19th Sunday After Pentecost
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who shares responsibility for the kingdom of God with us. Amen
The disciples in Mark
are notoriously dense
Jesus spends all this time with them
doing deeds of power and teaching them the ways of the kingdom of God
and yet when a new situation comes along
they almost always react with the way of the world.
This time it’s John
who tries to be teachers’ favorite by tattling on another kid.
“Teacher we saw someone cast out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
I can almost see his chest puffing out
in self-righteous pride
while Jesus makes a gesture of consternation.
Face-palm they still don’t get it…
The disciples have given in to
the all too human propensity
to create insiders and outsiders
despite the fact that Jesus’ ministry
has been concerned with breaking down those barriers.
In fact Jesus’ ministry
has been to those considered outsiders by the world,
just last week Jesus taught the disciples who to welcome
by bringing a small child into their midst.
So, with the patience of God
Jesus tries again to get his message across to the disciples,
Don’t stop people like this guy, he tells them
because 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.
What concerns Jesus the most
is the spread of his message
to as many people as possible
and he will do anything to spread the message,
eating with tax collectors,
crossing the sea to the gentiles.
Even sharing the responsibility with others.
Jesus has commissioned the disciples
to go spread the word,
the silly dense disciples
who are frequently disappointing
yes they have been entrusted with the message-
so it’s little wonder that Jesus doesn’t seem too concerned
about this stranger doing deeds of power in his name,
it means the message is spreading beyond even the disciples
Jesus wants as many people as possible
to hear the good news that the kingdom of God has come near
and that means a variety of ways are needed
to get the message across
because different people respond to different approaches.
For example, the emphasis on the blood and suffering of Jesus
in the African American gospel songs
doesn’t really resonate with me
but it is a source of good news for the African American tradition
because the songs originate in the days of slavery
when it was a great comfort for the slaves
to know that despite what their masters told them about God
wanting them to obey,
they had a savoir who had suffered just as much as they were suffering.
Or, again, the question have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,
this question makes me extremely uncomfortable.
Yet it has led many people to live a life of faith.
What works for me is the message
that we are saved by grace through faith as a pure gift from God
and that is the message that informs all my preaching and teaching
All these approaches have a place in the spread of the gospel
what Jesus reacts strongly against
are actions that lead to the loss of faith
or interfere in the faith of another person,
for example the disciples trying to stop the man they saw
because he wasn’t a part of their group.
And that’s when Jesus starts to sound like an old timey mafia boss, s
peaking of hanging millstones around necks before a swim
or cutting parts of the body off that cause stumbling.
While it seems a little extreme
what Jesus is trying to get across to the disciples
is the seriousness of the responsibility of discipleship,
yes Jesus shares the responsibility with the disciples,
and that is not a responsibility we should take lightly
because while we have the power to help bring people to faith,
we also have the power to cause them to stumble,
to lose faith
and we should take that as seriously as amputation.
Jesus really isn’t advocating self-mutilation
but his point is that if something starts to get in the way of the good news of Jesus Christ
we need to cut it out,
if being right is more important than sharing the love of God
and news of salvation with the outsiders of society
then we might as well go jump in a lake,
Jesus shares the responsibility for the spread of the reign of God with us
it is a serious task,
one that we do not do alone,
it is a task shared by the community of disciples
Toward the end of this section of teaching
Jesus turns his attention back to the community,
the one the disciples were so eager to defend,
in referring to fire and salt
he is drawing on food preparation metaphors,
often for something to become palatable it must be cooked,
exposed to heat.
The community will undergo struggles
but that will serve to make them into the best version of themselves,
and salt, seasoning
is essential to life,
we need salt to live
and it adds flavor to our food,
a community is seasoned by the wide variety of people it encompasses,
it needs the seasoning of many different people
to sustain the life of the community
and add flavor
but when many people gather
there is the possibility for conflict
be at peace with one another Jesus says
and welcome others,
they add to the flavor of the community
even if it’s not an individual flavor we prefer
it adds to the taste of the whole dish.
Discipleship, is a serious business,
like the disciples, we often get it wrong,
we get sidetracked by who is in or who is out,
we give preference to our own tastes,
and yet Jesus still shares the responsibility
for the spread of the kingdom of God with us,
calling us to be at peace with one another.
Offering us grace. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.