Sunday, 30 September 2012

Making room

Mark 9:38-50
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 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. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42 “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. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Mark's gospel has to be the worst for the disciples. They are consistently portrayed as numpties. They keep on misreading situations, misunderstanding Jesus and constantly getting it wrong.
As we've journeyed with them over these past few weeks, it's been fairly easy to sympathise and perhaps even identify with them.
So they had bother understanding Jesus' teaching.
We do too.
So they didn't want to engage with all his talk of suffering and death.
We get that too.
But today's incident?
Where they are stupid enough to complain to Jesus about someone who was casting out demons using the name of Jesus.
Now that really was stupid.
Especially when, just a little while earlier, those very disciples had been unable to cast out a demon when asked.
Is it a case of - if we can't do it then no one else will?
Whatever their thinking, it seems pretty daft to go complaining to Jesus.
It didn't seem to even cross their minds that this might be a good thing.
They don't seem to have viewed this deed from the point of view of the one released from unclean spirits.
Or the joy of his friends and family to regain the person they know, restored to health in body and mind.
The disciples seem only interested in the fact that the person who cast out the demon is "not one of them."
And that seems a bit dumb - even for the disciples.
So while over the last few weeks, we might have been tempted to sympathise with them.
While we might have even been able to identify with them - after all, we too would have got it wrong - today we want to step back from their stupidity - it has just gone too far.
How could they possibly expect Jesus to condemn someone for doing good just because he was not in the right crowd?
None of us would ever find ourselves doing that.
Would we?

Marks gospel, as well as showing the disciples up to be numpties, also demonstrates the widening of the kingdom.
More and more people are welcomed into the kingdom.
Jesus demonstrates that God's love is far reaching and much more inclusive than has ever been conceived.
So why would the disciples imagine for a moment that Jesus would be pleased with them dismissing someone who cast out demons in the name of Jesus simply because he was not in their group?
But lets Imagine how it must have been for those disciples.
They are the ones who upped sticks and followed Jesus.
Working men one day.
Itinerant preachers the next.
Jesus had turned their lives upside down with his charisma and pulling power.
They were singled out by Jesus.
And invited to go on a journey.
A journey of discovery that changed them forever.
He taught them so many things.
And commissioned them as disciples.
How could just anybody then begin to do the things that they had been called to do?
And not only that but do it better than they were doing right then?
When we stop to imagine how it might have felt for them, when we begin to see where they were coming from - Then maybe that's where we find ourselves beginning, once more, to identify with the disciples.
Then we can sympathise with their indignation.
Here are the guys with the long service awards.
The ones who have endured hardship.
The ones who have been through a lot together.
How can someone new just show up and be embraced, given all the same power and privilege that is theirs?
How can that be?
They are the keepers and the dispensers of the faith, not some new comer who has not been through the kind of training they've been through or put up with all that they've endured together with Jesus.
It's not right that they should do all the hard work and then someone else shows up and reaps the benefit.
Not only that - but someone who is better at their job than they themselves are.
And I wonder if we are starting to see how we might identify with the disciples as they are portrayed in today's gospel.
Feeling threatened.
Feeling sidelined.
Feeling fear.
If someone can just pitch up and do what they are supposed to do, not only that, but do it better even though they've not been around as long as they have.
Even though they have not had the benefit of all of Jesus teaching.
Folk can appear from nowhere and take over their tasks and, not only that, but be welcomed and encouraged by Jesus.
And that is precisely the gospel that is preached in Mark.
That everyone IS called.
And equipped.
That God includes us and gives us power.
Whether we have been here forever.
Whether we are in with the bricks.
Or whether we have just shown up recently.
God makes room for us and invites us to participate.
On Gods terms - no one else's.
And we are called to welcome others on those same terms.
With openness.
Even if they want to do the jobs that we have always done.
The jobs that no one else can ever do in just the right way.
We are called to move over and make room.
To welcome and include.
To stop being precious about the things that only we can get right.
We are called to welcome and involve others so that the kingdom grows.
To set aside our complaining and allow others to serve as God calls them too.
And that is not easy.
It doesn't come naturally.
It takes effort.
We'd rather complain about how busy we are.
And about how no one can do properly those task that we have always done.
We'd rather have a good moan about it than move over and make room for others to share the load.
Because what if they mess it up?
What if they get it wrong?
And, even worse, what if they are better at it then we are?
It takes courage and strength to welcome others and to make room for them.
It's something that doesn't necessarily come naturally, something that has to be worked at.
But something that God calls us to do for the sake of the kingdom.

So, today, as we smile at the disciples getting it wrong again.
As we see them feeling threatened and feel their fear as they feel sidelined.
May we pause to catch a hold of those feelings in ourselves.
And may we get over ourselves and move over to welcome others.
Because the consequences for our congregation and for our church are too awful to contemplate.
The consequences if we cannot move on are what Jesus goes on to outline in the rest of the passage.
Jesus teaches in his usual over stated way, the things that we know deep down, the things that our common sense tells us but that we choose to ignore.
And that is - that we can easily turn others off.
That we can easily be responsible for someone turning away from the church.
That all of us can be stumbling blocks.
There seems to be a bit of a pre-occupation in Marks gospel with demons that need to be cast out.
Maybe we have a few of those ourselves.
That demon of fear that our positions will be usurped..
That demon of fear of change.
That demon of fear of the unknown.
That demon of pride in what we have done that no one else could possibly do as well as we do.
There are demons in us that we could do with being freed from.
So that we can stop being stumbling blocks to those new in faith or those tentatively taking their first steps in the kingdom.
So that we can be free to move over and make room.

For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
Jesus spells out to us that our actions must match our words.
It's no good claiming to be welcoming when we don't make room for others, when we don't encourage them to settle in and stay.
Its no good claiming to be welcoming when we only welcome those who pose no threat to us.
Accepting that cup of water.
Being ministered to as well as ministering is a vital part of discipleship.
And, often one we are slow to learn.
Especially when we have been here a while, when we feel settled and comfortable.
It's hard to let others, especially those we don't know minister to us.
It's difficult to see our need.
But in the kingdom of God, all are welcome, all are called to minister and all have a need to be ministered to.
Thanks be to God for widening the scope of the kingdom so that we don't need to carry the burden by ourselves.
Thanks be to God for calling and equipping others so that we can enjoy ministry rather than be overwhelmed by its demands.
Thanks be to God for every cup of cold water offered to us on the journey.
May we never be to proud or too precious to accept, wherever it comes from.
Thanks be to God.

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