About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

2015-09-27 Mk 09 38-50 None of the Above, Or One of the Below

"None of the Above, Or One of the Below"
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 afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. 

I want to start today with a few questions for you. I don't want to embarrass anyone, or put you on the spot, so when I ask the questions, I'm going to ask you all to answer at the same time. The cacophony of your voices will anonymize your response.

Which of the following do you most identify with? Please answer with the letter of your response.

(a) Morning person, or (b) night person?
(a) Left-handed, (b) right-handed, or (c) ambidextrous?
(a) Dog person, (b) cat person, or (c) snake handler?
(a) Ford, (b) Toyota, or (c) Volkswagen? (If you said Volkswagen, we'll need to check your emissions.)
(a) Very hip, (b) artificial hip, or (c) hip-free?
(a) Hillary, (b) Donald, or (c) Learning the Canadian National Anthem?

And yet, despite our differences, we can all worship the same God in the same place. How is that?

Well, you could say, it's because of what we DO have. Because of what we have in common, what we value in common. We're all Presbyterian. Or, Presbyterian-ish. Presbyterian enough to put up with Prayers of Confession and Creeds and Committees.

Or you could say it's because of what we DON'T have. We don't have a rock band. We don't have a pastor in skinny jeans who yells a lot. We don't have smoke machines. 

Sometimes I think churches come together because of what they agree on. But they stay together because of what they're willing to put up with. Kind of like marriage. 

It's probably some of both. You agree on enough that you're willing to put up with a certain degree of weirdness, or rudeness, or cluelessness. And again, that sounds a lot like a family.

After a while you realize that even though a person doesn't look like you, or doesn't act like you, or maybe doesn't even like you, it's just not that big of a deal. Because you're faithful enough, or optimistic enough to believe that not only can you GET along, you can even GO along, together, on this twisting journey somebody decided to call "church."

So whether we answer the questions with one of the above: A, B, or C – or whether we say, "None of the above," we can at least carry on (and some of us do carry on – that's why we put them in the Choir Loft)…

No matter our ABC's or our "None of the aboves" we believe one Big Thing: That we are all under the One who IS above. And that's enough.
The One Who Is Above is All of the Above. (a) the One we call God, AND (b) the One we understand in Jesus Christ, AND (c) the One we know without words as the Holy Spirit. Chances are, you identify with one of the above more than the other. Fine. We're different that way. Any of the above is a right answer.

But here's something else. We answer to the Above, but we are NOT one of the above. That unites us, too. I think what really, truly, unites a church, what unites us, what makes Lake Hills what it is, what makes ANY church what it is, is what we are not. 

Whatever else we are – right now – we are Not God. We are definitely not God above. Nor are we the Son. Nor are we the Holy Spirit. Our inspiration, our illumination, our revelation, our salvation comes from outside us. Above us. So whatever else we are – right now – we believe, we know, we confess, we are None of the Above. We are – each of us – One of the Below. 

If I could get a ticket, I would be one of the millions going to see Pope Francis this weekend. His Holiness, @Pontifex on Twitter, totally rocks. I say that with deepest respect that I think he'd appreciate, but also deflect with humor. But it's not his ability to fill sports stadiums that impresses me. What impresses me about the Pope is his constant reminding that Jesus is found not in the heavens above, but rather in those below. In the poor. In the homeless. In the children he pulls into his lap and plays with.

No matter how high up we might want to set ourselves, the truth is and will remain, we are None of the Above. We are – each of us – One of the Below. That's the great, good news of the gospel.

The highest good news is this: No matter how much we don't know about the One Who Is Above - and that's a lot – No matter how much we don't know about The Above, we know just enough about Jesus. And Jesus became one of us below, to show us how to follow him and do some good works in his name, together.

And, that, that's enough.


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 afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. 

This world is so divided. So many either-or divisions. Either you're this or you're that. Either you're Republican or you're Democrat. Either you're Christian or you're doomed. Either you're Muslim or you're an infidel. Either you're for marriage equality or you're against it. Either you're right or you're wrong, you're good or you're bad, you're in or you're out in the cold. 
The disciples saw someone who was NOT one of them. Who was None of the Above. Definitely not on the A-list. Someone who was certainly B or C or maybe even an F. 

But you know what? That person who sang from the wrong hymnbook, that person who read from the wrong version, that person who was way outside the insiders' circle – that person was doing good works in Jesus' name. 

And what if? What if they were doing good works in the Buddha's name, or Mohammed's name, or no one's name? If they were bringing good news to One of the Way Below, one of "the least of these," – a cup of cold water to someone thirsting, a bag of rice to someone starving, a hug and a kind word to someone mourning…

…even if they didn't say the name of Jesus, but they did the works of Jesus, even if they didn't know it, they were reflecting the goodness of the One Who Is Above. They were united in the love and mercy that mixes the A-lists with the B's, the C's and all the other 26 letters. 


Jesus said, "Whoever is not against us is for us."

Honestly, I don't think he meant, "Whoever is not Presbyterian" or not Baptist, or not Roman Catholic, or not even not None of the Above. I think he meant that whatever you are, if you don't stand in the way of kindness, if – God bless you – you get behind and share acts of compassion – you're not against him and, bless your heart, you're for him.

The kids we baptized today. Do you think 30 years from now they're going to remember? Well, they'll have YouTube to help them. But no. They won't remember. 

Do you think they understood any of the words spoken over them today? Of course not. They just knew some strange man in a black robe got their heads wet. Does their lack of understanding make their Baptisms mean any less? Of course not. 

If you don't understand why you're doing acts of Christ, or even understand that they are acts of Christ, does that make them any less acts of the One Above who became like Us Down Below? No. Christ still shines, even if we're not that bright. Even if we get the wrong answers, the Lord Our God is still One, the Christ who saves us is still resurrected, and the Holy Spirit is still whispering its song in your ears.