9/30/2012 Pray Faithfully

Ordinary Time (Proper 21)
Esther 7:1-6,9-10; 9:20-22, Psalm 124, James 5:13-20, Mark 9:38-50

My, my my–do you ever get the idea that Jesus’ disciples were not the sharpest tools in the toolbox? But Jesus was incredibly patient with them, and the rest of us can find comfort and hope in at least knowing that. Once again Mark brings us an interesting exchange:

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.” –Mark 9:38-50 NRSV

In our all-too-often contentious and uber-partisan society we hear it said, “Anyone who’s not for us is against us.” Yet note how Jesus reverses that in an interesting way when confronted by the news that somebody else is casting out demons in his name, much to the chagrin of his disciples: Whoever is not against us is for us. While it is tempting to use the current U.S. political season as backdrop here, I’ll go a different route, recalling an experience I had more than a decade ago in my hometown here in Missouri, just a dozen miles from the international headquarters of my denomination.

Although a minister from my denomination had helped start the local ministerial alliance back in the 1960s, my own congregation (founded in the mid-1980s) had for some reason never joined. And so at the request of the then-pastorate I agreed to be our representative. But unlike back in the day some five decades ago, the alliance had witnessed an influx of fairly vocal evangelical and fundamentalist pastors to join the usual array of Mainline Protestant clergy.

To radically shorten a long and distasteful story, I’ll just say that the former group was not pleased with the prospect of me joining their little group. Apparently several of them didn’t think I was sufficiently Christian enough to join the alliance. They insisted on bringing the matter to a vote but only after they had grilled me extensively on the doctrines, beliefs, history, and practices of my denomination. Before things got too out of hand, fortunately, a seasoned United Methodist minister declared that nobody had questioned his right to join the group and he didn’t see why the alliance should start now. Eventually I became the secretary for the group.

I suppose it was only a matter of time (with the excuse being that a Mormon representative joined the alliance) before the evangelicals/fundamentalists bolted from the alliance and formed their own clergy group. I’m not sure if that group still exists, and if it does it obviously has little influence in the community.

Sadly, the long history of Christianity includes much of this kind of tug-of-war over who can claim Jesus as their own. That, of course, is not at all the point of what Jesus started a couple thousand years ago. There are so many more important things to be concerned with. Our chief task, I believe, is to be faithful.


About Rich Brown

Rich Brown is a writer, blogger, editor, and publisher. His most recent book is "Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile" (Isaac's Press).
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