Thomas J Parlette
“One of Us”
Mark 9: 38-41
There is a time-honored story about a Catholic Church that was hosting a community Thanksgiving service. This was to be a first for the church and for the community. Naturally everyone was quite excited. With great dignity the priest led his three Protestant colleagues toward the chancel area when he suddenly realized that he had forgotten to put out chairs for his guests to sit in during the service. The priest urgently whispered in the ear of one of elderly ushers, “Please get some chairs for the guest pastors.”
But the usher had trouble with his hearing, and he asked the priest to “say that again”. So the priest did so, a louder and more distinct – “Please get up and get three chairs for the Protestants.”
The usher had a puzzled look on his face, but he rose to his feet and announced to the congregation – “Please rise and give three cheers for the Protestants!”(1)
It’s no secret that Catholic and Protestant Churches don’t always see eye-to-eye. It’s gotten better in most areas of the country in the last couple of decades, but there is still a lingering wariness between the two groups.
There is a story told about Father Vincent Heier, a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, who invited the Lutherans of his area to hold a meeting in the St. Louis Cathedral. He welcomed the Lutherans by saying, “We are pleased to provide the Cathedral to our Christian Brothers and Sisters – but please don’t nail anything to the doors.”(2)
It’s good that we can laugh at ourselves a little instead of focusing on what divides us. Instead of being consumed by the bitterness of the Reformation, we should be focusing on how Christians of all denominations can address the injustice and oppression in our world.
Our scripture passage for today focuses on a shocking incident in the Gospel story. Right on the heels of the disciples argument about who was the greatest among them, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t following us.” Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “because he wasn’t in our group.” He wasn’t one of us, Lord, so we stopped him.
The disciple John, one of the four original followers that Jesus called, seemed rather proud of himself for this. It seems like John was trying to safeguard Jesus’ Brand, as we might say today. Sure, this unnamed man or woman – the text doesn’t specify, it just says “someone”- was casting out demons, a good thing by any measure. But this someone had no right to use Jesus’ name – he wasn’t in the club, that should be for us to do, not just anybody. Or so thought John.
But Jesus has other ideas. I like the way The Message tells this story. At this point The Message says, “Jesus was not pleased.” Now the biblical text doesn’t really assign an emotion to Jesus’ response, it just reads, “Jesus said” – but I think Peterson is right, Jesus could not have been pleased. The Message goes on to say, “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If they are not an enemy, they are an ally.” Whoever is not against us is for us. If they aren’t an enemy, they’re an ally. So in other words, Jesus is saying that if someone is doing something good and kind – then they are one of us, even if they haven’t been following us.
Like many people, even today, the disciples had a narrow definition of who were followers of Jesus – who was in and who was out, who was one of us and who was not. Jesus was trying to expand their horizons when he said, “For truly I tell you whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
Or, as The Message puts it, “Anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.”
Jesus’ words here indicate that an act of kindness is more important than doctrinal purity. What denomination someone is a part of, whatever culture or nationality they are – if they are engaged in an act of kindness, then Christ is there. They are one of us.
It seems like a simple thing like kindness is increasingly rare in our modern world. So I have some homework for you today. If you feel the need for something kind, visit the website www.actsofkindness.org. There you will find true stories of people performing random acts of kindness.
For example, one of the stories is called Houston’s story. Houston tells about being on a plane sitting next to a woman who was, in Houston’s words, “relentlessly energetic and fidgety.” Houston was tired and wanted to take a nap. But before he could manage to drift off to sleep, the woman tapped him on the shoulder to introduce herself.
“Hi, my name is Helga!”
They got to talking and eventually it came up that Houston had started an organization in high school called R.A.K.E. – random acts of kindness, etc. As Houston described what his organization did, Helga got very serious and told him that she thought there was nothing more important in the world than kindness.
Houston was curious why she was passionate about the subject, and as the plane took off, Helga dove into a story about the last time she had flown; it was three years ago and she was en route to Arizona because she had gotten unexpected news that her Dad’s health was on the decline. Just as the plane was about to depart to Phoenix, her father’s doctor called to tell her that her Dad had rather suddenly passed away. For the 3 hour plane ride, she sat in stunned silence surrounded by strangers.
When she arrived at the airport in Arizona, she walked to the nearest wall, sat down and cried. And here is the part of the story Houston says he will never forget. For 2 hours Helga sat and wept while hundreds of people walked to and fro through the airport. Helga looked at him and said, “Houston, not a single person stopped to ask if I was OK that day. Not one person. It was that day that I realized how much we need each other. It was that day I realized that kindness isn’t normal.”(3)
Helga is right. Kindness is not normal. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that kindness is not automatic. Kindness is not a given. Kindness is something you have to practice. Kindness takes a sense of awareness – an awareness of those around you. Kindness is a choice.
Jesus encourages his disciples – and that includes us- to practice kindness, to be aware and responsive to others, to make the choice to be kind as often as we can.
Mark Twain once said that “Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”(5) That is the only language that Christians should speak.
Kent Millard, a fellow pastor, has written his own paraphrase of Paul’s beautiful words about love in 1 Corinthians 13 with the idea of kindness in mind. It goes like this:
“I may have a brilliant mind, a wonderful personality, and a healthy body; but if I am not kind to those around me, it does me no good.
I may have a good income, a beautiful home, and an expensive car, but if I am not kind and generous in sharing them, I don’t make a difference in the world.
I may have great success in my business or profession; I may have power and influence over many people; but if I don’t treat people with kindness, I am a failure.
Kindness is love in action. Kindness is the pebble in the pond, whose ripples can change the world.
Having the faith to move mountains is great; having hope in bleak circumstances is wonderful, but deeds of loving kindness transform lives and last forever.
I may have many wonderful qualities in my life, but without kindness they are not enough.”(5)
John and the rest of the disciples needed a reminder about that. So do we. We are called to speak the language of kindness – in Jesus name. Anyone involved in an act of kindness, an attempt to bring about justice, an intervention to end suffering and oppression – is one of us.
May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXIV, No. 2, pg81.
2. Ibid… pg82.
3. Ibid… pg84.
4. Ibid… pg85.
5. Ibid… pg85.