Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone.

19th Sunday after Pentecost


  1. Pentecost 19.18 “One-Eyed Wonders” Mark 9:38-50

You might recall two Sundays ago we saw and took some (perhaps sinful delight?) in the apostles of our Lord struggling and failing to cast out a demon, even though He’d given them power over all demons to cast them out with a Word [whereas they thought it was all in the wrist]. They had a wonderful way with demons. Not. Then last week we saw how the 12 valiant saints failed to understand Jesus’ very simple declaration that He would be betrayed, crucified, killed, and, on the third day, rise to life. They couldn’t make head or tail of that simple sentence, which perhaps shows us why Jesus does not straightforwardly lay out the whole plan of salvation for us (as many think they would wish)—because it just confuses us!

You may recall last week’s embarrassing scene ended with the 12 Apostles arguing over which one of them was the greatest, which seems very odd, since none of them could understand Jesus’ simple sentence. It seems rather like arguing over who’s the best player on a very bad football team. Kind of a moot point you’d think. [At least none of the apostles retired from the sport at half-time like that Buffalo Bills player a couple weeks ago.]

Anyway, in response to their argument over who was greatest, Jesus sets a little child in the midst of them, takes him up in His arms and says “whoever receives one of these little children in my name receives Me…” A long, awkward silence ensues, I think, with the apostles staring at the little kid grinning at them from Jesus’ lap, and Jesus kind of staring at them, and the apostles staring at their feet, probably even more confused, wondering: “Hmm. How would I do that? What does this mean?” John fills the awkward silence with a violent non-sequitur: “Teacher: we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”

I’m not sure what John was thinking here. Does he think Jesus will praise them for that?! After not such a great week of apostling, filled with gaffes, failures, confusion, this was the best thing that they did all week, this is going to get Jesus to go: “Well, OK. That’s good!”??? I think the little kid looks up at Jesus and goes, “Jesus. Are these guys really going to be pastors?” [Like my friend Professor Okamoto’s 10 year old son wondered after hearing Joel read him a few devotions his seminary students had written for a class assignment.]

I can identify with John though. I get him. You’ve just failed in front of a goodly sized crowd at casting out a demon from a little kid, even though this is like Apostling 101. You reviewed all the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies to see what you’re missing in spell casting and demon mastering. You think it’s in the wrist. It’s not. The demon makes the little kid writhe on the ground and foam at the mouth when you tell him “Demon, begone!” Mocking you. The crowd trash talks you, “Hey! Apostle Guy! Use more wrist. Get a better wand! You guys have a wonderful way with demons. Now, they’re really scared!” It’s not the UN. They’re laughing at you, not with you…

But, you comfort yourself that casting out demons is very difficult. I mean, if it’s so easy, let’s see you do it, Mr. Smart Mouth. Huh! Yeah! Easy for you to say! And as soon as the other apostles go “Yeah! Let’s see them do it” Thaddeus goes, “Uh, look over there.” And there’s this guy—not one of the 12, not one of the 70, just some guy they’ve never seen in Jesus’ circle (wearing an eye-patch), some loser—but he’s casting out demons in Jesus’ Name; and the demons are fleeing and everyone is gaping in open-mouthed awe at the one-eyed wizard…

Quick! What would you do? Well you’d do just as John does. You’d march right over there, whip out your Apostle ID card and tell him, “Now, stop that right now, you pirate, you! You’re not authorized to do this kind of thing. No. See, we’re the Apostles of Jesus, we 12 valiant saints, not you. This is off-label use of Jesus’ Name. Besides, this is much tougher than it looks, this demon-casting-out business! Sure, you got lucky on these baby demons [I noticed you weren’t using any wrist. Have you been praying? Fasting by chance? Never-mind]. Back to the main point: as I was saying, demons can be very dangerous. They can come out and turn on you in a flash and do unspeakable things to you. Terrible things. We wouldn’t want to see you hurt. So buttle off, my good man, and don’t let us catch you doing that again!”

Remember that part in T.H. White’s King Arthur story “The Sword in the Stone” where Sir Kay, the burly bruiser, can’t get the royal sword out of the stone, says it’s impossible and this skinny Arthur kid sidles up, slides it out, easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy? You’d really rather, if you’re Sir Kay, that this little stunt not get repeated—lest the kid become… King.

Jesus puts His head in His hands (like Pastor Costello used to. Don’t ask me how I know that). Sighs. “Don’t forbid him; no one working a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.” John’s like, “Oh, yeah. I knew that. Just wanted to see if they knew that…” We do this don’t we? We struggle and strain to be exemplary Christians, yet fail to worship Christ with even half of our hearts. We console ourselves that Faith’s nigh impossible, as Luther and Kierkegaard said! And then, some little kid passes us by, shinning sword in hand, gleaming crown on his head, whistling pg. 15, strolling through the narrow Gate…

The Pharisees were very good, Jesus says, at keeping others from entering the hidden door in the castle wall that leads to the Secret Garden. They couldn’t get in themselves, so they wanted to make sure no one else did. They rambled on about how difficult and great the missional works are which alone make a way through the impassable gate, and then this little kid goes, “scuze me” and breezes on by. The church has always had plenty of gate keepers like this, who tell you how many and how difficult are the works you gotta do to merit heaven—and rather fewer little kids like Arthur who slip the sword effortlessly from the stone because it’s mine, I really like it; anyway, Jesus said: “it’s yours, kid; take it” and I believe Him…(!)

A skeptical scholar at a conference once asked my beloved mentor Paul Holmer how he knew the Bible was really true. Holmer, with his trademark growl, shot back: “My mother told me: ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so’…” That’s the secret. Faith waltzes in where angels fear to tread simply because Jesus says so and we believe Him like little kids who have no idea how hard it is to cast out demons, trod devils underfoot, snatch swords from stones, enter heaven…

There’s a wonderful scene in the Coen Bros’ “True Grit” movie where Rooster Cogburn fails at a shooting contest and Matt Damon mocks him going: “Perhaps the sun was in your eyes, or shall I say eye”? We debated in Bible class whether (in heaven) Rooster Cogburn will just have one eye or two. I say one, for sure, because that limitation is Rooster’s badge of honor and he triumphs in the end. Because it is not our strength or vision that gets us into heaven, but our weakness, our failures, that make one-eyed wonders trust in Jesus alone to get us there, where Peace surpassing understanding guards hearts and minds, eyes and arms, in Christ Jesus. Amen.



Advent Vespers – Wednesdays, 7:00 p.m.

16 December 2018  3rd Sunday Advent

8:30 Matins

11:00 Divine Service with Communion

9:45 Sunday School – children ages 3 through high school

Adult Bible Class with Pastor Martin


Our Savior Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church in Raleigh, North Carolina, belonging to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

We are located at: 1500 Glenwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27608.

For directions, use 742 Nash Street, Raleigh.