One evening a couple of years ago our son Zach called, he was very excited. He was calling to invite us to come to Gainesville to attend his Ordination as a Deacon in his church. My first response was Deacon? How could he be a Deacon? No way, I don’t recall hearing anything about this. How could he find time to study, when did he do all of this? My mind jumped to my own journey to the diaconate, the 4 years of travel to Winter Park, study, papers, reading, my psychological exam, written exam and the day when I stood before the Standing Committee. I also thought about my own Ordination at The Cathedral in Orlando. Bishop Brewer laying his hands on me as he ordained me. “No Way, it couldn’t be the same!” Laura and I had been to his church. I remember wondering, how does a person know when the service starts. People were wondering in and out, talking, there was some music playing, some were standing and singing. We have sat in their folding chairs. Listened to their Praise Band. We even knew some of the songs. We have been to their church on the Sunday that the received communion for the month. I remember their communion of grape juice and crackers in that little plastic container with the foil peel off top. Where was the order and structure that I knew and loved?
Instead of sharing in Zach’s excitement and celebrating the fact that Zach was following in my steps by taking a leadership role in his church. I was comparing his role as deacon to my more superior role. I was then judging his church and their way of worship, comparing it to mine. Isn’t that what we all do? Don’t we compare and judge? And then come to conclusions about their worship worthiness?
Our gospel lesson from Mark this morning opens with a brief exchange between John and Jesus. It is an interruption to Jesus’ teaching about how disciples should relate to children or little ones. Jesus was using the example of child or little one as a symbol for new followers of Jesus. However, this interruption fits nicely. John had told Jesus, “we forbade the man casting out demons in your name.” Jesus’ immediate response was, “Do not forbid him.” John had told Jesus that his man was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. The point at issue here for John and the others was whether to welcome this new charismatic prophet who calls on the name of Jesus but does not belong to the apostolic group, their group. Same problem for Moses in our Old Testament lesson, when Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp. They were not part of the 70, the group that had gone out to the tent of meeting and still the spirit rested on them! How and why? Stop them?
The problem presented here is not that the man was not following Jesus, but that he was not following the Twelve “us”. Jesus responds, “Do not forbid him.”
Instead, He was teaching His disciples and certainly Us. That we should be gracious and generous as we form opinions about others who call on the name of Jesus, even when they don’t do it our way or are not in our group.
Then He announces a blessing on all of those who give physical aid and comfort, as a cup of water to any needy person who belongs to Christ. We all need to be sure not to miss this point, “The giving and receiving which characterizes disciples is not to be limited to some in-group but, should be common to all who bear the name of Jesus Christ.”
On Tuesday mornings for the past 3 or 4 years I have been meeting and praying with pastors from many of the Lake Wales churches. First Baptist, High Point, Church of God, First Presbyterian, a number of Pentecostal and Hispanic churches are here. We share challenges, laugh, and pray for each other. In fact, it is very common for one of the pastors to ask for prayers for Good Shepherd and our search process. We certainly all have different worship styles and certainly some doctrinal differences. Last week before prayer time, we discussed preaching and sermon styles. I shared that we use a Lectionary for our scripture lessons. We have a (3 year) rotation (A, Matthew, B, Mark, and C, Luke). We preach from the lessons in Lectionary. We don’t just pick what will preach about today. I also shared that our sermon length was typically 12 to 15 minutes long. A couple of them laughed and said, “15 minutes, I am barely getting started. I go at least 25 and sometimes 30 or 40 minutes.” How about that?
It has been our custom to have communion once a month. It is grape juice and a piece of cracker. It is lead in a rotation. When my turn came. I shared that I needed to pass because I could not do the consecration. Many didn’t understand, and to be fair my formal training was more extensive than some in the group. However, once I explained why, and even though some disagreed I was able to give them some insight into the richness of the Episcopal Church!
The point is, even though we have differences in our styles and some of doctrinal beliefs. We do all agree on the main thing. The only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. We cannot earn it, we can only receive it. We are all sinners in need of a savior. One’s morality will keep him out of jail, but, only the blood of Jesus will keep you out of hell! We see each other many times during the week, and month. We serve together in the community, Care Center Board, YMCA, National Day of Prayer, Good Friday, Thanksgiving Unity and Body of Christ workdays, Friday morning Bible Study at Bok Tower. We share the leadership, always trying to be an example of unity and brotherhood, that is “The Church, “The Body of Christ.” We try to affirm that it is not confined to one group, “the in group.”
We serve together to seek and save the lost. That is all our callings as believers. Yes, you and me! I see and hear about many of you and how you reach out and serve in our community as well. I am certainly aware that many things that happen are only known by Our Father in Heaven. I say again, “The in group is all those who bear the name of Jesus Christ.”
The second portion of Our Gospel lesson takes a turn, a warning. Jesus warns against causing people to sin. In particular, “These little ones who believe in me.” The little ones are those who are physically young and those who are new believers. He is saying that new believers should be welcomed into the Christian fellowship, and not forbidden from working in the name of Christ, and certainly not caused to stumble because of our doing. How can we cause one to stumble we might wonder; It is through our actions, the way we treat each other, and those things we do when no one is looking. We can drive a seeking person away in our parking lot on a Sunday morning by the way we treat the person who doesn’t know the rules! We can cause people to stumble when we loose control of our tongue, when we gossip, or loose our temper. Sometimes even, when we don’t stand up for what is right when we are part of a crowd and we know what is going on is wrong; do we join in our stop it! Please consider this, perhaps even our posts on Facebook, times when we get caught up in political issues. I choose not to read some posts from people that I care about because of their ranting on issues. We should consider whether or not our post is even necessary or even helpful. What is our purpose? I choose not to respond. I’ve recently considered deleting Facebook because of these issues and how it makes me feel.
Jesus is giving all of us a very stern warning. “Do not cause any to sin.” That includes yourself. If is better to enter the kingdom of God without a hand, foot, or eye it they cause you to stumble than to be thrown into hell. What we say, do and how we act matter!
One of the phrases that I hear commonly about churches is “We are a welcoming church” which means to me that we will welcome you if you come are brave enough to show up, brave the parking lot, and come in. I think we would be better served if we became an inviting church.
Why do we go to church in the first place? Is it to become “more churchy?” Do we go to take care of our weekly duty? Why?
I hope it is to get to know God, to help us to determine what is right, what is true and what is Biblical. Genuine Salvation. Then, to take it into the world!
I will close with this quote from Madeline L’Engle from Daily Dig. “Sometimes the very walls of our churches separate us from God and each other. In our various naves and sanctuaries, we are safely separated from those outside, from other denominations, separated from the poor, the ugly, the dying… The house of God is not a safe place. It is a cross where time and eternity meet, and where we are – or should be – challenged to live more vulnerably, more interdependently.
So, let us go into the world rejoicing in the power of the spirit and the name of Jesus Christ.