The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21, Year B)

“Help God’s Love and Light to Grow”

A sermon from guest preacher, Dinushka De Silva

Mark 9:38-50

Today’s Gospel of Mark is another striking series of messages. The first message is for the disciples to understand that even though they declare they follow Jesus it doesn’t mean they are the ONLY followers and believers.

The authority to cast out demons is in the hands of those who BELIEVE, who have faith in the name and presence and holiness of Jesus Christ.

The second message is that the disciples’ judgement, of this other follower who cast demons out in Jesus’s name, is wrong. The disciples’ judgement of this other follower is wrong and sinful.

Jesus then goes on to point out how our sinful actions like unkindness, cruelty, judgment, can separate ourselves from God.

“If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off,” Jesus says.

“If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,” Jesus says.

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another,” says Jesus.

These are all strong symbolic images pointing out that if we judge each other, if we hurt each other…we are ultimately hurting ourselves.

If you are breaking the heart of another human being than you are tearing your own heart out.

Because we are a family, a much bigger family than we might realize.

Finding peace within ourselves also means making peace with others.

There are consequences in bringing others down, we damage our general community and society and thus in return damage ourselves.

In these messages, Jesus points out a heavy word that often leaves us squirming in our seats… “hell”.

Jesus describes it as a place where “fire is never quenched”.

I have often talked with patients about their fear of “hell”.

“I think I will go to heaven,” a hospice patient shared with me as she slowly accepted her pending death. “I hope I don’t have to go to that ‘other place’ ” she laughed nervously.

Her joke was also a direct connection to her fear that maybe she wouldn’t make it to heaven.

Some of us barely discuss hell, others have been raised in hell and brim fire churches and cultures.

Either way we can’t ignore it. Jesus talks about it. Our scriptures describe in detail what may happen in hell.

The truth is I don’t like to think about hell either. I would like to believe we all enter a place of peace and love and kindness in God’s eternal arms. I imagine heaven’s eternal gardens with colors brighter than even here in our world.

I do not want to imagine a place where “fire is never quenched” where darkness consumes everything.

But today I am reminded that only we can allow ourselves to be separated from God. God does not wish to be separate from us. God is asking that we remove the “stumbling blocks,” the feet, the eye, the hand that causes us to hurt ourselves and others.

God is the source of light and love. If we do not live our lives with actions of light and love, then can we see light and love when we pass this world, when we leave this Earth?

Will we be able to see God if we are consumed with hatred and bitterness and fear and loathing of ourselves and others?

I have a story to tell you, a testimony given to me by a minister whom I work with all the time. Some of the details are slightly changed in order to protect her privacy but she has asked for me to share her story with you today.

Girdy is a remarkable pastor. Her service is filled with light and love. She cares deeply for her congregants and is faithful in serving God.

One day Girdy and I were able to sit down together to have a chat. I was grateful for her presence with patients in the hospital. I wanted her to know this and treated her to a cup of tea.

We began to talk about her life and her ministry. Girdy shared with me there was a time in her life where she rejected God, where she rejected the love of others, where she built a wall around herself, where the trauma she faced as a child with abuse and neglect had consumed her.

She would grow up into an adult who was still affected by trauma and entered one abusive relationship after the next. Her pain was so deep and so strong that she turned to drugs to cover her pain.

Addiction became her life. Addiction changed her once sweet and giving personality. She began to hurt others and steal from others and surrounded herself with the company of those who did the same.

In her addiction she could escape the memories of abuse and trauma she faced all her life.

In her addiction she could hide the shame she felt and the self-loathing and self-hatred she had for herself from a little girl to adulthood.

I nearly cried hearing the details of what Girdy had gone through in her life. NO child should ever live a life without love.

One day Girdy’s addiction took her to a place she would have never imagined…hell.

Girdy knew her life was already hell. She knew she was barely a resemblance of her old self. She knew she was deeply unhappy and had no value for life.

But it was about to get worse. One day Girdy ended up going into cardiac arrest. The emergency department staff worked hard to bring her back, believing she might never return or return brain dead.

As the staff worked, what they didn’t know was God working through Girdy. Girdy shared she felt her soul lift out of her body. She felt herself float.

She looked down and saw different staff members pounding on her chest, injecting her with medications.

Then suddenly Girdy was in a field of flowers…pink, blue, green flowers, bright and beautiful. She saw an endless blue sky. She felt peace. She felt an everlasting peace that her heart had NEVER EVER felt before in her whole life. She was so moved by it.

She stood in this field of peace and beauty in awe. Then in a quick change, she began to shudder, tingling fear running through her. She turned to her side and saw a wall of darkness, moving towards her. She felt a hollow empty feeling and then a feeling of deep dread at it approached her. She shared there was a presence and figure there that she couldn’t detect.

She looked down at the medical team begging they would move faster and work towards getting her back in her body.

And they did. The medical team’s attempt to get her back worked.

Girdy’s life began to slowly change. Girdy began to seek help for her addiction through programs and the one good family member who still loved her and who would help her.

Girdy realized she had to seek the highest, greatest help…God. She knew when she stood in those field of flowers that she was with God. She knew that the dark wall approaching her was choices separating her from God, was her own darkness that had manifested into a real presence that could wholly ruin her and the people around her.

Girdy told me, “Chaplain Dee, hell is real. We can create it here in our world, but we won’t escape it when we leave this world either.”

Girdy believes our darkness, our wrong choices can follow us, can encompass our whole soul. God allowed Girdy to see the small light still left within her for a few brief moments before her darkness came to consume her…the darkness that she helped create.

But Girdy isn’t solely responsible for the darkness that tried to consume her. Others had contributed to Girdy’s darkness as well. Adults who abused her and neglected her. Dealers who sold her the drugs. A society that discriminated against her and expressed that she wasn’t of any worth. Neighbors who said they would help but left her on the street.

We contribute to each other’s light and darkness. We assist in the creation of hell. We need to hold onto God’s love and light. We need to trust in Jesus Christ and hear how He wishes us to love others.

Loving others means not judging them, it means forgiveness, it means patience, it means trying to help bring positive change to everyone.

It is easier to say than to do. But we still need to do it.

I am honored to work with Girdy and to know that God today is celebrating her and raising her to the highest heights.

God asks me to celebrate with her, to lift my Black pastor sister up, to pray for her ministry and her gifts and her continued healing.

God asks me to look at those on the street who are versions of Girdy in the past; who struggle with addiction, with past trauma, with self-hatred, with bitterness for others and to introduce to them that special field of flowers. The field of peace and hope.

Because by doing that I help God’s love and light to grow. I separate myself from the things that will cause me to stumble and focus on helping to build God’s kingdom here and now with all of us. Won’t you join me? Amen.