Lutheranlady's Weblog


Jealousy: A Sermon from Mark 9 and Numbers 11
September 29, 2015, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Texts for this Sunday

Grace and peace to you, Sisters and brothers in Christ.

Jealousy.

With two girls in our house, we know what jealousy looks like. Even the preverbal baby can express this feeling!

Lydia’s in the highchair, signing that she’s all done. As soon as her feet hit the floor, she sees her sister getting a sandwich and immediately reaches out her hand, demanding, “mine! mine!”

What does it say when your vocabulary is smaller than 20 words, and “mine” makes that list?

It’s not just kids who get caught in jealousy. I spent the beginning of last week at a conference for pastors and often the first thing out of a new acquaintance’s mouth is, “how big is your church? What programs are you running? Do you have a big youth group?” On one level, that’s about finding similar congregations to gain new ideas and common ground… but on another it can easily be about seeing who’s got more resources, more people, and more energy.

What is jealousy all about?

Jealousy rises out of a worldview in which there are limited resources. There’s only so much of a certain good. That might be money, food, space, or even relational goods like love, or honor. Anyone else possessing this good takes some away from what might otherwise be ours.

Reading the Bible, we discover that this has been a problem for communities throughout the ages!

In Numbers, we read about the community of Israelites, on their way from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Moses is their leader. God calls Moses to go and free the slaves, and then to lead them to a new home, but where we meet Moses this morning, he’s wearing thin under all the stress of leadership.

So, God teaches this leader how to delegate and share authority. Moses gathers the elders together, bringing them away from everyone else. Then, God takes from Moses some of God’s Spirit that has been on Moses, and spreads it around to the seventy elders, so that they can also lead from God’s Spirit.

Now, I don’t know if 70 was too high a number to count, or if Moses experienced leading his people as difficult as herding cats, but somehow two leaders aren’t where they are supposed to be. These two are out with the rest of the regular people when they receive the Spirit of God, and they are prophesying in front of everyone. Everyone can see that these leaders have the Spirit of God, just like Moses.

Moses’ second in command, Joshua, freaks out. He hears about it, and he’s like, “we gotta do something. You gotta stop it. These people are a threat.”

Joshua sees this sharing of authority and power as a problem. Moses’ leadership is in question, if he’s not the only one who can speak to God and share God’s message. There’s only so much holiness to go around, and if Moses doesn’t have it all, then that’s a problem.

But Moses stops Joshua short, “no, no. Are you jealous for me? If only I weren’t the only one trying to get these stubborn people to hear God! If only everyone would carry God’s Spirit and God’s message!”

Generations and generations later, the disciples sound pretty much the same as Joshua, with a touch of the tone of a tattle taling 1st grader:
“Jesus, teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we told him he better cut it out, and stop right away, because he’s not supposed to do that, he’s not a part of us.”

With Joshua and the disciples, you can feel the anxiety ramping up. Jealousy over the power, anxiety that it’s out of their control- but like Moses, when Jesus addresses them, the anxiety gets deflated.
Jesus calmly states, “do not stop him.”

Jesus isn’t concerned about maintaining his market share or controlling his branding. Jesus doesn’t really care if other people are doing his work just right. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

I was at a wedding on Friday, and the conversation turned towards various helping ministries. Lutheran World Relief, World Vision, and Samaritan’s Purse all came up. Everyone had opinions on which was better and which didn’t do the work as well. I may not want to support each, not agreeing with all the strategies for ministry, but I can recognize that they all have the same goal- to help those in need out of a desire to follow Jesus.

Are there so few people in need, so few under the oppression of deadly forces, so few thirsty for clean water, so few in need of hearing a promise of love and peace, that we need to be clawing at each other to be first to serve them?

As we face a new era in what it means to be church, actively choosing against jealousy and anxiety leaves us open to choosing life and meaning. As a congregation, we can stop trying to be like the band focused productions of the church down the street, or measure up our Sunday School stats to another’s. We can boldly move forward out of our own identity, serving our neighbors with the resources we can share, and the good news we’ve been anointed to spread. We can give thanks that the people we won’t reach, or even those who choose to leave us to taste the flavor of another congregation, will be met with the same loving Spirit of God from another group of disciples.

We serve a God of abundance. Remember that the witness to this God begins with God- and nothing- and from God’s word all creation comes into being. How can there be any limits, any caps with this kind of God?

God calls us out of the jealousy that tears away at our ability to be in community and share the love and resources everyone needs. It doesn’t make sense for us to fight in jealousy over God’s love and grace, or even over God’s call to serve, because God is not a limited resource.

But we are. Sure, there are billions and billions of people, many who have come before us and many who will come after us. I think God has a right to be jealous over us.
In the Old Testament, we hear of a jealous God, jealous for our worship and full attention. In Jesus, we see God jealous in a different way. In Jesus, God is jealous for the wellbeing of all people, especially for the people on the outside, the ones who are often seen as not good enough, not having enough. Each person is a limited resource- and God’s desire is that everyone would be valued, would be healed, and would have what they need.

So, when the disciples and Jesus talk about the man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, I think Jesus isn’t so focused on jealousy over his own honor, but on the fact that the demon possessed has been freed. That’s the goal Jesus has in mind. It’s not for us to be jealous, but for us to rejoice that God yearns with the eagerness of jealousy for each of us.

There’s no lack of God’s love to be shared among us. God looks at you, God looks at every person in this world, claiming you in love, “mine.”

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