ACTIONS THAT MATTER
Mark 9: 38-50
Believe it or not, the biggest event all year for Universal Studios, Orlando, is Halloween Horror Nights. The night event features “Scareactors” on the street and sidewalks of the park, plus 10 Haunted Houses, featuring themes from Poltergeist, the television show “Stranger Things,” and eight others. Thousands of people pay dearly to be scared out of their wits. It seems that no one wants the devil tormenting them in real life, but they like to watch scenes of horror from the comfort of home, or a theme park, or a movie theatre! I call it “controlled terror” where you can leave the ride, go out to the lobby of a theatre, or just close your eyes and get away from something sinister! One of the most graphic of the films from this genre was “The Exorcist.” Blending horror with bad theology, millions of people flocked to see it over the last four and a half decades. It’s a movie that threatens to pull faith from the faithful, as a priest is portrayed as being virtually powerless against a demon. But scripture clearly puts Jesus on his own higher level with the power of God; under him are angels, and then, according to some sources, there are fallen angels, and humans. Time and time again in the Gospel of Mark and other Gospels, we find Jesus exorcising demons, and others doing it in Jesus’ name. Although Roman Catholic priests are probably asked to perform more exorcisms than any other clergy or layperson, today we are asked to consider if there is anything wrong with other people actually casting out demons in Jesus’ name? Should we be concerned if someone who has never professed Jesus as Savior, is able to cast out demons using his name? That’s the issue the disciples had. Today we have Jesus’ answer to that question: “Do not stop them. For no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” Brilliant. Jesus has co-opted another person as a Christ believer if he casts out demons in his name; and then he makes them almost friends with his famous line “Whoever is not against us is for us.” What a way to build a bridge between professing Christians and others! It’s a good practice.
Sometimes it appears that churches try to almost copyright certain sacraments. Take baptism for example. It is performed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit according to Jesus’ own words in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19. The church for centuries said only ordained ministers could perform them. But now the church has looked back on Philip, in the book of Acts, and how he baptized an Ethiopian eunuch. The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently decided that Commissioned Pastors (which are laypeople) with permission and supervision from a Session, can baptize too. Like our lesson today, does it matter who baptizes, but that people, led by God’s Spirit, feel led to claim him as Savior? It’s a celebration time! Likewise, Jesus seems to say, “What does it matter if a person not following me is able to cast out demons by using my name?” This is a good thing!” (I’m paraphrasing.) We celebrate healing from demons no matter how it’s done. In today’s lesson we do not have someone doing evil; we have someone doing good through another method. And that gets under the skin of the disciples. Even they think there are right ways and wrong ways to achieve good results. In modern mental health, the goal is for a person to be healed from torment, or mental illness, or perceived demons. Does the manner of treatment matter if the person finds peace and healing? In our world, there are competitive ads about diets that work. Isn’t the right diet for you the one that works?
Today, congregations across the globe are unified in their desire to glorify and praise God, and to lift up Jesus as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Yet we disagree on the best way to do that! Since the 1990s, we have had what we’ve called the “Worship Wars” between those who think traditional worship is best and those who think contemporary worship is best. Marva Dawn, a church theologian, musician, and educator, wrote this in her 2003 book How Shall we Worship?
Worship is a much-debated subject in twenty-first century North America. In the past three or four decades, many churches have had bitter fights over worship issues, and in many congregations have split internally or externally. …. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land? How should churches conduct their worship in the midst of a culture that less and less knows what worship is? …Why do congregations seem so often to be fighting over worship and music, styles and forms? To end the battles, some churches start multiple services, with two or three styles featured at separate times and labeled with such terms as “contemporary” or “traditional” or “blended/convergent.” Other churches specialize in a certain kind of “praise and worship” or advertise their services as “exciting and upbeat.” Do these descriptions and understandings enable churches to be all that they could be for the sake of the world around them? Why don’t churches seem to be affecting our culture [like they once did?] Why do so many say they are “spiritual” and want nothing to do with our churches’ worship? [pp. xiii-xiv]
Today’s lesson could be a modern-day parable that might go like this:
“Teacher, we saw someone who does not worship the way we worship, praising God! We tried to stop them because they were doing it wrong!”
It is to our own peril if we forget the goal of worship: not primarily self-gratification, like “I got a lot out of that service!” Not primarily “Did we do it the right way?” The goal is to glorify and praise the living God, maker of Heaven and Earth! The goal is to continuously be thankful that Jesus came to save us and show us the Way, the Truth, and the Life! The goal is to feel—in your own life—the power of God’s Holy Spirit moving within you, and empowering you to be the leaven for the world! Worship should send us forth reminding us why God needs us to change the world rather than to conform to the world. Worship should remind us that we—whether you are a church member, a seeker, or a visitor—can do things in Jesus’ name that bring healing and wholeness to others! Why should we fight about how we achieve these things? If some achieve Godly goals by speaking in tongues, let them! If some achieve Godly goals with contemporary worship, or traditional worship, let them! If some achieve Godly goals by being spiritual and not religious, let them! That’s what I hear Jesus saying to the church today: “No one who does a deed of power in my name will be able to speak evil of me; for whoever is not against us is for us.” [Mark 9: 39-40.]
Actions that matter are ones that honor God; that build up one another; actions that seek truth and justice. Wasted actions are ones that tear down or disparage others. Wasted actions seek to harm or to deflect. As Jesus’ disciples were concerned about the way someone else cast out demons in Jesus’ name, Jesus wanted to celebrate that demons were cast out! I will admit that I have said disparaging things about another congregation or two over the years. When I did, it did not make me feel bigger, nor did it make the other congregation get better. And God wasn’t glorified. I learned because it got back to the other pastor that I had said rather unkind things in a thoughtless way. But I learned. I swore to his face that I would never do that again. And I haven’t. Now I think God is more pleased by the whole situation and is more honored. And I sleep better at night. No matter how someone follows Jesus, let’s celebrate it! No matter how someone worships God, let’s honor it. And no matter how a person casts out demons, let us rejoice and be glad in it! All glory and praise to God, now and forever!
Jeffrey A. Sumner September 30, 2018