Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who Owns God's Power

This week's scriptures are Psalm 124 and Mark 9:38-50.

I want to focus on Mark 9:38-41 here today. And I want to focus on it because it involves a struggle that I have so often in my own life...the desire to be on the inside, to own the truth, to be able to indentify and delineate the way in which God's power is boundaried.

In this passage, John comes to Jesus and says, 'we saw this guy casting out demons in your name; and we told him to stop because he wasn't one of us.'

We can think of a lot of reasons why the disciples might have done this. One of them is closely associated with Peter's words to Jesus in Mark 10:28 about the disciples having "given up everything to follow you." The felt they were entitled. After all, they had turned their backs on a social structure which had provided them a place and an identity; they had given up what ever role and status they had to follow Jesus. And here this upstart was casting out demons in Jesus' name...and he wasn't even one of them. That was their power...not his! They had earned the right to be the 'chosen few.' In fact, some of them were already thinking about where they were going to sit at the parties when Jesus came into his kingdom.

Jesus' response was clear and crisp. 'If you're not against me, you're for me; it'll be hard for you to put me down if you've seen the power of my name at work.'

It's not a response that sits well....with them; or us. Think about how many good, helpful movements started out with the goal of dealing with the world's pain, healing a wound, fixing a problem....only to begin building fences around who was allowed in and out of the "kingdom." We're all guilty of it. We work hard, we sacrifice, we change our lives...and by golly everybody else ought to have to pay the price we've paid!

If they had done this in our day, they would have contacted the regional 'Exorcist Certification Board' who would have approached this gentleman and said something like, "Mr. Simon, we'd like to know what your credentials are for casting out demons...yes sir, we know you're doing it in Jesus name....however you need to be aware that without the proper credentials your possessed one will not be able to collect his insurance reimbursement for this casting out (after deductable of course)'re not going to stop? Yes we can see that the demon is gone...that's not the point. Well just make sure that you don't refer to yourself as a Certified Exorcist. Huh, you think Jesus' name is enough? Well we've got some questions for him too."

If our concern is truly about God's healing power in the world, perhaps we need to remember that that power will not be bound by anyone or anything. God's Spirit blows where it wills. The test for discernment is not "do you have there right credentials?" "Do you have the right theology?" or "do you have the right politics?" They are, for us, just as they were when Jesus answered John the Baptist's disciples: "Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." (Luke 7:22-23).

What would happen if we as Christians made that the criteria for our lines of connection, our joint efforts in ministry? What if we were more concerned with whether the hungry were fed and the sick got care than whether the ones working with us agreed with our politics or our theology? Wouldn't we, in fact, come closer to the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed?

It is a dangerous view. It is a scary view. Some days I don't like it much. But the truth is that if it leads us closer to what Jesus was teaching, whether I like it or not doesn't matter; whether it scares me or not doesnt' matter; whether it costs me or not doesn't matter. What matters is that the "little ones" that Jesus talked about don't stumble on my insistance that things be done my way. That's what Jesus cares about.

We'll explore this more on Sunday. Hope to see you there.


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