(Numbers 11:4-6. 10-16, 24-29, Psalm 19:7-14, James 5:13-20)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/YgZYCytZs8g)
38John said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
42“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. 43If 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. 45And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Let us begin reflecting on our assigned texts with a parable lifted up by a man named Kevin Miller. Once upon a time there was a famous house builder and painter. After designing the homes, he would then build and paint them. As a painter, he was such an amazing artist that he didn’t even need drop cloths. He had a steady hand, and he was finicky about using good brushes and quality paint, so there were no drips, just tight trim lines.
This craftsman always designed, built and painted the homes all by himself—with his own hands … but then one day he had remarkable idea. As he was standing by one of his houses, he saw a bunch of kids walking home from the local elementary school. They were minding their own business, laughing and carrying their backpacks, until he shouted, “Hey, kids.” When they looked up, startled and awestruck (because everyone in town knew about his amazing skills), he asked them a surprising question: “How would you like to do some painting?” “What do you mean?” they replied. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “I’ll give each of you a bucket of paint and a brush, and you can paint my new house. Do you want to give it a try?” “For real?” they squealed with delight. The painter nodded as he said, “Yep, for real.” “Cool!” the kids said.
He opened up the back of his truck and pulled out a load of brushes and paint cans and then pried open the paint cans. They started splashing paint on his garage door. They got paint on the sidewalk, too, and some on each other. But they also got a lot of paint on the house—all different colors, especially on the parts of the house that were under 4 feet high. As other kids came by on the sidewalk, they asked, “Can we do that, too?” And they joined in. In about an hour most of the first floor was now covered with paint.
The house painter’s neighbors came over after dinner and took it all in. “What is going on?” they asked. Another blurted out, “Look, I gotta be honest, your house looks like a tornado ripped through Sherwin-Williams. What were you thinking?” “Well,” the house painter said, “of course I could have painted this house all by myself, but I’ve always built and painted houses in order to bring joy to others. So based on that goal, this is the most beautiful house I’ve ever made. Dozens of the kids’ friends will want to come to this house. They’ll bring their friends to show what they’ve painted. And each one will say, ‘This is the home of the master painter and builder, but it’s also our house.'”
It’s also our house…that is the key to the parable. The master builder had built and painted many beautiful homes. Once his job was complete, he would then hand it over to the new owners to enjoy his craftsmanship. But their enjoyment would last only so long. Eventually some new master builder would build something that would catch their eye and they’d pick up and move. That is, unless the owners had more invested in the home to begin with. If the owners actually had a hand in building the home, they would be less likely eager to move when a newer designed house came on the market. They invested more than just time and money…they invested personal efforts and creativity. They invested more of themselves in the home and they’re less likely to abandon it at a moment’s notice.
God is like the master builder of this story. God has the ability to both design, build, and paint all the metaphorical, figurative, and literal houses of His creation. And God has quite the reputation! Just look around and behold God’s awesome and majestic creation! No one can design, build, or paint nearly as good as God. But God wants to share His creating abilities and flags down elementary children walking by on the street, minding their business. We are like elementary children. We can’t even compete with God in creativity and craftsmanship! But we can sure make an interesting paint job. We can get paint everywhere and all over each other. We can make God’s creation look like “a tornado ripped through Sherwin-Williams” like the kids in the story. God knows this about us and yet God encourages us. God wants us to share in His creating, no matter how crazy that looks like.
Does God only want some of us to share in His creating? Does God only call the qualified designers or builders or painters? Did the master builder in the story only reach out to other certified designers, builders, or painters? Of course not…God calls out to the uncertified, the unqualified…basically the unexpected. God particularly likes to call children and the child-like who aren’t set in their ways and thinking. God calls people who value and appreciate creating anew. God calls people who want to listen and learn from Him as well as teach others about Him. These are the qualities that qualify people to create along with God, nothing more, nothing less.
In both our 1st reading and our gospel reading, we encountered people who were creating and spreading God’s Word but were considered “unqualified” by those around them. God called the seventy elders of Israel to a meeting to resolve the complaint of the people not having any meat while they roamed the wilderness. God empowered the elders to lead the people by placing portions of the Spirit on each of them. Two people, Eldad and Medad, weren’t at that meeting and yet they went out and led the people. Joshua cried to Moses, “My lord Moses, stop them!” Moses rebuked, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.” Eldad and Medad were just as qualified as the seventy officially designated elders. Moses was pleased to hear of the two leaders taking the initiative and leading the people of Israel.
We heard a similar encounter between John and Jesus in our gospel reading. John came running up to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” John and his fellow disciples tried to stop the man because he wasn’t qualified. Jesus responded, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” Both Moses and Jesus refuse to stop the supposedly “unqualified” people from creating alongside God. But remember, there are only 2 qualities that truly “qualify” a person to create: first, a willingness to listen and learn from God and then, a willingness to teach others about God. Both qualities are all a person needs to create along with God.
Why must a person be willing to listen and learn from God? Because God is the source of ALL creation. God is the true master builder. As David sang in today’s psalm, “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” God designs like no other designer, builds like no other builder, and paints like no other painter. As a painter, God is such an amazing artist that he doesn’t even need drop cloths. God has a steady hand and He is finicky about using good brushes and quality paint so there are no drips, just tight trim lines. God’s sheer craftsmanship simply reflects these attributes of God and His law.
Though God is THE master craftsman, God gladly welcomes any and all apprentices. God doesn’t qualify us in the ways we qualify each other. God only asks that we listen and learn so that we may go and teach others; so that we may go and create like He creates. And God doesn’t expect us to create the way He creates. In fact, God is glad to see us create like a tornado in Sherwin-Williams store. Creation is a shared experience between God and us. God wants us to claim a particular ownership of His creation. God wants us to invest more than our time and money. God wants us to invest ourselves in His creation.
By encouraging co-creativity, God entrusts us with great power. Not some of us but ALL of us. We have each been given the ability to listen and learn from God. Some of us have been gifted with the ability to go out and teach others what we hear and learn from God as we lifted up a couple weeks ago. There is great power in listening to and learning from God. There is great power in co-creating with God. Let us go forth listening, learning, and teaching the…power from above.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.