By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton

September 27, 2009

Read: Mark 9:38-50

“Whoever is not against us is for us”, Jesus tells us. Mark’s gospel then goes on to talk about what it means for us to be stumbling blocks to new believers. And the cutting off of a foot, the tearing out of an eye. Even though we are quite sure Jesus did not mean this literally, the words remain uncomfortable. And our gospel reading today ends with fire and salt. Fire and salt. Fire can purify, salt can preserve. Salt can also add some savor.

The phrase, “unlimited possibilities” might be a theme of today’s readings. We hear d a portion of the great story of Esther , in which it would seem unlikely that Esther could manage what she did, that Mordecai would be saved from death and that her Jewish people would be saved. But it happened.

And Jesus’ vision is broad where he sees the holiness in human deeds, whether or not they occur in church or are labeled religious. He tells us that “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward”. Jesus’ vision is broad and inclusive. Whoever is not against us is for us.

So what does that mean? Well, perhaps we end the arbitrary distinctions between “secular” and “sacred” and instead see all of life as holy and whole. We might better answer the criticism of young people that the churches are so bent on internal bickering that they have neglected the needs of the larger world. We might forget our silly distinctions and get on with the important business of bringing water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, attention to the lonely.

Myron Augsburger (Dr. Myron Augsburger is President of Inter-Church and Professor of Theology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia) shares a story:
Herman Riemple’s father was Aaron Riemple. He lived in Gnadenfeldt, Russia. He had a large estate, was a very wealthy Mennonite farmer. He was so well known that the Czar of Russia would come and go hunting on his estate. In the early teens of this century, when the Red and White Armies were battling, they raged back and forth across Gnadenfeldt. One evening Riemple was coming home from the market where he had gotten some things for his wife, and he came by a railroad siding and here was a box car full of people to be shipped off to Siberia, and a man called out and said, “Sir, we’re so hungry. We’ve been in here all day with nothing to eat. Can you help us?”
And Riemple, out of the goodness of his own spirit and heart, went over and shoved his bolognas and his bread and cheese through the slats and the man said, “Thank you.”
And Riemple said, “God bless you.” And he went on home.

Sometime later the Red Army overran the whole territory. They took a lot of these Mennonite farmers and put them in box cars and shipped them off to Siberia. Now Riemple had lost his estate. He went from wealth to poverty, but he still had his own ingenuity and he was quite an entrepreneur, and in Siberia he began getting tea imported from China, and he was selling tea. But this was contrary to the pattern of the new regime, and he was accused of a kind of capitalism in the midst of the new Marxist pattern of life, and he was brought to trial.

In the trial, of course, the witness was given against him and he was guilty of this capitalism. The Commissar asked him to step forward to be sentenced, and Riemple stepped forward, expecting this to mean his death. The Commissar looked at him and said, “I believe we have met before.”

Mr. Riemple said, “Your Honor, I think not.”

“Yes,” he said, “I think we have. Have you been in Gnadenfeldt?”

“Yes,” he said, “I lived in Gnadenfeldt.”

The Commissar asked him, “Do you remember one evening when a man called you from a box car and said, `Sir, we’ve been in here all day with nothing to eat. Would you help us?'”

“Ah, yes,” he said, “I remember.”

“And what did you do?”

“Why I went over and shoved my bolognas and bread and cheese through the slats.”

“And what did you say?”

I said, “God bless you.”

The Commissar said, “We have met before. I was that man.” He said, “I’m not going to sentence you. If you would like, I will sign papers and you and your family can emigrate.”

And Riemple said, “Sir, if you will sign those papers for all Riemples, I’ve got brothers here with their families.” And this whole family immigrated to California. Now little did Aaron Riemple know when he shoved that cheese, bread and bologna through the slats, what would happen in the future, but he did it out of the character of his being, and so I challenge us today to be God’s people in truth, to put into practice the quality of the Christian life, to overcome evil by good.”

And he tells another story:

I was walking down the street one day and I met a man sitting on a bench and I stopped to chat with him, and suddenly he said, “Are you a preacher?”
I said, “Well, matter of fact I am.”

And then he almost sneered. He said, “Tell me, what difference does it make in my life that Jesus Christ died on a cross two thousand years ago?”

I could have talked to him about some theories of the atonement out of theology, but instead I looked at him and asked, “Do you have some friends?”

“Yes,” he said, “I have friends.”

I said, “Suppose one gets in trouble.”

He said, “You hang in with him.”

I said, “It gets really severe.”

He said, “You still hang in.”

I said, “It gets really rough. When can you cop out?”

He looked at me in amazement and he said, “Man, if he’s your friend you never cop out.”

Then I smiled and said, “And God came to us in Jesus as our friend, and we’re in trouble and He hung in. Our trouble got really difficult, and He hung in. When could Jesus cop out?”

The man looked at me and it was almost as though lights went on in his eyes. He smiled. He said, “You mean that is why Jesus had to die?”

I said, “That’s one reason. He came and said, `Your problem is now my problem.'”
He got up from where he was sitting, squared his shoulders and nodded his head and turned and walked down the sidewalk. I watched him go and I said to myself, “Man, you don’t know it but you have been evangelized.” Once you know a God who says, “Your problem is now my problem,” you can never be the same.

And Jesus said, “have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

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