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18 Pentecost - Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29; Mark 9:38-50

Newly baptized Lauren is now a member of our church.

We delight in receiving her, but Jesus is nervous.

She could easily get the wrong idea.

Too much of two thousand years of church history can be summed up in the first verse of today's gospel reading.

Saint John, in the great spiritual tradition of Joshua and the Israelites, complains and tattles.

Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.

Where to begin?

We could start with ineptitude, remembering how the church went 0-9 in The Crusades; the disciples could not stop the stranger from helping people any more than they could cast out demons themselves just a few verses back.

Or we could profile the jealousy and insecurity of the faithful, or the sense of monopoly on holy power that led to drowned witches, denominational wars, and various other horrors.

Or we could discuss delusions of grandeur: John's concern was not that the rogue exorcist was not following Jesus; he was not following us.

God forbid some other church succeed where we fail!

God forbid someone outside our camp get God's approval!

Maybe the Holy Spirit given to Lauren—who brought more people to worship today than you did, by the way—is skipping the sermon to go work through an atheist in Encino!

But that's not approved in our constitution.

Lauren, you are now part of a new family that is both beautiful and dysfunctional.

The church is the spiritual heir to Israel, God's cherished chosen people and colossal headache.

After God's heroic prison break sprung them from back-breaking, soul-crushing slavery in Egypt, they begged to go back.

The food was so much better.

Parents, you've been here.

You work miracles for your children, and they whine about how mean you are to them.

So you step away and have a private conversation about what your child said today.

Then the LORD became very angry, and Moses was displeased.

Moses, who was only displeased, rants like a madman.

The LORD, who was exceedingly furious, says nothing ... yet.

The lectionary cuts out what God said next; it was not suitable for church.

Neither, I presume, were Jesus' thoughts about John's utter failure to grasp the point.

Yet neither one gives up.

The LORD does not withdraw or withhold his spirit; he distributes it more widely.

Jesus does not stop at snarky; he defends the outsiders and reminds his insiders to take care of each other, to protect the vulnerable ones and have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Salt was a symbol of the covenant, which God does not break, even when God's people drive God to the breaking point.

That's the promise of baptism.

Both Israel and Church survive because God is faithful no matter what.

Lauren, child of God, God loves you so much that you cannot screw it up.

If you think you can, get over yourself.

If you think others can, stop worrying about them and instead give thanks for whatever goodness they offer, then work on yourself to bless others too.

Saints are sinners and sinners do God's work and assessing and separating people like wheat from weeds or sheep from goats is above your pay grade.

Not that that has ever stopped your new family before.

But take heart: even when we are judgmental and petty, even when we stumble and stink, even at our ugly worst, you and your new family cannot stop God's Spirit, cannot confine God's power, and cannot ever lose God's love.

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