September 30, 2012
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The Lectionary is the series of readings for Sunday mornings that we use to get through the Bible every three years. It was put together by a committee.
One great benefit to the lectionary is that it keeps me from preaching my favorite five stories from the Bible every week. It makes preachers work to apply the texts to the situation at hand, what we are facing in our lives, our community or our world.
Without thirty minute scripture readings on Sunday morning, the lectionary cannot include everything. You can tell that it was put together by a committee, both Protestants and Catholics, not so much by what is included, but by what is left out. It is mostly made up of safe texts. Church committees like safe. They don’t want us working through the first part of chapter five in James. We don’t often get the “woe to you rich” passages for Sunday morning readings. Which means I would encourage you to read it. It also means that worship is not enough Bible study for the week.
But the part they included for this morning still has much meat to it.
James is very clear that being a Christian is not a solo sport. A follower of Jesus needs other people as well. Solitude is good. Even Jesus went away by himself to pray. But the reminder that faith is a community activity runs throughout the Gospels and letters.
Are you suffering? Pray! Are you happy? Sing praise!
Are you sick? Call for the elders to come and anoint you and pray over you.
I am not going to say don’t go to the doctor. I am not going to say throw away your meds. But when we are sick, we need our faith, our spirit, our connections bolstered and supported.
Just this morning I was listening to “On Being” on the radio, and Krista Tippett was interviewing a woman about health and healing. They mentioned a study of people in the hospital, same doctors, same nurses, same care, the only difference was that some had windows facing a brick wall, and others faced a grove of trees. Those facing the grove of trees left the hospital on average a day earlier, with fewer pain meds needed, and fewer negative notes in their charts.
Imagine the effects of a community of faith that comes and ministers in good ways. Some of you already know the comfort that a prayer shawl brings. Some of you already know the joy of giving someone a prayer shawl. James was right. Prayer can heal.
Our story this morning from Mark continues this theme of taking care of each other, but once again offers a word of caution.
The first part of the problem is that someone not with the Jesus group is casting out demons in Jesus’ name, just like the Apostles. John, one of the sons of thunder, comes to Jesus complaining. This guy hasn’t paid his dues. He isn’t a part of the guild. He isn’t in our network. He doesn’t have his theological degree. He hasn’t been before church and ministry. So we told him to knock it off!
Someone is healing in Jesus’ name and it is working. People are returning to wholeness. But he isn’t one of us, so like Barney Fife says to Andy Griffith, John says you gotta nip it, nip it in the bud.
Jesus turns the whole thing around. If someone is caring for people and truly making them better, calling on the power of Jesus’ name and getting results, then leave them alone, or welcome them in, or go help them, but don’t stop them.
We live in a day where it is easy to say, “Those who are not for us, are against us!” Jesus offers the opposite: Those who are not against us are for us.
But he then goes on to a more radical agenda. He turns his disciples’ focus back on themselves. Check yourself, he tells them. He asks those who would weed out others, “What is it in your life that needs weeding out?” He reminds them that their job is not to sort the wheat from the chaff, not to declare this one wheat and that one a weed.
Throughout this section in Mark, the disciples are going to keep getting in trouble because they want to weed out those who don’t belong, and build themselves up. The problem is that their job is just the opposite. Their job is to build one another up, and weed out the sin in their own lives.
Jesus blows it way out of proportion with his instructions for cutting off one’s own hand for the sake of the kindgom. He is trying to rattle them and shake them and wake them up.
But it is not just them, is it? How much time do we spend sorting out the problems of everyone around us? How much time do we spend talking about what behaviors or attitudes or sins our neighbor needs to get rid of?
And how difficult is it to see our own failings as clearly as we see those of our neighbor? How much harder is it to admit to our own mistakes than to list those of the people around us? If we aren’t all that good at it, we are in good company…namely everyone else.
Thankfully God knows us – our faults, our mistakes, our lying awake at night worried, our sin – even better that we do. And God loves us, just as we are. And God is very good at making all things new.
Thanks be to God.