Sermon for Proper 21, Year B
September 26, 2021
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 Psalm 19:7-14 James 5:13-20 Mark 9:38-50
There is a thread that runs through the readings today and it has to do with leadership. In the book of Numbers, the Lord tells Moses to gather seventy of the elders of Israel, and God places the spirit upon them. Two of those who were called to the gathering did not make the meeting, yet they received the spirit as well, and they began to prophesy in the camp. Someone comes to Moses and says, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Someone else, a man chosen by Moses, says, “My lord Moses, stop them!” Moses replies, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
In the gospel, John says to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” Jesus replies, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” Any organization that relies solely on one person for leadership cannot accomplish much. A movement or organization in its infancy may have one leader, but as it grows leadership must be shared – otherwise the movement either remains small or fails to fulfill its purpose.
James is writing to a church and says, “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.” Then he says, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” The topic of leadership may not be the focus of this portion of the letter – but it speaks of the elders – plural, not the one “in charge,” or priest for us. In fact, James tells the people to “confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”
Being the church is not about being here today, and to be the church requires us all to be involved in fulfilling the church’s mission. Being the church is about members sharing the leadership and supporting one another. We must listen to one another, hear about one another’s struggles, and “pray for one another.” Simply being here is not enough; we must build relationships where love and trust help us to be the church, which the Apostle Paul says is the Body of Christ in the world today.
Being here is important because it is enables us to experience community is a way that doesn’t happen online. During this pandemic, our online services have reduced the risk of spreading of the Corona Virus, it has kept many of us safe. Yet, online attendance makes being part of this community of faith and supporting one another much more difficult. We must be more intentional about supporting one another – and the longer we’re away, the harder this becomes.
You being here today is not only important to me, it is important to those gathered this morning to worship God and lift up their concerns in prayer. The commandments call upon us to worship the Lord our God; however, it is not for God’s benefit that we do this. Our worship is an expression of love. To love God is to be in a relationship with the one who gives us life and gives our life meaning. This relationship gives us hope in the midst of our struggles – our individual and collective struggles.
Joining our worship online is akin to having a long distance relationship. In order for it to be a lasting, meaningful relationship, we must make a conscious effort to stay connected to our parish. The pandemic is still with us and it is important for us to be safe. We are taking precautions in church, wearing masks, encouraging distancing, yet for some it is best to remain isolated. So, we will continue to broadcast our service. My request, then, is that we all make an effort to keep in touch with each other. A phone call can make a difference – I know it does because I’ve heard this from some of our members who have appreciated receiving phone calls just to check-in with them.
My request is also that you remember what James says, and if you are suffering or sick – call someone. It’s been so long since we have all been in church together, that many have forgotten they can turn to one another for support. The suggestion that we should confess our sins to one another goes beyond our sins and includes the burdens we carry in our hearts. Being the church means not going through life alone. It means celebrating and grieving and crying together.
Moses says, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” I say, the Lord has put his spirit upon you to care for one another. Now is the time for us to begin rebuilding our church. We’ve certainly done a great deal of work on our physical buildings – now, we must answer God’s call to us and share God’s spirit with one another.
Let us pray.
Loving God, help us to remember that our lives are connected through Christ Jesus and that we need to be together to not only care for one another, but to care for others in our community. Help us to draw strength from your spirit and breathe life back into our parish that we might be a beacon of hope in this community. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.