WORSHIP SERVICE SEPTEMBER 26 2021 “If the Spirit is Working It Doesn’t Matter Who Gets the Credit”
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MARK 9:38-50 “If the Spirit is Working it Doesn’t Matter Who Gets the Credit”
Shark Tank is a TV show where up and coming entrepreneurs come to pitch their ideas to a group of potential investors. On the show, smaller companies seeking funding appeal to the wealthy business people who try and decide if the smaller companies are worth investing in.
Oftentimes if the entrepreneurs have a new product that they have invented, the investors will ask if they have a patent. They ask this because they want to know that the smaller companies can protect their products. Without the legal protection of a patent, some other company could steal their idea and create competition which would mean they wouldn’t make as much money.
The investors will also ask the entrepreneurs how easy it might be for another company to make a knock-off of their product. Are there any competitors in the same area making similar products? They want to know how strong the company’s brand name really is and how much they think they can protect their brand.
You might say the disciples were trying to protect their brand name in today’s Gospel from Mark. They come to Jesus with a concern. They tell him that they saw a man driving out demons in his name and so they told him to stop because he was not one of them. This man was apparently not one of the direct followers of Jesus, but he was using the name of Jesus to perform a miracle. It seems that the disciples are upset because they feel like he shouldn’t get to use the name of their teacher and then get the credit for himself when the people are healed. Because the man didn’t belong to their group, it was like they felt threatened, that perhaps he was stealing their brand and would use it to build up his own fame and possibly enrich himself. The disciples seem to think that Jesus is their guy and they need to protect him.
They may also be thinking that they want to protect their association with Jesus because it could make them powerful and famous. Did they think they were only ones who deserve to have a corner on the market of the Holy Spirit? Did they think they had a patent on this new take on religion? Did they think following Jesus was just their idea? If they could have, would they have sued the man who cast out the demons for copyright infringement?
Jesus gives an interesting response to his disciples. He does not get riled up. He does not seem to be offended that someone is using his name and his same brand of healing. Jesus does not seem worried that this man will steal the credit for the miracles and somehow take away from his power and notoriety. Instead, he responds by telling his followers that whoever is not against us, is for us. In other words, if someone is not hindering their mission and is acting in the spirit of their mission, then that person may actually be advancing their mission.
Jesus also does not seem to care what the motivations of the man are if he is accomplishing good work. There is a sense that Jesus knows if someone like this man casts out demons using his name and then sees that the results are powerful, he may come to believe in Jesus. He may want to join the cause, or at least not do anything to hurt the cause. This is what Jesus is observing when he says that no one who does a good work in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me. Jesus does not seem to be concerned about protecting his brand if it means that more people are being influenced to do good works. Jesus does not appear to feel threatened by a person outside of his group using his name if the results are that someone is healed.
The way that Jesus puts the mission above protecting his own notoriety or the notoriety of his disciples reminds me of quote that is attributed to Harry Truman, but has been used in different forms by several famous leaders. The quote says, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Sometimes what can be accomplished gets limited when we are worried or protective of who gets the credit. If we are concerned that only our own group gets recognized for a certain kind of work, then we can be hesitant to cooperate and collaborate with other groups who are doing the same kind of work. This means that the bigger projects don’t happen that could be done if groups worked together. Because of this, sometimes being worried about who gets the credit can be counter-productive to the greater mission that is trying to be accomplished. This can be true between different Christian denominations, different charitable organizations or different brands of religion. At the same time, we might be surprised at how much good work can get done if instead of feeling threatened by a group that is different from our own, we can recognize the positive things they are accomplishing.
One of the ways I learned this was through studying with several Muslim students during my senior year in college. I was on a study abroad trip to Ghana, West Africa for my last semester. Included in our group were three local students, all who happened to be Muslims. We ate together, studied together and worked together. Several of us came to grow quite close to two of the students in particular. We stayed up late talking and laughing and when it came time to do our final project, we decided to form a group with them.
At the end of our course we were to choose some aspect of development work to research and report back on to the larger group. Our team decided to look into the role of religion in development work. We wanted to find out more about how religion influenced such efforts for good or for ill and how charitable groups needed to be sensitive to local religious beliefs when trying to make improvements for their health and well-being.
In order to accomplish our research, we decided to come up with a list of questions and then go out and ask the same questions to an equal number of both Christian and Muslim local charities. What we found is that despite different theological approaches and different spiritual practices, there seemed to exist a similar belief in an aspect of God which called them to have concern for their neighbor—a call to help those who were in need.
I found this very encouraging and inspiring. Until I had come to Ghana, I had to admit that I had not thought much about how this core conviction in the Christian faith might also be shared with people of a completely different religion. While I grew up being very familiar with a lot of the charitable work done by Christian organizations around the globe, it had not occurred to me that a faith like Islam also had their own relief and development organizations.
My time in Ghana opened my eyes to how, despite deep differences, faith communities could draw upon their beliefs to find common ground with others in order to work for the common good. Because of this I was excited to discover that in 2014 the Lutheran World Federation signed a landmark agreement with the Islamic Relief organization. The Lutheran World Federation is a collection of national Lutheran denominations, including the ELCA which is the Lutheran denomination that we belong to. This agreement marked the world’s first official cooperation—the world’s first– between a global Muslim and a Global Christian humanitarian organization.
Over the past years, their work has included responding to the Nepal earthquake with urgent relief and long-term recovery, supporting Syrian refugees in Jordan and meeting the needs of refugees with disabilities in Dadaab camp in Kenya.
In 2017 this agreement was renewed through 2022. At that time Maria Immonen, Director of LWF’s World Service Department said, “It is very significant to be signing up for another five years working with Islamic Relief. This has implications for those we serve, and for the wider humanitarian effort. We see opportunities to build collaboration in countries such as Kenya, and Ethiopia in helping provide tools for better humanitarian response worldwide. The work we have done together shows Christians and Muslims can have a common commitment to welcoming the stranger in a world where unprecedented numbers are living as refugees.”
We learn from Jesus today, that if the Spirit is working, then it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. We learn that people of faith can quickly find common ground when they chose to focus on the positive, life-giving aspects of their religions. They can even find common ground with people of no faith who are still seeking the good of humanity. It doesn’t matter what their brand is, if their mission is to genuinely improve the health and well-being of people. Once this kind of common ground is discovered then there is no telling what can be accomplished, for there is so much more we can do together than we can do alone. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner