18th Sunday after Pentecost
September 27, 2015
“The Scandal of Christianity”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today is the Gospel lesson previously read from Mark 9.
My dear friends in Christ,
Do you know who Wade Murray is? You probably don’t unless you lived in Minnesota, and even then, you might not remember him. But maybe you remember what he did. 30-year-old Wade Murray was “angry at God.” That is the reason he gave local police and the FBI as to why he vandalized six churches in Buffalo, MN including Hosanna Lutheran, an LCMS congregation, back in 2012. Murray acted alone in these hate crimes, and he told investigators that he committed the acts of vandalism because he is angry with God over “personal issues.”
What exactly did he do? He threw stones through their glass doors and stained glass windows, and left such offensive signs regarding our Lord Jesus Christ that the media did not release because it is too offensive. These were scandalous acts! Scandalous behaviors! Scandalous words he put out there regarding Jesus.
And that is just what I want to talk about today. Scandals. Not the kind you see on “TMZ” or on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not even going to address what Wade Murray did anymore; he got what he deserved for his crimes from local authorities and the Ultimate Authority.
Maybe you didn’t hear it in the Gospel lesson for today, but the word “scandal” was there 4 different times. In the English translation, the Greek word “skandalizh” was used in verses 42, 43, 45, and 47 and was translated correctly with its original meaning – “to cause someone to sin.” In the Greek language if you really wanted to make a point about something, one of the ways you could do that would be to repeat words in close proximity; hence, Jesus seems to want to say something about the scandal of faith, or as I am calling it today, the scandal of Christianity.
In the text for today Jesus and the disciples are back in Capernaum. He has already taught the disciples twice in just a short period of time that “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). The disciples’ response to these insights was to argue about which one of them was the greatest (Mark 9:33-34). As always the disciples seemed to have a real problem with “getting it,” and as a result, Jesus teaches them in the sensational way we heard in today’s Gospel lesson in talking about cutting off hands and feet and plucking out eyes.
Some people think that the scandal of Christianity lies in the face value of today’s Gospel lesson. “What kind of God wants people to cut off their hands or feet? See, you cannot believe everything in the Bible!” Slow down there, hoss. What Jesus is doing in verses 42-47 is teaching in a sensational way; He is using hyperbole. This is an exaggerated figure of speech to make a point, and my guess would be you use it a lot without even knowing: “I’ll bet you a million dollars,” or “I’ve told you a thousand times,” or “this food is the absolute worst.” So…what’s the point Christ Jesus wants to make?
The real issue here is attitude. The disciples had the wrong attitude regarding following the Christ (9:33-35), the wrong attitude regarding their status with Jesus (9:38), and the wrong attitude about service in the kingdom (9:41). And so Jesus addresses – in a sensational way – the things that are skandalizh. Having the wrong attitude regarding the Savior is skandalizh. Things that lead people away from Christ are skandalizh. If someone or something compromises your faith, that is skandalizh.
And, my friends, we are LIVING the skandalizh and not just in our own sinfully rebellious thoughts, words, and deeds. You know what those things are in your life and there is no need for me to enumerate them. How do you know if something is scandalous for your faith? Easy. Which way does it point you? To lead people away from Christ is skandalizh. The things that compromise the ONLY THING THAT TRULY MATTERS – faith unto eternal life – are skandalizh.
Dear friends, we are living the fulfillment of 2 Timothy. Paul wrote to Timothy to be faithful, reminding him “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV). This world and our lives and now even our churches are full of skandalizh. So what can we do in response?
First of all…repent! Start by ridding your own life of the things that are skandalizh, which cause you or others to sin. Seek God’s forgiveness and grace won for you at Calvary’s cross. If you’re not sure about right and wrong – what is sinful and what is not – seek not man’s word but God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures…the only true authority in life rather than human opinion that changes like the wind (Acts 5:29). If you’re confused, be in the Word; find out what God’s Word has to say.
Renew your attitudes and heart in and through Christ Jesus. Remove those things that are skandalizh from your life, and instead seek a life lived in God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s service. Render cups of water to those in need. Love and forgive as you have been loved and forgiven. Trust and hope in Him in all of life’s situations knowing that not even the gates of hell will overcome the church (certainly not a few rocks will bring us down!). And never forget to pray. Pray for this nation; pray for Wade Murray. Let go of the scandalous things in life and in all things hold on to the only thing needful – your faith unto eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.