The team just got bigger- if they want in, they’re in…

In chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel, we get some of the most misquoted words of Jesus that we’ll find anywhere… the whole ‘if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out’ bit has been used and abused by all sorts of people, particularly grisly monsters in the horror genre (of these, Judge Dredd’s encounter with the Sisters of Death in the 2000AD saga Dead Man/Necropolis has to rank highest for me, but then I’m British and was growing up in the 1980’s, and that has nothing to do with today, so I’m not going to post a link here to the wikipedia article on them).

Alongside this passage, we had the final part of James’ letter to consider in our morning worship… James is a blunt, challenging piece of writing, so what would he have to say about prayer?

Anyway, if you read these two passages, Mark 9.38-50 and James 5.13-20 you’ll probably have many questions that aren’t addressed in the text below, but here goes:

In this passage from Mark’s Gospel Jesus is giving some clear commands to his disciples, in response to John’s genuine question about someone outside their group who seems to be using Jesus’ authority… He’s not one of us, should that be allowed?

Do not stop him- be united with those outside your immediate group

Do not tell him what to do- be supportive of those who do things differently

Jesus then goes on to warn the disciples about the risks they face- this is spiritual warfare and there will be casualties… in your teaching of little ones- whether young in age or faith… be careful to teach them all they need and not shirk from the task… in your personal holiness- don’t lie to yourself, don’t let your left hand undo all the good that your right hand does… most of us would agree that Jesus is, in this point, speaking figuratively rather than literally… but we actually find it hard enough to even listen at that level- what behaviour do we willingly change because we know it damages our relationship with God? Answer- not much

And then this section closes with a reminder of where this started- Be at peace with one another- harking back both to the question that started this off, and also the preceding passage where the disciples argue about who is the greatest…

But why? What is the point of all these things?

James (who may have been one of the 12 and if so was the one who had serious issues with jockeying for position) reminds us in the closing verse of his letter- whoever turns a sinner back to God saves him from death… We need to be getting our priorities straight…

We’re not in disagreement for the sake of arguing- church isn’t a debating society

We’re not in unity for the sake of a quiet life- church isn’t about uniformity or ticking the boxes

We’re in the business of making a difference- miracles, healings, transformed lives all those happen, not every day but prayers in faith have power… relationships amongst us and with others… prayer for others, with others…

The purpose of the church is to make known in the world the glory and power of God, that the world might hear, understand and be saved…

We can be in unity doing that; we can be in disagreement about how to do that; but we are to do that… if we, in this village, want to make God’s love known to the members of the community, we need to accept that we will disagree, but to know that whoever is not against us is for us- the Methodist church is for us, the Gospel Hall is for us, residents in the village who worship in Umberleigh, Barnstaple, Torrington or wherever else… if they are part of God’s church, then they are for us. And our disagreements come secondary to our unity.

So how to be in unity- Prayer is the first and greatest way. If I ask you to pray for me, then I trust you. If you ask me to pray for you, likewise. If we pray together for our neighbours and the village, then we trust each other… and so on. The first and greatest thing we can do, is to pray together for our community. The second Saturday of each month we gather to pray here at 9.30. If that’s no use to you, the church is open every day, all day- gather at a time that suits you. If you’d rather pray elsewhere, do so, if you like to pray during the week in the context of worship, come to the joint prayer and communion service each Thursday morning… there is no right time of the day, no special location… just pray. When we pray for things that we’re excited about, when we pray for things we’re not so sure about, that intentional bringing a situation and the people before God… it brings us closer together.

Secondly- to remember our calling. We exist for the sake of the world. Not for the sake of the church. This building was not built for us to rest in, but for the world to be rescued by- over the years many churches have become more like clubs, museums and ? but we should rather think of ourselves as lifeboat stations, fuelling stops and hospitals…

Hospitals- to care for the vulnerable, those who need healing…

Fuelling stations- to prepare for the journey, a top up or a refill…

Lifeboat stations- if we had to pick just one… the purpose of the church is to rescue those who are in peril… everything else flows from that, everything serves that purpose… our discussions about worship styles, preferred seating options- the disciples talking about who was the greatest or whether anyone else could heal in Jesus’ name… we have to keep our priorities as our priorities.

The whole lifeboats thing has been significant for me over the last few years- since spending some time with the folks at St Andrew’s church in Chorleywood I’ve found it a recurring and powerful image. If your situation is far from the sea, then it may not resonate with you, but I wonder what would?

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