by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
In the movie “Mean Girls,” fifteen-year-old Cady attends public school for the first time after being home schooled by her parents. In the beginning, she receives advice about whom to sit next to and whom to avoid. Some students, she is told, are best avoided for various reasons; they belong to the wrong clique or wear the wrong clothes, while others are acceptable.
In the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37), the people you might think would help the unfortunate traveler, a priest and a Levite, passed and left him lying where he was. Instead, it was a Samaritan who helped him. This was remarkable because at that time, as John wrote, “. . . Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” (John 4:9b NIV). In fact, Jesus himself told the disciples, “‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.’” (Matt. 10:5b NIV). Samaritans were those who were best avoided, especially if you were a Jew. But then Jesus was asked “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29b NIV). The “Good Samaritan” may have been “from the wrong side of the tracks” but he helped when the others wouldn’t.
Jesus told the people of his day that some of them would hear the words “I was a stranger and you invited me in,” while others would hear the words “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in,” (Matt. 25:35b & 43a NIV). If we close our hearts, minds, and doors to others, we risk closing them to Christ. Similarly, the author of Hebrews wrote, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb. 13:2 NIV).
One day, the disciple John said to Jesus, “Master, . . . we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” But Jesus replied, “Do not stop him, . . . for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50 NIV). Jesus spoke very strongly about those who opposed him: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” (Luke 11:23 NIV). Jesus also told the disciples that he had not come to bring peace but division (Luke 12:51-53). But he was speaking about division between believers and unbelievers.
Those of us who are Methodists have heard the phrase “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” Our hearts, minds, and doors are supposed to be open to anyone who comes. Our “Litany for Christian Unity,” in the words of Pope John Paul II, ends, “Teach us to overcome divisions. Send us your Spirit to lead to full unity your sons and daughters in full charity, in obedience to your will; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (The United Methodist Hymnal, pg. 556). We pray for unity. We pray for the ability to accept others. And yet, we don’t always succeed. We wouldn’t dream of rejecting others, and especially other Christians, because they looked different or spoke another language. But we close our hearts, minds, and doors to those who think differently. And to those who worship differently. Apple Computer uses the slogan “Think different.” But we don’t always like people who “Think different.” We prefer those who think like we do. We prefer people who believe as we do, interpret the Bible as we do, worship as we do, and vote as we do. But we’re not called to open our hearts, minds, and doors to those who belong only to denominations that end in “ist.” If we have opportunity to worship with other Christians, we should try to make the best of the experience and seek Christ in it.
Jesus said, “‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’” (John 10:16 NIV). John wrote that Jesus prayed, “‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’” (John 17:20-21 NIV). If there are needless divisions among us, it’s difficult for others to believe the things we say. But if we are united, as “one flock and one shepherd,” those around us will find it easier to believe in our message, and see Christ in our lives and worship.
“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Cor. 1:10 NIV.)