Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Caution Against Bigotry

This week's lectionary text (Mk 9:38-50) comes at a time in our nation when the question of who is for us and who is against us seems to be the topic of the day.

The disciples are worried that there are other prophets and preachers ministering in Jesus' name who do not belong to the disciples' inner circle. It seems some have heard Jesus' message of love and liberation and have run with it outside of the disciples' proscribed community of faith.

But Jesus is not so concerned. He reminds the disciples that the important thing at hand is not who these people follow, but rather what they do. Are they healing people? Are they preaching the good news? Are they working for justice, peace, love and wholeness? Are they bringing forth the Reign of God? If so, who cares if they are different.

Jesus' answer reminds the disciples that just because folks are different from us, doesn't mean they are not doing the work of God.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, understood this passage as a "caution against bigotry." In his sermon of this same title, Wesley is clear that the differences that divide us are meaningless in the face of the work we do in seeking God's commonwealth of peace and justice. Highlighting the salient differences of his day, he wrote:

"What, if I were to see a Papist, an Arian, a Socinian casting out devils? If I did, I could not forbid even them, without convicting myself of bigotry. Yea, if it could be supposed that I should see a Jew, a Deist, or a Turk, doing the same, were I to forbid them either directly or indirectly, I should be no better than a bigot still."

It is not the differences that divide us, but the common cause that unites us.

"In every instance of this kind, whatever the instrument be, acknowledge the finger of God. And not only acknowledge, but rejoice in GodÂ’s work, and praise GodÂ’s name with thanksgiving. Encourage whomsoever God is pleased to employ, to give themselves wholly up thereto. Speak well of all wheresoever you are; defend their character and their mission. Enlarge, as far as you can, their sphere of action; show them all kindness in word and deed; and cease not to cry to God in their behalf,"

It seems an easy answer, but a lesson we as a nation have yet to learn. In the midst of the "war on terror" and "crackdown on immigration," we continue to draw the lines tighter and tighter of who is in and who is out. This week Congress even voted to make those lines concrete in a 700 mile fence between the US and Mexico.

We are left to ponder Jesus' message of unity in the midst of this division and exclusion.

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