September 27th 2015
Based on the book of Esther, & Mark 9:38-50
As we reflect on the scriptures this morning, I invite you to take a few moments in silence to recall a difficult decision that you have had to make in your life – A Yes or No decision – could be about a work situation, a relationship, health etc. (you may want to close your eyes, deep breath, get grounded) What was that decision about?… What effect did it have on you?… On others?
Did you seek the advice or the aid of someone else in making the decision? What was that like? What helped? What hindered? Did you pray? If so, what was your prayer?
Are you now at peace with that decision, or are there some `leftovers’ to deal with? …
I invite you now to gently lay the memory of that decision down and draw your attention back to this moment in the worship service…. Again, a deep breath in…and let it out
This morning we heard the stories of two women in the book of Esther. Two women that had to make difficult decisions – One No, and one Yes. Each decision had a cost. Each decision had to do with identity. For Vashti, the issue was about her own autonomy and respect – she wasn’t just a play toy for the King to show off. She paid the price for keeping her dignity.
For Esther, it had to do with her identity in community and the choice to reveal that she was part of group that was about to be annihilated.
When do we revel in our identity and celebrate it? E.g. Kiss me, I’m Irish! When do we hide our identity? When do we let it show, even if it means risk? Or when do we not – e.g. I received a phone call several years ago in Merritt from a transient looking for a place to stay the night, or some money for a hotel room. The man said, “I’m looking for Rev. Austin – is he there?” This was a moment when I decided not to push my identity. “No HE isn’t.”
There are times when it takes courage to identify yourself as part of a group. But as the gospel illustrates there are times when holding your identity as the most important thing, gets in the way of ministry, and the wider communion which God calls us to. When the disciples come to Jesus and tell him that they’ve tried to stop someone from healing in Jesus’ name, because he wasn’t one of them, they expect affirmation or praise. `Way to go, boys!’ but Jesus is not pleased with their George W Bush attitude of, ”Yer either with us or yer against us.”
Rather he tells his disciples, `If someone isn’t actually against us, they are for us.’ You can’t do something good and powerful in the name of Jesus, and then trash him. The good you do, changes you.
There is no need to look for enemies and people to blame around us. Instead, Jesus urges his disciples then and now, to look within and ask if there are habits or actions of our own which need to be transformed. Are we causing harm to ourselves or others in any way?
Jesus uses some startling and dramatic language to get the point across. If your thoughts or actions cause any one to suffer –cut off your foot, rip out your eye! Good grief! Where’s our gentle Jesus, meek and mild!?
I expect Jesus was a pretty quick study when it came to human nature. We don’t tend to take tough news seriously unless it really catches us off guard. He doesn’t say, `go confess to the priest’, or say some `hail Mary’s, or `sacrifice a chicken.’ It would be too easy to do that and get right back in the rut of whatever harmful thought pattern or behaviour keeps us from taking discipleship seriously. There is courage needed for Yes and No decisions, there is courage needed to let go of harmful prejudices and attitudes and actions – to cut them out of our lives.
Jesus uses the image of salt – a precious commodity, a preservative, and flavour enhancer. Think of how salt brings out the flavour of the foods we eat. We are like salt in that we change the flavour of each day by our thoughts, our words and actions.
Whatever else we use to help us in our decision making, let us not overlook the very obvious and essential gift of prayer – that process of opening to a deeper wisdom, energy and light. Jesus and the disciples were no strangers to prayer. And remember what Esther does? Esther asks everyone to fast and pray for her so she may have the courage to do what she must do.
We are pretty good about asking prayers for others in the congregation, in the community. It is harder to say, Please pray for me – I have a tough decision to make. Or please pray for me, I have to face a medical procedure and I’m really frightened. The other thing Esther did is to commit to pray and fast herself. She built up her spiritual strength to help her be open to God.
At the beginning of my message I asked you to recall a time when you had to make a difficult decision, – a Yes or No decision. What was that like? What helped? What hindered? Did you pray? If so, what was your prayer?
If anyone would like to share anything about that in community, I invite you to do so now…
During the prayers of the people today, we will have an opportunity to pray for ourselves, for our loved ones and even for our perceived enemies in a way that truly blesses everyone. May we have the courage to do so. Amen.