DOING THE WORK OF GOD
We’ve been going through the book of James the last few weeks and I want to continue that today but, to begin, I also want to toss in a story found in Mark 9:38-41 (NIV) which says:
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.
This is a short story but it’s also very strange story. It involves a man who is driving out demons in Jesus’ name. The only problem was that he isn’t one of the group of disciples that is traveling around with Jesus. So, what did the disciples do when they see this? They tell him to stop. Why? Because he isn’t part of the group. “What do you think you’re doing? You’re not part of our group! You can’t drive out demons! That’s our job! Stop right now!”
Isn’t that weird? They chastise the man because he isn’t part of the group. They don’t consider whether or not his actions are effective. In fact, we have to assume that they are. The disciples don’t say to Jesus, “We saw a man trying to drive out demons in your name and told him to stop.” No, they say, “We saw him driving out demons.” All indications are that he is doing it very effectively.
Now let’s look at how Jesus responds. Does he say to them, “Good for you. You did the right thing. There is no way anyone outside of this group should be doing anything in my name.” No, that’s not what he says. Rather, in Mark 9:39 (NIV) he says, “Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me…” What does that mean? It means that Jesus sees this man’s actions and he understands them as expressions of the man’s faith. Because he is doing the work of God Jesus understands that he is a follower of God and because he is a follower of God, he also a follower of Jesus. His faith and his actions are working together. That is exactly what we read in James 2:22 (NIV) where James is talking about Abraham and writes, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And that is why the Scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” Why is Abraham called God’s friend? Because he does the work of God which is consistent with his faith. In the same vein, why does Jesus tell the disciples to not stop the man casting out demons? Because he is doing the work of God in Jesus’ name.
Here’s the thing that this story does for us. It reminds us that we need to resist the temptation to limit the ministry of Jesus Christ to a small select group. The disciples tell the man to stop casting out demons because he is not part of their group. Jesus tells them that he doesn’t care if the man is part of the group. If he is casting out demons, he should be left alone to do the work of God. Jesus doesn’t care if the man is or is not part of the group. The important thing is that he is driving out demons. He is meeting people’s needs. He is making their lives better. And he is doing it all in Jesus’ name. How could that be wrong? It can’t.
PUTTING UP FENCES
That’s a good lesson for the Church to hear today. How often have we as Christians been guilty of telling people that they shouldn’t be doing things because they aren’t part of the group? How often do we put up fences around the ministry of Jesus Christ thinking that we are protecting it? I remember the days when, in order to serve communion, you had to be an elder. Do you remember that? I’m sure some of you do. I always wondered why that was and I’m not sure that I ever heard a good reason for it except that that was the way it was done. I remember wondering if that meant that we could still have communion if we could not find enough elders. We don’t do that anymore. Preparing the elements for communion is Emily’s ministry and we are so thankful that she does it. Emily isn’t an elder. She’s just someone who wants to help. She also arranges for people to serve. I don’t know how she does that. Maybe I should ask someday. But she has it all figured out and I am more than happy with that.
You don’t have to be part of the group to serve communion around here. That’s a good thing because anyone should be able to serve communion here as long as they know Jesus Christ as Saviour and seek to live in accordance with his divine will.
But what about other things? I remember working with one United Church that was trying to get itself back on track after years of decline. They were an interesting congregation because they were probably the most multiracial, multicultural United Church I’ve ever been in. On Sunday morning you could see people from all kinds of different racial backgrounds sitting in the pews. These people spoke a variety of different languages and often wore traditional garments on Sunday. That was really kind of cool because that’s not usually the case with most United Churches which tend to be very WASPish. But here’s the issue. The congregation was very multicultural and multiracial but when I attended the Church Board meetings, all I saw was middle age – or older – white Anglo-Saxons. Do you see the problem? The congregation was not represented by the Church Board. Why is that? I’m not really sure but it was hinted to me a couple of times that the reason why the Church Board was exclusively Anglo-Saxon was because they really weren’t willing to give up any of the decision making to the immigrants. After all, they were new-comers, not part of the group. Was that a problem? Yes, it was. Would Jesus have approved? I don’t think so.
We might think that we at Cottam United Church are immune to such things, that we don’t do that, that we include everyone in all things. But is that true? Do we from time to time erect fences around our ministry? Are there special jobs that a small group or an individual do all the time? Do they hold on to them and make it difficult for others to help or be included? I don’t think that those things go on very much around here but that doesn’t mean that they don’t go on at all. But then again, it would be hard for me to see that because, as the pastor, I’m probably part of the in group. Isn’t that right? Guess who usually has the most difficulty seeing themselves as part of a group? It’s the members of the group isn’t it. They are the ones who are least likely to see it.
Do you think that the disciples see themselves as part of a little in group? I doubt it. They probably think that they are simply protecting something important. They don’t want just anyone doing the work of Christ. They want it done correctly and properly. They don’t know what the other guy is doing when he’s casting out demons and so they tell him to stop.
