By The Rev. Sherry Deets
18 Pentecost, Proper 21, September 30, 2012
A strong community enhances the lives of its members. The community is a place of identity, where people have a sense of belonging because they are known and recognized. The community provides protection and support. The community shapes values and provides cultural norms. But there are risks in a strong community. The expectations and demands of a social order may restrict the freedom and creativity of a person. The past ways may not be suitable for the challenges of the future. A strong community may be so focused on itself that it loses the capacity to relate to those outside.
There is a constant tension between being inclusive and being exclusive, with serious questions to be faced. How far should a community go in relating to other people who are different, and how far should it go in excluding those who have different standards and values and customs? How far must a community go in isolating itself from outsiders to keep its values? How does a community keep its identity if it recognizes the validity of differing ways and structures of other communities? How do people in a community fellowship with others without losing their defining distinctiveness? How do we keep the integrity of our community without isolating ourselves from others? The first followers of Jesus confronted the issue when they came across someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They tried to stop him “because he was not following us.” He was not one of “us”, one of their group, and they wanted to keep the integrity of the way of Jesus and the power of Jesus. What would happen if everybody started doing things in the name of Jesus? Jesus had certain powers, and through him the disciples had been given powers. The disciples were averse to allowing others outside their own group to exercise such power, even if it was in the good cause of casting out demons.
When they told Jesus about the person, he somehow did not seem as concerned about the situation. He said to them, “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.” Preserving the power of his own group was not a priority for Jesus. If good were being done by others, their actions were to be affirmed. Jesus went on to say to the disciples that as they are ministered to by outsiders, it will come as blessing both to themselves and to those who aid them: “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
So, how can a community keep its own identity and still be open to those outside? There is no simple answer to that question, but every community needs to be aware of where the line is drawn between insider and outsider, and of the impact that the decision of how to relate to others has on both those within and those without. The word of Jesus to his disciples reminds us to be sensitive to the issues involved, and his word pushes us to run some risk in relating to those who are not part of our community. (Harry B. Adams)
Legend has it that a missionary was swept overboard while traveling on very high and rough seas, and was subsequently washed up on a beach at the edge of a remote village. Nearly dead from exposure and lack of food and fresh water, he was found by the people of the village and nursed back to health. He lived among them for twenty years, quietly adapting to their culture and working alongside them. He preached no sermons, and made no personal faith claim. Now Jesus speaks to us about salt; to have salt in ourselves. To be a “salty believer” is to be one who is passionate about their faith. When we have a passion for something it takes priority in our lives. We invest our energy and resources because we are determined to make a difference.
But, for this missionary, when people were sick, he sat with them, sometimes all night. When people were hungry, he fed them. When people were lonely, he gave a listening ear. He taught the ignorant and always took the side of the one who had been wronged.
The day came when some missionaries entered the same village and began talking to the people about a man named Jesus. After listening for a while to their story, the native people began insisting that Jesus had already been living in their village for many years. “Come,” one of them said, “We’ll introduce you to him.” The missionaries were led to a hut where they found their long-lost companion.
This story describes what it means to be a “salty believer.”
Now that’s effective evangelism. It does not depend on labels or formal affiliations for validation. It is offering a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name to any who are in need. And it is recognizing that when someone offers us a cup of cold water, Jesus is already at work in that person’s life whether they are able to name His name or not. Anytime anyone, regardless of their denominational affiliation, is seeking to help another, Jesus is there.
An old man named Calvin had lived a good life as a farmer for years. One day an evangelist came to the community and, in the course of his stay, visited Calvin and asked him what denomination he was. Calvin answered the question like this: “When my grain gets ready for selling, after I’ve harvested it and packaged it, I can take it to town by any one of three roads – the river road, the dirt road, or the highway. But when I get my grain to town and go to the buyer to sell him what I have, he never looks at me and asks, ‘Calvin, which road did you take to get your grain to town?’ What he does do is ask me if my grain is any good.”
I have come this morning to ask you if your grain is good – the grain of your discipleship? Another way to ask the question is: Are the fruits of your life seen as acts of kindness and compassion?
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus calls us to be radically different, radically loving, radically forgiving and unhesitatingly obedient to his will. He does this using dramatic language and memorable metaphors.
For example, Jesus reminds us of the need for compassion — defined by one person as “putting your pain in my heart” — when he assures us that even mercifully giving a person a cup of cold water, because he or she belongs to Christ, will not go unrewarded. We’ve heard that “cup of cold water” example before, so perhaps we don’t sense how powerful an image it is, but when Jesus first used it, it had dramatic effect. Imagine people thinking that the only way to please God was through some significant act that would result in praise and admiration from others and perhaps even get one’s name in the news. But here’s Jesus, saying that even as seemingly small an act as giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty person will bring reward from God.
Is your grain good? Are the fruits of your life seen as acts of kindness and compassion? Amen.
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