Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday, September 30, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
I am not certain about what the exercise was called but it involved a group of people who were asked to link arms. One person was asked to stand aside and once the group was formed, that person was asked to break into the group.
I learned very quickly that there was an assumption that there was always a weak link and breaking into the group and becoming a part of the group would be fairly easy. However, the group was instructed to do everything in its power prevent someone else from entering.
A few were always able to break through but for many others the failure to break through became as a source of great despair. I remember some giving up in exasperation while others dismissed the entire exercise as a joke.
There were those who felt the satisfaction of being accepted or the sting of being rejected; of who was in and who was out. That tension between being inclusive and being exclusive is evident in our reading from The Gospel According to Mark this morning.
Harry B. Adams is a Professor Emeritus of Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. He puts it this way: “How far should a community go in relating to other people who are different, and how far should it go in excluding those who have different standards and values and customs? How far must a community go in isolating itself from outsiders to keep its values? How does a community keep its identity if it recognizes the validity of differing ways and structures of other communities? How do people in a community fellowship with others without losing their distinctiveness?” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 4, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2009, page 116)
Then he adds: “The concern about inclusiveness and exclusiveness is particularly intense for the church.” (Op. cit.) We are bound together not just by common interest or mutual enjoyment but by convictions we share about what we believe most deeply and what gives value and meaning to our lives.
Sometimes our own convictions may make it more difficult for us to be sensitive to and accepting of those who have different convictions. Adams again asks: “How do we keep the integrity of our own community without isolating ourselves from others?” (Ibid., page 118)
It is a question that the early disciples had to face as their relationship with Jesus deepened. It was John who 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.” (Mark 9:38)
John along with Peter and James who constituted the inner circle among the disciples (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33) are troubled by an apparent outsider who is doing ministry in Jesus’ name. It is unclear as to what John’s concern may have been but Jesus does not respond to his motive for raising the issue. Instead, Jesus focuses on the consequences of the person’s actions for the community (Mark 9:40) and for the person who invokes his name. (Mark 9:41)
John and the others make clear that the man casting out demons is not one of “us” and that they want to maintain the integrity of Jesus power. There is no doubt that they wondered what would happen if everybody started doing things in the name of Jesus.
They knew well enough that Jesus had the power and authority to heal and through him they would be given that power and authority. The disciples were not about to allow others “outside” their circle exercise that power and authority, even if it was for a good cause.
But Jesus is unconcerned about what the disciples had seen. He responded to them immediately 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.” (Mark 9:39)
Preserving his power was not a priority for Jesus. Instead, what was important was the good done by others. Such actions were to be celebrated and affirmed.
It would appear that John, Peter, James and the other disciples had linked arms and were not about to let anyone into their group. Whether or not they were aware of the impact their decision would have had on others, Jesus’ words to them regarding their unwillingness to welcome the outsider reminds us that we need to be aware of the line between those who are inside or outside the circle of our own communities.
Jesus does not allow the disciples time to respond and instead warns them of other concerns “closer to home.” Jesus turns from those who are “outside” – the man who cast out demons in his name to those who are “inside” – the disciples themselves and the ways in which they may cause others or themselves to stumble.
What remains at the heart of today’s message is who’s in and who’s out. The early disciples were willing to draw a line between who was inside and who was outside. We have a tendency in our day and time to do the same.
We draw numerous lines in our work places and in our schools. We draw lines in our families and with neighbors. We draw them in political, social and economic affiliations we make with others.
We even draw them in our churches, temples, mosques and synagogues. We rationalize the value of the lines we draw but there is one place in heaven and on earth where there are no lines. If God’s kingdom is to come on earth as it is in heaven then we must heed Jesus’ call to be generous in our estimation and acceptance of others.
We know there are no lines in the kingdom of God. There is room enough for all of us. Mahalo ke Akua. Amen.