James 5: 13-20
Mark 9: 38-50
We sometimes forget the great, freeing truth of what we just heard Jesus say in our gospel story this morning: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”. He said it in response to John who told him a story about finding other people working in the name of Jesus who were not from their own group. Jesus makes it clear that he is quite alright with people doing good deeds in his name, no matter what group they are in. He also makes it quite clear that anyone doing bad deeds, even if that person is in his group of disciples (and therefore presumably doing it in his name), will be cursed.
So it seems that actions are the important things, and group membership is of secondary importance. We probably all know people who are either indifferent or even hostile to official Christianity and yet are some of the most Christ-like people on earth – theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And we also probably know church members who are some of the cruelest people on earth – theirs is the kingdom of hell.
None of that is to say that beliefs are unimportant or that orthodoxy has no value. They do have value, but only if we allow the Holy Spirit to use those tools to form us into loving people. If, on the other hand, we use them to form ourselves into hateful people, we are working against Jesus and against ourselves.
And even within the church around the world and throughout history, we ought not to be so quick to judge other groups because of their styles of worship or government, or the education levels or social classes of their members. The body of Christ is big and diverse, and many different denominations are needed to help everyone fit in the Body. The church would be impoverished without the gift of the multiplicity of denominations. However, we can and often do take that gift and twist it into opportunities for rivalry and bitterness between denominations – and the smaller the differences between denominations, the more bitter the fighting. No wonder the Holy Spirit gets tired of it all and so often chooses to work through non-Christians.
But we can change that. We can see other groups working in the name of Jesus and be happy and grateful for them. We can see other groups doing good things whether or not they do them in the name of Jesus and be happy and grateful for them. It is so much easier than getting upset (and so much less ridiculous). Then, maybe the Holy Spirit will think we are ready to do good works and will use us. How much better to be filled with the Holy Spirit than with jealousy and pettiness. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” It’s all about Jesus; it’s not about us. AMEN