September 30 2018

September 30, 2018 19 Pentecost year B- Child sermon “Big Jobs/Little Egos”

          Good morning.  I wonder if you’ve ever been given a big job to do.  Like, “Hey Robby we have 30 people coming over for dinner your job is to cook a meal for them!”  That would be a big job wouldn’t it?  Do you think you could do that all by yourself?  If someone offered to help would you say, “yes you can help.”  Or would you say “You weren’t the person asked to do this job.  Is your name Robby? No?! Well then you can’t help!”

          You may have heard of Moses who did some amazing things in God’s name.  Our scripture reading this morning talks about the time Moses was given a job to fix a dinner for the hundred thousand Israelites!  They were in the middle of the desert and the Israelites wanted their dinner to include meat!  One of the things that made Moses great was he was smart he asked God for help.

          Sometimes we’re too proud to ask for help with big things or even small things.  Then the big things and the little things don’t get done and that’s a problem. 

You may have heard of Jesus who as God’s son did some amazing things.  Even he was willing to accept help.  When his disciples reported that someone that wasn’t part of their group of twelve was healing hurting people using Jesus’ name they said stop him.  Jesus said why should I reject someone who is helping me do God’s work? 

Sometimes we can get really caught up in doing things ourselves.  I don’t need anybody’s help!  Makes us feel like grownups.  It’s good to do things yourself but its not good to think you have to do all the big jobs all by yourself.  Moses asked for help, Jesus accepted help.  Remember that the next time you get overwhelmed, frustrated, its okay to ask for help.  Its okay to accept help, and its especially good to go to God to ask God’s to help.

September 30, 2018 (Thanks to Dennis Speetzen)

          Haven’t you, especially if you are a parent, always wanted to meet “They, them and their cousin?”  Or how about “Everybody?”  You know, as in the “They said” or “but Mom, EVERBODY is going.”  “They, them, everybody and their cousin” are everywhere.  And bless their souls- they’ve even been baptized into the church.  THEY have made every church decision imaginable, from worship to building additions.  Quite often their “cousin” EVERYBODY doesn’t much care for the decisions “THEY” made.

          “They, them, everybody and their cousins” sometimes that group seems to be imbued with a massive amount of influence, sometimes positively but often negatively as well.  “Did you hear what THEY did now?!”  “EVERYBODY I talk to agrees with me.” What is it about human nature that makes us constantly tend to divide the world into “them” versus “us?”

          In our Old Testament lesson God pours out his spirit upon those he’s chosen to help Moses to lead his people.  Apparently Eldad and Medad didn’t get the memo, or chose to ignore the memo, to join the other 70 elders at the tent of meeting. When God poured out his spirit to this new leadership team God could have skipped Eldad and Medad cause they skipped the meeting. Instead God sought them out and poured out his powerful prophetic spirit of leadership upon them as well as the other 68. When those two start prophesying right there on the street it makes the 68 others point out “What are THEY doing?”  They can’t do that, we’re the ones that followed the rules and got God’s spirit at the tent of meeting.  Moses tell THEM to stop!

          Moses wisely responds “Are you jealous for my sake?  Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”  Meaning my ego isn’t hurt that they ignored my memo to come to the tent of meeting, I’m thrilled to have godly help in leading God’s people.  Every person contributing to the cause is a welcome contribution especially when its blessed by God.  God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do, my job is to not get in the way.

          That thought of someone not part of “us” contributing to the cause being a problem rather than a blessing continues in our gospel lesson as well.  One can almost hear the panic in the disciple’s voices.  “Jesus!  Jesus! WE saw “THEM!”  THEY were out there, and THEY were doing miracles and curing people of demon and the nerve preaching!  We know they’re “THEM” because they’re not us (they didn’t graduate from the same fishermen school we did) and so we stopped them.

          Once again the Gospel of Mark describes how Jesus had to correct his disciple’s understanding of things in the kingdom of God, of life in the church.  “Don’t stop them” Jesus says.  “There is no THEM.  There’s only us, and no one who does anything good, anything wondrous, or deed of power in my name will soon afterward be able to speak evil of me.  Whoever is not against us is for us.”

          “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  (Mark 9:40)  Now, I know that there is a “them” and an “us” in this text.  Jesus does make a division or at least a distinction.  Not everything is Christian.  Not everyone is Christian.  And certainly not everything done in Christ’s name is Christ LIKE.  There will be folks who are “against us” in terms of against reaching out to folks in a healing caring manner.  There is an “us” and a “them” that’s why there’s evangelism.  That is why Christ gave us the great commission to go to all nations and proclaim the gospel.

