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“Welcome and the Way in the Name of Christ: What will it cost us?”

Pentecost 19, Common Lectionary Year B

Mark 9:38-50

©Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Audio file of scripture and sermon

Jesus has a small child on his knee.
Ain’t that sweet!
Yes, it could well be if it were Grandpa Rod with Sophie,
but it was more than that.
Jesus looked around for something, someone, to help him make a point;
his point – at this moment in his journey to Jerusalem,
after everything that has come before,
his feeding of multitudes,
his healing of sickness,
his casting out of demons – healing broken relationships, broken families,
his teaching of the “Way,” or the Dream of God,
was to try one more time to teach his disciples,
(that’s us),
that the welcome of God is radical,
it’s as large and diverse as creation itself.
When God created, it was to create a holy community
where the abundance of God is cherished and shared,
where the fullness of existence and blessing belongs to every creature.

So he sees a toddler…
who in his day had no rights, no intrinsic value,….
actually that’s not going to work,
we see children differently,
so let me try to put this into our contemporary context.

Imagine that instead of a child,
Jesus went and stood next to a Rohingya Muslim refugee,
or a homeless person,
or a drug addict, high on methamphetamines,
a rape victim,
a survivor of residential school system, of clerical abuse,
or, God help me,
or the politician you most hate in all the world (this line is for me).

Jesus stands next to this one, and says,
“ If you want to know what it means,
and what it costs to be ‘great’
at living this Vision Dream of God, this Way of Christ;
you get to welcome this one, and you get to do so in my name.”

Now, I know what face I pulled when I wrote that down.
I know how much I squirmed.
That is not easy!

I wonder if Jesus saw similar incredulity, similar reticence,
similar dismissal, on the face of John, his interrupter,
or those other disciples who know
they’ve put up barriers to inclusion – that healer with the wrong T-shirt,
that foreign woman with the sick daughter….

I wonder too, if he was at the end of his rope,
his patience…
Maybe that’s how we can soften,
contain, disregard what he says next:

“If you put so much as a pebble in the way of this person’s right to
be loved fully by God, so help us….!”
Then we have millstones around the neck,
the amputation of body parts,
and the threat of hellfire, maggots and brimstone.

Surely this is calculated, hyperbolic rhetoric,
a shock doctrine from God’s Teacher.
What do we do with this anger?

Maybe Jesus never said it;
it’s Mark getting worked up
as he lives through his own age of political turmoil?
Maybe we could spiritualize or allegorize this?
Anything to avoid this Jesus-force,
of righteous wrath.

Or, maybe we could try first,
to imagine what might trigger a similar fury in us?
Would we say such things, if the circumstances were right?
Oh yes,
I know I’ve said
said “Better a millstone around my neck
than have any child under my pastoral responsibility
harmed in any way!”
a righteous gut reaction to church-based abuse.

In our Midrashing study groups this week,
a number of us shared stories of similar anger
at the sight of children forcibly removed from their parents
and incarcerated.
Some of us remember like yesterday,
our outrage and despair at the images coming out of Rwanda, and Sudan.

And then there’s been this week.
The US Senate Judiciary Committee hearings
may have nothing
to do with us politically here in Canada,
but tell that to any and every woman who has experienced assault,
whose deep wounds have been opened up,
not only by Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony,
but also by the systemic misogynist reactions to it.

“Better a millstone around my neck” than
let any of you who have been triggered by these events
go unheard, or unbelieved.
I would pluck out an eye than not see your pain.

There is, it seems, in this realm of God’s
a place for righteous anger.

But what is that?
Righteous anger?
It’s not the anger that wells up in frustration
because we have been offended,
or because a car cuts us off in traffic,
or because that blessed child
has not emptied the garbage, again.

Righteous anger, we see in this Jesus,
is the anger at the violation of another person’s
access to the fullness of God’s blessing and love.

Righteous anger asks
“why would you prevent this creature of God from ….
having a life, a future, hope,
having food, healthcare, freedom to speak the language of her ancestors,
from the possibility of ageing with dignity, from the ability to provide
shelter for his family in his own land?”

Righteous anger, according to these two sages of our time,
happens among the compassionate, the people of God,
when we see someone or some people, or some creature,
“being harmed… and whom [we] want to help.”
It is a tool of justice,
a scythe of compassion.”
“It is a chosen response.
It is about our collective responsibility”
and about
“deep empowering connection.”

This radical welcome we are called to offer in the name of Christ,
may cost us a lot,
it may cost us our peaceable satisfaction,
our equanimity and comfort,
when it provokes in us the passion
to live, to work, to advocate
for those of God’s creatures
in whose way stumbling blocks have been put
to prevent their full inclusion in the blessing of life.

It will cost us a sense that our faith is private,
when we are called by the conscience of righteousness
to speak up for the silenced,
to believe the abused,
to protect the defenseless,
to ride for refuge for 68.5 million people,
to exercise our hard-won democratic responsibility to vote
to advocate for justice wherever we feel the compulsion
of Christ’s passion.

For surely, it is better that we lose a limb or two
than have our fellow creatures
harmed, and cut off from the wellbeing that is God’s to give through us,
not ours to take.

May it be so, as we discern God’s Vision for us,
singly and together.

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