Sunday, September 30, 2012

Team Spirit (Mark 9:38-42)

Every time I read how Jesus dealt with his disciples, I realize how much nicer of a person he was than I am.

If John comes to me and does his little tattling bit -- seriously, he even starts out by saying "Teacher," like every schoolyard rat-fink who ever lived -- about this "someone" who were casting out demons in Jesus' name, then I look him square in the eye and say something like, "No, leave them alone. They're my Plan B and judging by you guys, I'm gonna need 'em."

But Jesus, not being me and so being a much nicer person, says. "Leave them alone. If they're really calling on my name and it's really working, then they're not against us. They're with us."

He goes on: "In fact, if anyone does so much as give you a cup of water in my name he or she is on my side. If you get in their way and break down the faith they have, then you're the one in trouble, not them!"

I think this idea is important in several ways, but we'll just unpack a couple of them right now. First, we need to understand what this "someone" is really doing. He or she is not just preaching about Jesus or teaching about him. This other person is not claiming Jesus said or taught something he never really said or taught. That's important for us to remember now too. Plenty of people put words in Jesus' mouth, and not all of them are people who wrote The DaVinci Code. There are Christians who somehow get from Jesus exactly the message they want and they can massage his words until it matches their idea. But that's not what Someone is doing.

Someone is performing actual deeds of divine power in Jesus' name. And not just healings and such, but commanding demonic forces to obey in such a way that they do. Demons don't obey just anybody. The disciples themselves show a hit-and-miss record on that before the resurrection, and in the book of Acts we read about a man who claims Jesus' name when he confronts a possessed person, but since he does not know Jesus he gets his head handed to him.

And Jesus recognizes the difference with his words to John. If Someone is really performing such powerful needs in Jesus' name, then Someone is connected to Jesus whether he or she is a part of the called group or not. Someone is just like the disciples in this, though: Their connections to Jesus will continue to shape them as long as those connections are maintained. Neither they nor we can connect to Jesus and remain unchanged.

Once touched by Jesus, we can't ever claim ignorance again about our separation from God. We will always know what we are supposed to be and how far short of that we have fallen. And we will always know that God awaits us to confess that and return to him -- when we stray from our walk with him he will stay on the path until we return to him.

Another thing to unpack from this is how the distinctions we think are so important pale next to the things that are really important. John thought that it mattered whether Someone followed Jesus as one of the called group of disciples. We might think he's foolish, but we have thought the same sort of thing about our own dividing lines more than once.

I've said before that I think denominations are actually good things. They allow us to believe differently but still not violate our consciences about where we think God has led us. Some Christians insist people must be immersed to be baptized. Some insist only men can preach. Some insist on only one translation of the Bible or one way of doing worship. And those who insist on those things can gather for worship and teaching with other believers and not have to accept something they feel is unacceptable. I always go back to the example of comparing how well my sister and I got along before I moved away to college with how well we got along when we didn't share the same roof. You get the idea.

But this incident shows us that even though we can justify some times of separation from those who think differently about some things, we can't justify complete separation and still call ourselves the body of Christ. We can do some things -- many things, in fact -- together. We can work at the same food pantry. We can pray for our city, state and national leaders. We can pray together for the children of our community. We can support clothes closets and so many other things that really, Sunday morning is the only time we have a valid excuse for being apart.

It's OK if I say of another church, "Well, since you won't permit women to be ordained, I don't feel called to the ministry within your denomination or group." It's not OK for me to set up a stumbling block for them by saying, "And that means you're not a real church until you agree with us."

Friends, the body of Christ has far too much work in the world to turn down real brothers and sisters who want to join their hands with ours in doing it. And the lost of the world don't need to reach out for the bread of life to have somebody say, "Don't touch that! It's not the right kind of bread and you don't know where it's been!"

I firmly believe the more we reflect a united Body in this world, the more we will find united within that Body in the next.