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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service – click on the video camera icon.
September 26, 2021
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God, our creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As our calendar progresses toward October, November and December, the teachings and words of Jesus get tougher and more difficult to hear. In a manner of speaking, the gloves are off and he’s being brutally truthful with the disciples. Because he knows what’s coming up for him and how difficult it will be for them, particularly as they continue his ministry and teachings after his death.
What we hear in the gospel this morning is a continuation of the disciples’ argument about who’s the greatest – which we learned about last week. And they’ve moved on from arguing amongst themselves to tattling on people that don’t follow Jesus in exactly the same way that they do. Only when Jesus responds this time, he isn’t quite as nice.
He doesn’t hold up a child and say, “This is how you need to be.” Instead, he puts the focus back on the disciples’ behaviors, and pushes them to think outside of the structure they’ve set up. No, the guy they tattled on wasn’t part of their little circle, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t following Jesus.
Whether they realized it or not, the disciples had created a structure for following Jesus that was restrictive and said that someone could only follow in exactly the same way that they were.
I’d like to believe their intentions were good. But it ended up being a structure that not only prevented them from seeing Jesus, it prevented other people from seeing him and following him, too.
In a manner of speaking, the disciples’ own hands and feet had caused them to stumble. The things they thought were important became stumbling blocks and tripped them up. And they had the potential to trip up other people, too.
So with some pretty strongly-worded language, Jesus tells them to get out of their own way – and to get out of other people’s way. To quit blocking the gospel, to quit blocking access to God’s realm, and to quit blocking their view of God’s realm.
Because God’s realm is a lot bigger than their little circle of people, and there’s room in it for anyone who isn’t against Jesus – whatever they might do in his name. And the consequences for the disciples if they don’t get out of the way are that they’ll keep tripping over themselves and end up separated from God.
Following Jesus is serious business. But the good news is that there isn’t any one particular way to do it. And it certainly isn’t a competition because, as Jesus said, whoever isn’t against him is for him.
The disciples aren’t unique in their behavior and thinking. We all fall into the trap of thinking we’ve got it all together and that what we’re doing is right, and even sometimes that we’re the only ones who are right and everybody else is wrong. I’m in good company with that, right?
But when we say we’re followers of Jesus, in effect we’re saying that we’re open to what is life-giving and abundant, and that we’re not afraid of what his other followers might say or do – or who they might be. We’re open to seeing God’s realm made visible in a different way because of the way other people follow, rather than feeling threatened by it.
As Pastor Rachael Keefe puts it: “[Through Jesus] Love was brought into the world. If people are [bearing that] Divine Love…bringing healing, hope, [and] justice” that’s what matters. If lives are saved, then it is good work.
For some of us, bearing that love and doing that good work means working with our partner ministry organizations – like Lantern Hill, CFH, Backpacks for Kids, or Hopelink. For some it means doing things here on this campus or in the neighborhood where you live. For some, it means praying.
But Jesus’ words here aren’t only meant for individual people. Following him is as much about how we act and respond to one another as a community, as a congregation. Because even with the best of intentions, it’s easy for us to focus on the way we tend our corner of God’s realm and forget that there are other ways to accomplish that good work.
The disappearance and death, of Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito has dominated the headlines for the last couple of weeks. Understandably, her family and friends were desperate to find out what happened to her. But as I listened to the news reports, I began to hear the question, “What about us?”
What about Tiffany Foster, a 35-year-old Black mother of three who has been missing since March 1st? What about Lauren Cho, a 30-year-old Asian woman who was last seen on June 28th? What about the hundreds of indigenous women who go missing each year, some of whom have never been found?
What about the disparity between the attention that Gabby, a white woman, received and the attention that these other missing people, who are Black, Indigenous, and People of color, haven’t received?
That question, “what about us?” isn’t meant to minimize what happened to Gabby Petito because what happened to her is horrific. But it’s important that we – as Christians, as a congregation – also recognize that violence against women is a pervasive problem in our culture.
Statistically speaking, there are women in our congregation who either are currently, or have been, victims of violence. They and the countless other women who are at risk also deserve care and attention.
Following Jesus and tending to the good work of God’s realm is as much about engaging the tough questions about our culture, and working to change it into one that’s life-giving for everyone, as it is about making sure people have food on the table, clothes on their back, or a roof over their head.
Following Jesus, being part of God’s realm, means remembering that whoever isn’t against Jesus is for him and discovering the freedom in that as we come together to do work in his name.
It means that, as individuals, we don’t all have to do the same thing or engage in the same work because as a congregation we support the work of bringing healing, hope, and justice into the world and saving lives.
We encourage the people who do the good work that makes all that happen – recognizing that it may be people we don’t expect doing work we may not expect.
When we set up rules for what we think is the “correct” way to follow Jesus, that’s when we trip and fall – and so do others. It isn’t a competition. And as people who follow Jesus, we seek what is life-giving in all its forms, and we pause to consider how God’s realm is made visible in the ways that people may follow differently from us.
Remembering that whoever isn’t against Jesus is for him, frees us to recognize the way he acts in and through our lives – helping each of us to bear his divine love to do the good work he calls us to. Thanks be to God! Amen.