I remember as a boy dreading recess at school. You see, I was a bit of a bookworm and not very athletic, and so when it came to be picked for teams, I was usually the kid who got picked last. Ugh! I hated that. It was embarrassing and it made me feel like a loser! Of course, when report card time came, all the jocks wished they were me!
We humans really do like to pick sides. We find it easier to think of “groups” and make nice and tidy distinctions between peoples based on race, or ideology, or nationality, or economics, education, and so on. It seems the list is endless of the groups we are asked to either identify ourselves or identify others. I never will forget one of my first Sundays after I entered the Orthodox Church. We usually have a wonderful time of fellowship after liturgy on Sundays called “Coffee Hour” and I was at a parish hall during coffee hour when a precious older lady came up to me and asked if I was Greek. When I told her “No” she asked the question “Well, what are you doing here? Don’t you have your own church to go to?” She was really shocked when she heard that this was my church! By the way, she wasn’t upset I was there, just confused. You see, she had never imagined that someone outside her culture would actually want to be Orthodox. She was thrilled I was there and we became fast friends. Plus, she made the best galaktoboureko in the world! (look it up, it’s magnificent!)
What strikes me as most problematic with this all too human tendency is that it’s too easy! It’s too easy to break persons up into groups based on this or that set of characteristics It strikes me as lazy thinking, and it usually is accompanied by the darker spiritual sickness of prejudice; usually unintended, but just as spiritually harmful. Why is that? Because we humans were created in God’s image and God knows Himself as Persons in Communion. So, we too, are made for communion and those traits or behaviors or attitudes that hinder or break or wound communion between persons are, by their very nature, enemies of God’s intention for us all.
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Mark 9:33-41: At that time, Jesus and his disciples came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.”
The disciples of the Lord come across a man casting out demons in the name of the Lord and they stopped him because he wasn’t part of their group! When they told the Lord, He corrected them with the wisdom that said anyone doing good in the name of the Lord can’t then turn around and speak evil of the Lord. In other words, there is the beginnings of communion here. Don’t snuff that out! It’s the whole point of the Lord’s ministry to build, grow, and foster communion.
Now, before you go too far on the other side of this wisdom and suggest the Lord is teaching that anything goes and as long as any group is claiming to follow the Lord they are OK; nothing could be further from the truth taught here. No, the Lord isn’t suggesting that this beginning of communion is the end of the journey, but it is a beginning. It’s like suggesting that a kindergartener is the same as a wise teacher. Yes, both are persons, but there is still development that has to occur for there to be any chance these two persons can communicate well. We should never confuse the launching pad for the finish line!
Today, were are those places in your life that are enemies of communion and dialogue? What fears of the “stranger” lurk in your heart that keep you from seeing all people created in God’s image and meant to be in communion with you? To be sure, we always need discernment, but we can never allow the beauty of God’s original intention for us all to escape or be lost to our fears, our prejudices, or our ignorance. We were made to be in communion like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is in communion (“is” is intentional. Bad grammar but good theology). With this as a fundamental principle in our lives we are well on our way to being Orthodox on Purpose!