Restless (Mark 9.38-50) September 27, 2009
Once upon a time there was a stonecutter who was unhappy with his fate. One day he was passing by the home of a wealthy merchant and, seeing how he lived, wished he could be that merchant and to his great surprise he immediately became the wealthy merchant. He experienced luxuries and power that he had never known before but one day a high official came by being carried in a sedan chair by slaves and escorted by soldiers. Everyone, no matter how rich had to bow down to him. How powerful that high official is! I wish I could be him, he thought. And instantly he became the high official carried everywhere in his official sedan chair by his own personal slaves feared and hated by all who had to bow down to him but it was a hot summer day and he became very warm sitting in his chair in the bright sun and he began to think about the power of the sun to make him miserable and so of course he wished he could be the sun and the next thing you know he was the sun shining fiercely down on the whole world scorching fields and cursed by the farmers until a large storm cloud came between him and the earth and blotted out his light so that he could no longer shine down. He wished he could be a dark cloud and block out the light too. Then he became the storm cloud flooding the fields and forcing people to run in terror from his approach but soon he felt he was being pushed away by some greater force and he realized that it was the wind. I wish I could be the wind he thought and he became the wind blowing roofs off of houses, uprooting trees, terrifying all in his path. But after a while he ran into a force he could not move or blow away, a huge towering stone. How powerful that stone is! I wish I could be that stone! Then he became the stone more powerful than anything else on earth, unmoved by the elements, unchanged by history . . . . until one day when he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into solid rock and he felt himself being changed. He thought to himself, what could be more powerful than I, this great stone? He looked down and far below was the figure of a stonecutter. Oh my. What effort we spend finding ourselves, finding our peace. (story borrowed from The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff, Penguin Press)
Restless. We are restless. We are not at peace with out world and we are not at peace with ourselves. It is the human condition to be restless until we rest in God. We are restless because we are insecure. We don't know who we are or where we are going. We are lost and afraid. Oh, we are not always conscious of our restlessness. Indeed we are more often unconscious. That is another way to cope with being a human being in the world. A few years ago there was a headline in a local paper in somewhere that said something like this: CAR CRASH ON ROUTE 9; WOMAN SUFFERS CONSCIOUSNESS!
When the disciples, namely John (as reported by Mark) said to Jesus that someone was doing good works in Jesus name without the proper creds and so they tried to stop him thinking that this would be what Jesus would want but Jesus to, I expect, their great surprise said No, don't stop him. No one who does good in my name will be able to speak evil of me. It strikes me as extremely interesting that the word able is used in this context because it is implied is it not that one cannot do good without somehow being good. There is a connection between the act and the actor so to speak.
But then Jesus says the word of the day: Who ever is not against us is for us. I want us to hear that in relationship to these words: Whoever is not for us is against us. Whoever is not for us is against us sounds a lot more familiar to our ears I think than Jesus' crazy notion that whoever is not against us is for us. Talk about looking on the sunny side! It sounds as if Jesus were expecting the best of people even those as yet unfamiliar. Is he naive or does he have some understanding that has so far escaped us?
I believe this is the expectation of someone free of fear and truly secure and at peace, someone, in short who is at rest in God and that is probably why it sounds so radical to us who are not. What could this mean in the real world? It would wreak havoc with all we have come to believe about how to keep ourselves safe and secure from harm. If we read our history it seems that the more common response to threat is to strike out and harm those who might harm us so that they will be afraid to harm us after all, but Jesus has another way. He knows that causing harm only causes more harm and that fear only makes more fear. There is no end to the cycle of harm. We are not secured by fear, not really, not ever. Only love can make peace because peace is essentially the presence of love. That is why it is so important for us who want to follow Jesus and be his Church to practice doing no harm.
Jesus offers this beautiful example. Why harm one who is doing good just because he is not one of us? Why would we do that? I suppose the disciples who were just arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, felt threatened that there might be somebody else doing greater things than they. This emotion does seem to miss the point that doing good is always good no matter who is doing it. Perhaps their security was threatened. After all, if anyone could do it perhaps they were no longer needed to do it, forgetting perhaps for the moment the larger truth that doing good is always in short supply, is always needed. I believe their response was based in fear and insecurity. They did not yet know the peace of God that holds us all, the familiar and the stranger.
The practice of doing no harm should not be considered an easy thing to do. It almost sounds as if it merely the act of not doing something but it requires us to take action to stop ourselves and our natural response to strike out at what we fear and consider what is happening to us and to understand better what and who we fear, discovering often as not that those we fear, also fear us. It is not just an act of restraining ourselves from doing what is wrong but of practicing the wise action of doing what is right.
There is not much distance from fear to hatred. The first of the three simple rules requires serious courage because we are asked to lower our defenses and put down our arms and wait for God to help us find our way and find each other. It is a stepping out in faith, faith that love does overcomes hate. It is a terrible thing to be hated but even more terrible is to be the one who hates. ( I am not suggesting that the hatreds of the world will soon be overcome by those who lay down their arms and resolve to do no harm, but it is clear that the hatreds of the world will not be overcome by turning away and doing nothing. Somebody must step up and actually do the love that will heal us.)
Bishop Job in his little book The Three Simple Rules speak to this word today when he writes. This act of disarming, laying aside our weapons and our desire to do harm, is revealing . . . We discover that we stand on common ground, inhabit a common and precious space . . . When I am determined not to harm you I lose my fear of you and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.
Learning to yield, to not insist on our way, to recognize in the stranger our brother or sister does not come easily. It is a discipline that requires practice. It is one of those things that we have to do before we know what we are doing. We may be wrong many times before we get it right. There are good reasons to fear in our world. There is danger yet danger is better met with love and humility than with violence, for only love has any chance of actually disarming the enemy. (I am not making this up. Jesus said love your enemy. What do you suppose he meant? It had nothing to do with what we feel but how we act, how we respond to any threat. Clearly the act of kindness and mercy in the face of threat makes us vulnerable but it is also disarming. It breaks the natural cycle of fear - attack and revenge.) Is it a coincidence that the simplest act of kindness (a cup of water to drink) is what Jesus uses to illustrate what will bring us all together?
At the very least through the eyes of Jesus we can look for what is good, what is best in the other, (Who is not against us is for us) WHO IS NOT AGAINST US IS FOR US! (This is the kind of information that can change the world. We can look for it. We might even find something. We can at least attempt to understand what has brought us to this place of fear. And what of those who really are against us? We can stop demonizing those who are different than us or who disagree with us and look unflinchingly into the eyes of a brother or a sister human being. It is not so hard to do once you do it.
This is the kind of work we will be doing as we build our community of faith practicing doing no harm, doing good and staying in love with God. What will our response be to the world, to each other, to our neighbors, to those who don't like us or disagree with us? Will we see things differently? Will we be changed? Can we find in our restlessness, some peace to make us whole, to give us the strength to love rather than fear? Can we find our security in God's unlimited love? To really love as if love was so much a part of who we are that we no longer have the option of not loving. Jesus taught this. Where there is love in us there is no more room for hate. It is impossible to love God and hate your brother or sister. John Wesley in one of his sermons confirms this great truth: It may easily be believed, he who had this love in his heart would work no evil to his neighbor. It was impossible for him, knowingly and designedly, to do harm to any one. He spake evil of no one nor did an unkind word ever come out of his lips.
It's a place to start. No unkind words whether in public or private about anyone. If we practice love it is love we will become. Love casts out fear, fills the soul and the community with peace and leaves no room for hatred. This love is something else, too. It is where we will find our rest in God.
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