Church Life, Emerging, Mark

It would be better

(Thinking about Proper 21B)

"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." (Mark 9:42, NRSV)

Before we get into the maiming and mutilation of the rest of this tough passage from Mark's gospel, I would like to say, happily, this weekend we will have our Conference Annual Meeting, and I will not be in the pulpit.

But I want to give some thought to this passage, and particularly this verse. I'm coming up on the 7th anniversary of my ordination, and I'm aware of the prickliness of having authority conveyed, the way it makes other people prickle against me, and the way I have often bristled at authority myself. In fact, I disturbed my Field Ed Supervisor by putting a bumper sticker on my Woodie-style minivan that announced "Question Authority." (She mentioned it in my final evaluation.)

I believe a great portion of the journey of faith involves, perhaps even requires, just such questioning.

So I don't always enjoy being the upholder of orthodoxy, the person in authority, or the person who represents on its behalf.

And other times I may enjoy it too much.

When do standards and definitions matter? And when do they become stumbling blocks? 

The whole idea of Congregationalism was to establish norms at the most local level possible. The notion of an overarching structure was anathema. But over time, the advantage of having some loose, very loose, way of joining together for certain purposes became apparent. Ten churches or one hundred churches had a better chance of supporting a mission project than one church alone. Guidelines, if not absolute rules, seemed wise when considering people for ordination.

As we consider the idea that being post-modern and post-Christendom may be leading to also being post-denominational, I find I become protectively if ironically orthodox where my adopted tradition is concerned. I'm not starry-eyed. I don't think my denomination is perfect. If I ran the zoo, so to speak, I might like to see different priorities.

But I don't want to see what I understand as advances in inclusion watered down in any way. I don't want to lose the (mostly) shared understanding that ministry in both its lay and ordained forms should be open to all baptized believers regardless of age or gender identity or physical ability or sexual orientation or marital status or socio-economic background.

Let's back up to verse 40. "Whoever is not against us is for us." The trouble is knowing just what Jesus means here, right? There are a lot of people who wear the same label I do, Christian, who would look at my beliefs above as being against them, and I feel the same way about theirs. How do we move into this post-denominational conversation without stumbling over one another?

4 thoughts on “It would be better”

  1. For real! I can echo your sentiments as my experience in my own denomination (United Church of Canada). When is belonging a barrier and when is it a vehicle for justice and compassion and all the good stuff we proclaim: unity in diversity.
    Oops! I have a meeting & I hear people arriving, so have to go.

  2. I wonder at the language of stumbling block. To me there is something unexpected and that seeks to take advantage of the stumble. If you go into a conversation seeking to prove someone else is wrong and leave them with a crisis that is completely different than going into a conversation sharing your truth and listening faithfully to the other.
    I wouldn’t think of the latter as a stumbling block so much as a stepping stone to deeper faith.
    The ELCA is stumbling amongst itself over the debate on homosexual clergy, yet in those instances where real listening and compassion is brought to the conversation neither side stumbles.
    Just some initial observations, I don’t know if they fully work yet but there you go 🙂

  3. I don’t think any one (individual or denomination) of us has all the answers. Yet we often act like we do, and everyone else is just wrong.
    Questioning is good. It leads to growth.

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