Preaching Resources

The 18th Sunday after Pentecost (September 26, 2021)

How Big is Your Kingdom?
by The Rt. Rev. Chris Giesler
Director of Mission Engagement

The assigned texts:

  • Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
  • James 5:13-20
  • Mark 9:38-50

I can promise you one thing, Jesus’ kingdom is larger than our definition of it.  Today’s text from Mark gets to the heart of this.  So, how big is your kingdom? Can you stretch it to be larger?

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus’ disciples are trying to come to terms with an itinerant preacher/healer that was not part of their number. Therefore, this outsider must be stopped, they thought to themselves. Jesus tells them that the kingdom is bigger than just the twelve. In fact, Jesus says, those who take care of others in his name are doing God’s will. Jesus then goes on to instruct them regarding their approach of being a leader.  The worse thing that a teacher can do is to be a stumbling block to others.  Stumbling blocks impede forward progress or, in this case, entrance into God’s kingdom.

We find it very easy to set limits on who is in and who is out. Some of us might say that those who enjoy a more traditional worship service are in, while others might say that using an organ in worship makes you stuck in the past. Some of us might say that only “Sunday Best” attire is acceptable, while others might say that coat and tie or dresses and hats just do not work anymore.  And on a deeper level, some of us might say that a Church with people that look, sound, and believe like we do is far better than one with different colors, ethnicities, races, accents, and beliefs.  How big is your kingdom?

For Jesus, outward appearances, worship styles, even lifestyles are of little consequence. What truly matters is your sense of mission for helping others.  “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

The passage from Numbers was certainly selected to complement the Gospel for today. Here we see a great deal of complaining to Moses as the wandering Hebrews make their way through the wilderness.  As oppressing as their slavery in Egypt was, the memory of their food in Egypt was beginning to taste pretty good. They complain that “Now all we have is this manna!”

The passage continues with a frank and honest conversation between Moses and God.  Moses is not pleased because it appears that he is getting all the blame for something that God caused in the first place. Moses cannot live up to the demands and pleads with God for help. The answer to Moses is that he should share leadership with 70 Elders selected from among their number.  As these elders are gathered at the tent for their installment, God takes a measure of the spirit that had rested on Moses and distributed this to those in attendace.  The spirit moved them, and they prophesied, but only once. This must have been a powerful experience! However, two of the 70, Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp rather than attend the tent gathering. But even while being absent, the spirit rested on them as well, and they prophesied in the camp (where the people were). Moses’ second in command, Joshua, complains about these two who had not been a part of what he thought was the official sanctioning event. Moses indicates that God can call and inspire outside of their number.  How big is your kingdom?  God’s is far larger than we could ever imagine.

While not perfect, our Moravian forefathers and mothers had a much larger sense of the kingdom than their peers did. Following Hus’ teachings, members of the early Unity saw the inclusion of local languages and full admission to communion as central to the Gospel message.  And the Herrnhut community saw the mistreatment of slaves in St. Thomas as counter to the love of Jesus.  This was far outside the boundaries set by the society and church teaching of their day.  Today, we understand that those first Missionaries, and Zinzendorf himself, supported the institution of slavery, but that they saw the slaves as deserving of God’s grace was a giant leap forward.

Back to our Gospel lesson for today, we hear Jesus go on to say, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better if the great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”  Jesus is blunt and to the point here, “Don’t be a stumbling block!”  How big is your kingdom? As you ponder your mission, whom does it include?