No Good Deed...

Rev. Sarah Buteux
September 30, 2012
Fifth Sunday, Year B
Mark 9:38-42

 

 
 
 
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 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. Whoever is not against us is for us. 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.
 
“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.
 
When you think of Jesus’ 12 disciples, do you think of them as 12 holy men who had it all together or as 12 guys who continually come across as a few fries short of a Happy Meal?
 
You know, instinctively, I think we want them to be great. They’re the 12 Disciples after all. We want them to be people we can look up to and emulate, but if you actually read your Bibles these guys come across as flat-footed fools more often then not. I sometimes think that instead of calling the gospels names like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it might have been better to go with something more like: “Adventures in Missing the point: My Life with Jesus” by Levi the Tax Collector or “Disciples are from Mars, Messiahs are from Venus” or maybe, if you wanted to be really cheeky,  “Messiahs are from Jupiter, Disciples are from Uranus.”
 
But seriously, let’s take stock here. Over the last two weeks we’ve heard Jesus repeatedly explain to these guys that power isn’t something they are to use for their own sake, but something they are to use for the sake of others. Jesus has told them that they aren’t going to defeat the Romans with military might, but win them over by taking up their crosses and following Jesus to his inevitable execution.
 
He has told them that being first in line amongst his followers means being the first in line to serve the lowest of the low. He is, even now, holding in his arms a small child- someone with absolutely no social standing- and has just finished telling them that if they put themselves out there and do all they can to welcome someone as insignificant as this little kid it is the same as welcoming him.
 
He is basically telling them that no one, no matter how lowly, should be beneath their notice, and what does John say?
 
Kids, sure that’s fine, whatever, but “teacher, we saw this guy casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” That was okay right?  I mean when you say we should welcome everyone, you don’t really mean, like, EVERYONE, do you?
 
Because this guy…this guy was an imposter. He wasn’t one of us. He doesn’t know you. And we can’t just let some random guy walk around using your name to do good things if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We’re talking quality control here Jesus. There have to be some standards. I mean there are some people out there who have crossed the line or don’t tow the line, or are so far over the line that we can at least come down hard on them, right?
 
And I imagine Jesus looking at the little kid in his arms, looking at John, looking at the kid again and just shaking his head. No, John, no. You don’t get to stop him either, “for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. (You guys) whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you (something as simple as) a cup of water to drink because you bear” my name “will by no means lose the reward.” 
 
Don’t go turning these little people away, be they insignificant little children or random unauthorized exorcists, but bring them all in because the harvest in plentiful and the workers are few. Bring them all in because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Bring them all in because at the end of the day (and this is the heart of my message for you this morning) doing the right thing means more to Jesus than you simply doing things right.
 
Notice that what concerns Jesus in this passage, is not that people know him in a certain way or in the “right” way or even that they know him at all. What concerns Jesus is how we treat one another. Are we using what we know and all we have to do good or are we more interested in simply being good, because there is a difference, which brings us to this crazy wonderful thing we are doing here this morning.
 
Friends, I know 5th Sunday isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Just as I know that no matter how often we do this or how much good we accomplish every time we do this, that there will always be a part of us that wonders if this is really worth it, if we didn’t miss regular church for nothing, if we couldn’t possibly be using our time or our resources more wisely or in a way that would be more pleasing to God.
 
I think it is perfectly natural to question why we are sending money to Haiti when we could just as well use it to fix the church chimney? It makes sense to wonder why we are feeding survival center folks when we’re unsure about how we’re going to fund our own Take and Eat program?  Rolling these coins, making a meal, cleaning up after yesterday, organizing Sunday school materials, learning to play bells… it’s fair to question all of this, because no matter how good all this is, the fact remains that this is not a traditional way to spend a Sunday morning. This is not church the way most people do church. This might actually feel wrong to some of you. But if today’s reading is to believed, I think it’s pretty clear that Jesus is not as concerned about things getting done the right way as he is concerned that the right things get done.
 
Dear ones, we don’t have to be perfect, or worthy, or wonderful to enter the kingdom of God. We just have to be willing to do the next right thing; ready to perform the little acts of kindness that make the kingdom visible to one another. We just have to be ready with a humble heart to offer anyone, no matter how little they might seem, something as simple as a cup of water or a hot lunch, or a roll of dimes.  All Jesus is really asking of us in this passage is to remember to treat one another well, welcome one another in his name, and love one another for his sake, no mater how limited or crazy or imperfect our efforts might seem. They say no good deed is ever wasted. They also say that no good deed goes unpunished. But either way, let’s spend this morning doing the good we can do together.
 
Amen.