Unity Beyond Our Walls

This message was shared at Centerville UMC in Centerville, IN on Sunday, October 4, 2015. Mark 10:13-16 was used as the launching pad for the message. 

It was a fairly common practice for people to bring their children to respected rabbis to receive a prayerful blessing. So, when the children came to Jesus, this would not have been unexpected or out of the ordinary. But, for some reason, on that day, the disciples wanted to keep Jesus to themselves and shooed the children away.

Whenever I come to this passage, I believe it’s appropriate to pause and ask ourselves, “Who are we shooing away from Jesus?”

Are we pushing anyone away from Jesus? Are we coming between various people groups and Jesus? Do we, whether intentionally or not, shoo others away from Jesus?

Now, I believe we should cut the disciples some slack. They weren’t these mean-spirited people trying to be jerks and exclude people from fellowship with Jesus. Well, at least not intentionally. I believe they were trying to protect Jesus. Jesus had been preparing them for the tragic events of His arrest and crucifixion and they simply didn’t want him to be bothered.

But, Jesus grew angry by their actions of shooing away the children. He welcomed the children and reminded His disciples and the crowd that we need to have the simple faith of children. He welcomed those his closest followers chose to exclude.

Again, who are we shooing away? Like the disciples, it’s not like we are these mean-spirited people trying to be jerks and exclude people from fellowship with Jesus. Well, again, at least not intentionally. Who are we shooing away that Jesus is calling us to welcome?

We shoo children away when we expect them to behave like adults, rather than children. What if, instead of telling the children to stop running, stop talking, stop jumping, stop dancing, stop whatever, we joined in on the fun and actually filled Jesus’ church with joy, energy, excitement and enthusiasm? What if, instead of having signs up that say “no skateboarding, skating or bicycles” we said, “we have insurance for a reason?” When we put up signs and say don’t do this and don’t do that, the message being sent is “we don’t want kids or people like you here.” Do we shoo others away when we attempt to protect our property and preserve the institution?

We shoo adults away when we expect them to become just like us. We push them away when we expect them to behave like us, believe like us, have the same moral values and convictions as us, have the same political affiliation as us, dress like us, talk like us, have the same sexual preference as us, have the same education as us, have a similar socio-economic level as us, have the same skin color or ethnic background as us…

In some ways, we shoo people away because we want them to behave like us before they believe like us. We want them to behave and believe before they can belong. Seriously, we need to ask ourselves, “do we expect people to behave before they believe and belong?” Do we truly care if someone feels like they belong? Do we even care what someone believes? Or are we more concerned that they just talk, look and act like us?

Here’s the kicker, much of what we believe it means to “behave” like a Christian probably has very little to do with following Jesus. Not only that, we want other people to “behave” like what we believe they should when we ourselves struggle to behave the way Jesus calls us.

Could it be that we have convinced ourselves that it is our job to judge? That it is our job to determine whether or not another is fit to belong? This week, I saw a quote from an unexpected source. The quote credited to Joel Osteen states, “Our job is not to judge. Our job is not to figure out if someone deserves something. Our job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, and to heal the hurting.”

In the United Methodist Church, we have a catchy little motto of “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” Whenever I see this little phrase, I grow a bit cynical and say, “Oh, really? Where exactly are these churches with open hearts, open minds, and open doors?” There are times I believe our denomination does more shooing away than opening our hearts, minds and doors to the fallen, broken, and hurting.

Jesus was often criticized for spending too much time with the wrong people – children, tax collectors, questionable women, the most notorious of sinners. Not only that, because of his association with “notorious sinners”, because of the way he lived, Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. Matthew 11:18-19 says, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

When was the last time our church was accused of spending too much time with the wrong people? When was the last time we were accused of being “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”?

Many felt like Jesus should have focused his time and energy with the religious leaders and the highly committed religious folks of his day. They didn’t want a radical Jesus who was more concerned with reaching out to the least and the last. They preferred a domesticated Jesus who would hold the hands of the religious folks and behave the way they believed he should. Kind of sounds like the expectations we place on our clergy today.

The religious folks, and even at times the disciples, thought that by focusing his energy and time on the religious folks, Jesus would improve his image and avoid the criticism he often faced. Of course, we all know Jesus didn’t really care about that. He was less concerned with keeping up religious appearances and more concerned with spending time and speaking hope and life and love into those who needed him the most…the fallen, the broken, the hurting, the least, the last, the overlooked.

This passage makes it clear that all are welcome, all are to be included, all are loved by Jesus. Jesus loves all, is for all, is with all, and is in all. Therefore, the church should love all and be for and with all. Jesus included those excluded by the religious folks of his day. Jesus extended love to those the religious community shunned and ignored.

So, we pause to ask ourselves, who are we shooing away?

Who are we excluding?

Who are we ignoring?

Are we welcoming all or shooing some away?

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