“cluelessity” – a sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

preachinga sermon, based on Mark 9.38-50, preached with the people of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Greenville, SC, September 27, 2015

“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

Usually Peter is the disciple who demonstrates that spiritual malady of “cluelessity”;[1] a profoundly deeper state of cluelessness. Here, it’s John. (I perceive him as prepping for his later decidedly, embarrassingly less-than-star-appearance with his brother James, who, seeking to best their fellow disciples in claiming places of prominence, ask Jesus “to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”[2]) John exhibits that humanly inherently stubborn obtuseness that cannot comprehend the theological and ethical dimensions of Jesus’ teaching, verily, his being.

Jesus, journeying to Jerusalem, begins to script the denouement of his story: His do-and-die confrontation with all who reject his proclamation, his presence of the nearness of God’s kingdom of love and justice for all. And John chooses this moment to report to Jesus, at best with mistaken loyalty, “someone’s casting out demons in your name”, and at worst with misguided pride, “who is not following us.”

Us? The disciples? Those models of faithfulness to Jesus and the gospel?

The same disciples, at Caesarea Philippi, for whom Peter spoke when rebuking Jesus for daring to predict his suffering and death?[3] The same disciples, after the transfiguration, about whom a father of a demon-possessed child complained to Jesus, “I asked (them) to cast it out, but they could not”?[4] The same disciples, at Capernaum, who, having argued about who among them was greatest, Jesus had to teach again about the kingdom-value of the unconditional equality of unconditioned servanthood?[5]

Yes, those disciples and I daresay us. Well, to be fair to you, me.

When I look at my life’s record as a follower of Jesus, including the chronicle of my service as a priest in his name, there have been times of greater cluelessity than clarity. Moments when I, paraphrasing the petition of Richard of Chichester, needed to cry, whether aloud or in the murmuring of my soul: Day by day, O, dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, for I don’t. Therefore, to love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, I can’t.

So, I take comfort in Jesus’ reply to John: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” A mercifully generous word! Jesus includes among his followers not only those who are for him, all seekers of his word and way, all strivers to do his will, but also those who are not against him, the confused and undecided; a group of which, I confess, I sometimes must count myself.

Even more, I perceive that numbered among those who are not against Jesus are the apathetic and lethargic. This stirs in me a deeper sigh of relief. For, truth to tell, my ability to see, love, and follow Jesus most often is less about confusion and indecision and more about willingness or its lack. Most of the time, I have a fair notion of what it looks like to answer Jesus’ call to deny myself and take up my cross and follow him[6] and to obey his commands to be salt of the earth and light of the world,[7] to turn my other cheek to an offender,[8] to love and pray for my enemies,[9] to renounce practicing my piety before others,[10] to reject judging others,[11] to refuse to worry about my life.[12] Thus, when I do not, again, it is not because I understand not, but rather because I choose not, which is rooted in my sin of self – self-interest, self-attainment, self-enhancement, self-control, self-protection.

And perhaps that’s the point for me and again I daresay for us of Jesus’ following word. His severe denunciation, employing the language of self-mutilation should I, we, in our belief and behavior, prevent another, any other from seeing, loving, following him. For Christian life and labor, vocation and virtue are not, are never about us, but rather always about who we and others are and become in him.

Day by day, O, dear Lord, three things we pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.


[1] One of my original additions to the English language lexicon

[2] Mark 10.35-37

[3] Mark 8.32

[4] Mark 9.18b (my emphasis)

[5] Mark 9.33-35

[6] Mark 8.34

[7] Matthew 5.13a, 14a

[8] Matthew 5.39

[9] Matthew 5.44

[10] Matthew 6.1a

[11] Matthew 7.1

[12] Matthew 6.25

2 thoughts on ““cluelessity” – a sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

  1. It’s always hard to feel connected to church or sermons when you’re traveling because it’s one of the most obvious times that it’s all about “me, or us”, indulging in seeing and doing and rarely about following Jesus. So I thank you, not only for the sermon itself, but for its content.

    This coming week has the potential of being challenging, with people and ideas vastly different from mine. Some of the folks have huge egos and needs and I don’t always feel like catering to that.

    What your sermon did for me, and will prayerfully continue to do throughout this week is to keep me focused on the fact that following Jesus includes forgiving people (even in advance) for the dumb things they do or say (even when they know they are doing it).

    I too am confused sometimes, much like the Disciples, on what it really “feels and looks like” to follow Jesus in the way he would expect. I’ve set a goal to read this sermon every morning before I leave my hotel room. I’m hoping that will do the trick to keep me on the right path this week. I so appreciate your words.

    Liked by 1 person

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