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.
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.
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 www.danielleshroyer.com. Danielle lives with her husband, two children, and two wild and crazy dogs in Dallas.