This is a humbling passage for me. Jesus is saying quite clearly to his petty and quarrelsome disciples; “Quit worrying about who has the power to do what and find ways to empower others to do the work you’ve been called to do.” Well, at least that’s my take on it. I feel a little convicted by Christ’s statement, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able to soon afterward speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
We know what’s going on here. The disciples report back to Jesus that they stopped someone from exorcising demons in Christ’s name and, why? Because this wanna-be exorcist wasn’t one of them…not a duly authorized disciple of Jesus. Worse yet, the imposter was succeeding where Christ’s disciples had failed. So, there was an attempt to draw a line in the sand and the disciples were now, rather proudly, telling Jesus that they were guarding the borders.
It’s a shock to them to discover that while they were alarmed by the intrusive behavior of the stranger, Jesus was alarmed by their behavior and their attitudes, not the stranger’s. Christ rather harshly ordered them to quit their bellyaching and to worry instead about their own stumble-provoking words and actions. It was their souls, which were in jeopardy. What they were doing was breaking covenant with the very one with whom they sought approval. How? By assuming they had some favored status and really missing the point of Discipleship. Called not to be masters and powerful; they had been called to servants of all.
Well, I started this by saying this is a humbling passage for me. I went into ministry back in 1988. I attended seminary for 3 years in two different schools in two different states. I felt called to serve God and, to do so in the United Methodist church of that day, one needed to be ordained an Elder in the church. After a relatively short period of probation and internship in a church setting along with regularly scheduled reviews and questioning, some like me, who felt called to ministry would be ordained with the full status of Elder and full voting rights at Annual Conference. That gave me the right to determine who would be voted into the Conference as a full member, who could sit in the executive session, who would receive full health care and pension benefits. Back then, I also assured me as an Elder of the church that I would have all full privileges and respect due me and be guaranteed a church appointment. That was the world of United Methodism back in 1988 and for many years that followed. It was my world and my experience and achieving that status was a high honor with great rewards.
Now today, the UMC world is a bit different. There are fewer people going into full-time ministry, fewer Elders, fewer full time appointments, more women, more ethnic and diverse pastors and congregations. Churches have dwindled in size, less people attend weekly services; our need for pastors is still very real but many serving our churches are part-time pastors, some with second jobs in the secular world. I have the unique task, as a member of the District Committee on Ministry to review the work and credentials of both those who are seeking full time ministry and those who will live out their call as part time Licensed Local Pastors. I, along with the other members of the DCoM have to make judgments on whom we pass and whom we turn away. Now that is humbling because I always wonder, what gives me and the others on the committee the right to determine the effectiveness of another’s call to serve God. You see where this can lead, right? Am I being like one of those obstructionist disciples who tried to stop the effective exorcist when I and the committee make a determination that sends someone packing because we decide he or she isn’t one of us and can’t be.
Well, of course, I hope and pray that when we take our votes, preceded always by prayer, the Holy Spirit is leading and directing us. And, I also hope that we, as a community of faith, as the church of Jesus Christ, Rockville United Methodist Church that we don’t act as a stumbling block to someone coming through our doors or someone out in our various communities. I pray that ever person in need finds a welcome here, that every person who believes he or she has a gift from God to share will be given the opportunity to use those gifts. It’s always my hope that we are seen as a welcoming church, one that offers hospitality and invitation even to those whose ideas about doing church may not be familiar to us or in sync with the way “we’ve always done it before”. It’s always my hope, and I believe yours too, to be salted with God’s goodness and grace and to work together to be at peace with each other.
That’s what this passage from Mark says as I understand it. Admonishing the disciples who felt threatened by those who weren’t in the inner circle, who hadn’t yet found their way in but who were enthusiastically mimicking what they saw in Christ and his followers, Christ says, “Have salt in yourselves…for salt is good…and, be at peace with one another.” In many ways, we can all be humbled by Christ’s words. As I pointed out last week, the gospel of Jesus Christ is shocking to most people. It alarms our sense of rightness and tips it over upsetting our certainties. It exposes our fears and our doubts.
Take that gospel out into our broken and hurting world and the implications are extraordinary. Do we dare question another who comes to God by a different path? Do we dare assume some righteous call to a perfected faith when those in a self-professed inner circle fight with each other as Christ’s disciples were fighting with one another? I’m not sure any of us want to go down that road and it certainly would seem, according to Jesus’ own words, we are being cautioned against it. Be at peace with one another, salt to the world.
But, as Christians, we do tend to misunderstand, like the man in this story.
“While working in a forest, a man suddenly fell into an abandoned well. He tried to climb the slippery sides of the well but to no avail. Finally, in complete desperation, he sat down in the muck and mire at the bottom of the well and began to pray: ‘Oh God, please send someone to rescue me from this well.’
Another man came by and heard the first man plaintively offering his desperate prayer. He threw a rope down the well with the instruction to man at the bottom to fasten the rope about his waist and with the aid of the man above, the one in the well was able to climb the slippery sides and reach the top. He was saved! Being saved was such an exhilarating experience that the once-in-the-well man, now saved, spent the rest of his life chasing after people and throwing them down wells just so he could throw them a rope and haul them back up!”
There’s always the danger we will miss the point. Always the possibility we will lose sight of our true mission: Christ calls us to follow him and to give ourselves over to the kind of ministry Christ modeled for us, the kind of ministry Christ lived and calls us to live. Our effectiveness as Christians in the world is to recognize the gift of our salvation without endangering another in his or her walk with God as that person might understand God and as God might relate to him or her. Christ was in the business of breaking down barriers; we can’t, we shouldn’t be in the business of erecting new ones. To do so is to endanger not only these “little ones” in the faith but to put our own lives at risk too. Amen.
 Faith Sharing, Fox, Morris, p. 40.