Scripture: Mark 9:38-50
A common quote from Henry Ford is that you can have a car of any color as long as it is black. This was at the dawn of the automotive age, there were several automakers at the time, but the Ford Motor Company was beginning gain the greater market share because of the utilization of the assembly line. This is why black was the color, because it was quicker, easier, and cheaper to produce one color. Other companies had other ideas some offered a wide variety of colors. Who was wrong and who was right? If you wanted a more affordable vehicle then you would consider the Ford, if you wanted to make a statement then you would pay a bit more. There is not a right or wrong answer when it comes to a vehicle, only opinions and preferences. Some of us have a preference to only buy a vehicle from a company owned and operated in America, to support our economy; the truth is most cars driven in the United States has been assembled in the US. So most cars are providing jobs for Americans. Again it all comes down to preference.
Preference and opinion are involved in nearly every aspect of our life. Everything from our vehicles, our jobs, our clothing, and our political party, even the worship community we attend is based on preference and opinion. Everyone has reasons for having their opinions; some of these opinions are even well researched and systematically applied. Some of our opinions are deeply held, but in most cases they are only opinions. Sometimes we forget that.
Strong opinions are part of the American way. We take pride in our opinions, maybe a bit too much pride. Strong opinions are not exclusively American. It is part of the human condition, the part that sought to gain the knowledge of Good and Evil, the part that chose to abandon and hide from our Creator because we wanted to be the masters of our own destiny.
Jesus’ disciples, the people that have come to be known as saints, were not immune from this aspect of humanity. John, the person mentioned at the beginning of this passage, was known by a couple of other terms: the disciple whom Jesus loved, and a son of thunder. Take a moment just to consider those names. As the disciple whom Jesus loved, John was one of the closest friends of Jesus. He was in that inner circle, with Peter and James. John was the one chosen to see the end of the age, not because he was smarter but loved. John got the message that Jesus came to give better than the others and Jesus loved him for that, many commentators actually call him the disciple of love because John primarily focused on God’s love in his Gospel and letters. This deep friendship and understanding was also coupled with great passion.
The son of thunder is the second term associated with John. He and his brother James were filled with passion. They came from a bold and passionate family. Their own mother was so bold that she went to Jesus demanding that her boys would sit on the right and left side of Jesus when the kingdom was established, or to sit in the seats of the most honored advisors. This passage in Mark, gives us a glimpse of the passion of John. He was a purest; he followed Jesus with the strength of a bulldog. He bit down on the gospel of the kingdom and he was not going to let go. And he would protect his teacher’s honor with fierce jealousy.
There were a select few that were chosen to be a talmid of Jesus. A talmid is a student of a rabbi, one specifically chosen to learn and carry the teaching of the rabbi to the next generation. In a contemporary sense a talmid would be one of the few people selected to a specialized department in an Ivy League University. They would be the hand chosen assistance to the department head, to learn from the most important teacher offered in the area. John was chosen and he was proud of it. John was being taught by the teacher he believed to be sent by God, the one who was going to lift the nation of Israel out from under the thumb of Rome into its rightful place as the Light of nations. No one was going to disrespect his teacher or his position in the teachers group.
John is offended that there is someone out there casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He is offended not because a good deed is being done, but because this person had the nerve of doing this deed under the authority of his rabbi, without his permission. Jesus was not the only person that could cast out demons, he was not the only person that could prompt healing in lives, to be honest everything that Jesus said and did was already written and in practice throughout the religious community. There were well established methods and ceremonies used to bring about healings and exorcisms. The difference is that Jesus seemed to be able to do these things without the normal pomp. He did this by His own authority, and his followers were able to do the same things as their teacher, by invoking His name, the NAME Of JESUS.
These feats were done in public. It was common for Jesus to provide relief to someone in bondage with a crowd around Him, and then he’d tell them to keep quite. As if you could keep something like that quiet. People observed these activities by Jesus and by his disciples, through these observations they too picked up on the strength and power in the name of Jesus. John saw this happening and he was not happy about it, because they did not walk with Jesus, they did not know the proper methods that Jesus himself used. They were not students of the teacher in a formal sense. John was upset because they were doing what he was doing and his pride was affected.
