A New Beginning: A New Team
Mark 9:38-50

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you just wish you could press rewind back to Monday and stay in bed? Last Sunday feels like it was about a month ago. I’ve been to the mainland twice in the past week. First was for a committee meeting with a conference committee I sit on. When I arrived home on Tuesday, it was less than an hour later I got a call informing me my grandmother had passed away. We planning for a second trip to the mainland, getting home last night.

Somewhere in there I got some work done. We have a bulletin this morning, I put together a sermon. It’s been a very busy week to be sure, and it’s good to be back here with you. Just in time for another gospel reading full of great stuff to look at.

First, we have the disciples coming to Jesus telling him how they have a man casting out demons in his name. They want to put an end to it, because this guy isn’t as close to Jesus as they are, so they think.

Then there’s the whole piece about hacking off body parts that cause you to sin, lest you go to hell! Good luck with that!

If you’ve played team sports before, you’ve probably encountered the player I call the “black hole”. They player you know if you give him (or her) the ball, puck, whatever, you won’t see it again until they take a shot. This player sees it as their entire job to be the one to score. Now, if they are any good at all, this isn’t always a bad thing, but eventually even the best players who hog the ball all the time hurts the rest of the team.

If you watch Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, some of the best basketball players to ever play in the NBA, you see them take a lot of shots, and score a lot of points. But, they also know the importance of getting the entire team involved in the game. After all, if the defence knows who is going to do all the shooting, it’s pretty easy to find a way to stop them. The key to a successful team is to make sure it’s not always the superstar who takes all the shots. To understand it takes a whole team effort to win the game.

Think about Wayne Gretzky and how he amassed such an impressive amount of points in his career, where most of them we assists. Times when he passed the puck so someone else could score and help them win the game.

The disciples in our reading this morning are learning the same rule from Jesus. They see someone doing the work of Jesus and they want him to stop. But he won’t. When they bring this to Jesus he simply states “whoever is not against us is for us.” In other words, if this guy isn’t trying to stop us, then he’s on our team! Let’s keep up the good work together.

Jesus then goes onto say, if anyone causes someone to stumble in their faith, you’re better off dead. If you can’t help Jesus spread his Gospel to all the earth, then get out of the way. Jesus is on offence, he’s trying to score, to win the game by recruiting team members from all over the world. If you aren’t part of his team then you are on defence. You are stopping Jesus from scoring. Whose team does that put you on?

For you gardeners out there, which I am definitely not, what do you do to bushes to make them fuller? What do you do to your gardens to offer your plants the best chance to bloom and flourish?

With trees and bushes, you prune them, you trim them back. You cut off the weaker, dead branches to let the healthy ones grow, allowing the tree to thicken. With gardens, you pull out the weeds and dead stuff so it has a chance to grow and thrive in a healthy environment.

You provide the best environment for your garden so it can grow. If you leave the weeds and dead branches, it chokes out the flowers and healthy plants, not letting them grow and mature.

We need to get the weeds out of our lives. Jesus says, if a body part causes you to struggle with your faith, cut it off. Get rid of it. This is pretty extreme, but think about it.

Jesus wants you on his team. He is assembling the greatest team of all time. Imagine if you will a fictional sport where Jesus has on his team the greatest athletes of all time: Michael Jordan, Muhammed Ali, Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods; an unbeatable team. A team we want, no we NEED to be on. Not only do we want to be part of the team, we want to be productive members, not players who sit the whole game on the bench. We want Jesus to know he can count on us in the crunch time. When it’s a crucial point, we want Jesus to know we will come through.

We can do this by being as obedient as we can to his teaching. We do this by by letting Jesus be our guide. We do this by making Jesus the top priority in our life.

Like the man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, we ought to be living our lives with Jesus Christ as our focus and the reason for our activities. If someone asks why we do something, wouldn’t a great answer be, “Because of Jesus Christ”?

One way to be at our best is to cut out the things which pull us away from God. If something causes us to stumble and question our faith, we need to get rid of it. Jesus used the example of body parts. That’s how ingrained bad habits can get. You talk to a smoker who hasn’t had a smoke in a while what it’s like to not have cigarettes, it’s like cutting off part of their body. But for those who have quit for sometime, as them how much better they feel, how much better food tastes or the air smells.

We all need to examine our lives on a regular, if not daily or even hourly basis. We need to look at what we do and ask the question, “Is this adding to the kingdom of God? Am I playing for the right team?”

Before I was a Christian, I did lots of things I thought were harmless. All my friends were doing it, so I didn’t see how what I was doing could impact me in a negative way. And really, they were pretty harmless. It was even as simple as the music I listened to, which had a lot of inappropriate language in it. It’s just music right? Something we can dance to, it’s got a nice beat! But when I became a Christian, I felt that music wasn’t appropriate anymore, so I changed the music I listened to. I can no longer name a song on the charts. I don’t watch the Grammy’s anymore since I don’t know the music, and might have heard of a couple of the people nominated. What’s the point I guess?

Something as simple as the kind of music I listened to affected my ability to be obedient to God’s plan in my life. It affected my ability to be a productive player on God’s team. For me it was music, for someone else it can be something completely different. It’s up to us to work with God to see how we can improve our role on His team.

Every one of us is invited to play. Every one of us can play.

Remember growing up as a kid? During recess at school, or maybe in the park you’d get together with your friends to play a game of some sort. So you would all line up on the side and then kids would get picked to play on a team. Remember how awkward it got when you got down to the last 2 or 3 kids? The kids no one wants on their team? Maybe you were even one of those kids left at the end. You felt unwanted. All you wanted to do was get out and run around, have fun with your friends. But now you’re left feeling like you want to run away because no one wants you. You’re left feeling inadequate, like you don’t belong.

That’s not how it is on God’s team. You’ve already been chosen. You are already on the winning team. You belong. You not only belong, you are a star player, because God is your coach, Jesus Christ is on your side, and the Holy Spirit has given you all you need to excel at this game.

There is no need to line up. All you need to do is put up your hand when the question is asked, “Who wants to play?”

Do you want to play?