Mark 9:38-50 (New Revised Standard Version)
38 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.” 39 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. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 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.”
Book of Faith Devotional Questions:
- What scares, confuses, or challenges me in this text?
- What delights me in this text?
- What stories or memories does this text stir up in me?
- What is God up to in this text?
“Whoever is not against us is for us.” Where have I heard this before? Oh, wait. I’ve never heard it before! Everyone knows that the phrase is “Whoever is not for us is against us.” Why is Jesus talking nonsense? Or is he trying to open us up to another truth?
I have to admit that sometimes other Christians make me really mad. I believe what I was raised to believe, and when others call themselves Christians and have differing, sometimes opposite, beliefs, I have a hard time with that. Jesus’ words here in this reading are able to serve as a corrective to me in these instances. Is it really against me? Against the Jesus I believe in? Or just different?
I remember one time when one of my friends shared with me that he used hate going to other churches where he had not chosen the worship style. It just wasn’t the way that he would have done it. He was also quite critical of other’s sermons, because, again, he would have done it differently. Then, he became a bishop, and spent most of his Sundays leading worship in all sorts of settings at all sorts of times and places. All of a sudden, rather than focusing on his likes and dislikes, he started looking out at the people with whom he was worshipping. And they were prayerful. And reverent. They were engaged. And heartfelt. And he began to realize that they were not against him, or against Jesus, just different. And yet, they were still his brothers and sisters in Christ and worshippers of the very same God. And his heart was opened. And he was able to see and serve God in ways that he had never even imagined.
Whoever is not against us is for us. It can be a powerful statement, if we let it. It can turn negative into positive, difference into blessing, despair for the future into hope. What if we began assuming that people are for us, for Christ, for the life of the world? What if we began acting that way? What if we lived that way? Perhaps, then, Jesus’ vision for the future would come to pass, and “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” Could it really be that simple?
Just the other day, I was talking to someone that was telling me that he felt we needed to start working with other Christians to do some good in this world. We, meaning not just our parish, but the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, our full-communion partners (including the UCC, United Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Reformed, and Moravians), and all other Christian denominations. We are, after all commanded by Christ to seek unity, make disciples of all nations, baptize and teach, and give that cup of water to anyone in need. How can we fully do this, unless we do it together?
My prayer is that we can find ways to be together instead of apart, that our likenesses can outweigh our differences, and that we can welcome one another with open arms instead of suspicion. May your kingdom come among us, O Lord, that all your people, in all their differences, may be united in you. Amen.