St. Luke's Episcopal Church - Homily
Heidi Edson / 26 Sept., 2021
You may remember last week's Gospel reading in Mark where Jesus took a small child in His arms. Holding the child, Jesus told the disciples: "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." Meanwhile the disciples had been arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest.
Today's Gospel account picks up where last week's story left off. This time, it's John who weighs in. John is quick to point out to Jesus that there is someone else who is casting out demons in Jesus' name. Jesus, still holding the child in His arms, lets John know that this person shouldn't be stopped from doing so.
Jesus tells John that no one who does these same works of God can speak ill of God's Son, Jesus. "Whoever is not against us is for us" Jesus says. Jesus was making it clear to John that He and the disciples were not a clique, that is fenced off from the world. God's actions and deeds are not limited only to the ways with which Jesus' disciples were familiar.
When it comes to us as the Church today, Jesus is telling us that the question we often have among ourselves (subconsciously, perhaps) about who belongs and who doesn't does not apply! The Episcopal Church in particular displays the "welcome sign" in front of the church building that reads: "The Episcopal Church welcomes You." But the truth of the matter is that each particular church body is unique and each community carries traditions that reflect that particular community.
This to say that we tend to see our traditions and worship from our own unique culture and perspective. So when someone outside our community visits, it is easy to fall into the common trap of thinking in terms of "us" and "them." Often we are not even aware of thinking in this was. But to suggest that some people are on the outside is what Jesus would call "small thinking."
God's thoughts are never small! God is much more concerned with the bigger picture! Our task as God's Church in our communities is to discover this "broad thinking" of God. It is to wrestle with and figure out what this means for us as the Church where we find ourselves today.
The bigger picture Jesus has in mind for the Church is that all of us grow more and more into the likeness and image of Christ. This is our true mission as Christ's body in our communities and world. The faith we profess to have as Christians; the way we conduct our lives and worship should direct us to love what God loves!
And Jesus is very clear whom it is God loves: the children! The children are the little ones, the unimportant ones, the unattractive ones, the odd ones; the ones no one else loves. To sum it up: God in Christ loves the unloved!
Jesus was so passionate about His love for the children that he sternly warned the disciples not to let anything stand in the way of these little ones. "It would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea." Jesus tells them.
Jesus came among us to start a Movement and not an institution. This Movement Jesus inspired and then later began with His disciples was not about building social or religious institutions that serve to keep certain kinds of people out while allowing others inside. Jesus' Movement that was eventually known as "The Way" was all about drawing all people everywhere to Christ.
Though we are called to be inclusive as Christ's body today, there is another side to Jesus' teaching, too. There are times when conscience or other serious matters may indicate we need to separate ourselves from certain others- from those who come to disrupt or divide God's people. Evil is a reality in our world and one that sometimes also creeps into the Church.
But if we are genuinely seeking to "grow our faith" together in Christ as God's People, then God will lead us. Discerning what is good and desiring godly wisdom takes time and discipline but if we do this work we will reap God's rewards.
Mark's Gospel passage ends with Jesus saying that we have been "salted with fire." Now that's a loaded term! What might that mean? I think it means that we, as the Church today, need to stand up and speak out when the outsider is not being welcomed. To be "salted with fire" is to know the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of those who also are made in the image and likeness of God. May we always seek this commonality we share as human beings.
Dear People, as you enter into another chapter in your life and worship here at St. Luke's, Chester, may the Holy Spirit "salt you" with the Spirit's fire! Open the Red Doors of St. Luke's Episcopal Church widely and let God's people enter in!
The temptation will be to give in to the "small thinking" especially given our modest numbers. But when you can come to appreciate and embrace the commonality we share with every human being, that is when God will guide you into a broader vision and goal for the salvation of the world. Is not this the purpose of God's Church?
Here is a poem by Edwin Markham who is a 20th century poet from Oregon. His poem is in reference to Mark's Reading for today and it is entitled: "Outwitted."
"He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in."
Dear Church. Jesus says, "Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another." To all of you as God's People here at St. Luke's, I bid you "Shalom"!