation of Jewish law, the new community that was forming were all very exciting, even when the disciples didn’t understand. And apparently we disciples often misunderstand.
There is an episode in Mark chapter 7 where Jesus is talking privately with some of the disciples, trying to get at some of the internal stuff that needs to be confessed. Jesus says: Corruption comes from within, from the human heart: sexual immorality, stealing, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deception, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. These evil things comes from within and they corrupt a person. I’m quoting Jesus here.
Jesus loses it!
We might expect that the first disciples had such a close relationship with Jesus that they could readily confess their sins. They might not have all been murderers, but no doubt some of this stuff was weighing on their consciences. But what we find in the Gospel is that at least the first cohort of disciples doesn’t confess much. In fact, they talk among themselves about who is the greatest. And then, they focus their energy on attacking other people’s good work. John says: Hey, there’s this other guy doing some good stuff, but he’s not with our program. And Jesus recognizes this as a diversion tactic. And he loses it! Did you hear the end of chapter 9? The hyperbole Jesus uses is offensive–cut it off …cut it off …tear it out! Jesus is so concerned that disciples not live corrupt lives, and not harm others–especially those he calls “the little ones”–that he threatens them with hell!
But this Gospel passage is not really about eternal judgment or punishment. Jesus inviting disciples to confess our sin and take action to prevent it. When he says cut off the hand that causes you to sin: cut it off!–Jesus is not advocating self-harm. Even Christians who claim literal interpretation of scripture don’t believe that. Jesus loves us. Jesus loves that hand and foot and eye that causes us to sin. Jesus loves that heart. Jesus knows us. Jesus says: the kingdom is here! The time is now! Repent and believe the good news. And in this passage Jesus tells us to confess our sin and take action to prevent it because otherwise life is going to feel like a trash heap. Quick historical note here. That word hell in our translations is Gehenna. Gehenna was the stinking, always burning trash dump outside Jerusalem. And Jesus makes Gehenna a gross metaphor of what becomes of a life when we don’t confess our sin and stumbling, when we harm others, when we don’t take action against the corrupt stuff in our lives.
The good news that we heard from the New Testament book of James is that when we confess our sin, there’s help–divine help and human help. James 5 says: Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. In addition to healing, James talks about this kind of spiritual help being salvation, like being raised up, being forgiven. When we confess our sins and pray for one another it’s like being grasped by a saving hand, being raised up to stand securely on our feet, being forgiven, so that the troubled heart is relieved, being healed.
Ministries of confession
Here at CMC we have a number of ministries that foster relationships in which we confess our sins, and receive the divine and human help we need for our lives. For example, a lot of the small groups and friendships within our church are sources of support, but they can also be relationships in which we confess, where we can get at the internal stuff that needs help and healing.
Church Council and our commission chairpersons are preparing budgets to fund ministry in 2019 and we’re looking at CMC giving patterns. One way we might understand our pledged giving is as confession. As Jesus mentioned, greed has a grip on some of us. It’s in our hearts. Confessing our greed and taking action to prevent it by regularly giving–even automatically electronically giving–is the kind of help some of us need. We all need to give, but perhaps some of us are struggling more with greed than others. It’s epidemic in our culture, so it’s no surprise greed is among us. But there’s help.
Another example of confession integrated into a CMC ministry is the Mindful Eating group meeting on Mondays this fall. Some of us need to confess a distorted relationship to our own bodies and our food. We need to take action through mindful eating. This is good news. The youngish adult class has developed patterns for sharing about topics that include some of the internal stuff that needs confession, and the help God promises–divine help, and human help–that emerges when we confess and pray together as church. Our prayer ministers on Sundays and our pastors, during the week are available for hearing confession, praying together, seeking God’s help and human help, for our lives. So, if you are living secretly with some of your sins, there is help–from God and from the church. And you’re not alone. Jesus was right about us. We all have plenty to confess.
Sabbath as Confession
The theme of our retreat last weekend was Sabbath. Believe it or not, Sabbath is a profound communal confession. When we practice Sabbath, we confess that we didn’t create the world, God did. When we remember the Sabbath, we confess that we’re not in charge of the world, so we can stop working. When we keep the Sabbath holy, we confess that we’ve been messing up the world. Practicing Sabbath is a way to take action against the sin in our lives. And sabbath is one of the ways God delivers divine and human help to us–to heal us and save us, to give us peace.
Sisters and brothers, we’re not going to cut off our hand when we’ve touched someone and harmed them. We’re not going to cut off our foot when we’ve walked all over another group of people. We’re not going to tear out our eye when we’ve looked with scorn or hate or lust or indifference. We’re gonna confess to God and one another. We’re going to take action to prevent sin’s corruption of our lives and the world. We’re going to seek help–God’s help and human help.
When Jesus finishes his tirade with the mutilation metaphor, he starts all over again with the same theme, but more of a one-liner. Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another. A s a peace church where everyone is welcome, God invites us to confess the sin that is corrupting our lives and to take action to prevent its growth. God offers help and healing, through Sabbath, and the ministries of the church, so that we can at peace with one another. The kingdom is here.
Hymn–Oyenos mi Dios
Receiving New Members
With the scripture this morning we’ve focused on confessing sin. Another Christian dimension of confession is as simple and as profound as confessing: Jesus is Lord! Today we’re receiving new members, hearing their current confessions of faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a joyful occasion, and we look forward to hearing from these brothers and sisters.[/otw_shortcode_content_toggle]
Our theme music is "Jesus, I believe you're near," composed by Matt Carlson and arranged for strings by Jeremy Nafziger.
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