Season of Creation

Mark 9:38-50

A Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

The disciples of Jesus are not having a good day. We are often told that Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus’ disciples as frequently struggling to understand what is going on. And the disciples are certainly not going well in Chapter 9 of the Gospel. Jesus has been transfigured before Peter, James and John up a mountain and they have heard him named God’s Beloved Son. As they come down the mountain, they come across a crowd with a man whose son is possessed by a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. The man asks Jesus’ disciples to cast it out, but they cannot do so.  It is Jesus who heals the man’s son, telling the disappointed disciples, “This kind of spirit can only come out through prayer.” He seems to be saying to them that they were trying to cast out a demon on their own. That they forgot to pray.

Small wonder that when, as we heard in our reading this morning, the disciples hear of someone who does not belong to their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name, they are suspicious of them, jealous of them, probably. 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.’ But Jesus says to John, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.’

One scholar reflects on Jesus’ words:

“Jesus ultimate priority is the kingdom. If people are contributing to the kingdom and doing it in his name they will not denigrate what he is doing. They are part of Jesus’ family because they belong to the divine will. The disciples are urged to have a more generous understanding of who is with them.”[1]

We often find ourselves wondering, like Jesus’ disciples, how to pray for healing or peace. How do we pray for the situation in Afghanistan? How do we pray for healing across the world in a time of pandemic? How do we pray for healing for our planet? Jesus’ priority is the kingdom. Charles Elliot, who, a number of years ago, wrote a book entitled “Praying the Kingdom”, suggests a most helpful idea. An approach to prayer that we know we cannot embark on alone. An approach that needs people of different denominations and creeds and different faiths and perhaps people of no faith, praying together, caring together. Charles Elliot suggests that when we are praying for a situation we remember the voice, the story, of one person in that situation. Have we heard on the news an interview with a family with loved ones in Kabul? Have we heard the story of a person whose relative has died of Covid? On Easter Day we heard the voice of a nurse in a Covid ICU ward in New York City. Have we heard the voice of those affected by climate change?

As the Season of Creation draws to a close this year, let us hear this morning the story of two women whose voices cry out for the healing of our planet.

High up on a melting Greenland glacier, at the end of a summer three years ago from climate hell, two young women shout a poem above the roar of the wind. Aka Niviana, grew up on the northern coast of Greenland; as its ice inexorably thaws, her traditional way of life disappears. And the water that melts off that ice sheet is drowning the home of Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and everyone else in her home nation, the Marshall Islands of the Pacific. One poet watches her heritage turn to water; the other watches that same water sweep up the beaches of her country and into the houses of her friends. The destruction of one’s homeland is the inevitable destruction of the other’s.[2]

These women write a poem together, meeting on their two lands. Hearing their voices might be our prayer. A little of their poem goes like this:

Do we deserve the melting ice?
the hungry polar bears coming to our islands
or the colossal icebergs hitting these waters with rage
Do we deserve
their mother,
coming for our homes
for our lives?

From one island to another
I ask for solutions.
From one island to another
I ask for your problems

Let me show you the tide
that comes for us faster
than we’d like to admit.
Let me show you
airports underwater
bulldozed reefs, blasted sands
and plans to build new atolls
forcing land
from an ancient, rising sea,
forcing us to imagine
turning ourselves to stone.

Sister of ocean and sand,
Can you see our glaciers groaning
with the weight of the world’s heat?
I wait for you, here,
on the land of my ancestors heart heavy with a  thirst
for solutions
as I watch this land
while the World remains silent.[3]

Our prayer then is to hear the voices of the two women. To pray with them. To allow the vulnerability of each one of us to sit with the vulnerability of the two poets whose homelands are disappearing before their eyes. Praying the kingdom, as Charles Elliot suggests, by sitting with one story, one or two people, allowing their struggle, their suffering to be our companion for a time. Jesus, after all, healed one person at a time, didn’t he?

Jesus goes on in the passage we have as our gospel reading this morning to speak of what gets in the way of God, to speak of sin, really.

 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

If your hand, or your foot, or your eye … Jesus is obviously exaggerating, as was the custom in religious debate at the time, but what he is getting at does matter. What causes us to sin? What gets in the way of God? The context of Jesus’ words on causes of sin is the disciples failing to see that others might bring in the kingdom. For us pondering how we might pray for the people of Afghanistan, or the healing of the Pandemic caused by Covid 19, or the healing of the planet, what causes us to sin? What gets in the way of our prayers? 

Sin is sometimes thought of as a failure to let God be God. Perhaps, we feel so overwhelmed by the situations for which we are trying to pray, that we give up. Perhaps, we feel guilty about our failure to care for the planet, for example. Or we decide that the problems of countries far from our shores must have nothing to do with us. But Jesus longs to bring in God’s kingdom which about healing and wholeness for all, all people, all things in creation. Being children of God means that we belong to this wider family of God, this whole creation of God. How do we not give up on our prayers?

Oscar Romero, a bishop in the Catholic Church in El Salvador, spoke out against social injustice and violence amid the escalating conflict between the military government and left-wing insurgents. In 1980, Romero was shot by an assassin while celebrating the Eucharist. He is attributed as writing the following prayer. Perhaps we might make it our own.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.

The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.  No prayer fully expresses our faith.  No confession brings perfection.  No pastoral visit brings wholeness.  No program accomplishes the church’s mission.  No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.  We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.  We lay foundations that will need further development.  We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.  This enables us to do something and to do it well.  It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.  We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.[4]

[1] John Shea Eating with the Bridegroom p235.



[4] This prayer was composed by the late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Cardinal John Dearden in November 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are commonly attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.