18th Sunday after Pentecost
18 Pentecost 18.21 “Against” Mark 9:38-50
John meant well—I think. Well, usually he meant well, even that time, immediately after this Gospel, when they went with Jesus to the next village of the Samaritans (who gave them the bum’s rush) and John and James go: “Shall we call down fire from heaven on them to consume them?” Because… Jesus had, after all, told them earlier that: when a place would not welcome them because they followed Jesus, they should shake the dust off their feet and pronounce judgment—“it will be worse for you than for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment!” was the exact formula in the dominical rite. And, since Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire [and brimstone!] from heaven, why wait till the Last Day? Why not get the party started, Elijah-style, right away? I mean, clearly, these guys will never become Lutherans.
But Jesus says [Bale Batman voice] :“No!” to the fire idea. And was a little shirty with James and John (though it seems they did get a cool nickname out of it: “Boanerges”, Sons of Thunder. I like the sound of that. Being a Son of Thunder sounds excellent to me).
It’s so tough to tell with Jesus sometimes—what is helpful and what is not!
See, the day before fire from heaven got nixed (which would be today in our Gospel) John sees this guy straight out of a Flannery O’Connor/Donna Tartt story, some backwoods pentecostal, throwing Jesus’ Name around willy nilly, casting out demons right and left (something the Apostles themselves struggled with just a couple weeks ago, you will recall; awkward! ;-). So, John goes over and tries to stop the guy because he had not been to the St. Louis seminary and did not even know about the ’41 hymnal! Let’s get him signed up properly and then have at it!
But Jesus says [Batman voice, again] “No! Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.”
John had to be like: “OK. I’m confused. I thought we were supposed to be Apostles, to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in your Triune Name, teaching everyone to observe all things you have commanded, keeping an eye on the whole church. You let faith healing, exorcist freaks like this guy loose, and pretty soon you’ll have Baptists, on the one hand, going all creed-less, and Papists, on the other hand, going all Grand Inquisitor on your ah, uh, tail. We’re just trying to do what you told us to do. We’re just trying to help avoid that nightmare scenario!”
It really can be so tough to tell with Jesus sometimes—what is helpful and what is not!
I mean, it does seem that catechizing the backwoods preacher guy, and calling down fire from heaven on recalcitrant Samaritans was right in line with the Apostolic mandate Jesus gave John & Co. such that Jesus’ laissez faire attitude (pardon my French!) is puzzling for us. Does Jesus not care as much about pure doctrine and divine judgment as we think? What do we make of this?
I think we have to ponder a bit what Jesus means by the phrase “against us”. We had a lively discussion on it in our Tuesday morning bible study looking at this passage. We were wondering what this text might suggest as to our attitudes toward other Christian denominations that disagree with significant parts of the Lutheran church’s evangelical-catholic teaching. Does it matter, really, getting our doctrine straight? Is God really going to judge the world strictly on these points? As long as we have Jesus in our hearts, who needs Luther’s Catechism and the ’41 hymnal, right?
Those are excellent questions, well worth our consideration. I really appreciate people asking tough questions because otherwise my job gets a little dull. And I don’t thrive on boredom.
Let’s do the last question first (Jesus likes the last first thing, I think). As long as we have Jesus in our hearts, we don’t need catechisms and hymnals, do we? Well, yes! And, no! A wise Lutheran theologian (maybe Sasse?) once said: “You can certainly be saved without knowing about the Augsburg Confession or following the Lutheran Liturgy. But no one can be saved being against the biblical content of the Augustana or the Divine Service!”
A true story about “having Jesus in our hearts”: We were at dinner with some Jewish friends one evening, and they told us about their ditzy but well-meaning nondenom neighbor whom they called “Bambi” (I don’t think that was her real name). She saw them across the backyard fence, grilling out, one summer Sunday evening, and waved them over. “Hi Stuart and Ellen! Hey: I noticed you don’t go to church on Sundays and I’d like to invite you to come to church with us!”
Stuart went, “Oh, that’s nice of you, Bambi. We appreciate the invite. Actually, we go to church, but ours meets on Saturday mornings.” Bambi goes, “I’ve heard about Saturday evening services, but who has church on Saturday mornings?” And Stuart goes, “Uhm, the synagogue? We’re Jewish, see?” And Bambi, without missing a beat, goes: “Well, I think that’s great! As long as we have Jesus in our hearts, it’s all good!”
Maybe some people help out Jesus the most by just sitting in the back pew and keeping quiet? Modern Christendom seems (sadly) more concerned about getting the right slogans and propositions into other people’s heads than about having any clue ourselves what it all means.
Is Christian doctrine really that important? Well, Jesus says in Mark 3 that the sin against the Holy Spirit (unbelief) is unforgivable. Paul says in Rom. 10 that faith only comes by the word (the doctrine) of Christ. So without that word, that doctrine, we’re stuck in sin, which lands us in hell. And Jesus tell us today in our Gospel it’s better to lose an eye or foot! than faith which gives forgiveness of sin, because that whole lake of fire thing. It sounds important, to me…
In Matthew 10 (my favorite chapter!) Jesus says: “whoever acknowledges me before men I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before men I will deny before my Father in heaven.” The Greek word there for “acknowledge”, ομολογεω, is literally: “same-say”. Faith never goes against, but just rolls with whatever Jesus says…
Now, it is not for us to work such faith in ourselves or in others. The Holy Spirit does that where and when he pleases in those who hear the Word. And everyone will get to hear the word as Paul says in Romans and Colossians: “have they not heard? Yes indeed; the sound (of Gospel proclamation) has gone out to the ends of the earth… to every creature under heaven.”
But, in the end, it isn’t what we know about Christ that saves us. It’s whether Jesus knows us (this, I think, was John’s mistake in rebuking the backwoods exorcist). Jesus says: at the Last, many will tell him how well they knew him, and he will say: “But I never knew you!”. So, it’s not having Jesus in your heart that matters, but Jesus having you in his head! This, Jesus says, actually happens as often as we eat his body and drink his blood! The Greek says we do this not in, but “into my remembrance” so that Jesus knows us, won’t ever deny us, no matter how foolish we are, how oft we’ve strayed…
So, raise a glass with Jesus. Cheers! For whenever we eat his body, drink his blood—at his word—we are right there with Jesus. And along this Way, share a cup of cold water with anyone else who is on the Way; and the demons will yield, and the reward is yours. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.