Sunday 14th October 9am Worship
Sermon Series: The Journey
Title: Power Games
Bible Reading: Mark 9:30-41
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Last week we started a journey following Jesus and his disciples in Mark chapters 9 and 10. An aspect of this journey is physical. During these two chapters, Jesus and his disciples travelled from a mountain top in Galilee down south to Jerusalem. The journey took about a week and – as we noted last week – occurred the week just before Holy Week – of the week of Easter. But this journey was much more than a physical journey. Last week I put up this idea – a theory – that this journey was also a journey of revelation where the disciples discovered more about Jesus and faith and life. I suggested that along this journey the disciples had epiphany moments – moments when they go “ahhhh. Now I see what you mean”. It was this aspect of the journey which I felt would be relevant to us. That the same “a-ha” moments that the disciples had could also be “a-ha” moments for us. It was my hope that God might reveal new things to us as well on this journey.
Does that make sense? (I had to say it after my wife noted that I say it a lot in a sermon).
At the end of the sermon last week I prayed that as we follow Jesus on the journey that God might help us to see – to see Jesus around us, to see the power of God’s kingdom at work and to see new insights that come from God’s word. Ready to walk the next bit of the journey? Good. Because today I want to talk about POWER GAMES – or the way that people use – or misuse – the power that we have.
And to do this I am going to use three “word pairs” or “pairs of words” that jumped out when I was reading the passage – three “word pairs” about power that I personally found very confronting and challenging.
The first “word pair” is … IN and OUT
In the beginning of our reading we find Jesus and his disciples journey south has begun. Normally they would have loads of people following them (like the crowd at the bottom of the mountain that we heard about last week) – but not this time.
Mark 9:30-31a. “They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples.”
So – Jesus left the crowds on the outer because he was specifically teaching his inner group – the disciples – as they travelled. I have to say, when I was writing my sermon – I really struggled with the feelings that this word pair, that this idea was bringing up. On one hand – I totally get it. Of course, Jesus had an inner group. There are plenty of examples when Jesus would take the disciples aside and speak just to them or just spend time with them. Like in our bible reading when Jesus was talking about how he was going to die and after three days rise again. That was not the sort of thing you would share publicly but only with people you can trust – the people in your inner group. Of course it makes sense. But at the same time – I was finding myself growing more and more uncomfortable with this idea that if Jesus had a group of people who were “in” then that must mean there was other people who were not part of the inner group – and therefore “OUT”. And if you are a person who has ever experienced those feelings that come with being left out – for no other reason except that you are not part of the “in” group – then you would understand why I am feeling a little uncomfortable.
Let me be clear. I do not think that having a close group of people around you is wrong. It’s not. The very fact that Jesus had an inner group shows us it is a good and helpful thing. But today our theme is power games – and this passage is raising for me the fact that one of the subtle ways that people can use power is how they define or decide who belongs to a certain group or not. Who is “in” and who is “out”. This is something that we see across society. Kids see it in the playground. It is common place in work politics. But we wouldn’t see this sort of who’s in and who’s out power games in the church, would we? [YES and NO]
I think that we have our heart in the right place. We really do desire that all people are welcome, included and find a connection and a sense of belonging. But sometimes the perception or experience that people have of church groups or activities is not the same as what we would love for them to have. We might be striving to be a welcoming church or group and despite all that we do – some people can still have the perception; still feel that we are clicky or closed or not interested in anyone who is not part of the “in group”.
Kobie in our worship planning emails that were going around during the week said to me – “I can’t wait for to hear your wisdom on all this”. It made me think … what is my wisdom on all of it. Well, for what it is worth, here it is… I think that there is a place in the church for “in” groups – groups where people feel a deep sense of belonging and a close connection with the other people. In things like a home group or a bible study group – others in the group become friends that you lean on and people who we trust. Like Jesus and the 12 disciples – these groups are helpful and are something very precious. But my wisdom is that we need to be careful that a close group doesn’t become a closed group. I believe God constantly calls us to be welcoming, open and inclusive. But I will say again … this topic is very complex, and this part of the sermon was hard to write. So let’s move on to our second “word pair”
The second “word pair” is … ME and YOU
In the next part of our reading – Mark tells us that along the journey the disciples get into an argument about who is the greatest. Yes – straight after the transfiguration and the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ – they are arguing about which disciple is the greatest. Unbelievable. A later conversation in Mark 10 hints that this could be about personal reward or personal status. Who was going to be honoured the most in heaven? It seems a common human problem – ME and YOU. It is all about me – how does this affect me? What is in it for me? There has been done some interesting research on how news reporters talk about the Federal Budget. 30 years ago, they reported how the budget would benefit the country. This policy will help this group and people and this policy will help those. For the past 10 years, tag line on budget night is always “find out how the budget benefits you”. I don’t care about them – I am only interested in how it affects ME.
I play this game every year with the school kids that I teach religious education. The game is too complex to play right now – but the rules that I write up on the board at the beginning of the game are “GOAL: to get the most points possible”. Then it is a series of rounds where teams bring out either a red or yellow counter and depending on the colour they either win or lose points. You can – however – all win points if everyone brings out a red counter. I have played this game for over 15 years … and every time the classes lie and cheat to win more points for their team but you can only do that by taking points off the other teams. At the end … I add up all the points and just write one number on the board. The kids are confused. ‘Who won” they ask? I say, “the class got a score of minus 140” – yes but who won? The game is based on a classic phycological test where if you ask a person “GOAL: to get the most points possible” that people will always think individually first before thinking communally. They take it as “I need to win the most points” rather than “I have to help the class win the most points possible”
As I said, it is a natural human reaction to think about ourselves first before thinking of others – but that is not the way of Jesus. You want to be great? They you need to be the servant to all. You want to be first? Then go to the end of the line. You want to be the one who is part of the “inner circle of greatness” … then start by welcoming the least – the children, the marginalised, those who are on the outer. I think what Jesus is trying to say – don’t strive for personal greatness but rather strive for communal greatness – things that benefit everyone. Don’t do things that are just going to benefit you but rather do things that benefit everyone.
Paul writes it even better in Philippians 2. He starts off by saying … Philippians 2:3-4. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Then Paul in verse 5 says that we should have the attitude of Jesus … who gave up his power and walked the road of obedience all the way to the cross. It was like Jesus on this journey was saying … “Look … can you see that I am not only teaching you this … I am doing this right now. I am just about to become the very last, the servant of all – so that you might live. Jesus put aside the ME to benefit the YOU.
That is the challenge for us too.
Last word pair is … US and THEM
Mark 9:38. “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” This last word pair is very pointed because we hear it so often on today’s world … US and THEM. It is sort of the step up from the IN group and those on the OUTER because US and THEM looks for the differences that makes us US and THEM them. US and THEM is divisive.
We live in an era of division. Politicians create a THEM and US to stoke fear and untrust because apparently it is one of the greatest factors in determining how people vote. Trust us because you can’t trust them. Jesus, they shouldn’t be allowed to heal people in your name because they are not ONE OF US.
How does Jesus respond? Does he say that there is no THEM and US but rather we are all one big happy family? Not quite. Jesus instead focuses on the things that unite rather than the things that divide. “Whoever is not against us is for us”
I had experience during the week where this point came back to challenge me. On Wednesday the local Warrawee Anglican minister dropped by to look at some dividers – possibly borrowing them for an event they were running. He had never been inside our church before so I was giving him a tour. As we walked he was asking about Turrazone – our kids group – because they were thinking about what they are doing. He wanted to know they things that worked and our secret to the growth this year. I confess – my first reaction was … I am not going to give you our secrets. I want the kids to come here to US, not to your group. But Jesus said, “whoever is not against us is for us” … are the Anglican’s our competition or our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Do I want just our church to grow or am I interested in growing the Kingdom of God??? Who is the US and who is the THEM??? I said at the beginning that I am praying that as we journey with Jesus and the disciples that God reveal new things to us. But I am finding the revelation quite challenging.
How does these words play out in your life? IN and OUT / ME and YOU / US and THEM
That is what happens when we follow Jesus … it can be revealing and challenging and exciting and life changing.
I wonder what the next part of the journey might bring…