Collect and Readings for The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, Esther 7::4-6, 10-16,24-29, Psalm 124 and 19:7-14, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50The Prayer for today O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Not many people talk about hell nowadays in the biblical sense. You hear comments such as 'this is a living hell' but what do people mean when they say this? The graphic fire and brimstone images of the medieval artists are not quite what we think of as hell and we tend to pass over Jesus' teaching about it. Sometimes however, we have to face it and our readings for this week are just such an occasion.
Jesus had a lot of hard sayings for his disciples to swallow. They needed to understand and accept that God doesn't rigidly limit his spirit to work within the Church. Joshua had been just as offended by the seventy elders all prophesying, and Moses had to remind him that as far as he was concerned, he'd be happy for the whole community to be filled with the Spirit of God. God doesn't limit his power to those specific groups. We too, need have no problem with Christian work being done by those outside the Church.
And then there is the hard but clear teaching on the importance of self-control. Jesus is not pretending temptation is easy to cope with. He knew from personal experience that it was agonisingly difficult. It is always a struggle to resist temptation, who hasn't been on a diet and seen that piece of chocolate just beckoning to you with every reason why one piece wouldn't do any harm? Fighting it can feel as drastic as chopping off hands or feet or plucking out eyes. Even hearts, if they are causing us to sin and distracting us from God. It is because we don't take temptation seriously enough that we so often fall into sin. Jesus, in his agony in the garden, as he watched and prayed desperately to resist the temptation to opt out of the work of salvation, urges Peter and the others to do the same, so that they will not fall when the onslaught of temptation engulf them, but they slept instead.
The reason for Jesus' urgent concern for us is that sin has eternal terrible consequences that we can barely imagine. It is forfeiting eternal life we are talking about and some kind of eternal punishment which, certainly fills Jesus with horror to think of. If he was taking it seriously, then surely, we would be wise to do the same. We are called to be preservers – like salt – working at preserving souls for a glorious eternal life which is God's will for us all. We can't do that if we are allowing our own bodies and attitudes to lead us deep into sin. Neither can we kid ourselves we are preservatives unless we are actively committed to helping others towards the kingdom.
Some things to reflect on:
God bless and stay safe and well.
Rev'd Fiona Robinson