The Right Credentials

Text: Mark 9:38-50
Date: Pentecost XVIII + Proper 21b + 09/27/15

“A young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them.’ But Moses said to him… ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets.’”

John 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.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him…. For the one who is not against us is for us.’”

Today’s readings teach us of the sometimes surprising grace of God. Joshua suggested stopping Eldad and Medad because, though if they were among the seventy men of the elders of Israel, they missed the meeting, they did not have the right credentials. Young John thundered about someone who “was not following us” casting out demons in Jesus’ name. He wasn’t called, appointed, equipped or sent by Jesus to do this. He did not have the right credentials. Anyway, maybe they remembered their own failure to cast out demons not many days before.

In Martin Luther’s Baptism Rite the pastor begins by saying, “The Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own.” Then he says, “Therefore, depart, you unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit in the name of the Father and of the  Son and of the Holy Spirit” (LSB Agenda p. 13). So you see the Christian Church has been casting out demons ever since Jesus instituted Holy Baptism and authorized His apostolic ministers to administer it.

Holy Baptism is necessary for salvation as St. Mark relates the words of the Lord, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). In fact it is deemed to be so necessary for salvation that, “In urgent situations, in the absence of the pastor, any Christian may administer Holy Baptism.” Look at page 1023 near the very end of the hymnal. There you see a scripture passage and a prayer followed by the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed. Then you are instructed, “Take water, call the child or adult by name, and pour or sprinkle the water on the head of the candidate while saying: “Name, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” So then with Eldad and Medad and the anonymous disciple John saw, by your baptism and because of your faith in Jesus you have the credentials, the authorization to administer this fundamental sacrament. For good order it is then suggested, “Holy Baptism administered by a layperson shall immediately be reported to the pastor for its recognition by the congregation.”

This is not to say the seventy men of the elders of Israel nor the twelve apostles nor those today who are rightly called and ordained to the Holy Ministry are anything less. You notice there is no such suggestion of laymen administering a so-called “emergency communion.” We are all called to witness but not all called to publicly, that is, officially preach the Gospel. For it is fundamental to our confession that, according to Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession, “no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.”

Moses said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!” Jesus said, “no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.” Now, because of the completed work of Jesus, His holy life, His sacrificial death, His glorious resurrection and ascension, the Lord’s Spirit is now on all His people. Now, because of faith in Jesus our Savior, the Lord can do mighty works through anonymous followers like you. And what is a mighty work? “Amen, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” A cup of water? “Big deal,” you say? The spiritual quality of the act, as simple or spectacular it may be, is the point. In the name of Jesus, by faith in Him is the point.

Greatness or littleness is put into spiritual terms. Speaking of children again Jesus cautions that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,” that is, to lose faith, to fall away, guess what? It would be better for that person to be drowned before he ever even has a chance to commit such a sin. The enormity of the sin is suggested by the seeming over-the-top punishment of tying not a hand millstone but a great, industrial sized one such as is powered by animals “were hung around his neck and he were thrown” not just into a pond, a lake or a river but “the sea,” its depth mirroring the depth of his sin.

How important is it to avoid sin? If your hand, foot or eye causes you to sin cut them off. Of course you’ll still have the other hand, foot or eye to deal with, so temptations to sin are sure to come all along the way.

Rather, what are we to do? We are to repent, believe and confess the faith. Such witness and confession is the salt of fire that makes us to be “on fire for the Lord,” so to speak, that is, to witness, work and confess the saving faith to the world around us.

Eldad and Medad? The anonymous disciple? The greatest surprise of grace is that these believed God’s word and promise. the greatest surprise of grace is that you believe God’s word and promise. That word is all about Jesus Christ your Savior. That promise is the forgiveness of your sin, a new you and the promise of resurrection to eternal life. Surprise!