The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings – Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10, 9: 20-22; Psalm 124; James 5: 13-20, Mark 9: 38-50
The Lutheran Church outdoor sign on Ridge Road in Northumberland reads “God’s Work; Our Hands”. I find these words to be a good reminder – “God’s Work; Our Hands”. We are invited to join in God’s work. We can partner with God or we can walk on by, like the priest and the lay leader in the story of the Good Samaritan, leaving the beaten man on the side of the road. And “God’s Work; Our Hands” leads to an often-heard expression— “Many hands make light work”.
From our reading in the Gospel according to St. Mark, and you can just imagine the disciple with a bit of a whining tone of voice –
Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.
The nerve of someone doing God’s work, but he was not one of the disciples, not a part of their group. How did Jesus respond— “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” “Whoever is not against us is for us.” This sounds like an open invitation to go and to find partners, an invitation to recruit additional hands to join us in doing God’s work.
It is interesting and usually overlooked that Jesus used his surroundings as his classroom. Jesus was out and about with his disciples, and I think expecting them to be out and about, too. He expected them to be engaged in their communities. In today’s Gospel, the disciples were out and about, and discovered someone “casting out demons”. Remember “casting out demons” was a common term in ancient days for what we now call the medical professions. These men in Jesus’ day were working at relieving suffering, at curing illness. They were seeking to do good. And the disciples thought it was not appropriate since they were not a part of the traveling band of brothers. The disciples did not affirm their partnership, like the Geisinger Medical System not acknowledging the good work of Evangelical Community Hospital, or like Episcopalians not acknowledging the good work of the Baptists. And Jesus corrected the disciples at once – “Whoever is not against us is for us”. Again, the story of the Good Samaritan portrays the good work of a Samaritan. To many in ancient Israel, a good Samaritan – Impossible. It would be like today’s Israel admitting that there could be a good Palestinian. It would be like in Afghanistan admitting that a member of the Taliban could be good – impossible.
Yet, with regards to God’s work, we are to find partners, even unlikely partners “to make light work”. As we engage in our communities, we seek to find what God is up to, with feeding programs, with civic clubs, with education, with book clubs, with local government, with coffee groups. We are to find what God is up to, and we are to join hands with others in doing God’s work.
Attending worship, attending Church, is just the beginning rather than the end of our commitment to doing God’s work. Worship is to be followed by “putting our hands to the plow”, our hands to the tasks, we discover with as many partners as possible.
A couple of weeks ago I briefly mentioned the worldwide campaign of Rotary International to vaccinate everyone so the poliovirus would be eliminated, once and forever. I recently got some more detail about how Rotary, and the Taliban, yes, the Taliban, are partnering in Afghanistan to do God’s work.
…in March and June, there were coordinated attacks on polio workers and their security teams, leaving eight families having lost loved ones. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attacks, and it appeared the attacks were tied to elements who supported ISIS or ISIL…On January 17th the Regional Directors of WHO [World Health Organization] and UNICEF meet in the Taliban office in Doha, Qatar to discuss polio vaccinations and COVID response in the areas controlled by the Taliban. While house-to-house polio vaccinations were not agreed to, the seven senior members of the Taliban leadership indicated support for other measures to provide vaccination activities… After the fall of the Afghanistan government in mid-August, the new leadership has agreed to keep on the acting health minister… Taliban leaders have visited the national and regional polio offices and pledged their support for the polio eradication program… a Rotary-sponsored roadside vaccination hut provided vaccinations to children under five with local Taliban providing the needed security. … Rotary has just 35 members in Afghanistan. They inspire with their courage and perseverance. The polio program has always been politically neutral in every country. Rotary and our partners work with the leaders who are in charge. We now work with the new leaders of Afghanistan…We will continue to work with the Afghani people and our partners to finish what we began over 35 years ago.
Once you work with someone, side by side, as partners to do good, to do God’s work, the bonds of humanity grow, and develop. Partners become your sisters and your brothers. Of course, differences will always be present, yet differences need not be divisions or barriers to joining hands to make light work. Working hand in hand, working side by side as partners, opens the future to what Jesus said those years ago to those first disciples – “Be at peace with one another”. “Be at peace with one another.”
May we “Be at peace with one another” as we partner with one another, as we partner with God.
God’s Work; Our Hands.
God’s Work; our hands joined with our sisters and our brothers.