This last week, Pope Francis came to visit. He was warmly received in the White House. Upon invitation, he spoke to a joint session of Congress. Voiced concerns about the environment. Voiced concern for reverence for life at all of its stages. Gave everyone plenty to think about.
I find it interesting and entertaining that he chose not to be driven around in the customary VIP limousine, and instead to be driven around in a Fiat. Also, interesting and entertaining that declined an invitation to a congressional luncheon, and instead dined with the homeless people in Washington D.C. I wonder what would have happened if the joint session of congress had said “Hey, can we come eat with the homeless people too?” What would have happened if President Obama and the justices of the Supreme Court had said, “Yea, can we come too?” Interesting and entertaining. Something for everyone to think about.
Our own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, respectfully disagrees with the Roman Catholic Church on various issues. For example, the Roman Catholic church frowns on the use of contraceptives. The ELCA sees contraceptives as an important tool to help people plan carefully for their children. Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women as priests. ELCA ordains women to be pastors and says everybody is a priest. The Roman Catholic Church understands Mary the mother of Jesus to be special, different from other people. “Immaculately conceived” is the phrase they use. It means that they think Mary was born without sin, that she is not in bondage like the rest of us, to dishonoring God and the presence of God in ourselves, each other, and creation. Lutheran church says Mary was a great leader of the faith, we all should follow her example of courage and hope, her passion for justice and devotion to God. But we also say Mary was a human, a sinner like the rest of us. Saint and sinner at the same time. Like everyone else, she needs Jesus.
So our church and his church disagree.
However, I will say that Pope Francis is doing a pretty good job of casting out demons.
By demons, I do not just mean those scary spiritual presences that pop up every once in a while and freak everybody out. I also mean demons like addiction, and the even worse demon that comes with addiction, the one which hangs upside down outside your ear when you are addicted and whispers night and day, nonstop that you are garbage because you are addicted. Not that you are in bondage and need God’s help and people’s help. No. that you are garbage. That’s a lie.
We grapple with all kinds of demons. Teachers grapple with the demon of ignorance. That is a demon. Also with the even more vicious demon, hanging upside down outside a child’s ear, you can see them through the corner of your eye every once in a while. It whispers that you’re too stupid to learn, you’re incapable of learning, there’s nothing worth learning anyway.” Grapple with those demons.
Demons at work that whisper that money is more important than a job done well for sake of doing the job well, that status and appearance is more important than integrity. Vicious demons.
Demon of poverty. Demon of despair and self-loathing and rage that go with poverty.
Pope is helping cast out those kinds of demons too.
In the Gospel lesson for today, John says to Jesus, “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, but we prevented them because they were not following us, not part of our group.”
This is ironic because not long before this, in the same chapter of the gospel of Mark, the disciples were un-able to cast out a demon.
There’s a crowd around, everybody is arguing. Jesus comes up asks what’s going on. His disciples tell him that they could not cast the demon out of this young boy. Jesus gets really frustrated, talks with the boy’s dad. Boy’s dad says that the demon has thrown his boy into the fire, thrown his boy into the water trying to kill him. Jesus asks, “How long has this been going on?” Boy’s dad says “since he was little. But if you can, would you cast the demon out of him?” Jesus says, “If I can!? All things are possible for those who believe.” Dad says this wonderful thing. He says “I believe, help my unbelief.” Can you hear the humility in that, the humanness, aware of vulnerability and powerlessness, but still this hope. “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Jesus casts the demon out of the boy, gives him back to his dad.
John in the Gospel lesson for today, not much humility there. Again, in this same chapter of Mark, John has been arguing with his fellow disciples about who’s the greatest. Who is going to be the most important when Jesus drives off all the demons. This, right after Jesus tells them the source of his power over demons, the core of his identity as the Messiah. For the second time in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says , “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be killed, and on the third day rise.” This is the root of Jesus’ power, of our power as Jesus’s disciples. The cross.
So when we confront addiction and the sacrifice of confronting addiction feels like dying, because addiction is so huge, we know Jesus is there. Jesus will carry us through
When we confront ignorance, the sacrifice of confronting ignorance feels like dying because ignorance can be so huge. We know that Jesus is there and Jesus will carry us through.
When we deal with poverty and issues of integrity, we are willing to sacrifice because Jesus will carry us through.
John does not get it. He sees someone else casting out demons, he wants to protect his turf. He wants to protect his status as one of God’s emissaries to the world, his role as one who casts out demons. He is still concerned about who is the greatest.
And isn’t it true, that we are most unkind to each other when we fear that our status is in jeopardy? When we’re worried about how important we are, or, more accurately, how unimportant we might be? How unimportant we might become? That’s when we lash out , I think.
Jesus says when we help others in their work of casting out demons, it really matters. When we help the people at St. Matthew’s Area Ministries, like we brought food after Vacation Bible School, and commit money as part of our church budget, or some of us volunteer down there, it matters.
When we give to the ELCA world hunger appeal, or to disaster response to the refugee crisis in Europe or the wildfires in the Northwest it matters. Last Spring our First Communion class put quarters in a little tin for disaster response to the earthquake in Nepal. Amounted to about six bucks. Got a letter from Lutheran disaster response, thank you for the six dollars.
Even a cup of cool water o one of these folks who are casting out demons, matters, says Jesus.
Jesus also tells us to not get in the way. Don’t block people from casting out demons. Don’t be a stumbling block.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t challenge. Challenging is okay. “Pastor Andy, I think there’s a better way for us to do that youth event.” “Okay, what’s your idea?” That’s fine. “Pastor Andy, I disagree with what you said the other day.” “Really, what are your reasons for disagreeing?” Challenge is fine.
“Pastor Andy, you’re not even a Christian.” See the difference.
“Joe, I need that report from the committee meeting, can you please get it to me by Tuesday.” That’s a challenge.
“Joe is never going to complete any report, he can’t.” That’s getting in the way.
Jesus says this is important. He uses a kind of speech called hyperbole, hyperbole, where you make a point by overstating your point, “If your hand causes yo to sin, cut it off, if you r eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” I really doubt that Jesus is commanding us to cut ourselves into little bits. He is, however, saying that we are to regard the practice of honoring the presence of God in each other with the same intensity and alarm as we would regard the possibility of losing a hand, or an eye.
Don’t get in the way.
Jesus says “Have salt in yourselves, be salty. Be distinctive, bring flavor to theworld around you. Keep the world from going rotten. That’s what salt did in Jesus’ day. It kept food from going rotten. Keep the world from going rotten. Be salty, and be at peace with one another.
I would not mind challenging Pope Francis about contraception. I would ask him to move the Roman Catholic Church toward greater acceptance of contraception because it helps people care for the children they do have, and helps them break the cycle of poverty. I would be fine if Pope Frances might challenge me. “Pr. Andy, I wonder if you might do well to pray more. What are you doing to address poverty in your neighborhood and city?” These are issues very important in the Catholic church. Fine challenges.
I any case, I am so glad about some of the things Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic church are doing. Cause they’re casing out some demons.
I am also so glad about some of the things that you are doing. Because I believe that you are casting out demons too.