Proper 21 · Mark 9:38-50 · September 27, 2009
By Kyle Castens
“Whose Side, Anyway?”
Charles simply figured there must be something wrong with his baseball glove. That was the fifth pop-fly in a row that fell straight out of the sky, right into the pocket of his mitt, and sprang out almost as high, landing on the green summer turf. It was a tough day to be an outfielder. Things started to look up, though, at the top of the next inning. Charles batted second and struck the ball with moderate force right between the shortstop and second baseman. It was only a single, but to Charles it gave the utmost sense of victory. He got a little lost in that sense of victory.
As he stood firmly planted on that white square bag, he began to daydream himself into the majors. He heard the announcer almost as clearly as reality, “That was some hit hammered into centerfield by Charles P. Smitzhoff. He’s new to the majors, but he is going to go far!” Unfortunately, getting lost in a daydream while on first base at the top of the 7th does not win many little league baseball games, especially when one gets so lost in their daydream that they fail to run to the next base when the ball is hit. Two runners standing on one base just does not work in the sport of baseball. Needless to say, it was an easy out.
Charles slowly made his way back to the dugout. His teammates greeted him with silence. Finally, William Ireland spoke up. William “Bud” Ireland always knew what to say, especially at difficult and awkward moments like this one. Bud turned slowly to Charles, and with gentleness and understanding said to Charles, “Charles, there is one thing that I do not understand.” Charles was not much in the mood for conversation, but wanted to be polite. “What is it, Bud?” “Charles, the one thing I have not been able to figure out is why it seems like you are trying so hard to get us to lose. I guess what I am trying to ask is… whose side are you on, anyway?”
“Whose side are you on, anyway?” This question seems to be one that is concerning John in today’s text. John recounts an occasion when the twelve witnessed a stranger to them casting out demons in Jesus’ name. What is so wrong about that? Well, who is this guy? He does not follow after “us,” so what business does he have casting out demons in the name by which we are supposed to cast out demons? John is quick to point out that since he does not “follow us,” and is at the same time casting out demons in the name of their Master, they forbade this action. Who does this guy think he is, anyway? Jesus is quick to offer an answer. “But Jesus said, ‘Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in my name can soon afterward speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is on our side (40-41).'” Well, John gets his answer. Jesus gives to the Twelve a straight answer concerning how to identify this “someone” as one who is on their side. This “someone” uses the name!
Whose side are you on? To be brutally honest, it may be hard to tell sometimes. Well, let us try. How do you use the name—this precious name that is above all names, at which every knee should bow? How does this name flow forth from your mouth? In prayer? In praise? In thanksgiving? Do you offer a servant of the Lord a “cup of cold water” in the name? When you are asked how you regularly hear the name of the Lord, do you answer, “In the casting out of Satan, when that name is applied to water?”
Or do you use the name when you really need to make people listen, and in your frustration the name comes out of your mouth to damn that which you would never seriously damn? Do you find a good use for the name in using it to add good emphasis to an otherwise dull expression? Maybe people will not listen to you if you do not call upon the name of the Lord to begin a sentence. I bet some of you have heard a hundred different variations of how God and his name can be used in a sentence—none of them good!
So, I will ask it again, “Whose side are you on, anyway?” Sometimes it is hard to tell. So, what is so wrong with using God’s name in this way? The answer: You are not using it for all that it is, and can do. You simply cast it out as meaningless rubbish. What does it look like to those “someones” around you who see a child of God treating his name in this fashion? What result does it have for them? They stumble! And Jesus has words for that too! “But whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea “(42). The misuse of the name has serious consequences! Causing one to stumble has serious consequences!
But, and this is a big one, oh the joy when that name is used, seen, and received rightly! For by this name demons are cast out! The one who bears this name, “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Here we have the name for its true purpose: the forgiveness of sins, your sins; life, your life; salvation, your salvation.
In today’s text the Greek word for “cause to sin” is skandalon, scandal. However, Jesus introduces into your life a new scandal. This scandal is the scandal of the cross. Christ crucified, the stumbling block to the Jews, is at the same time taking away from you the penalty for your scandals. For the moments in your life that you do not use this name for all that it is, for the times that you cause one to stumble by not showing whose side you really are on, Christ crucified and the scandal of the cross is taking away from you the punishment you have deserved.
So what does it look like to be on his side? What does it look like to use his name in the way that it should be used? You know! You tell me! For you are the one who not only has the privilege of using the name of the Lord for all that is good, but you bear his name as one who belongs to him. You have had that name placed on you when sin, death, and the devil were cast out of you by the same name at your baptism. This name is the name that you wake up to every morning of your life—you woke up to this name this morning! So rejoice in this name above all names that rests on you, and marks you as one saved from that place “where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
Support and encourage others who are also on the same side and who bear the name of Jesus, using it in prayer, praise, thanksgiving, proclamation, consolation, and all that we have been given to do under this name. Give that cup of cold water. Finally, as Jesus ends this discourse, “have salt in yourselves.” Those who bear and use this name bring to the world the flavor of the Holy Gospel. Think of it, you are the ones who salt the earth with the good news God offers. Whose side are you on anyway? You know! Now show your neighbor!