“I am he as you are he as you are me
and we are all together”
Homily for the 19th Sunday of Pentecost’
September 30, 2012
How do you react when someone else gets the credit for what you are doing?
It requires an awfully big person to be able to be able to set aside your own ego and agenda, and celebrate the fact that something good has been accomplished, regardless of who gets credit. The disciples, at this stage of their training, clearly were not up to the challenge.
In today’s Gospel, following an encounter with someone else using the name of Jesus in their ministry, the apostle John says to Jesus: “We tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
So much of our energy goes into trying to convince people to be part of the “we,” to connect with the community – with us — to stand alongside us in some kind of solidarity. In the church, that is certainly a major aspect of our purpose. This is by and large a good thing. We believe it is important that people see themselves not in isolation but as part of a larger entity – part of a community of some kind – and since the word catholic means universal, the more universal that community is, the better.
But the concept of “We” can have a down side as well, as the line in today’s Gospel suggests. We see that being played out in the Book of Esther, where Haman conspires to get all the Jews in Persia killed. Whether it is Muslim extremists intimidating or murdering anyone who does not subscribe to their views, or the Roman Catholic Church silencing and excommunicating dissidents, or Scientologists trying to ruin the lives of people who try to question or break away from the fold, there is always a temptation to want to attack and destroy those who are not with us.
The disciples, who had pretty much been failing every test Jesus had given them to this point, encounter some itinerant exorcist and it’s as if their attitude is: “Too bad for you, but we’ve got the franchise on the God business now – you have to get out of town.” Unlike Paul McCartney, the disciples refuse to just “let it be.” It was not enough that good was being done, that there were others following the path of Jesus. It wasn’t enough that Jesus got credit for the healing the man was doing. The disciples wanted the recognition, the credit, the glory, and couldn’t see that God’s work might be going on in ways not overtly connected with what they were doing. For John (and apparently the others) this other person was not directly associated or controlled by them, so they felt they had the right to interfere with and undermine what he was doing.
It’s like, from Day One there was the possibility that Christianity might tend to operate on a franchise basis and that those operating without a license or permission would be seen as competitors or even as enemies. That tendency would have turned Christianity into a million little sects rather than a universal faith with a message for all people.
So Jesus’ response here is critical. And how does Jesus respond to this comment from his disciple? John says to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” And according to Mark, Jesus responds by saying: “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.”
“Whoever is not against us is for us.” That is a lot different than saying “Those who are not with us are against us.” For Jesus, the term “WE” has a much broader meaning than it does for his disciples, and certainly as Christians we pay close attention to things Jesus is reported as saying.
The disciples had attempted to stop the other person from doing good, and Jesus says, about as directly as you could say it: “Do not stop them.”
And then he goes on to speak of the way in which his disciples are to operate in the world – enormously careful about not doing harm – enormously considerate of even the smallest and seemingly insignificant person. He gets them to focus on their own disciplines and keep themselves under control, rather than focusing on trying to control others. “Don’t be a stumbling block to others,” he says. In other words, your job is to help them along and encourage them, not to condemn or control.
For Jesus, “We” is everyone, not just a select few. “We” is humankind, and he seems to reprimand his disciples for attempting to create dividing lines when there was no need for them.
What if the world worked that way? What if corporations like Wal-Mart took the approach that “Whoever is not against us is for us” and no longer operated in a way that was intended to destroy all the competition? What if nations saw their role toward their neighbouring countries as supportive and not as a rivalry? What if corporations looked outside their huge buildings and began to notice the many homeless people, and instead of hiring more security guards, dedicated a percentage of their profits to helping people get help and training and a decent place to live? These are the kinds of “what if’s” that Jesus would have his followers think about.
It’s counter-intuitive and obviously the disciples had a problem comprehending the scope of Jesus’ message. The Gospel writer Matthew apparently second-guessed Jesus, and, in his writing of the Gospel, turned the saying around so that it says, “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30).
The Church has too often set itself up in an antagonistic relationship with the world around it. Too often Christians have been quick to condemn, something the Apostle James advised against. Today’s Gospel suggests a different approach. Let us keep in mind that Christianity is not Wal-Mart, and we are not meant to see everyone else as the competition or as enemies. When we see good things happening, we rejoice, whether we are controlling the action or not, believing that somehow, God must be at work, even though we are as yet unable to understand how or why.
St Paul taught that there is one Spirit – one Spirit that connects everything. He recognized that Christ, distinctions of race and sex and social status fall away. Attitudes based on ownership and ego become ridiculous when you come to realize that all things belong to God.
Author Rob Bell said: “If the gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. . . Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and taught that our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, “God shows no favoritism.” So we don’t either.”
Let us be careful about where we draw the line where “We” ends, because “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Let us make the choice to recognize, celebrate and support the good things that are happening in the world around us as all being part of the way a good and gracious God fulfills the divine purpose, and may that perspective increase our sense of kinship with all people, in the Name of the One who makes us all one.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers+
RCL appointed readings
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me — that is my petition — and the lives of my people — that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?”
Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.
Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.
Psalm 124 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side (let Israel now say); if it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us; then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters.
Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
James 5:13-20 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
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 afterward 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.”