Can black-and-white texts help us?

Ps 94:12-18

Mark 9: 38-40

A sermon for St Chad’s Linwood Christchurch NZ on the anniversary of the Canterbury earthquake, Feb 22 2011

Sometimes the Bible is really clear, in black and white. Sometimes it’s not, but actually the clarity of today’s passages can be a bit difficult. Jesus says, either someone is for me or against me. In our world we all like a bit of wriggle-room, and Anglicans in particular are fond of a nuanced answer.

But Jesus is clear when he tells the disciples not to stop the person casting out demons in His name. The disciples had got all judgemental, deciding that the exorcist wasn’t a proper follower of Jesus. They didn’t know him, he wasn’t part of what they were part of. They wanted to see Jesus discipline him, rebuke him, because he didn’t belong, and they thought he had no mandate. But Jesus, as usual, has no time for outward judgementalism. He knew what was at the heart of the man, and looked towards what he was doing. The man was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. The demons knew whose name was being invoked, but the disciples, as was often the case, were a bit too hung-up on form. Jesus made it quite clear – Whoever is not against us is for us. The disciples had no wriggle-room. They had no right to decide if someone could be part of what they were part of.

Our Psalm today is also in black-and-white. No complicated parables to leave us scratching our heads today!

God will stand up for his people. God will rise up for us against the wicked. If we follow God’s laws we will be happy. It’s all really clear isn’t it?

Sometimes however life is not so clear, so black-and-white. Today we are commemorating the anniversary of the February 2011 earthquake, where so many people’s lives were changed. I wasn’t living here then. When the earthquake hit I was up a ladder painting Nathan’s bedroom ceiling, and Kevin called me to the TV. I saw what so many of you were in the midst of – chaos and loss of life. I’m sure many of you had the same thought I did – why Lord? It’s not fair. We don’t deserve this.

It’s at times like this when black-and-white bible readings don’t seem to mesh very well with our reality. People are still suffering here – children still won’ go for a sleepover for fear of another quake, houses are still not repaired properly let alone insured, and it has all taken a huge toll. What can the Bible say to help us in these situations?

14 For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;

We don’t know when life will get easier, or if we have to wait until we are united with God in heaven. But we do know that the Lord walks the walk with us, that he is always close by, sharing our burdens and our pain, and our joys too. 

The last line from today’s psalm is:

When I thought, “My foot is slipping,”
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

That tells us that it’s okay to think that our foot is slipping. It’s ok to admit that we are not ok. God’s steadfast love has held us up so far, and it always will. I have noticed that older people seem to be quicker to remember this than younger people. There is an unshakeableness (is that a word?) that I see in people who have been through many of life’s challenges.

Our psalm encourages us to hang in there-

15 for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

May we remember this as we hold the years since the quakes in our hearts today.