Again, Jesus doesn’t see it that way. He looks at what the man is doing. He sees the results, that demons are driven out, that people are enabled to live more full lives and he says, “Don’t stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.” And then in the very next verse, in Mark 9:40 (NIV) he sort of sums it up by saying, “… for whoever is not against us is for us.”
Whoever is not against us is for us. Isn’t that an interesting verse? That’s Jesus’ criteria for ministry. Whoever is not against us is for us. He doesn’t want to know if someone is part of the group. He isn’t interested in who’s in and whose out of the clique. What he’s looking for is results. “Is someone doing my work?” asks Jesus. If they are, then they should not be told to stop. Rather, they should be encouraged to continue because the work of God is being done and people’s lives are being affected in a positive and godly way.
OUR MISSION – TO KNOW CHRIST & MAKE HIM KNOWN
One thing that we always have to keep in mind is that the ministry of the Church does not belong to us. It belongs to Jesus. We are simply the ones who are doing it. At the same time, it is not done for our glory. It is done for his glory. We don’t follow his will to make ourselves look good. We do it to make him look good.
I have three weddings in the month of October and you would not believe what we had to go through with the new wedding restrictions that came into effect this week. Brides have had to change guests list and wedding parties based on the number of people who can attend and whether or not they are vaccinated. It’s been crazy but I think it’s all working out.
What I want to talk about for a minutes, however, is the photographers. In my ministry I have performed literally hundreds of weddings and I have noticed in that time that there are two types of photographers. The good ones are like ninjas. They do their work. They get their shots. They end up with nice photos for the couple. But the good thing about them is that you don’t notice them. They are in the background. They don’t draw attention to themselves. Rather they are always conscious of putting the couple first and foremost. That’s a good photographer. I should add, by the way, that most photographers are like Ninjas. But some of them aren’t. Some of them want to get right up there between me and couple and stand up in front blocking everyone else’s view like they’re the most important person in the building. I’ve had to tell the odd photographer to back off but I always try to do it kindly and most of them get the hint.
As Christians doing the work of Jesus, we should be like ninjas. It’s not about us. It’s not about our group or our congregation. Ultimately, it’s about Jesus. That’s it. It’s about doing his will, fulfilling his purpose, giving him glory. Always remember that it’s not our ministry. It’s his ministry.
That’s a key point to remember because the best way to ensure that we remain one in Christ is to always keep his goals and his glory at the forefront of all that we do. It’s really not about us. It really is all about him and his mission.
One thing that I always appreciate about the good people at Cottam United Church is that, while we are not perfect, we do tend to have a common sense of mission. Most of us know our mission statement. We haven’t said it for a while so maybe it’s about time that we reminded ourselves. If you’re new here or just visiting, we’re going to put it up on the screen. Our mission statement is to know Christ and make him known. That’s what we’re about. As long as we understand that, we can tailor the ministry of this family of faith to fulfill it. Everything that we do, every project that we take on, every penny that we raise, needs to be dedicated to that mission. To know Christ and make him known. That’s why we worship. That’s why we sing. That’s what the Bible studies and small groups are all about. That’s what the Sunday School is about when we can have one. That’s the focus of our committees and task groups. It is to know Christ and make him know. Keeping that in mind helps us to keep united as one body, to be one in Christ.
DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH
Does that mean that in order to be one in Christ, all of us have to agree all of the time on all things? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, to assume that we will never have disagreements is utterly preposterous. The only church that has no disagreements is the one that doesn’t do anything. Active churches will always have some degree of disagreement within them. That’s a given.
Can disagreements cause disunity? You bet they can, especially if the church is thinking about doing something new or radical. There will always be some resistance to change and that is not necessarily a bad thing because change for change sake can itself lead to problems. But regardless of why it happens, we can always expect to have some degree of disagreement in the church and when we do we need to deal with it.
How do we maintain the unity of the church amidst the tensions that can sometimes arise? There is a one word response to that. The word is prayer. Yes, we talk it through and, yes, we try to find consensus but we always begin with prayer. And that is where we get back into the book of James. James 5:13-16 (NIV) says:
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Do you want to be healed? James tells us that prayer is a powerful tool for unity in the Church because it is a powerful tool of reconciliation in the body of Christ. Do you know how difficult it is to stay mad at someone when you’re praying for them? That’s hard to do. If someone has wronged you, if they have slighted you or caused you some grief to the point where you are feeling badly towards them, pray for them. That’s not always easy to do because the temptation is to let the bad thoughts come into your head so that you can justify continuing with your anger.
When you feel you’ve been wronged, rather than holding on to the anger, bitterness and resentment, pray for that person. And I don’t mean that you should pray a prayer like in 1 Samuel 17:46 (NIV) where, before confronting Goliath, David prayed, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.” That might have been David’s prayer for Goliath but it’s not the kind of prayer I had in mind for you. You don’t need to ask God to slay your enemies and make them sorry for what they did to you. I’m thinking more in terms of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV) which say, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
If someone has harmed you, you need to seek their good. That is especially true for someone in the body of Christ. If you want to get past your anger, your resentment and your bitterness, then offer up to God honest, authentic prayers that have the best interests of the offending person in mind. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about God. It’s about the ministry of Jesus Christ and how we as the body of Christ can be best equipped to fulfill that which God has called us to do.
