“We saw someone….” That’s how a lot of judgment starts, doesn’t it? “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” As Micah Kiel noted in the Preaching This Week commentary this sounds a lot like tattle-taling. I have two boys, 13 and 15, and it still happens. And I remember all too well the same scenario with my sisters. “I saw!”
But Jesus says, “Umm, no. That’s not how this works. That’s not how discipleship works.” And then he says further, “And, I know what you want to do next! Now you want to put a stumbling block in their way. Not only do you want to call them out, you want to make sure they fall. Seal the deal.” Yep. That’s exactly what we want to do.
It seems that when preachers get started with the new program year, that’s a lot of what it’s about rather than Jesus’ words, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” No one is against you. We are all in this together. And we rely on the radical individuality of our congregations to know that this is true. What works for one will not work for another.
We forget that we are all in the same proverbial boat, or pond, depending on your preferred metaphor. And we need to stick together, not for the sake of an affront against, a battle lodged, or a fight for, but for the sake of camaraderie and collegiality. As soon as our denominations, our church, our faith, becomes that which we need to defend, we’ve given up on true dialogue and openness to conversation. We’ve shut the doors and decided that our confessions are better than others. As I said last week, faith is not about competition. Faith is about conversation. It is about support and community. We need a lot of reminders about that. Which is why this story again from Mark, and these words again from Jesus.
At my church, I lead a Bible Study called “Women at the Well.” For various reasons, we will not meet in September but this past weekend, I had so many women come up to me and say, “when are we meeting?” What is that question all about? It’s about a deep sense of how critical it is that we experience Christian life with each other.
They need each other, not to prove themselves right to but realize the right in so many others.
How we nurture that as preachers is so important. But how we remember that about ourselves is also critical. This is a competitive world, the church. I know it. I know it very well. “So and so has written more books than I. This person gets more speaking gigs than I.” At the end of the day, I am a preaching professor yet there are so many better preachers than I. My take on the text is “less than” compared to others. It is so very hard to resist saying, “I saw someone.”
This weekend, I will attend my 30th high school reunion. Long, long, ago, back in a former life, when I thought that being a professional violinist was my future, I had a rather difficult violin lesson with my teacher. I was trying to play like those around me, those who were getting accolades, who were moving ahead, or so I thought, who sounded better than I, or so it seemed. Mr. Meacham, my violin teacher, said, “What’s going on?” I told him I want to sound like, play like…. He said to me, “Karoline, never compare yourself to anyone but yourself.” At the time? To be honest? I didn’t get it. It didn’t make sense. Now it does. Or a little more, anyway. He was trying to say, “Karoline, you are you. There is no one else like you. Let go of all judgment, competition, and expectation.”
So now, put that to your preaching. But more so, put it to your parishioners. They need to know that the goal of faith is not winning, unlike our culture. They need to know that the goal of believing is not who can be better, whatever that means. They need to know that being a Christian is not about comparison but individual expression, as individual as the incarnation. Good grief, if we all believed the same way, how boring would that be? Not even our Scriptures propose that. The reassurance of particularity is grace itself, so says God’s commitment to the incarnation. Our penchant for “we saw someone” needs to be replaced by faith’s “we see Jesus.” And in Jesus, we see God. Our God is here.
And therein lies the irony of the statement, “We saw someone” because the point is, do you see God? Do you see God in the acts you saw? Do you see God in the persons who do deeds in God’s name? Often we don’t. And why is that? That is the question we need to ask. Why do we reject or accept God in the acts of some and not others? We might have justification, Kim Davis points to this, but you at least have to know why you say no to her or yes to another. When we say, “we saw someone” it’s a simultaneous judgment — on the other and also on ourselves.
If you are getting weary of being called out these past weeks, well, that’s Mark. That’s Jesus. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. But getting called out is not always a bad thing. It gets you to see something about yourself and in doing so, maybe you can then see beyond yourself. And what will you see? So says Mark, God is truly here. And that is something to see.