Thursday, September 13, 2012
Here is a sermon that I recently submitted to a nationally known sermon source that I write for, it was rejected, can you find out why?
Mark 9:38-50 "For no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me." At football games it is still fairly common to see people holding signs that read John 3:16. Of course this is a famous reference to Scripture, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, to the end that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have life everlasting." It is no wonder people like that passage; it's good news indeed. The problem comes up when we think that John 3:16 tells the whole story of what God is up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It turns out that life is actually complex and nuanced; and so is how Jesus thinks about how we ought to relate to him. Today's gospel reading shows a little bit of Jesus’ nuanced view of how people act in his name. In this passage the disciples have just returned from doing some deeds of power: healing and casting out demons. It seems that while they were out in the mission field they came across another person doing similar deeds of power in the name of Jesus. The disciples try to stop him because he is not a part of the same club as they are. This outsider apparently had at one point encountered Jesus in his ministry. This encounter with Jesus clearly had an effect on the man because he at least knew enough to use the name of Jesus for his deeds of power, which was a marker of a follower of Jesus. The disciples don't like this at all, they tell Jesus thinking, I imagine, that Jesus would support their condemnation of this non-disciple. But here Jesus, as usual, does the unexpected. Jesus not only tells the disciples not to stop the outsider, but informed them that, "no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me." This is a curious thing to say, because it reveals an interesting bit of information about this non-disciple who can do deeds of power in Jesus' name. It seems that the outsider may have actually been badmouthing Jesus; he says that even those who do deeds of power and speak evil of him won't be able to do so for a long. There seems to be a relationship in this kind of behavior of doing good acts and claiming Jesus. There is something irresistible about Jesus. One may be able to do good works and badmouth Jesus, but not for long. The irresistible power of Jesus, his power to transform lives, will win over any hard heartedness. This all speaks to the age old argument in the church between faith and works. On one hand there are the voices in the church that say all you must do to be accepted by God is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for your sins. Faith alone will save you. The opposite viewpoint is what has traditionally been called works righteousness. This view says that it is not so much what you believe but how you behave that matters. This viewpoint says that a Christian acts a certain way and that their actions represent what they believe and without proper actions than faith is dead. This is been the argument in the church since the days of James and Paul and was the main argument that fueled the Reformation of which our church is an heir. The problem with this kind of polarized thinking between faith and works, belief and actions is that it sets up a dualistic thinking of which Jesus is speaking out against today. Many of the arguments in the church today are over what it means to be a Christian. This has led to some very ugly and very public disagreements within the church where people take sides and take up the Bible and the creed and hit each other over the head with it. Today's gospel reading undoes all those arguments. The work of a great many churches is to take people who believe in Jesus but do no acts of mercy, no great deeds of power such as feeding the homeless, caring for the poor or the sick, or visiting prisoners. The work of those churches is to support their belief in Jesus and then to slowly try to kindle in their hearts a concern for the other. What the church makes very little room for is for those people who do deeds of power: they feed the poor, they feed the sick, and they have true concern for the stranger. The church has very little room for them because of these people do not proclaim Jesus as Lord. In a very real sense these people are like the man in today's reading who do great deeds of power but do not follow Jesus as a disciple. And what is Jesus' answer to this kind of person today? Basically Jesus says, "They will come around.” Jesus is saying, "If they do deeds of power, if they do good works, they will grow into me." The church needs to begin to welcome these beautiful souls who do deeds of power; we need to make a place for them, to support their ministries even if they do not know in whose name they minister. The church would do well to remember Jesus’ injunction about the least of these and how when we served them we serve him, and to also remember that his teaching was not to us only the to the whole world. So that, even when we go to seek Jesus in the faces of the poor we must also have faith that Jesus is being revealed to those who are not even seeking him, yet serve the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the prisoner. This is a difficult teaching: that there are those out there who serve Jesus, and their hearts grow closer and closer to him, maybe even without their knowledge. This muddies the waters of discipleship. Today's gospel reading is not quite the same as John 3:16. Now this is a Scripture that would look very good on a sign at a football game: Mark 9:39; “For no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me." Can you imagine? Holding up that sign that says Mark 9:39 and people seeing that on the screen they may actually run to their Bibles and look it up and instead of dividing the world up into those who are in and those who are out, they might look out at the world and see Jesus at work transforming each soul and knowing that God is drawing all of us closer and closer to each other. And for this muddied, beautifully nuanced life with Christ we say thanks be to God. Amen.