Because of Christ, we don’t claim to have it all together – we trust God has it all together and we are simply living in God’s love for all.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 26 B
Text: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Mark 9:38-50
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Joshua and John had a problem with God’s behavior, not other people’s.
Joshua claimed to be upset at Eldad and Medad for prophesying in the camp. They were the only two of the 70 chosen to receive God’s Spirit who didn’t go to the Tent of Meeting as instructed.
But God told Moses to gather 70 elders so they could be given a share of the Spirit that Moses had and so ease Moses’ burden. And God sent the Spirit on all 70. Joshua’s problem is with the God of Israel who poured the Spirit into those two.
John claimed to be concerned about this unknown person casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He was unauthorized and needed to be stopped.
But Scripture says God drives out demons, not human skill. John’s problem isn’t with this guy, it’s with the God who answered his cries for deliverance.
We’re learning Jesus’ servant path, the path of self-giving love, in these three chapters of Mark we’re focusing on most of these autumn weeks. Today’s lesson is, if your concerns are with God being overly generous with the Spirit to others, maybe don’t complain to God’s Son. Or to God’s Spirit-filled servant, Moses.
This is another thing Christians have struggled with forever.
We’re not alone. Lots of people of faith – whatever their faith – find it challenging to see God blessing people who aren’t part of the in-group. Humans seem to want to accept God’s love and gifts ourselves, but once we feel we have that, to roam the outer boundaries making sure others are kept out.
But if we’re to learn something today from God, notice that the Triune God doesn’t care one bit about Joshua’s or John’s concerns. God’s giving the Spirit to all 70 and that’s it. God’s driving out demons afflicting God’s children, and that’s it.
So maybe that’s the real lesson today: whatever control you think you have over God’s work in the world, you don’t. God will do whatever God wants to, whether you and I are on board or not.
But there’s more to this lesson as we seek to be shaped to Jesus’ path.
Moses and Jesus agree: you and I don’t get to tell God where to send the Spirit. But both turn on their trusted, beloved followers, and say: you’ve got a bigger problem than you know.
Moses tells Joshua not only is he not upset at Eldad and Medad, he wishes God would pour the Spirit on all God’s people. You’re worried about those two guys going off-book, Joshua? My dream is that everyone is Spirit-filled. How will you control that?
Jesus dismisses John’s concern that this is an unknown person, and says if they’re doing good in Jesus’ name, leave them alone. But then he turns to John and the others and says, “If any of you put a stumbling block in front any of these folks who trust in me, you’d be better off tying a millstone around your neck and jumping into the sea.”
Jesus’ fear is more that John might have done something to hurt the faith of this poor fellow, not that his credentials are murky.
Can you imagine our witness if we took Jesus and Moses to heart?
If we rejoiced when we saw God working in others – whoever they are – instead of worrying about their credentials? How much blood and anger and violence have been poured out by people of faith killing or hating or rejecting other people of faith because they believed different things?
God’s Word says if God is sending the Spirit into the world, you don’t control where that goes. So if you see the fruits of the Spirit Paul describes in your Jewish neighbor, or your Muslim colleague, that’s God’s issue. If God’s Spirit moves in Hindus and Buddhists, and even in atheists without their knowing, what say over that do you and I have?
Moses longs for all to be Spirit-filled and speak God’s prophetic word. Jesus believes that if people are doing good in God’s name, that’s a grace. What if we embraced that?
God’s not asking us to tolerate others who differ from us. Toleration is insipid, weak sauce. The Son of God and Moses speak of longing to experience God in whomever we see, even if they follow different rules or beliefs or if we don’t know them.
But if you can’t yet rejoice that God is in another, for God’s sake – literally – at least don’t harm their trust in God.
That’s Jesus’ deep concern. God-with-us has no interest in our theological purity, and rejects our need to classify some as in and others as out. But God-with-us absolutely forbids us hurting another’s faith.
What if we always made sure we weren’t putting any stumbling block in the way of others’ trust in God? That our highest concern wasn’t getting our theology right and making sure everyone else did, it was protecting and nurturing the faith of all those who trust in God, whatever their faith. And, in an age where those who claim no faith are more known to us than before, maybe we should make sure we don’t do anything harmful to those siblings, either, even if we think they don’t have faith we can trip up.
That’s the servant path Jesus calls you and me to walk. The Church hasn’t been good at these lessons in, well, forever. But Jesus is always hopeful some of us might learn and live them.
This doesn’t mean the Good News that we trust about what God is doing in Christ doesn’t matter or shouldn’t be shared with the world.
The Bible is clear that your life is to witness to God’s love in Christ, your love of God and neighbor, the fruits of the Spirit you bear, are meant to lead people to know God’s love for themselves.
You and I just can’t tell God whom to love or whom to fill with the Spirit. We can’t claim anyone is outside of God’s embrace. And you and I absolutely can’t cause others to stumble in their faith. God’s love in Christ as we trust and live it forbids that.
It is precisely because we follow the crucified and risen Christ and trust in God to bring life to the world that we leave all of that life in God’s hands. Because God’s unauthorized and overly-generous love is the only reason you and I have hope, too. Would that all God’s people knew this!
In the name of Jesus. Amen