“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.”
How crazy is that?
I mean, really! Before we go any further I just want you to let that opening line sink in for a bit. Someone is doing the work that Jesus makes possible, casting out demons.
Hey, he is even doing it in Jesus’ name and the disciples want to stop him because he’s not part of their entourage?
That’s like hearing, “Doctor, we saw people curing cancer with the treatment you developed and we tried to stop them because they were not in our medical group.”
That’s like hearing “Farmer, we saw people growing crops and feeding the hungry using your cultivation practices, and we tried to stop them because they aren’t a part of our Co-Op.”
That’s like hearing “Teacher, we saw people educating with your curriculum, and we tried to stop them because they were not a part of our School District.”
How crazy is that???
You’d rather have demons running around possessing folks?
You’d rather have cancer taking lives?
You’d rather have hungry people and fallow, weed infested fields?
You’d rather have uneducated masses? – just because they are not “following you?” Doing things your way?
And yet, it is oh so human. It is a part and parcel of who we are, and always have been. We are a people that become easily fixated on “winners” and “losers” and we draw lines all the time. We’ve been doing that since… well, since Cain and Abel near as I can tell. My sacrifice is acceptable, yours must not be… sucks to be you, great to be me!
We humans are habitual dividers and comparers.
We divide ourselves up along sports teams and alliances, and throw our identity into them. We do so a great deal of energy, and occasionally anger, resentment and jealousy of the “other” It ends up penetrating what was meant for “fun” and tainting it with a kind of poison.
We divide ourselves up along ideologies, and we are quick to label -Conservative, Liberal, Libertarian, Communist, Socialist, etc. We do so as if any one political ideology had a lock on all the positive or redeeming qualities and that they did not all have a few drawbacks. We hurl accusations at the “other” rather than listen for what might be a corrective, or a valid point.
We divide ourselves up along political lines, Republican, Democrat, Independent, and then struggle with how to govern when rigidity or fanaticism enters the ranks.
We are natural born dividers and comparers, this is true!
We are even that in the church. We are as guilty of this as anyone else. “Our denomination has the truth.” – we boldly proclaim with our dogma and our theology, touting it above someone else’s.
We tell jokes about the “other” as we compare ourselves to them. Sometimes it is self-deprecating, but more often demeaning or belittling. Jokes are told about Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Jews, Muslims…. Well maybe not about Muslims as they are on the current “enemy” list. Still and all we make sweeping statements about what “they” are like.
No, it is only “our” tribe that is doing good work. Others should be deterred. The assessment is made, the distinction is drawn, no matter what kind of “good” you might be doing it isn’t right because you are not “one of us.”
This is the point raised by the Gospel today, and we feel its indictment upon us, for we recognize all too well our own duplicity with the disciples.
We’ve done this.
I’ve done this.
I’ve made pronouncements about who is doing things “right.”
I’ve made judgments that someone is not doing something “right” and so therefore can’t possibly be doing what God had in mind.
I’m pretty sure I’ve even used a phrase like, “you know they do good work BUT…..” and then gone on to discredit or dismiss the efforts made.
I’ve done that of denominations. I’ve done that of individuals. I’ll bet you have too.
It is hard to have the kind of “generous orthodoxy” (a phrase coined by Brian McClaren) that Jesus seems to have here.
Jesus seems to understanding that those who are not against him are for the Kingdom, and their efforts made no matter how poor they may seem to us,– even “cup of cold water” poor, are the kinds of things that God blesses and multiplies. They are signs of a Kingdom breaking in that knows no boundaries and that defies all efforts to control and direct.
That is what we miss most, I think.
There is a lot of angst in the church these days, about how we are doing, and much of that has to do with our propensity to divide and to compare.
We’re declining… compared to where we were 20 years ago, 40 years ago.
We’re not able to do what we once did, and we wring our hands about how to “change” that.
We look with jealous envy at churches that seem to be doing “better”, ones that have more members, more money, nicer buildings, more vibrant ministries, etc. Our consumer oriented culture causes us to either be attracted to “shop around” for something that is working or be inclined to “buy into” whatever it is they are doing that looks so successful. We are always tempted to be looking for that “cure-all” that will restore our ranks, our position, our benevolence, our building, our coffers…
And there it is again, that word “our” that is the mark of how we are habitual dividers and comparers!
Jesus has all kinds of things to say about that, you can read about causing others to stumble, and millstones, and cutting things off if they rear their ugly head. We could be righteously distracted into trying to figure out what to cut off, or to cut out, as well, but that road just leads us back into our natural inclination to once again divide and compare.
So, I’m not wandering into that part of the Gospel today. It’s just too fraught with temptations to abuse.
Instead, I’m captivated by the phrase that seems to be the one that allows Jesus to have this kind of “generous orthodoxy” to let the man doing things in his name carry on.
Jesus’ parting words to the anxious disciples, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Which, I am going to interpret as this.
You already know what is distinctive about yourself. You already know what kind of “flavor” you have –enhance it! That’s what salt does. It doesn’t give flavor so much as it enhances it, brings it out.
So then, stop worrying so much about what other people, other churches are doing!
Stop trying to put a cap on the Kingdom, or to shoe-horn the work of God into your particular understanding of it.
Just do what you do, do it well, and do it with all the zest you can; and don’t worry about what other folks are doing!
We are our own worst enemy sometimes, we and the disciples before us. We can expend so much energy trying to get people to do things our way, or the way we think things ought to be done that we miss what God is already up to in this world!
God is empowering people to cast out demons in Jesus’ name… and the work is happening quite apart from us.
Can we be at peace with that?
This is the great question that the Missional Church movement asks all the time. It is rooted in a firm conviction that We don’t really have a mission in this world —God has a mission here, and God’s mission is going to be fulfilled whether or not we are involved. God is not dependent upon our actions in redeeming this world.
God is going to redeem this world.
God is going to bring in God’s Kingdom.
God is going to bring healing, hope and a future. No question about it, for that is the promise.
The question is, will we be a part of it, or will we end up being a hindrance to it?
Will we recognize God at work around us, and find a way to join that, embrace it, celebrate it, let it happen or will we get into the “stumbling block” mode of operation?
This is no small task, this “being at peace” stuff, because it means that we have to let go of our natural tendencies to divide and to compare.
But there is freedom in it!
Earlier in Mark’s Gospel you know, the disciples tried to cast out a demon and couldn’t, and they were all dejected about that. Jesus was unconcerned really, he just did it and then told the disciples that this one could not be cast out except with prayer.
At first, that sounds like a dis to the disciples. “Dummies! Why didn’t you pray?”
But that’s not what Jesus says. He simply tells them that prayer was necessary. And now later on in the Gospel we see someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Evidently this person, though not hanging with the disciples, got the prayer thing down! And Jesus is completely o.k. with that!
The question is, can we be at peace with that?
Can we, as a congregation, as a church, as a denomination affirm that we have some salt within ourselves and celebrate it. We know what we do well, and we can do it. We don’t have to do everything, and not everyone has to do everything the same way.
Can we be at peace with that?
We don’t have to compare ourselves to others.
Is it o.k. if some Pastors are lousy preachers but really good at listening and leading?
Is it all right if some lay folks feel like a fish out of water when it comes to leading a committee meeting but will wash dishes and bake a cake or visit and talk with ease?
Are we o.k. with different styles of leadership, worship, different ways of doing the work of the Kingdom, and put legalism aside to let those good works shine?
That’s the question this Gospel lesson begs us to ask ourselves. God is perfectly content to let the Spirit work in a variety of way in and through others. Can we be at peace with that?