We get passionate also. We begin to think that our way of thinking is the only correct way. We have invested our time and energy in learning what we know. We have a heritage from which opinions have been handed down. The ancient churches claim apostolic succession, meaning they can trace their roots directly from an apostle, one of those directly taught by Jesus, or by from one of the closest disciples of these men. The Catholic Church claims that the apostle that headed their church was Peter. The Armenian Church claims to be headed by Bartholomew, the church in India trace their roots to Thomas. Each ancient church has an apostolic head. Yet here even before the church began there were already non-apostolic expressions of faith, and the apostles were protesting this.
Jesus responds to the thunderous declaration of John by saying, “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. Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Do not stop him… whoever is not against us is for us. Jesus has called us to expand the kingdom of God. We are to do this by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and the fatherless, befriending the friendless, loving our enemies, helping the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Do not stop those that are doing these things because if they are not against us they are for us. That means that even though we may not like the way that they do things they are on our side.
We question why the world is falling away from Christ; maybe it is because those that bear His name have failed to carry the mission. For those of us conservatives who are upset that the government is giving away money to feed the hungry, I want to ask why are we upset? Are we upset because they are doing our job for us, or are we upset because we have failed? For those of us that are more liberal, why are we upset? Is it because we have failed to do these things in the name of Christ and have done them in our name or the name of our nation instead?
We have opinions, but we need to remember what is most important. It is not about Rome, Israel, America, Canada, Ireland, or Russia it is about God. It is not about Friends, Catholics, Baptists, Mennonites, or Adventists its about God. It is not about Jew or Gentile, slave or free but life with God. That life comes through a name. It is not about Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green it is about the kingdom not of this world. It is not about progress or conservation, or industrialism or environmentalism but about redemption. Those that are not against us are for us is what Jesus said, do not stop it. God will redeem, God will save, God will find a way to bring forth his kingdom with our without us. God saves that is the name that is the mission. That is the light of the world and the word of God. The name Jesus, or more accurately Joshua means God is salvation.
Our mission is not to make our own name great but to bring the little ones, into the kingdom of God. Our mission is not to save the world but to help the one that is close at hand. We often times get caught up in the fight of who is right, which is the right church, or the right theology. But the heart of the matter is that God is beyond our understanding but what
Scripture: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
How often do we want things that we do not have? I’m guessing most of us have participated in this at least once today. I wanted steak bu instead I had a burrito (not a bad tradeoff since I had a very good burrito from my favorite Mexican restraunt in Kansas City). Well I also wanted to purchase a wireless router for my mother-in-laws computer so I could use their internet when we are at their house, but alas I did not purchase it.
Why not, don’t think it was not because I have amazing skills in the area of self discipline because that is not the reason. The truth is I did not purchase I because my wife gave me a look. If you are a married man you know the look. It is that look that says…well it says many things but in this case it was if you buy it I will be very disappointed.
This passage starts with Israel, as the wandering tribes, longing for meat. Meat was something that a wandering tribe has a hard time obtaining. There were thousands of people so if you were able to find a bunny running around you were lucky. (Did they have bunnies in the wildness?) So they thought back to their wonderful times back in the land flowing with milk and honey, Egypt…wait we got that backwards they were slaves in Egypt. It was a land of bondage, poverty, hard labor, and racism. Who in their right mind would be longing for a time when they were held under the harsh thumb of tyranny?
That is the point we need to ponder. When we live in this lifestyle of longing for things we cannot have we are actually longing for slavery. This is a sin. “Thou shall not covet you neighbors…” Covet is such a dirty term, it just sounds wrong, which is probably why wedo not hear it outside of church. We try to avoid these terms that point out sin. Which leads us to another point, we avoid reminding ourselves of sin. This in itself I sinnful.
Sin is a form of bondage. I say this because when we are living in sin we are longing for things. Longing for things that will satisfy our own desires, many of which are selfish. Not all desires are sinful, in fact many of them are leading from the Holy Spirit. Desires become sinful when they are acted on in a manner that is focused only on our own personal benifit. Even some really good activties can become sinful if we enter them with a selfish intent. For example, to become a medical doctor is an honorable and needed pursuit, but if you only pursue the medical arts to recieve a big salary then we are probably leaning toward sin. Of course, if people are only trying to become a doctor for the money they may probably would not be able to finish medical school. Sin is bondage, and in this story Israel is showing us just how easy it is for sin to turn our hearts to long for the bondage.
