Thursday, October 05, 2006

Broadening the Circle

Mark 9:38-41

Cheryl grew up a Giants fan, but during college she succumbed to the ways of darkness and became a Dodger fan. I don’t know how this happened, but it did. After we started dating, we went to a Giants-Dodgers game at Dodger Stadium and each of us wore a different cap. She wore her Dodger cap, and I wore my Giants cap. It’s amazing that a relationship could blossom in such a situation. I mean, how can a Giants fan and Dodger fan live together in peace? Now I must say that in time Cheryl repented of her sins and returned to the fold and now she’s once again a Giant fan. But in the beginning, who would have thought that I could fall in love with a Dodger fan?

After 9/11 President Bush drew a line in the sand and said: "You’re either with us or you’re against us." Apparently the President of Pakistan took that to mean. If you’re not with us, we’ll bomb you out of existence. Whatever the truth is in that exchange, it seems true that in the war on terror there isn’t any middle ground. You are on either the side of good or the side of evil. There’s no being neutral. Now, this message resonates with a lot of people. It seems to make sense, because it’s clear and to the point. It lets everyone know where you stand, and with everyone on board you can accomplish your goal of ridding the world of terrorism. At least that’s the idea. >I see the value of such a clear cut, black and white perspective, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it. It’s a vision of the world that can easily lead to fanaticism and violence. It’s what Robert Jewett and John Shelton call "zealous nationalism." [Captain America and the Crusade against Evil, 2003] And, it’s the same message that Osama Bin Ladin preaches to Muslims. You’re either with us in our struggle with the West or you’re on their side. There’s no middle ground.

When we see the world in such black and white terms, we draw our circle of relationships very narrowly. Birds of a feather, as they say, flock together, but is this the way that Jesus looked at the world?

If they’re not against us, they’re for us.
Jesus' disciples said much the same thing when the Spirit fell on some men who had begun to prophesy. Joshua told Moses to make them stop, because they weren’t part of the leadership team, but Moses said: "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!" (Num. 11:29). It seems that God sometimes has a bigger picture in mind than we do.

World Communion Sunday
Today is World Communion Sunday. It was established decades ago by the Federal Council of Churches as a call to Christian unity at the Lord’s Table. Though we celebrate communion every Sunday, this isn’t true of every church. But today churches from around the world gather at the table to remember Jesus and his call to unity. One loaf, one cup, one body of Christ.

I think it’s also appropriate that we’re receiving the Reconciliation Offering this morning. This offering helps fund ministries that are designed to overcome racism in America. Since World Communion Sunday is a call to build bridges and tear down walls, this seems quite fitting.

Time for Cooperation
There are lots of barriers to cooperation. Some are theological and some are political. Some are cultural and others are ethnic or gender related. When we look at other churches in the community, we sometimes see them as our competitors rather than as our partners in ministry. But, maybe we’d be more successful in our ministries if we were working together.

In this morning’s scripture we hear Jesus reminding us that God doesn’t operate territorially. God doesn’t favor any one country or any one church. As Ron Allen and Clark Williamson put it: "The power of the divine realm does not operate only in sectarian circles."1

We’ve been learning about this in some of our recent activities. We held our retreat at the Presbyterian Church, and we shared in an annual picnic and worship service in the park with Valley of the Flowers Church. We’ve invited Valley of the Flowers to join us in our ministry at the Convalescent Care Center and in the anti-graffiti effort. And assuming the Board approves, we’re going to co-sponsor a City Council Candidates forum with the Presbyterians And this is just the beginning! We could try to compete with other churches, but I think more good will get done this way. And besides the world is looking at us.

Jesus offers us a new model of living together that challenges our tendency toward exclusivism. Instead of closing the circle, he calls us to broaden it by living graciously and generously with one another. The model he uses is a simple one, but it’s ingrained in ancient society. If someone offers you a cup of cold water, they will be blessed because they’ve blessed you. We’re called to do the same as we share the bread and the cup with any who would come and dine at the Lord’s Table. No barriers, no boundaries, just an open circle of God’s love.

1.Ron Allen and Clark Williamson, Preaching the Gospels without Blaming the Jews, (WJK, 2004), 529.

Preached at First Christian Church of Lompoc
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 1, 2006

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