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.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. …
“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Read the whole passage)
We are slowly but surely winding our way through the last parts of Mark’s gospel for this year. Only a couple of months to go and we will conclude Mark. And this long season of green and Mark are not easy. Mark does not gently guide us into stories of them Kingdom, Jesus doesn’t give the disciples a break and neither does Mark give those of us reading his gospel a break either.
Today is another example of the disciples getting it confused… just as they did last week and just as they will next week.
But the story today comes to us in a little different manner. Most of the gospel is a direct speech from Jesus, rather than a narrated story. And it is from the details of Jesus’ words to the disciples that we can unpack just what is going on.
John the disciple begins by reporting that the disciples had stopped some people from using Jesus’ name to exorcize demons as if the disciples are thugs protecting the reputation of a crime boss… and Jesus isn’t impressed.
And Jesus said to the disciples:
“So we need to talk. I know this is a confusing time for you and you aren’t exactly sure what this whole being my follower thing is all about. But lets take a step back and calm down for a bit. I get that you want things to be orderly among my followers and that you want to protect me and my reputation. But seriously, if someone out there is doing good works in my name, do you think perhaps that they might just be on our team? Do you think that they might be helping us bring the Kingdom near? They aren’t standing in our way, they aren’t hurting our cause, so lets give those folks a break. “
And Jesus continued,
“But of course this goes deeper than that. Of course this is about standing in way of people encountering the Kingdom, blocking those who need to hear about my Father’s love for them. Again, I know that you feel like you are just trying to make sure I don’t look bad, and that no one abuses the power of my name and that people come to me in an orderly fashion… but those concerns and those behaviours miss the point of all of this… the point that I have been trying to drive home every time we stop somewhere to tell people about the Kingdom of God. So we need to chuck those impulses… the Kingdom doesn’t need gatekeepers and guardians, the Kingdom needs greeters and servants, proclaimers and announcers. So every time you find yourself wondering just how things ought to go… how people ought to behave… how people ought to fall in line… check yourselves and remember the Kingdom, not orderliness, is most important. So it might be crazy, and chaotic and messy but that is okay. Don’t worry about bringing order to the Kingdom, just worry about bringing the Kingdom near… “
And then Jesus spoke to us:
“And you all… I know that this is a confusing time for you as well. Things sure have changed in the world and in the church. I know that it feels like all the things you know and that you were taught about how church and being disciples ought to be about are no longer providing answers for what comes next for you. I know that your future, your present even, can feel chaotic and uncertain with no clear path forward…
But you have heard how my disciples long ago had this habit of grabbing onto the wrong details and losing sight of the main purpose. In fact you know that being on the wrong page was sort of their thing… I would tell you not to make the same mistake, but I have been watching my church for 2000 years, and just like disciples, it is a hard lesson to learn. But let me try offer another reminder… things that are different from what you know are nothing to be feared. There are lots of different ways to go about the mission of the Kingdom, my Father has room for all kinds.
So don’t take that stuff about cutting off your hand or foot or tearing out your eye literally. Instead, remember that making room for those around you to encounter the Kingdom is the goal… not setting up stumbling blocks to prevent change and difference.
This is not what you wanted to hear, but things are going to keep being chaotic for a while to come… in fact, you are often going to feel like all the things you were taught and that you know about faith, about being the church and the things you understand about God will not feel like they are giving you answers about what to do next and what this chaotic time needs of you.
But that is okay, because there is something else I will remind you of.”
And then Jesus turned to his disciples and started talking about salt:
“Let me give you an example. Imagine that you are salt… that important part of life in our world. The thing that the Romans pay their soldiers with, the thing that we use to maintain our roads, the thing we use to preserve our food… Imagine that you are that thing, but that you stop doing your job.
What good are we then?
Don’t worry about how things go, don’t worry about whether there are others doing deeds of power in my name, don’t worry if there are differences out there.
Remember who you are.
Remember who my Father has named you to be.
Remember that you are part of my Father’s Kingdom now.
It is because of my Father’s Kingdom that I have come to you. That is why I have called you. We are bringing the Kingdom near to all creation. Proclaiming the Kingdom of mercy, bringing healing and reconciliation exorcizing demons for the Kingdom. And if others are doing the same all the better. Don’t worry ‘how’ it happens, concern with yourselves that it simply happens at all.
But it is WHO I have called you to be that matters”
And Jesus looked the disciples square in the eyes and said, “And I have called you from death into new life… and I have claimed you as my own. You are my disciples, my salty disciples that my Father is using for the work of the Kingdom in order that the world may have new life.”
And then Jesus says to us,
“And you, you my beloved children, you are salt too. The salt of the Kingdom.
I have called you and named you as my own. Named and claimed you for the Kingdom in the waters of baptism. Just as I will name and claim Ezra today. And so when you are grasping for something to hold onto in this chaotic time — remember that I have always been holding you, holding you as my own, holding since before you were born and from moment you were first washed in these very waters.
When you don’t have the answers and it feels like all the things you thought you knew about being my followers don’t seem to help…
Remember who you are, remember who I have named and called you to be.
And even when you come thinking that you know your own name – whatever name the world calls you. When you come thinking that you are defined by the job you do, or the address that your mail is delivered to, or the places you drive in your car, or by the amount of money you spend at the mall, or by the votes you are thinking about casting in the next election, or by the TV shows you never miss and sports teams whose jerseys or hats you own…
Remember that your name to me is beloved.
Remember that my Father is the one who has known you from before time began.
Remember that you true home is in the Kingdom of God.
Remember that is the Word that you hear in this place defines you.
Remember that it is this table of bread and wine where your family welcomes you.
Remember that this Body is where you belong and this Body is will always hold you.
Remember that I have called you to be my disciples, and that even when you forget that what that means…
That I have not and will not forget you and who you are.