It sure is a little hard to say “Praise to you, O Christ” to today’s gospel, isn’t it? With all its talk of cutting off body parts and casting off people. The language is graphic to be sure, intended to get our attention. And it does. Yet I want us to look beyond that to what is behind those words. To point to the idea that we, as those trying to follow Jesus, are supposed to focus upon the fact that what do is in Jesus name and by God’s power. How this is lived out is always broader than we think. When I was growing up, our church hd about 2000 members, and a vibrant afterschool program and lots of fellowship meals. So of course the real hub of the church was- the kitchen. There were teams of kitchen ladies who worked to produce massive quantities of yummy things. Some had special aprons and a regimen of what needed to be done to keep the kitchen humming. Overseeing it all was THE kitchen lady whose first name was Alice but even the other ladies did not call her by her first name. She ran a tight ship, with everything in its place and time. The ladies were friendly and helpful, but you knew NOT want to go to the window to ask for a drink or anything else when they were cleaning up. Only certain people could be kitchen ladies or be in the kitchen at all. Once we put together a sub sale and were making subs in the kitchen on a Saturday to sell for our mission trip. We got in trouble for using the kitchen without them. In later years, as the ladies aged, it became harder to do the same work. Yet it was a challenge to allow others to join in the work- they resisted. People still needed to be fed, but the question really was whether they would accept that others could also give someone that glass of water or a meal for a mission trip, or whether they would go down preserving that only the right people do this. By the way, I am talking about a church…I am not mocking the ladies who had their heart in the right place, but we all fall into patterns even when we didn’t mean to. But whether we are talking about kitchen ladies or landscaping guys, or whatever, the question really is when we claim to follow Jesus are we really just serving up the same dish as the rest of the world or whether there is something distinct in our flavor? We’re trying to live into following Jesus, but we dosome crazy things when we feel insecure. And let’s be honest- we are the ones who are here – but we can forget whose name matters.
The disciples in the gospel were a long way from that first moment of new possibility when the journey with Jesus began. Not ready to let all that “deny yourself” stuff sink in. Still preferring to grouse or take matters into their own hands. Jesus sent them out with power to cast out demons, but they discovered it was trickier than they thought. They forgot to put their trust in God’s power. But then they focused lots of energy on who is the greatest and the most right, only to be reminded it’s not about power the way they think. Now they’ve come upon someone who’s entirely beyond their circle who has no fear in invoking Jesus’ name and casting out demons, and those who’ve have been there day in and day out with Jesus are stymied. How dare this guy just say a few words and do it! It can’t just be anyone doing this. They repeatedly try to stop him until they succeeded, and they come tell Jesus they have taken care THAT! Quality control! Never mind that people were being healed, right?
But…And Jesus corrected them yet again. We can all lose sight of the fact that what matters is remembering this all is in Jesus’ name. Not ours. We get uncomfortable with those who are different, or have insecurity about ourselves. And it might lead us to travel from good order or to bureaucracy, to manage our anxiety. We want to be affirmed in our value and point out who is NOT one of US. But again Jesus insists otherwise- whoever does a good work or deed in his name won’t be able to do otherwise later. We say “whoever is not for us is against us,” but Jesus says the much broader and more positive- “whoever is not against us, is for us.” Then we hear the real switch-up. Jesus promises that anyone who does a good deed for one of his people because they follow Him, will be rewarded. Not only might they do good, it might be for us.
As those who are care givers, can we imagine being on the receiving end of care in Jesus’ name? Dependent upon grace in another? Even from the “the wrong person”? We’re prone to draw lines between the “in” and the “out.” We want to decide. Sometimes we even decide what we believe about entire groups of “others” always assuming we are the “in.” There is sadly a lot of this in the news. When we fall into this, we spend more time focusing on the negative rather than promoting the good. And more time focusing on ourselves and our name than promoting the one in whose name we are to live and serve- JESUS.
Again this day Jesus is calling us to open up how we think about who God will use, even those who name God differently. To step farther into God’s broader view of community so desperately needed in our city, much less our world. This is how we can share life among ourselves and our neighbors in peace. To be a community that gathers and remembers our mutual responsibility for each other, willing to share both in our struggles and well being, accepting we can both give and receive from each other. We have a chance to break open a new possibility- it’s not only possible, it’s essential and central to following Christ. As one writer notes, sometimes our zeal for the gospel – or perhaps, more honestly, our fear of those who are different from us – places a stumbling block making it harder for others to see and feel the love of God in Christ.
Years ago, there were popular bracelets that said, "What would Jesus do?" More importantly we are pointed to "what Jesus actually did." Jesus says don’t stop someone who is doing good even if they're not a member of your group, nor refuse the help of someone even if you don't know what they believe. Instead focus on making Christ known. Promote what you love instead of bashing what you don’t.
God has given us love and life so we can respond by loving God and each other.
This is being distinct from the world and how we can "be at peace with one another" and have life.
Again this day, Jesus gives us pretty good advice, but then again they don’t call Him the Prince of Peace for nothing.