When I started the ministry process I was introduced to a new word, Discernment. This is an interesting word because even though I had heard it before and thought I knew it, I quickly realized that it was being used a little differently than I would have thought. When in the religious community the word discernment means more than the ability to judge well; it holds the connotation of a process for judging which is not solely wisdom, but also on trying to find or understand the ways in which God is active within a particular situation. In other words, trying to come to a decision that most closely follows what God is calling us to do. This is hard! Especially since we only have glimpses of God. But we try none-the-less and it does make a big difference.
On of the passages that becomes central to discernment is the lectionary passage for this week, Mark 9:38-50. Its focus is on Stumbling Blocks. What are the things that we put in the way of others and what are the things that we put in front of others and, more importantly, it warns us about becoming our own stumbling block to faith through our egos. While the Id and Ego were later psychological discoveries, Christ knew that people had the tendency to foul up their own lives by focusing or acting on the wrong things and how often that got in the way of faith.
This passage is a great example of that. Here the Disciples were getting all hot and bothered because people were healing in Christ’s name without authority. As one reads the passage, you could see Christ almost laughing when the disciples bring this to his attention. For Jesus, this was a nonissue. In fact, not only did he not care that they were healing in his name, he embraced them. He went on to telling his disciples that whether or not they are in the fold, they are furthering the message and that is what was important. This is because the message has a power all of its own.
That would be a great lesson in itself, but he does not leave it there. He then gives a strong rebuke and warning. The rebuke is that the disciples are not to create stumbling blocks for those speaking in Christ’s name. He is pointing to rules, laws, and expectations, but it could be nearly anything! The warning is much more important and that is the warning about the stumbling blocks we put before ourselves. I bet anyone reading this can think of a dozen offhand!
For Christ, the concern of his message is that we are building up the body, building up the faith, and building up better life for every individual and the community! So for me it was moved this morning as I sat down and studied this passage. As some of you know, we are ending the Gathering this Sunday. As I think about the final service, I cannot help but struggle with my own desire not to let it go, and the reality that it is becoming a stumbling block to building the community of Faith at Westminster.
While my heart wants to keep it going, the discernment process says that we need to let it go. And with insight from the passage, I felt much better about the decision. You see in a church we are limited in what we can do, and when we overextend ourselves we are often not able to be faithful to our call because we are not able to give the effort we need and this begins to get in the way of ministries that are vital for the life of the congregation and individuals’ relationships with God.
I am thankful that we have a Session which places discernment at the forefront of its decision-making process. We try to look at how what we do builds up the body of Christ, but also does not distract us from what we are called to be: A Christian Community of Welcoming and Nurturing Faith.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen