Colwall – Parish Communion T17 (Pr 21) 30.ix.12
”He who is not against me is on our side.” (James 5:13-20 & Mark 9:38-50)
Two weeks ago our son-in-law, Mark, was ordained in Exeter Cathedral. A couple years earlier he, South African-born, became a British citizen and we went to support him as he was admitted at a special ceremony in Exeter County Hall.
Prior to that he had to undergo a short course which outlined British culture – and had to undergo a test too. I’m not sure I could have answered the questions! [How many Parliamentary constituencies are there (646)? In which year did women get right to divorce their husbands (1857)? Which two groups of pop’n get prescriptions free (60+ and pregnant/new Mums)? What is a quango (non-departmental public body)? What is the max speed on single-carriageways (60mph)?]
What do we think of as English characteristics, as Englishness? A sense of fair play? An ability to name all six wives of Henry VIII? A liking for tea? The ability to queue (patiently!)? A love of Shakespeare – and Edward Elgar?
John Major gave us his idea when he spoke (in 1993) of the country of ”long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, …. and old maids bicycling to holy communion through the morning mist' (the last a quote from George Orwell).
The Government clearly felt a person’s British credentials could be, and should be, determined in this way (i.e. by a test) – but others felt that not even a glowing pass in the test would truly confer Englishness.
How does this relate to this morning’s Gospel?
Well it is God’s kingdom that concerns John when he complains to Jesus about the fellow carrying out exorcisms in Jesus’ name.
John seems to be wanting to preserve the exclusivity and authority of the disciples’ as Jesus’ ‘inner ring’ – and is, in effect, saying, ‘He’s not one of us; he’s not kosher’.
And Jesus’ response?
He affirms what the fellow has been doing, and explains that someone executing work, or healing, or fulfilling miracles even - in his name – would hardly be a detractor. We hear Jesus’ words: “Do not stop him, for no-onewho performs a miracle in my name will be able the next moment to speak evil of me. He who is not against me is on our side.”
All this, of course, was a very longtime ago.
What relevance – if any - has it to us today?
Well, John’s attitude – as we see it in this story (and which seems to fit, too, with earlier account of disciples arguing about who would be the greatest) – is, arguably, a symptom that afflicts the church today. Maybe it afflicts our church here? Maybe it afflicts us?
If you feel this might seem a bit OTT, then reflect on how easy it is for any of us – especially perhaps the clergy and theologians – to believe the church belongs to us.
Reflect, too, on how easy it is for any of us who have always worshipped and prayed within one particular tradition or one style of worship to feel that this is the ‘proper’ way?
None of this is to suggest that some styles (of worship) might not be richer, more satisfying or uplifting or revealing than others – and it is very much a case of sorting out what works for us,
But we need to remember that out in the big wide world - with perhaps only the most basic theological knowledge or training and experience - there are millions of Christians who fit Jesus’ description of “these little ones who believe” and are among those he describes as performing “miracles in my name”, those who are “on our side”, folk who would only ever claim to have a ‘simple faith’.
Jesus’ talk of cutting off body parts, in this context, may sound shocking or drastic but it’s his way of advocating radical ‘spiritual surgery’ to halt any possibility of behaviour which damages or hinders those who seek to follow him, which damages his church.
Being a disciple of Christ involves a call – a clear call - to help others’ come in – not to hinder them;
it involves a call to help others build up their faith in whatever way we can – not to hinder that or prevent it;
it involves a call to each of us to reach out to others – in Jesus’ name – and not to hinder others doing the same (even if their way is not our way!).
As we seek to play our part – as followers of our Lord Jesus – to build up his kingdom here on earth, let us never lose sight of what really matters – the nurturing of life-giving faith in Jesus Christ,
and let us devote our energies to reaching out and embracing folk so that no-one falls out of the kingdom,
and no-one is hindered in any way in coming in and becoming, or being, a citizen of God’s kingdom.
”He who is not against me is on our side.”