The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Oh Look, Power Grabbing Again

How many times does Jesus have to tell us to mind our own business?

by Danielle Shroyer

Gospel Reading:  Mark 9:38-50

For Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012: Year B—Ordinary 26

“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not a member of our political party.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Alright, obviously the Gospel reading doesn’t exactly say that. But in a presidential election year, perhaps that’s how the Gospel is (or isn’t) being played out across our dinner tables and email chains and Facebook feeds.

Because the truth is, we all want to believe Jesus is on our side.

Power Play

The thing is, Jesus has a problem with sides; at least, he has a problem with us picking them, creating them and defending them, mostly because we have a terrible track record of being wrong.

Just before our lectionary text verses, Jesus asked the disciples what they had been arguing about. It was health care. Just kidding. Actually they dodged the question, because they had been arguing about who was the greatest and who had all the power and who was up in the latest popularity polls and who got to wear the shiny crown. And they’re not so dumb that they are unaware how frustrated and disappointed Jesus would be by that conversation. So Jesus sat them down and said whoever wants to be first must be last and must be the servant of all. And then he said whoever welcomes a child welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the Father. Translation- spend less time jockeying for power and more time practicing hospitality. Thus endeth power-grabbing sermon number one.

Undocumented Workers

Then John seems eager to change the subject, so he poses this question about a horrible outsider who is, GASP, casting out demons and even claiming to do it in Jesus’ name! And who can have that? Who can stand around willy-nilly just letting people change the world for the better when they have no right, no permission to do so? The audacity!

And Jesus tells John, who doesn’t seem to realize they haven’t changed the subject at all, that it’s not his place to call dibs on righteousness or faithfulness, or check papers to ensure people are registered members of the Jesus Club. Whoever is not against us is for us. Thus endeth power grabbing sermon number two.

Take Up Your Axe and Follow Me

But just for good measure, the remaining verses offer an even stronger punch. An axe, even. Jesus says that sticking road blocks in front of people is like sticking a millstone around your own neck, and you’d be better off cutting off your own hand or foot or poking out your eye than doing something like that. Part of me wonders if Jesus ups the metaphorical ante here because the disciples are so blinded by their power grabbing that they’ve yet to come anywhere near understanding.

We’ve all heard that cliche about how any time we point a finger at someone we have three fingers pointing back at our own chests. But that doesn’t stop us from pointing our little hearts out, and boy does Jesus know it. So maybe we shouldn’t quickly dismiss these rather overstated verses, either. Maybe the overstatement is there because it actually does get lost on us.

Keep Your Hands To Yourselves

The final verse in this section says, “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another,” which I take to mean, “Focus on your own faith in action and stop judging others.”

And as much as we’d all agree to that on the surface, our actual church structures often betray our true thoughts on the matter. “He can’t serve communion because he’s not ordained!” “She can’t baptize someone because…well, she’s a woman!” “He doesn’t think Martin Luther/John Calvin/John Wesley is THE best theologian upon which everything we do should be based!” “She can’t speak on Sunday- she hasn’t even been to seminary!”

The Hardest Question

So here’s my hardest question: how much longer are we going to justify our ecclesial gatekeeping when Jesus so clearly rejected it?

How would the church look different if we actually flung the ecclesial gates wide open?

What if we actually gave CREDIT to people who were doing good things in Jesus’ name, regardless of how we personally feel about the person’s age/race/gender/denomination/sexual preference/political affiliation?

And honestly- do we really think we can justify ourselves if we don’t?

Danielle Shroyer is the Pastor of Journey Church in Dallas, TX. She is the author of The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and blogs at Danielle lives with her husband, two children, and two wild and crazy dogs in Dallas.


  1. “How would the church look different if we actually flung the ecclesial gates wide open?”
    Dogs & cats living together! Mass hysteria!
    Or, sadly though perhaps more to the point for far too many, cats and cats living together.

    The gatekeeping, especially around sacraments, drives me crazy too. What if we actually believed as we say we do, that God’s Spirit can and does work through anybody? Well, then the clergy class (you know, people like me) might not be so necessary. And then what happens to my pension? I often wonder how the Friends understand that so well while the rest of us…didn’t.

    I guess my version of your question, Danielle, is: how do we stop acting as if faithfulness to Jesus is a zero sum game? How do we stop acting like you have to be wrong for me to be right?

  2. Drew Downs says:

    The reflection I did this week (and responded to it on my blog) is around what causes us, speaking at least for those of us in the mainline, to purify the ecclesiastical gene pool. The two primary factors I hear are the desire to protect the sacrament of ordination by maintaining high “standards” which is another way of articulating sameness. The other is to protect the integrity of our communities. This, while noble when done to protect children and the elderly from predators, is more often a means of driving off people whose ministry doesn’t match the diocesan job description.

    What if we actually trust that GOD has called remarkable people to incredible ministry and our job isn’t to shoehorn them into the wrong ministry or to send them off on their own to flounder on the fringe, but to learn how to embrace everyone’s call to ministry and protect them and their saltiness? How does that change the way our churches operate?

How do you read?