Saturday, September 29, 2012

A case of the "supposed to's"

Mark 9.38-50

            On my mom's side of my family, whenever we get together for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or even summer vacation, we always end up playing one specific game together.  It's a game that we call "May I?"  "May I?" is a simple game where players try to be the first one to get rid of his or her cards.  There are seven rounds of play where each player must meet a requirement to start getting rid of the cards.  For example, in the first round, you must collect two books, which are two sets three of the same card - like three "nines" and three "jacks."  The requirement gets progressively harder each round.  The "May I?" part of the game comes in when someone lays down a card in the discard pile.  If it is a card that you need or want, then you simply have to say "May I?" before anyone else.  You then get the card and the top card from the draw pile.  By the way, did I say simple?  Maybe I should have said "a game with a long list of intricate rules that are best learned through experience and enforced ruthlessly."

            It's always fun to see new people introduced into the game as new people have been welcomed into our family.  It's always a process of helping the new person ease into what's going.  Although, adding new people into the game always brings a fresh perspective and new insights into what could possibly happen.  Yet, that's exactly where this game with extremely polite name can start to get a little nasty.  You see there are a number of unwritten rules that people are not allowed to break, no matter how much sense they may seem to make.  The biggest one of these is basically the process of "taking a knee" in the final hand.  You see, there can be someone who is so far ahead by the last hand, that he or she basically doesn't have to do anything except collect low point value cards without regard for trying to meet the hand requirements.  The only problem with that is that there is almost no greater way kindle the fire of my mother's anger than to engage in that kind of tomfoolery.  Without a doubt, it would be said, "But that's not how you play the game!"  Feelings get hurt, tempers are lost, and what was once a pleasant social family activity turns into a cause of strife.  All because of the notion of "That's not how you're supposed to act!"

            "John said to Jesus, 'Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.'"  Our Gospel reading for today very much has the disciples concerned with what people are supposed to/not supposed to do.  But before we go too much further into the gospel for today, we must remember what has come before in the story.  One chapter earlier in the gospel according to Mark, Jesus was telling the disciples and everyone else who was following him around all about following him.  And so now that the disciples found someone who was not following them but still doing some things in Jesus' name, they thought that they were doing the right thing because this person wasn't following in the same exact way as the disciples.  I can almost hear them say, "That's not how you play the game!"  Who are these disciples to be telling Jesus the rules, all the "supposed to's" of following Jesus!?

            To Jesus, all the "supposed to's" can become stumbling blocks in the way the little ones, those who are the children of the faith.  They then can become the very millstones that get hung around our necks.  Faith is not and has never been about following a list of "supposed to's."  Faith has always been the simplicity of trusting that Jesus brings us life in the midst of death.  Faith has always been the simplicity of trusting that Jesus forgives us even as we are all sinners.  Faith is about trusting in what God is up to, and that that is Good News for us all.

            You see, when Jesus starts listing off all those body parts that could possibly cause us to stumble and suggesting that they be cut off rather than drag you down into the fires of hell, he is not suggesting that we all go a grab our favorite sharpened knives to start cutting out our eyes, cutting off our hands, and cutting off our feet.  If that were true, then I assure you that would at least have a blind pastor standing before you today.  The stumbling blocks are those things in our lives which cause us to mistrust that God's grace is grace is real and is enough, even for our enemies, even for ourselves.  Have salt in yourselves!  Have that salt which is the good news of the kingdom of God be within you and never leave.  For if the Good News is like salt then the Good News can never lose the saltiness of its love and grace which seasons us all.

            Often we do get concerned with how things and people should be or shouldn't be.  Those are not the arguments that we should have in this world.  Rather rejoice that God's great love is an embrace that touches all of existence and be at peace with that!  With that joyous trust, we just may find that the Good News of the Kingdom of God is indeed a message that we and the people we meet need to hear.  We just may find out that it is a message that we even begin to feel should be told with all of our voices and hands in love and service to people who just might be the "little ones" of our faith.  Again, have that salt which is the love and forgiveness of God in the midst of our sin, and be at peace with one another.

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