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Pentecost 19B Sermon
Mark 9: 38-50
30, 2018


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Mark 9:38-50

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.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. 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.
‘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. 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. 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., 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, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
‘For everyone will be salted with fire. 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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

From whom would you accept a cup of cold water? That might sound like a strange question to you, or the answer might be something like, “Well, it depends on just how thirsty I am …” In our Gospel reading today, Jesus informs his disciples that whoever gives you a cup of cold water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. In theory it sounds pretty awesome. God uses all kinds of people to share what we need for life. Unfortunately in practice things get a little more difficult.

The disciples report coming across someone who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Someone is relieving intense misery for another person because of what they witnessed in Jesus! Evidently that isn’t enough. Notice the change in pronouns as they defend their request: the other exorcist is doing works of power in “your name” … but he isn’t “following us.” Apparently it isn’t enough to be a follower of Jesus; you have to be a certain kind of follower, one that tows the line, shares our theological point of view, and conforms to our style of worship and lifestyle. Instead of giving his stamp of approval for trying to stop this guy, Jesus corrects John and the other disciples with the profound line, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” We have gotten used to saying the opposite, that whoever is not for us is against us, but Jesus widens the tent to say that all of those who do good and acknowledge me are effectively on our side, no matter if they are part of our inner circle or not. And Jesus even goes a little further when he says that anyone who shows even a small, paltry sign of Jesus’ example, like giving you a cup of cold water to drink, is enough to secure Jesus’ reward.

This is a very challenging scripture passage for us today in the midst of the conflicts that exist on so many fronts – religion, politics, socio-economic status, race, gender issues, the list goes on. As we consider the passage in light of the stark polarization of our own times, it is obvious that not much has changed in the world. We ourselves judge people based on statements like, “You cannot be a Christian if you ….” (fill in the blank): Were baptized as an infant; weren’t baptized as an infant; don’t believe in the Bible literally; think that Revelation is a prediction of the end of the world; Voted for Donald Trump; didn’t vote for Donald Trump; are pro-choice; are pro-life; aren’t LGBTQ friendly; advocate for LGBTQ rights; support sanctuary churches; agree with our country’s policies on separating families at the borders, etc. It doesn’t take long to realize that all sides serve as mirror twins of each other, serving as criteria by which to determine not only if another person can truly call themselves, “Christian” but if that person is really worthy of receiving my mercy or, even more starkly, if I want to receive an act of mercy from them.

Now, I am not saying that we Christians should be “a-political”. Part of our calling is to be involved in the temporal government of our cities, states and nation. It is important to affirm Luther’s conviction that God is at work in our political and governmental structures to care for God’s people. But we can be non-partisan in our politics, imagining God at work in and through people who, while they bear the name of Christian still can disagree with us profoundly on one or more issues that are important to us. Can we make room in our lives for those who disagree with us without labelling them? Can we try to stop, at least for a moment, trying to convince someone else of why they are wrong, or worse, condemning them because they believe differently than we do – and try to understand what experiences have shaped their views? Can we imagine that, given the enormity of the challenges ahead for our church, nation and world, there may be good ideas and directions coming from people who hold different perspectives and commitments than we do? Can we accept a cup of cold water from someone who does not follow us?

I think that it is so appropriate to be having this style of worship this morning with some help from people who are not Lutheran and were not born or raised Lutheran! Travis and Christian are here to help us to experience Jesus’ love through a different worship style than we are used to in our liturgical gatherings. Sometimes we are very willing to accept a Christian who’s political views are different from ours far easier than we are to accept someone who’s worship style is different than ours!! Someone once asked what’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist!

I venture to say that not only will our church roof NOT fall in this morning from our experience, but maybe some of you will be uplifted in ways that you aren’t always in our usual liturgical worship style. And just as we have welcomed these gentlemen into this worship space, maybe they will have renewed respect for us Lutherans as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of our ages or theologies or worship styles.

The issue of stumbling blocks is serious for Jesus. In our scripture passage for today he is still referring to one of those little ones that he lifted up in our passage last week – one who is vulnerable and in need of care and direction. Anything that is a stumbling block to their faith should be cast away – which can be as difficult as cutting off a hand or foot or tearing out an eye. But as we get rid of those feelings of superiority and remember the unity that we share in Christ, our lives become less of a competition to be on a winning side, and more of a collaboration to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves – bigger than our congregation, denomination, and even bigger than the Christian Church. Bigger than Democrats or Republicans … bigger even than Americans or other nations. As Christians, we are called to lift up all who may be casting out demons in the world. More likely, to lift up, celebrate and partner with anyone who is working for justice, advocating for those who have lost their jobs or feel left behind, caring for veterans, protesting injustice … even someone who stops to give a thirsty person a simple cup of cold water. They don’t necessarily have to follow US … but by their words and actions, they will be following Jesus, and that is the most important thing. May we be givers of cold water and not casters of stumbling blocks; and may we receive from all who follow Jesus, celebrating the shared mission we have in his name. Amen.