James 5:13-20? Mark 9:38-50

September 27, 2015 by Ken Dale

This gospel story is interesting to compare.? In Mark Jesus says, ?Whoever is not against us is for us.?? But in Luke Jesus says ?whoever is not with me is against me.?? Luke is a more negative statement while Mark is more open and inclusive.? Which one speaks most to you?? We might say Luke is black and white and Mark is a shade of gray.? I thought about playing with ?shades of gray? for a sermon title??..but thought maybe I shouldn?t go there — not sure I could come up with 50 that were church related.? Would the church be full this morning if the sermon title was in the Lincoln County New as ?50 Shades of Gray??

Anyway!? In our gospel lesson we find the disciple John running to Jesus saying ?We saw this unknown, un-credentialed healer out doing spectacular things, using your name when he is not even one of us, not one of us insiders.?? Jesus has been casting out demons and John comes with the news someone who isn?t even a follower of Jesus is doing the same thing using Jesus? name.? For John this is unbelievable and unacceptable.? He and the disciples tell the man to stop and then they tell Jesus all about it.? It?s interesting that those disciples assume that they have the authority to tell the man to stop in Jesus? name.? No doubt much to their surprise Jesus tells them that if the man isn?t really doing any harm then he?s doing some good ? if he?s not against us, he?s for us.? John and evidently the disciples are thinking and acting in a black and white mode ? decisive ? it?s one way or the other.

It could be that this rogue exorcist was an imposter, maybe even a swindler ? taking advantage of people who were seeking something wondrous or unusual in their lives, maybe seeking hope or healing.? But ? it could also be that the man knew something about Jesus that even Jesus? disciples didn?t know ? maybe that the reality around Jesus was deeper than the ?black and white? thinking of the disciples that you had be part of their little group to do those good things.

Surely each of us can relate ? for we have tendencies to be black and white thinkers or living with shades of gray.? Black and white thinkers are decisive ? something is either one way or another.? The minister is either wonderful or terrible.? The choir is either good or bad.? And that black and white thinker is either perfect or disgraced.? And if someone disagrees with the black and white thinker ? that someone is disloyal — words like never and always are used.? It can be assumed that black and white thinking is a response to a chaotic environment and that kind of thinking is a way to bring some control, order and sanity to the chaotic environment.? When we think that way it?s easy to throw a label on a person or make a quick and simple decision.? That?s what John is doing in his obviously anxious state.? He doesn?t understand what?s happening and he wants to define something.? This guy is not one of us ? he is not good ? and he needs to be stopped.

I remember one year at the Common Ground Fair I watched border collies for a short time.? Pretty amazing how they could separate the sheep from the goats!? Literally ? there were 5 or so sheep and 4 goats and on command the dogs would separate them.? But they made mistakes ? and I learned that they made mistakes because they were going against their nature ? which is to herd ? to keep them all together.? How important it is that we listen to The Shepherd!!? And isn?t it wonderful to see that Shepherd so alive and well in Pope Francis ? so many different people are listening as he proclaims a wider circle of God?s love.

Jesus does not draw a little circle around his small group and label everyone else as enemies.? Instead he takes a larger perspective ? one that embraces more people than his group of 12.? If the world must be split into two groups ? those for us and those against us ? Jesus presumes the circle of insiders is larger than his immediate group of 12.

But it?s interesting that he then directs attention to the 12 almost saying, ?as for you?.if you cause even one of my little ones to stumble, it would be better to have an arm hacked off, your foot amputated, or your eye gauged out!?? Suddenly not so warm and fuzzy ? not very inclusive, affirming, accepting, broad-minded.? And note the shift ? John sits in judgment of someone outside the group ? and Jesus shifts the judgment right back to the group. And isn?t that usually the way ? we?re forever wanting that judgment, that responsibility, that accountability to apply to someone else before it applies to us.? Yet, especially as followers of Jesus we need to hold ourselves accountable and responsible.? It all brings to mind that lovely little poem by Charles Edwin Markham:? He drew a circle that shut me out? Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win; We drew a circle that took him in!? ?

If we are to take that more nuanced view of things perhaps the question is how do we tell if someone is for us?? Acts of kindness to us in the name of Christ.? And if one is against us?? That one brings injury to the innocent.? Perhaps a bottom line for this entire passage is that if we must judge between black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, in and out — we need first look at ourselves.? If we are looking at casting something out ? may it be those parts of our lives that betray the cause of Christ ? the Christ who calls us to be at peace.

The passage from James surely points to our needing one another ? it speaks of the importance of prayer ? of reaching toward God on behalf of others for healing, for forgiveness, for reconciliation ? it speaks of the importance of community and the family of faith.? And so I would like to close with what I think is a powerful image shared by C. Edward Bowen.? Back in the 500s, there was a Christian teacher who taught his students this lesson. The teacher asked his students to form a large circle, with everyone facing in. Then he told them to imagine God as being at the center of the circle. Next, the teacher told the students to start moving toward the center, toward God. When the students did that, the circle, of course, shrank in size until each of the students ended up shoulder to shoulder. The teacher then finished the class by saying, “The lesson is: You can?t get closer to God without, at the same time, getting closer to one another.”

May we seek to live that lesson.