At our 10am service on 26th September, we welcomed back Rev’d Mike Stewart, who had been a member of St Paul’s before his ordination. Below is the sermon he shared with us:
Mark 9:38-end (NLT)
38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”
39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.
42 “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’
49 “For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”
Sermon by the Rev’d Mike Stewart
+ May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Who here has ever followed a team?? It could be football team, rugby team, cricket team or even one of the two sides in the boat race. You know that the team you have chosen to follow is the best because… they just are.
Or have you been in a club that has a little bit of needle with a similar group, scouts/guides and the boys/girls brigade, rotary club and the lions club or the ladies fellowship and the mothers union..? Nothing nasty and you respect what the other does, you know they do good stuff, but your group is better.
Or my favourite example of all from the Monty Python film the Life of Brian – The People Front of Judea. Not to be confused with The Judean People’s Front or The Judean Popular Peoples Front. A fractured group of people who all want the same thing but cant get along together because of small personal differences. So end up squabbling with one another rather than getting anything done to further their cause to rid their home land of the Romans. (I was going to ask if I could show a clip of this until I realised just how sweary it is and thought better of it, as this is my my first sermon back here in many years.)
But the point to all this is tribalism. In our bible reading this morning we hear how the disciples encounter someone who is casting out demons in the name of Jesus. The casting out of demons is a pretty common thing in the bible and is mentioned 7 times throughout the gospels and 4 times in Mark alone, so its not that that the disciple take umbridge to. It’s that the man is doing it in Jesus name and is not a follower of Jesus. He’s not in their little group. Jesus sets them straight, ‘whoever is not against us is for us’.
This applies to us as much today as it did then. We are all called to work for the Kingdom of God but we can often think that our little group is the team that are the only ones who can to do the work. Jesus shows us that this really isn’t the case. We should be open to working with people from different cultures, faiths, denomination and those who have express no faith at all. As long as we are working to the same end and for the same or similar reasons and outcomes.
Not to do this is to fall on the stumbling blocks that Jesus talks about. Its like scoring an own goal or trying to win a game by removing all defence and only attacking when the ball is lost the opposition can easily score again and again.
When I started going through the discernment process to become a vicar, it became clear pretty quickly that I looked very different to the type of person that usually turns up. This was even commented upon by Richard Cooke the DDO (Diocesan Discernment Officer), who said, its great having you Mike, we don’t get many people coming forward from your neck of the woods or with your background. I used to joke I was only getting through because I ticked lots of diversity boxes.
This was even more apparent when I turned up at college, I didn’t bow and scrape to the Bishop who was principal of the college, I liked a drink and my focus was to try and learn to be the best priest I could be rather than getting top marks in essays.
Some members of staff and fellow students found my approach troubling, puzzling and some didn’t think I should be there at all. Yet others saw me for who I was and for who God had called me to be. My biggest accolade was being told on numerous occasion by peers and others that if they could they’d have loved to me as their vicar, cause I just saw things differently.
But this speaks to the heart of the matter, I didn’t fit the mould people expected so I was not right for it or should maybe be doing lay or charity work. But others who were open to things being different to their lived experience or seeing that although there was difference the end goal was the same. To further the Kingdom of God.
This applies more now than ever within our churches, covid had allowed people to evaluate what they do within groups and organisations, they may feel a change is needed, they are to old to continue with a particular job or role that they may have done for years. Others may now feel the time is right to take up a role or further levels of responsibility, but with congregations lessened by the corona virus pandemic we now more than ever need to be looking for others for partnership in our endeavours.
This could be across our deanery, through churches together partnerships, interfaith groups and even working with secular groups, but it can also work on a smaller scale by inviting individuals into our bubble. Obviously all of this needs to be done with the correct safeguards and procedures, but If we looked to the example Jesus set us, it was often the gentile, marginalised or oppressed that spread his message further whilst his faithful friends were confused, argued about trivial point and often missed the point all together even when seeing something first hand.
I believe that as Christians we are all called in many different ways to work towards the mission of God and to help further God’s Kingdom here on earth. We are to help make disciples and to spread God’s message. But we are not called to do this in isolation. I truly believe that God calls all types of people – its not for us to say who is called and who isn’t. As Jesus said, if they are not against us they are for us.