Mark 9:38-50

A Liturgy is also available


Three years ago I had my first experience of PJ O’Rourke’s humour.
I know, I don’t mix in the ‘right’ circles!

This American political satirist was appearing on the ABC TV program “Q&A”.
And in what some say was a
“very wise and very funny performance” 
(Irfan Yusuf. Eureka Street, 14 August 2009),

O'Rourke's analysis on how Australia should deal with asylum seekers
cut to the quick of many politically conservative folk,
including some of those appearing on the program with him.

So what did PJ say about asylum seekers?  Let me offer this quote:
"You know, we in the States have much, much more experience with being all wrong about immigration than you do.  I mean 36,000 you said in Italy? ... We laugh.  That's a day in the United States.  And we are so wrong about it.  I mean, build a fence on the border with Mexico, give a huge boost to the Mexican ladder industry, you know [...]  the thing is when somebody gets on an exploding boat to come over here - they're willing to do that to get to Australia - you're missing out on some really good Australians if you don't let that person in."

When a conservative politician replied with “righteous indignation… about smugglers” and the need for an “orderly migration system" (Irfan Yusuf. New Matilda, 30 April 2009), PJ again responded:

"Whoa.  Whoa.  Whoa.  You know, if you open your borders, you don't have people smugglers…  You know, my people came over to the United States in a completely disorganised way.  Doubtless by way of people smugglers [...]  I really believe in immigration... Let them in.  Let them in.  These people are assets.  [O]ne or two of them might not be, but you can sort them out later...  Oh, I think conservatives are getting this wrong all over the world, I really do."

People matter.
And how we treat people, matters.
It raises issues of justice and morality, anger and hope.


Most stuff we read in the biblical stories, especially the Jesus stories,
is regarded or heard as nice stuff.  Jesus saying he loves us, for instance.
He even gives us his most important commandment:
to love one another as he loves us.

He also says, so the stories go, we are not servants or slaves to him,
but friends.  He is not our master.  We are friends.
We lay down our lives for friends.
We bear fruit; fruit that will last.

But every now and again we run into some harsh-sounding, angry stuff.
Today’s story from the teller we call Mark, is one such occasion.

Well, let’s have a look at this collection of stories.
Or perhaps they should be called ‘proverbs’ rather than stories.

Interestingly enough, Bishop Jack Spong does not list any of these sayings
in his book of ‘terrible texts’, called The Sins of Scripture.

Yet some certainly sound ‘terrible’…
'…any who are an obstacle to bring down one of these
little ones who have faith, would be better thrown
into the sea with a great millstone round their neck...

Are these angry-sounding so-called Jesus sayings ‘unchristian’?
When I checked out several other references and web sermon sites,
all made similar comments:
while the language is strong, as strong as language can get,
we are
not to take these phrases literally.

Indeed, some of those who have reflected further suggest the
extravagant exaggeration or hyperbole in them
is a typical Jesus-style reminder to stay focused, to stress
“the single-minded intentionality which should characterise human life” (Cairns 2004:138).

So I guess that’s the first things I want to highlight
as you reflect further on these sayings.

The second is, what’s another way we could hear or
understand these ‘angry’ sayings?

One answer, and I guess it is a profound one, is expressed in a prayer
offered by Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel at the 50th anniversary
of the camp’s liberation.  Let me share it with you:
“Those who are here remember the nightly marches [into the gas chambers] of children, and more children, and more children.  Frightened, quiet.  So quiet and so beautiful.  If we could see just one of them our heart would break.  But did it break the hearts of the murderers?  O God, O merciful God, do not have pity on those who did not have mercy on Jewish children” 
(Quoted in JMarcus.

A powerful, angry prayer against forgiveness!

On the other hand let me offer a couple of stories from Revd Jerry Stinson,
the minister I reckon is my minister…

Certainly the one I go to when I am seeking some wisdom
on situations or texts about justice and morality, anger and hope.

Story No.1:
In 1940, the Nazi army invaded Denmark.
The Danish government was given one hour to surrender
or have the cities bombed.

The king and prime minister urged people to join in nonviolent resistance 
with the hope that they could drive the Nazis away.

Once a swastika was hung on the palace wall.
The king ordered Nazi officials to remove it.  They refused.
So the King said he would order a soldier to take it down.

The Nazis said they would shoot that soldier.
The king said, “I’m that soldier,” and proceeded to remove the swastika.

The Nazis tried to scapegoat Danish Jews, making them wear yellow arm bands.  
So the king and most other Danes put on armbands as well.  

The king threatened to move his palace into the Jewish ghetto.

For two and a half years, the Danes resisted the Nazis with creative nonviolent methods.  
They were angry at the foreign oppressors, but with integrity, 
they found ways to channel that anger and blend it with the hope 
that they could indeed end the occupation.

Story No.2:
Revd Mair Honan is a UCC minister who works
with the homeless in a women’s shelter.

Daily she is faced with many situations which can make her angry.
She reflects on the need for both anger and hope…
"Can we hold both anger and hope?
It seems to be an authentic human need to experience both.

"If we don’t feel outrage at the injustice we see and experience,
we have numbed ourselves to levels of evil,
detached ourselves from our connectedness.

"But if we don’t experience the reality of hope as well,
a vision of what can be, we have no compass.

Anger cannot be our only motivator.  We will only burn.
And hope, without the truth that anger unveils,
can lead to a contorted, Pollyanna response to the human experience.  

"They seem, anger and hope to be two tracks for the train – we can only progress 
when hope and anger are real”

So as we continue to reflect on the so-called Jesus sayings
perhaps these two stories can give us another way to hear
or understand them.

What do you reckon?


There is lots of anger in the biblical stories.  Even in the so-called Jesus stories.
Because people matter.
And how we treat people, matters.
It raises issues of justice and morality, anger and hope.

Maybe we all should learn and then sing, Carolyn McDade’s song
“Sprit of Life”, as a reminder of both anger and hope:

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.  (McDade/slt123).

Cairns, I. J. 2004.  Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. Masterton. Fraser Books.
McDade. C. 2000. “Spirit of Life” (No. 123) in
Singing the Living Tradition. Boston. UUA.