          But folks… too often we are like those early disciples, way too eager to define the gap between “us” and “them” by human standards.  These folks casting out demons didn’t have the great track record of following Jesus around for years like they did.  These folks doing these good deeds may not have even been from the same home town as them.  How could they be “one of us?”  Jesus points his disciples back to the root of what the gospel is about, the foundation that joins all together- the love of God.  These folks couldn’t do a thing if God wasn’t with them.  If God is with them as seen by their actions, and we claim to be serving God then “THEY” are one of “US.”

Like Moses’ original helpers who assumed everyone had to come upon God’s spirit just like they did- we make distinctions and denigrate folks based on our backgrounds that make “outsiders” of folks who are sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus.  These folks who don’t come by the redeeming spirit of God the way we did are suddenly “foreigners” rather than friends, rather than brothers and sisters in Christ.  This is Jesus’ point:  Labeling folks who are for the cause of Christ “THEM” isn’t helpful.  Finding ways to label fellow workers of the gospel “THEM” is not kingdom building and it’s not what church is all about.

 In here, not just meaning this building of course, but in the Christian church, there is no “us” or “them.”  When we create division in the family of Christ based on worldly standards we’re not doing ANYTHING positive or constructive to add to the church, or the ministry of Christ.  How many of us would agree that churches should be segregated by income?  People with lower incomes should go to lower income churches and people with higher incomes should be part of a different church?  “Did you hear about Johnny he got a raise at the factory…he’s no longer one of us.”

That’s a worldly standard that doesn’t belong in deciding who is part of the kingdom of Christ and who isn’t. But what about other worldly standards of us and them? First let’s look at the denominational “us” and “them.”  You know what I mean, the denominational family tree.  On this tree we find divisions, like Eastern tradition and the Western tradition, the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church.   The “medium sized” us and them division, like the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists and the rest.  Even the “little” us and them divisions are seen on this family tree; Baptists who fight other Baptists, Lutherans fighting other Lutherans.

We’ve taken the church and divided it up into little pieces.  And that’s not completely inappropriate, cultural difference, political processes and theological diversity create distinctions.  Some of us can’t pray with our hands in the air.  Others of us couldn’t pray if we had to keep them in our lap.  Differences in our practices and theologies are significant but NOT proof positive of satanic influence which requires the negative “THEM” label.

I teach confirmands that denominations are important but can become bad when used as a way to put down someone else.  Denominations (assuming a basic orthodoxy of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior- the basic stuff of our creed and scripture) allow for people to worship, follow and serve Jesus Christ without the distraction of being an orange in an apple barrel.

Sure groups form within any community around common interests, common schedules, and common demographics.  They form for a hundred little different reasons.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing- I often tell folks joining even our little congregation you can’t join a congregation of 300 people.  One actually has to join a smaller group within the congregation- Sunday school, choir, men’s or women’s group.  Groups aren’t bad…cliques are bad. 

What’s the difference between a clique and a group?  The standards of distinction- is it based on worldly standards- outward aspects of a person- that keep people out?  Or are the standards godly standards that value the person’s interior- character, personality, gifts- and invite people in?  Too often congregation’s slip from being a church to being a clique because the standards used to distinguish between “us” and “them” isn’t God centered but worldly centered.

Clique questions sound like this:  Does their skin color match mine?  Does their income match mine?  Did THEY graduate from the right school, grow up in the right township? Oh then they are us…if not, THEY remain THEM and not us.  Do THEY appreciate MY music if so welcome to being “one of us”… if not THEY can just take a flying leap. 

Church questions are:  Do they love Jesus?  Do they struggle to serve Christ?  Are they willing to confess their sins and receive God’s forgiveness?  Are they willing to dedicate their time, talent, treasure toward the building of God’s kingdom?

Whether it’s our Old Testament Lesson or our Gospel we are once again reminded to keep our eyes on what God is doing first and foremost and let that be our uniting factor.  In our gospel reading this morning Jesus does not abide the “Us vs Them” attitude of the world.  In his family, the church, there is and always will be only an US.  No THEY, no THEM, only US united in Christ, united in baptism, united in mission only US.

Let us pray:  God we find it comforting to distinguish between those who are part of us versus those that become “them folk.”  Perhaps it helps us divide and conquer but too often it leads to unnecessary conflict and needless wars within relationships, families, communities, and even countries.  Open our eyes and especially our hearts to distinguish between people by using your standards of love and grace knowing anyone who claims Christ as savior and Lord is friend and family.  Amen.