Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 30, 2018
Year B, Proper 21: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
CLICK HERE to listen to the recorded sermon.
“We tried to stop him because he was not following us. We saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
Today’s gospel lesson is a continuation of last week’s gospel. And it’s not just the next scene—it’s part of the same message. Last week we heard about how the disciples were arguing about who among them was the greatest. Jesus teaches them that being the greatest doesn’t matter at all, and he shows them a powerless and neglected child who is the real example of how to welcome God. It’s not about winning, it’s about serving and welcoming.
Yesterday, I was going to the reception after Marcie Hartmann’s funeral. I used my GPS instead of the directions that Chris had carefully written out. That resulted in a rather circuitous detour to the house.
When the disciples tattle to Jesus about those other folks who are healing in Jesus’ name, they are in danger of taking an unnecessary detour off the main route just like I did. In my mind, they sound like the child who sat behind me in kindergarten and told the teacher every time someone colored outside the lines. Can you hear them? He turns to them impatiently, and they intone with that know-it-all edge, Jesus! Those people over there, you know, the ones we don’t know? Well, they are healing and casting out demons, but not the way we do it. Make them stop before they ruin everything.
Basically, Jesus says, “No.”
Jesus lets the disciples know, lets us know that not only is it NOT the most powerful and prestigious person who is first in the Kingdom of God, but that Kingdom is not brought by some winning team—even though I dearly hope my Eagles win later today.
This man in the Gospel reading was unknown to the disciples, a stranger, and they didn’t trust him—how could he be casting out demons in the name of Jesus? The disciples knew how special Jesus was, and they felt pretty special being his followers. John, one of the inner circle, says that he took it upon himself to put this guy in his place, after all, it was Peter and Andrew and James and John who were called by Jesus, not this unknown. John looked to his special relationship with Jesus and saw it as a reason to forbid the man from healing.
We live in a world much in need of healing. If God is to heal the conflict in our country and our world, it will take far more than our intelligence, or teaching, or effort or opinions. Salvation of this world will come from more than one community. Prayer is powerful, it changes things and it heals.
But it is not just the prayers of one person that God uses, but of all of creation.
Let’s go back and remember the part of this reading that we heard last week, it’s right before this week’s reading in the Gospel of Mark: “Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” It is the care and healing of those who are powerless, neglected and ignored that Jesus cares about. He’s still holding the child when he says to the disciples, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
This is our gentle Jesus, talking to his friends and followers; not the Pharisees or his rivals. And he’s offering what we might call tough love.
Being a Christian is not about being on the winning team, it is about being humble enough to serve. Christian humility is having the confidence to stand for the gospel of service, of honest generosity in welcoming Christ who came for us and gave his life for us on the cross.
Jesus essentially tells them to worry about themselves, not what others are doing—especially when those other folks are doing nothing against Jesus. In fact, if they continue on their detour, they as individuals and as a community might just end up anchored to a millstone.
As I read this passage in light of the stark polarization of our times, I’m not sure how much has changed. Because it only takes the briefest of glances to notice that the church has not escaped this polarization but rather has allowed itself to be defined almost entirely by the terms of the current political climate. Christian leaders on the left and right – notice how hard it is to even have this conversation without using labels from the political context? – set the standards of what constitutes genuine faith: “You cannot be a Christian if you….” You can fill in the blank.
It doesn’t take long to realize that both sides are fighting over who has the power to bear the name of Christ.
We need to spend our energy becoming and being the person, the community that God created us to be.
A strong community enhances the lives of its members. As a church community, we are bound together not convictions about the fundamental issues of human existence: what we believe most deeply, what gives value and meaning to our existence
Here’s what I know. We are called to follow Christ. Jesus is not interested in who is in control—he is interested in the healing of this world. “No one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
Let us leave here today and do a deed of power in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link above, but to access the library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE.