Sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost 2021

Dates: September 23rd and 26th, 2021

Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri

First Reading: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Psalm: Psalm 19:7-14

Second Reading: James 5:13-20

Gospel: Mark 9:38-50


The Holy Spirit works through the unexpected. Places that are unexpected, situations that are unexpected, people who are unexpected. Our readings from Numbers and from Mark's Gospel today give great examples of how the Holy Spirit is working through the unexpected, and offer insight for how we might uplift those unexpected circumstances.

We start with the story from the book of Numbers. Moses and the Israelites have been traveling in the desert for a long time. They are missing the only home that they have known, and yearning for things to be the way they used to know, disregarding the bad side of what their life in Egypt entailed. Moses, who often talks readily with God about whatever the current problems are, is not having any of these complaints. He is tired, and run-down, and feels like this is too much, even for him, who has been appointed as the leader of the Israelites. Moses is very clearly blessed with the workings of the Spirit of God, and is in a leadership role because of this. Yet, Moses is pleading with God in this passage, because everyone is looking to him and he does not know what to do. So, God tells Moses to gather 70 elders from their midst. Now, the number 70 in the Bible is seen as a number of perfect completion. These 70 elders are provided as a secondary level of leadership among the community, a level that is complete as is, and the number 70 ensures that is understood. And so in this meeting the Spirit comes does upon these elders, but it also goes beyond the tent where they are gathered to two others among the community.

Their names are Eldad and Medad. They are not Moses, nor part of the70 elders, and therefore are not very high of the ladder of authority in the community. And so, when they start to prophesy, because of the Holy Spirit upon them, a young man went to report this to Moses and the elders. Now, Joshua, who also had some authority, but was learning from Moses as an assistant, tells Moses that he must tell them to stop. But Moses knows that the Spirit can and does work through even unlikely places sometimes. Perhaps from personal experiences. Moses knows that just because the community set aside authority for himself, Joshua, and these 70 elders, God works through others that are often more unexpected. And so he replies to Joshua, saying, Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lords people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” Moses identifies the jealousy in Joshua's request, and instead directs him to the reality of God's workings in the world. Moses wishes that all people of God could be filled with the Spirit, and prophesy, regardless of their status in the community.

Next we have our Gospel reading where a similar story plays out. The disciples come to Jesus and tell him that others are using his name to cast out demons, but that they are not followers of “us.” I think it is important to note that the “us” here does not indicate that they people are not followers of Jesus, rather, it indicates that they are not followers of the disciples. The disciples have become so used to being followers of Jesus that they have places themselves as being the only ones to know the proper way to do something. Jesus tells the disciples that they do not need to tell people to stop. Anyone who uses his name faithfully to cast out these demons is already being utilized by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus then makes this point a little clearer by adding some blunt declarations and by using exaggeration. If the disciples think that others should be told to stop because they are not following the ways of the disciples, then there are other sins the disciples should be paying close attention to in themselves. Jesus tells them about their hand and foot and one of their eyes, and if those are causing the person to stumble, then they might as well cut them off because obviously they are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. The comparison is meant to show that the disciples gate-keeping of the power of Christ's name is not the way to encourage new believers in their faith and how the Spirit is working in them. In plains words, if you think that the people using my name to cast out demons should be told to stop altogether because they are not doing it 100% right, then you should just cut off your limb or pluck out your eye because it is causing you not to be your best all the time. Jesus' point is that the disciples should stop getting lost in the details and instead be open to the possible ways God is working in ways different than their own.

Both Jesus and Moses are able to recognize that there are people whom the Spirit is working through that are unexpected, or even surprising; but that does not make them any less faithful in their following of the Spirit's movement. When we consider what this means for us as the church, it often looks like prayerful consideration of where and how the Spirit is moving among us in ways we never noticed or never considered. It can also mean finding ways that the Spirit is moving outside of our own congregation, in the city of Wauseon or in the state of Ohio or the United States or the world. In this way we might learn from others how the Spirit is already moving and will continue to move, and we just have to take the leap and jump on the unexpected Spirit-led train. May God provide us with opportunities this week to notice the unexpected movement of the Holy Spirit in our midst. Thanks be to God.