In last week’s Gospel reading we had the disciples arguing over who was the greatest and it would appear that they didn’t really learn the lesson because today in our Gospel reading from St Mark we have John basically being exclusive. He informs Jesus that someone had cast out a demon in his name but that the disciples told the man to stop because he was not following them. And this made me think about how often I come across situations where someone is prevented from doing something because they aren’t one of the prevailing group.
I’m a fairly nostalgic person and one of the things I occasionally choose to do is watch old children’s TV on youtube. So if you’re a child of the 80s or a parent or grandparent of a child growing up in the 80s you may remember a TV show called the raggydolls. And the concept of the show was that dolls were being made on the production line and some of them had faults and so they got chucked into the bin. And the opening lines in the theme tune were:
It's not much of a life when you're just a pretty face
Just to be whoever you are is no disgrace
Don't be scared if you don't fit in
Look who's in the reject bin!
And whilst this might seem a bit of random aside, the thing I’ve found when revisiting my childhood TV programmes is that there’s often a strong moral message seeping through. Messages of toleration, acceptance, of being a community. In many ways the messages given to children are often the ones then forgotten as adults when new expectations of being realistic rather than idealistic seem to seep through. But this completely goes against what Jesus tells the disciples in the Gospel today. He reminds them that actually they should be like the “little ones” because it is there, in their idealistic views of toleration and acceptance where Jesus is found and not in the world of the powerful and the tough and so called realism.
And this encouraged me to think about my own response to people and situations and whether I still have a child like idealism or whether I’ve been bogged down in false but prevailing concepts of adult realism? Do I find myself welcoming people who have otherwise been rejected? Do I venture out to the raggy doll bin and build a community where everyone is welcome? Because where God is concerned there are no boundaries, there are no people more important or special than others. In God’s Kingdom everyone is amazing, special and not beyond redemption or forgiveness.
So coming back to John’s response in the gospel. And the key quote for me is “he was not following us”. John was wanting to control access to Jesus. To create a club where some had access and some did not. And to be honest that’s fairly typical of a lot of clubs where some people are welcome because they fit a criteria and others don’t. Whether that’s right of wrong it’s the way of the world. But those who follow Jesus aren’t called to be create a club or a holy huddle but instead help form a community of faith where all people can truly find a welcome.
And you may then be asking but what will all this achieve. If we give this welcome, if we create this community, if we include rather than exclude. And this is where the Gospel and reading from the letter of James come together. At first glance this bit of the letter could almost read like prayer being a magic wand, that if we pray enough we can work through our shopping list of prayers and wants and get them all nicely – thank you very much God. But this isn’t what prayer is about, although that’s a whole other talk, but instead I think this final part of James’ letter is more about what a community of faith can achieve. Of what it is there to do. So as well as giving welcome, a community of faith can offer prayers for healing, it can offer mutual challenge to behave according to the Gospel and receive forgiveness and where people wander into sin then the community is there to guide the person back to God. And this isn’t available to a clique but open to everyone.
I was also reading a book recently which really struck a chord with me and the book was discussing being a Christian and never going to church and how actually as Christians we need church, we need to belong to a community of faith in order to receive healing, challenge, forgiveness and prayer just as James describes in his letter.
As I said today, two densely packed, difficult and challenging lessons. Both where we are shown that Jesus is challenging, that to truly follow him, to be his disciples, is to open ourselves to scrutiny and challenge, to find Jesus in the weak and the vulnerable, and to create a community where true inclusion is lived even when it would be easier to fall back into a nice, tidy club with likeminded people. We are called to avoid the holy huddle. Amen.
- Have you ever experienced a clique or holy huddle and how did it make you feel?
- What are three things your church could do to be more inclusive and how could you implement them?