St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church
Diocese of New Westminster
Anglican Church of Canada
Wednesday 7:00 pm
Thursday 2:00 pm
September 30th Pentecost 19, 2018 John Marsh
Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
To understand today’s gospel, we need to begin at the end of last week’s:
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ (Mark 9:33-37)
To be clear, Jesus is neither valorising the innocence of a child nor idealizing childhood – he’s holding up one always vulnerable, one who symbolizes all who are least. Jesus surprises everyone in putting forward an inverse hierarchy – a radical role reversal in which the first are last - the divine spirit found among the least.
A little later in Mark, the point is reiterated:
So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their ruler’s lord it over them… But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. (Mark 10:42-43)
To understand Jesus, you need to be touched by his imaginative sensibility…
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. (Luke 12:27)
To understand Jesus, you need to open to his vision…
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ (John 3:8)
To understand Jesus, you need to understand the ebb and flow of wind – wisdom’s spirit rising and falling in the event of life.
An event is a surprise; it is an advent, a coming of something we cannot see, something unexpected; events break-in, break out, irrupt, interrupt. An event is that which involves us, together with others, in a manner deeply personal and profoundly inter-personal. An event is never mine or even ours. It is more than experience - experience is too easily interiorized and privatized.
The reign of god is a name of an event…
It is an interruption of the status quo, an irruption within convention, a theo-poetics boring deep within, ever flowing outwards. It surprises yet seeks us; it is beyond us yet involves us and so involving us, transforms us in a manner unexpected. The reign of god as poetics is neither a political position nor an ethical consideration. It is neither this nor that. It is the watery depth of calls within the world; it is the eye – seeing; the mind – opening; the heart – transforming.
The poetics of the ‘kingdom’ does not preclude considering a stand or even taking one; rather it affirms that beneath our positions are deeper affirmations that suspend judgments, or at least suspend judgments declared as final.
The poetics of the ‘kingdom’ makes space for others; makes space for conversation; makes space for silence; makes space for sitting with difference; makes space for reconciliation; makes space for working on common goals despite disputes.¹
But we often settle…
We settle for the usual, more prosaic approach of opposition, of choosing sides, of defining, declaring and defending positions…
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ 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.’ (Mark 9:37-38)
So much for welcoming…
During diocesan debates about same sex blessings, within a conversation with a priest, the comment was made that the forgotten question in the struggle over the issue was that of respect – of each ‘side’ treating the other with respect and dignity. The priest’s immediate response was, “Respect – this has nothing to do with respect. It has to do with the gospel!”
So much for listening…
It seems that Jesus embodies and teaches a much more radical, open and flexible approach…
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 afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:38-39)
Whenever we draw a line, we place ourselves on one side and on the other – those who differ, those who disagree, those who are wrong, those who oppose, those who, in their opposition, are different, those different becoming enemies, designated as sinners. Very soon we demonize those who oppose us and inevitably, excusing our own faults, justifying our own actions, we become the righteous!
To be honest – and here I am willing to risk that this is a place of honesty - to take a stand declared as final, to draw dividing lines is such a common set of human behaviours that we seldom question it or take notice…
It’s just the way it is – isn’t it?
It seems that Jesus teaches something different…
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. (Mark 9:42)
The hyperbole, possibly the hyperbolic excess, is a forceful attempt to shake us up – to rouse us from our sleep. It’s a slap in the face to awaken us from the ennui of convention, to remind us that whenever we draw a line, whenever we render judgement of the other, about who is in and who is out - Jesus is on the other side of the line.²
Perhaps, Jesus is more to be found on the other side of drawn lines! (Are we not disturbed?)
We want to believe that Jesus is on our side and that we’re on his. But Jesus has a problem with sides or at least with picking them, creating them and defending them. Maybe we should stop jockeying for position and practice some of Jesus’ imaginative sensibility – reconciliation, justice making, hospitality, non-judgment and compassion.
Have salt in yourself and be at peace with one another. (Mark 9:50b)
¹ The poetics of the ‘kingdom’ makes space - it creates a ‘gap’. Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly critiqued the concept of ‘the god of the gaps’ in which the name of god fills the gaps of our understanding, of our knowledge. Such a use of the name of god always brings closure to a conversation. The declaration that ‘god is…’ or ‘god does…’ ultimately results in a diminishment of the holy and a strengthening of the status quo.
To speak of a gap is not to speak of a space which god fills but rather that space which god opens - space which opens possibility; space where there are no guarantees but only the risk of a promise or the promise of a risk; space from which there may emerge an insistence (a nagging?), a call, an invitation, a beckoning for us to hear, to respond and, in hearing, for us to risk work, to be strong enough to ask, “Why not?” For example, is it not possible that awareness of the plight of refugees or First Nations is an opening of a ‘gap’, space for a risky promise which may be fulfilled (or maybe not)? Of course, honestly demands the admission, that the opening of a gap requires sensitivity to the ebb and flow of the wind (ruach); however, we so wish to fill the gap, declaring that such work is god’s work, that we end up destroying the village to save it.
² A statement attributed to Duane Priebe, Professor Emeritus at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.