said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your
name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not a member of our
political party.’ But Jesus said, ‘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. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
the Gospel reading doesn’t exactly
that. But in a presidential election year, it does seem close to how
the world sounds. She isn’t Christian because she believes this. Or
he isn’t really a believer because he is voting for that candidate.
We turn to politics and use religion to justify our arguments.
Because the truth is, we all want to believe Jesus is on our side. We
want to believe that WE have done what is right and those other
people. They are the ones who are in the wrong.
addresses here one of the most common and destructive tendencies
concerning humans and power. Already the disciples have forgotten or
completely misunderstood the radical inclusiveness of God’s reign
and seek to limit membership to their special club. The man is not
one of them and should therefore be stopped. It is a tendency to
which we can all relate, especially in election season.
says “Whoever is not against us is for us.” This is not how the
phrasing normally goes is it? Normally we assume that anyone who
isn’t explicitly on our side, must be against us. But not for Jesus.
He says that anyone who isn’t explicitly against us, is for us.
Imagine that. Everyone who is confused or unsure or doubting is still
for Christ. Anyone who is living a good life and not sure about this
whole church thing, Jesus claims is still for him. What a different
way to look at the world. And our job, our goal is to not do anything
to make them turn away from us.
number and variety of communities that work in Jesus’ name reveals
that there are infinite ways to live and proclaim the good news.
Diversity in itself is not a problem, as Jesus explains—the danger
arises when any one of those communities professes to be the only
true church and exclusive bearer of salvation. When this becomes the
“Christian” candidate and not supporting him makes you
lesson of not excluding is so important that Jesus underscores it for
the next two paragraphs. Going back to his metaphor of the body,
Jesus insists that it is better to physically remove that which
impedes others coming to Christ than to “put a stumbling block
before one of these little ones who believe in me. Jesus argues that
mutilation is better than our current behavior.
spend so much time bickering about who is “in” with Christ
and who is out that we actually drive ourselves away. Our bickering
is so destructive that Christ uses this over the top metaphor to
describe just how bad it is. It would be better for us to start
lopping off limbs than for us to continue what we’re doing, because
what we are doing is so destructive.
has told his disciples over and over again that this stuff isn’t what
they should be focusing on. It doesn’t matter who sits on his right
or his left. What matters is going out and reaching people. And yet
here the disciples are, bickering again. Jesus uses this dramatic
language so that hopefully something might sink in for his disciples
says that sticking road blocks in front of people is like sticking a
millstone around your own neck, and you’d be better off cutting off
your own hand or foot or poking out your eye than doing something
like that. Part of me wonders if Jesus ups the metaphorical ante here
because the disciples are so blinded by their power grabbing that
they still don’t get it.
all heard that cliché about how any time we point a finger at
someone we have three fingers pointing back at our own chests. Or
that we should remove the log in our own eye before criticizing our
neighbor’s splinter. But that doesn’t stop us from pointing. That
doesn’t stop us from counting splinters. We have trouble just
focusing on our own lives because we get so caught up in what that
person over there is doing with his salvation. But Jesus points these
things out for a reason. So maybe we shouldn’t quickly dismiss
these rather overstated verses, either. Maybe the overstatement is
there because it actually does get lost on us.
bicker and fight and drive the searchers away from the church and
what really matters. I know a number of people of my generation who
have been turned off of church entirely for this very reason. They
see the church as arguing with itself instead of taking care of the
people around them. They see the church preaching one thing and doing
we’re just trying to show them what is right, some churches claim.
We’re worried about their souls and need to show them the right way
of my very best friends is being driven away from the church by this
“right way” attitude. She goes to church where she lives and
believes in God. But her sister married into an extremely strict
Christian sect. Every time my friend’s sister comes to visit, she
spends the entire time lecturing my friend on how she will burn in
hell unless my friend follows the laws as her sister sees them. I’ve
had my friend call me in tears because she misses her relationship
with her sister who used to be so close to her. Talking about God
grieves her because it remind her of how much she’s lost. She’s
stopped going to church.
like this are why so many of my generation claim to believe in God,
but want nothing to do with church. Our fighting about who is out and
who is in, pushes seekers away from us. And in so doing, we lose our
love salt. I use it on nearly everything. It just makes food better.
Shakespeare understood. In King Lear when the King asks his daughters
to tell him how much they love him, his youngest says “The best
foods are nothing without salt and therefore I love you like salt.”
The king, misunderstanding her answer as her older sisters talked
about how they loved their father like their best dress or best piece
of jewelry, grew enraged and disowned her, putting her sisters in
charge of the kingdom. But the youngest, Cordelia, really did love
her father as is revealed in the rest of the tragedy.
someone like salt means that what is good in your life, isn’t
complete without that other person. Salt makes that which it is put
in better. Can you imagine eating something like French fries without
if salt loses it’s saltiness, it’s nothing more than a pile of very
tiny rocks, and not good for anything. So too, if we lose our
saltiness, the things that keep us going for Christ, we are not good
for anything either. In bickering about who is out and who is in, we
lose our edge of salt. But how do we keep it?
that we turn to the first lesson. Prayer. In everything, the good the
bad and the ugly parts of our lives, we are called to turn to prayer.
When things are good we thank and praise God. When things are bad we
turn to God for help and support. And when life gets ugly, when
things are messy and nothing seems to go right we turn to God with a
wail knowing that God sorrows along side of us.
turning to prayer in everything we open ourselves up to God’s working
within us. It doesn’t mean that all that we ask for will come true,
but it will mean that God will be active in our lives, working
is powerful, but not as a magical wish granting ability. The power of
prayer is not in us, or in our prayer. It is in God. So we don’t
“pray hard.” We pray soft. We pray not as a tool, but a gift, not
a demand, but an awareness. Prayer is not a crowbar for our will,
even if our hopes are righteous and worthy, but immersion in God’s
open ourselves to God, and God’s loving Presence, who prays in us.
When we pray we give our desires to the Creator, whose creates the
world anew, including us and those for whom we pray. God’s loving,
healing presence takes over us, and our lives become more fully and
wholly for God’ sake alone. There is power in that which may not
have the outcome I want, but it makes this world better.
says the secret is to have salt in ourselves. We’re called to live
our faith in such a way that there is no doubt who we follow. Jesus
speaks of not putting stumbling blocks in the way of others. He
speaks of living a life that is not offensive to others or to the
values of God’s kingdom—a life that doesn’t lead another
are called to make the world better by being in it. By following
Christ, we should be living our lives in such away that things are
changed around us. By opening ourselves up to God in prayer, we
enable God to work through us in the world. The salt of our lives
flavors the world, making it better.