Ooh, I’m Gonna Tell!

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 21/Year B ▪ September 26, 2021
Mark 9:38-50

If you have siblings, you’re no stranger to the phrase “Ooh I’m gonna tell!” This is the saying commonly attributed to the bratty little sister or brother just itching to win the attention and accolades of the parent, while attempting to knock their sibling down a few pegs. Veiled as the self-appointed protector of the status quo, the tattle tale’s policing tactics are rooted in protecting their self-interests. 

Our passage in the ninth chapter of Mark shows the disciples reporting to Jesus about how they encountered an exorcist who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They did not know who he was. Surely, he had not sacrificed all that they had, in leaving their livelihoods and families to follow Jesus.  They tried to stop him because he was not following them, and he was not, according to them, authorized to do such a healing. 

It is interesting that only a few verses before our passage, a boy with a spirit had been brought to the disciples for exorcism, but they were unsuccessful. So, it had to sting a bit when they saw this random person doing, successfully, what they had been authorized by Jesus to do. The power to heal was not exclusive to them, as they had believed, and they were threatened. The disciples’ focus on their own power turned the disciples into tattle tales. So when they saw this rogue exorcist, they said to themselves, “Ooh, we are gonna tell Jesus!” When they did tell Jesus, their true intent, which was to keep an outsider from encroaching upon their perceived power, was poorly-veiled before Jesus. 

Jesus called the disciples out on their inauthentic concern. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” (v. 42). A stumbling block is a figure of speech that refers to difficulty or hesitation. Essentially, Jesus was saying, “If you make it hard for people to come to me, or to be brought to me, then you, disciples, you aren’t putting a stumbling block before these little ones; you are the stumbling block. 

In order to better understand Jesus’ subsequent warning, it is helpful to have clarity about what sin is. Sin is broken relationship. And, Jesus warned the disciples that actions leading to broken relationship between him, and those who sought to serve him, were sinful. By their acts of exclusion and rejection, the disciples had unwittingly become human obstacles–instruments of broken relationship—sin. No one who follows Jesus wants to view themselves as instruments of sin. Yet, when we are not on guard, we can be vulnerable to its insidious effects.     

Jesus’ graphic and extreme directive for the removal of parts of the body was not meant to be taken literally—it was a list of purposely shocking images (cut off your hand, cut off your foot, tear out your eye) in order to emphasize the gravity and necessity of letting go of sinful, fleshly temptations which cause difficulty for the believers’ own entrance into the Kingdom of God. 

In this scenario, when the disciples encountered the exorcist, their reaction was like pushing him out of the way with a self-righteous hand—cut it off, Jesus said. Trying to stop the man from performing the exorcisms, and then running to tell Jesus so that he could stop the man, used feet that, with every step, created more distance between human beings—cut one foot off, Jesus said. And, the disciples’ refusal to acknowledge the exorcist as worthy and authorized, was like stripping the dignity of another human being through condemning eyes—tear one of those eyes out, said Jesus. 

The disciples were unaware that their actions, were a form of restricting salvation to their group alone—a stumbling block to full access.  They had not considered how much more could be accomplished by supporting the efforts of the unknown ally of the Way. Remember that the exorcist was casting out demons, not in his own name, but in the name of Jesus. It was the invocation of Jesus’ name which authorized him. Their role, as Jesus’ disciples, was to be inviting, and to make the unknown servant’s path straight so that this stranger ally might make the name of Jesus known in the world. 

When I was a chaplain at the University, my Methodist counterpart, who served in the building right next door to the Episcopal Chapel Center, enthusiastically shared with me that her divinity school used our Book of Common Prayer for their worship, and that she planned to introduce it to her students at the Methodist center. You see, the structure and beauty of the Anglican liturgy is, for many, an instrument of spiritual healing that invites all into sacred worship with the Lord. 

I feel for the disciples in this passage because I have to admit that my internal reaction, was not unlike the disciples’ reaction to the exorcist.  I smiled and screamed to myself, “Hey, that’s ours. Who authorized this? Ooh, I’m gonna tell!” My reaction, while not spoken, but very present in my spirit, is an example of how a person of faith, can unwittingly become a potential, or actual, stumbling block between human beings seeking relationship with God through Christ. 

Such behavior runs counter to the baptismal covenant which calls Christians to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.  That Methodist pastor was not the first person of a different denomination to tell me that they used our Prayer Book, and thanks be to God, she will not be the last. 

Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, is known for his unwavering emphasis on refocusing Christians to the path of Jesus of Nazareth—the Jesus Movement. While Curry did not coin the phrase, “Jesus Movement,” his name has become synonymous with it. In terms of ecumenism, which promotes unity amongst the world’s Christian churches, Curry describes the Episcopal Church as one denominational branch, among many branches, along the vine of the Jesus Movement. This movement was first launched with the calling of Jesus’ disciples to grow a community of people with lives centered on following Jesus into loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, each other and creation.  

It is through the many branches of Christ’s vine, manifested in this world, that the Jesus Movement, of which you and I belong, continues forward. As it does, the negative connation of the tattle tale is transformed into the enthusiastic, truth-teller. The truth-telling evangelist, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who goes out into the world with the name of Jesus on their tongue, compelled to shout into the world, “Ooh, I’m gonna tell!”