Monday, 28 September 2015

Whoever is not against us is for us

In the September of 1999, 16 years ago, when I arrived in the parish of St John tone of the first things we did was have a PCC away day to look at what we thought God was calling us to do and be in West Hendon. It was a day of visions and dreams and yes a little reminiscence much has happened in the intervening years that I believe to have been positive.

One of the challenges was to find a strap line, a simple sentence that would sum up our first Mission Action Plan that came out of that away day all those years ago. In my mind there were two possibilities the first was the quote from Jesus recorded by St Mark that we have just heard this morning in our gospel reading: Whoever is not against us is for us”, but in the end it was the words of John our Patron that we used “I came that you might have life and have it in abundance”  John 10.10

Looking back over the last 16 years of course I think it is fair to say that much of what we have been able to achieve together, at that time a  small group of around 30 regular worshipping Adults, we have not done on our own but by making relationships and alliances with those around us who, like us, wish to join in the endeavour of living life in abundance.

As we faced the prospect of closure all those years ago we have been confident, creative and compassionate, to use the latest language of our Diocese, in embracing the challenges around us, in responding to the needs of those whom God has called us to minster to, to witness to and too whom we strive to carry the light of Christ.

It has maybe at times meant that we have worked with those with whom we might never have conceived of as partners in gospel, Muslim and Hindu neighbours and of course those for whom a faith in God in not just faint memory but non existent.

But this is the same situation that the few who followed Jesus, his disciples, faced 2000 years ago. When faced with that challenge, proclaiming the good news in a multicultural and Multifaith landscape,  the disciples displayed the all to familiar and natural tendency to retreat to the security of the known – we saw someone casting out demons in your name but we tried to stop him because he was not following us. Isn’t it interesting that when the disciples, who have been sent out to spread the gospel, see some sign of the Kingdom of God breaking into the turmoil and chaos of the world their response is to make it all about them…he was not following us!  

At a time when the strongest voices of those in the church seem to be advocating a breaking up of consensus, a demand for ever tighter definitions of who is right and who is wrong; who is in and who is out. At a time when individual choice is put above collective solidarity Jesus’ words stand as a rebuke “Do not stop him for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us”

In his tour of America we are seeing the Pope challenge the Roman Catholic church to turn from the rhetoric of division and judgement and embrace the values of the gospel that is built upon the one who forgives, who seeks out the lost and fallen and raises them up and gives live – live in abundance. This Sunday he is in a Prison in the States not to add to the judgement and condemnation of those men but to offer another narrative one of forgiveness and love.

Many of our most joyous and life filled days have been with our neighbours, The many years of being a partner with the Barnet Multicultural centre next door and organising the Barnet Multicultural days. The endless run of summer fetes, cream teas, coffee mornings, Christmas bazars, harvest festivals and the list goes on have been enriched by those who have come to join us in our live and celebration of life as God’s children attempting to live faithfully under Christ.

When we look at the text of our gospel this morning it is of direct relevance to us that the words of Jesus “whoever is not against us is for us” come as a response to the fear and exclusivity of the disciples. “Teacher we saw someone casting out a demon in your name and we tried to stop him  because he was not following us”

Someone doing good “casting out a demon” provokes a response in the mind and actions of the disciples that seeks to prevent the good from happening “We tried to stop him” . It is interesting that they tried and failed!

But why?

Maybe the clue is in the words of warning that follow the command of Jesus to his disciples not to be afraid of the “other” not to seek to control the agents of God who bring peace and health to this world but who may be from a group outside of our own making?  

Jesus warns his disciples, and he warns us, that if your eye cause to you stumble tear it out.

St Paul warns us of the power of the tongue to both build up the body of Christ and also to inflict division and pain. Jesus is using the metaphor of the eye.

We are being warned of the dangers of the green eyed monster- envy and jealousy
we are being warned of the wandering eye that can lead us down a path of betrayal suffering and the death of relationships.

It is so often our judgments born from envy and jealousy that cause the pain and division that is in the church of out time. We cannot accept that someone who so unlike us, that others who we find it impossible to understand or love are in fact also loved by God.

The divisions within the church are human made not God made. If the inclination of the church is to make a judgement about the lives of others then this is in stark contrast to the person and example of Jesus.

We need to learn that there are more ways than we can understand in which God comes to us and in which we come to God.

We should no stop anyone because they are not doing things in the way that we do things. God is far bigger than our comprehension and works in so many ways beyond our understanding: we must guard against being exclusivity of human nature that tries to turn the Church in to a club of like minded people.

As Followers of Christ we are called to work in this world of his, a world vast and complex, a world of wondering beauty and amazing diversity  with a generosity that we see in the life and death of Jesus Christ who for us while we were still sinners came that we might have life.

It is this generosity of Spirit that is a sign of the Kingdom and one that stands in stark contrast to the envy, jealousy and mean spiritedness of the world around us.

Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me.
40Whoever is not against us is for us.


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