We want meat. We had meat back then, so I want to go back. The sin is not in the desire for meat but what we give up in trying to obtain it. They are willing to go back to a life of bondage for fish. When if they stay with God and kee walking to the promised land the will be able to raise as much meat as they want. Sin steals from our future and puts us into bondage. This sin, the sin of wanting something now instead of going through the struggle to obtain something better, literally puts us into bondage.
This leads us to a life of simplicity. The simple lifestyle ecourages us to give up our selfish desires so that we can obtain a better life in the future. If we give up meat for now while we wander through the wilderness we will have more opportunity in the future for something even better. In a culture of materialism this seems pretty crazy. Why live a simple life? It frees us to do something greater. If we are not bond by sin, or debt we can change directions quickly. We can enter into ministry without worrying if we may have a conversation with a collections agent. We can support ministries freely because we already know our bills are covered in our budget.
The simple life is crazy but amazing. Monks, Mennonites, and Quakers have tried to live this lifestyle. Some live it well and others actually live this lifestyle in a sinful manner. We should live a simple life not to look holy, but so we are free to answer the call of God in our life. It was a command from Jesus when He sent out His disciples, yet often we forget it. Why? Because we want meat. We want what we want now and do not want to wait for an amazing blessing in the future. As we pray today let’s consider why we are living the way we are and if we are honoring God in it, or if we are honoring ourselves. If you are under the tyrant of debt guess what there is a way out. Be warned it is a vast desert that you must cross and along the way you may not have much meat to eat, but on the other side of that desert is a promised land. If you cannot see the land across the desert, talk to the countless groups helping people out of bondage. They are all over you can hear them on the radio and buy their books at most places books are sold. This is just one step and it is not the whole story of why we should live a life of simplicity. It goes way beyond the financial aspects of life. It enters the spiritual as well. Do we trust God or do we long for the world? Do we seek to be citizens in the Kingdom of God or slaves in the land of bondage.
Scripture: James 5:13-20
There is probably one very important aspect of the christian life that is mentioned in scriptures that is not practice frequently today, corporate prayer. There issomething about the sharing of struggles and weaknesses that is both scary and freeing.
James, the brother of Jesus, encourages us to pray when we are suffering, sing when we are cheerful, call the elders when we are sick, and confess our sins when we stumble. I do not know about you but I rarely do these things in a corporate setting. I really do not know why that is, but I think that during the reformation we protestants lost something when we left the Catholic Church. There is a power ad strength in the community knowledge of what is happening in the lives of worshipers. I am not advicating that we go back to a priestly order where you gain absolution, but I do think in our personalized faiths we have lost community.
Just think for a moment, if someone knows you suffering what would happen? Either you get a lot of bad advice or you have a friend that can cry with you. If someone else know your cheerful things, they can help celebrate and a celebration is always more fun in a group. If you are stuggling in an area with sin, then you have someone that can help you overcome, encourage, and remind you that the grace of God is covering you where you fail.
Imagine if we lived in a community like that? Imagine if your worship community would drop everything and anoint you with oil and pray when you were sick, even if God did not heal your illness the encouragement would give you added strength to fight the illness.
I think we do not spend enough time in real prayer. We have religated God and worship to one day, or possibly two days in the week. In those days we try to look like we are doing fine, but in reality we all struggle. We do need to share and encourage one another. I am advicating that we restart community. Imagine if we built community kitchens where not only families shared meals but friends. Not just occasionally but regularly. What would happen if we came together to encourage each other daily or at least given the opportunity to share daily?
We need God to rain down on our nation and our world. We need to awaken our spirits and have revival in our souls. I do not think this will come from knowing more about scripture or even providing more humanitarian aid, but through being honest and loving to one another and praying as a corporate body. Praying for peace, prosperity, hope, and healing in our lands. Praying for the grace of God to rain down on us so that we can bless our nations once again.