Less “Us and Them”

This is my radio devotion for Thursday, October 8, 2020, aired on KBBN/KCNI, who graciously airs devotions from the pastors of the Custer County Ministerial Association.

Good morning, I’m Pastor Matt Fowler of Broken Bow United Methodist Church. In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical, Hamilton, George Washington’s character repeats various phrases of “This is easy; that is harder.” This week, I’m exploring some of the things Jesus does and says in the Gospel of Mark that might fit the following Hamilton-esque pairing: Hearing Jesus is easy; following him is harder.

Sometimes, when reading the gospels, it’s tempting to construct an us/them, good guy/bad guy narrative. There’s some cause for this, as we see many instances in which many people follow Jesus and some people consistently oppose him for one reason or another. For example, it might be tempting to lump all synagogue leaders as opposed to Jesus, and yet, as we saw on Tuesday, Jairus was a synagogue leader who sought out Jesus for help. Nicodemus, a leader among the Pharisees, in John’s gospel is another such person. It seems that the lines of division aren’t as clearly drawn as we might think, but it’s still easy to think in these categories – and it’s harder to live beyond them.

Take for example John’s statement to Jesus in Mark 9: “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us” (v. 38). John has, apparently, fallen into the “us against the world” kind of mentality. Perhaps he’s a little justified, having faced opposition, and hearing that Jesus will face significant, tragic opposition. And yet, Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. Whoever isn’t for us is against us. I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded” (Mk 9:39-41).

Perhaps, at a basic level, this passage speaks to us as Christian folk participating in diverse churches across our listening area. I believe each of our churches is seeking to be faithful to Jesus’s call to do ministry in Christ’s name, and I celebrate the Spirit’s movement in each of our congregations. I think we all do, even if we might differ on priorities, practices, or heritage. We each long to be congregations of people growing ever more devoted to Jesus’s lordship in our lives.

Perhaps, though, the church part is easy, and the other areas of our lives are harder. I wonder if there are differences we experience in our families, communities, or national lives that might be overcome with a similar sort of generosity of spirit. I recognize this stretches beyond our passage’s intent, and yet, I still wonder. Could it be that the person we so vociferously disagree with – about issues ranging from child care, parenting, education, and screen usage to fiscal management, shopping practices, and political paradigms, or other things – might have a common goal, but a different view of how to get there, or a different set of priorities as most important for reaching the common goal? I will likely never discover if we do share some common goals unless I put down my defensiveness and unwavering conviction that I’m right, and then actually listen to someone else. Disagreeing is easy. Finding common ground is harder, but perhaps more worthwhile if we’re going to live together.

To this end, let’s start today with prayer.

God, you are maker of all. In Jesus you call us to a common goal: whole life salvation for all. Give us vision and generous hearts, that we might build relationships through which your grace can be experienced. May it be so.

Have a blessed day.

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