Here’s a little secret about something that we sometimes forget. Just because someone is a Christian and part of the body of Christ does not mean that he or she is perfect. As believers, we still make mistakes. We still do things that offend each other. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, we still sin. And yet sometimes the people we are hardest on is each other. We think, “Can you believe what that person did. And they calls themselves a Christian.” Yes, they do but we need to cut each other some slack because none of us is perfect. All of us make mistakes.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” If you want to be known as sons and daughters of your Father in heaven, you need to be willing to pray for those who have done you wrong. It does no good to hold on to the hurt. It does no good to stay angry with someone. I’m not saying that you can get over it in a flash. Sometimes it takes a while to get past our hurts because we have to work them through. It’s not always easy but authentic prayer for the good of someone else is an important part of the process.
Jesus tells the disciples to let the man continue to drive out demons because anyone who is doing things in his name cannot then turn around and say anything bad about him. Jesus doesn’t care whether or not that man is part of the group. He simply cares that the man is doing his work in the world to make life better for those who need to be freed. We are called to be one in Christ, to encourage each other to do God’s work in the world in order that we may make our little corner of creation a better place to be.
All he asks is this, that we put our faith in him and seek his will in all that we do. That’s all it takes to be part of the body of Christ. It takes faith and a willingness to follow Jesus wherever that path may lead us. Rather than telling people to stop doing things, we need to enable and support them as they seek to become all that God created them to be.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O God, with the confidence of your constant presence. We thank you that we are never alone and that your Spirit lives in our hearts and works in our lives. We thank you for all of the wonders of Creation: for the feeling of autumn in cool morning mists; for bike rides in the warm afternoon sunshine; for geese flying south and plants storing energy for the winter ahead.
Thank you for sowing good things into our lives. Thank you for honouring our times when we share with others by providing for our every need. Your grace has no limits and your love knows no boundaries.
Help us, O God, to increase in our sense of mission in our community and in the world. Help us to understand that when we do it together, we can get so much more done than trying to do things alone. Encourage us to discover the missions that you would have us do and give us the courage, the strength and the tenacity to fulfill your great calling.
We pray for our nation and our political leaders as we seek to move forward with a new government. We pray for good government for all people and all part so this great nation. Bless our leaders with wisdom, courage and a spirit of unity.
We lift up in prayer those who are sick, especially Mark, Carol, Richard and Angela. Be with all people who are sick in body, mind or spirit. Be with them in their illness.
We also pray that you would bless the family and friends of Elaine Kerr who went home to be with you. We pray especially for Bill as he adjusts to life without Elaine there after so many years of marriage.
Heavenly Father, when circumstances and situations would seem to be more than we can bear, you are our refuge. Remind us that you are greater than any problem in our lives. In the tough times, we can call upon you and you are always there to provide strength and hope. Grant us the assurance that you will always be there for us as we are there for one another. We thank you for your great unfailing love which never ends, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
September 26, 2021 / Pentecost 18 / Proper 21
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Psalm 124; Mark 9:38-50; James 5:13-20
CALL TO WORSHIP
There is joy in the Lord;
There is joy in knowing that God is with us.
Praise be to God who lifts us above our troubles and sets our feet upon solid ground;
Come, let us worship the our God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
God of Love, your Spirit flows to us like a refreshing stream of cool water. We ask for your presence among us for you have promised to be with your people when we call upon your name. We thank you that you are faithful in all that you have promised. You have called us to be your Church and set us aside for the ministry of Christ. Enable us to be faithful to that which you have called us as a community of faith. May our worship intensify and nourish the deep need that we have for you in our lives. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Mercy, despite your amazing love, we have fallen short of your glory. We have hurt and wounded others, intentionally or otherwise. Help us to realize that our relationships with our sisters and brothers affect our relationship with you. If we have offended anyone or they have anything against us give us the courage to be reconciled as the opportunity arises. Keep us sensitive to the needs of our neighbours that we may encourage them to walk the road of faith that leads to your arms. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The power of God is the power to forgive and redeem us for our place in Heaven. Hear the Good News and believe that, in Jesus’ death and resurrection, the chains of sin have been broken and we are freed to walk in the light of God’s grace.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Father God, help us to recognize every opportunity to give to others, whether in time, money, compassion, mercy, or any other means. May we reach out not for motives of reward or recognition but because of love knowing that as we give it will be given to us according to the promises that you have made through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
As children of the Living God, we are called to embrace our neighbours and to share with them the Gospel of Life which is Jesus Christ. Let us always remember that it is by our words and actions that people often have their first encounter with the carpenter from Galilee. Go from this place and walk the path of faith as followers of him who gave all that he had for us.