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Inclusive or Exclusive and a Cup of Water

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Season of Pentecost: Proper 21
28 September 2003
"Inclusive or Exclusive and a Cup of Water"
Rev. Philip Taylor
Numbers 11:4-29; Psalm 19:7-14; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Holy Scripture is filled with moments that show tension in the lives of God's people and even in the life of Our Lord. My experience and my witness to you is that the tensions talked about in the Bible are very important and I believe we are bound to pay attention to them and learn from them.

The Gospel lesson this morning is no exception. There is plenty of tension in the scene that Mark paints for us. To fully understand the tension of this morning's lesson, let's go back a few verses in chapter 9. In verses 33-37 Jesus has had to deal with the tension among his disciples over 'who is the greatest'. To resolve this tension, Jesus uses the example of servant ministry to try to get the twelve and us to understand that ministry is not 'about who is the greatest'. It is not about what the hierarchy will look like. Servant ministry is to be about servant hood not lordship.

For centuries, two unique symbols have been used by church leaders, the mitre, and the shepherd's crook. The mitre, a pointed hat worn by bishops, represents the flame of the Holy Spirit given to the church at Pentecost. The shepherd's crook represents the responsibility of church leadership to be a pastor among the flock of believers.

When I first came to be associated with the Original Free Will Baptist denomination, I noticed two symbols in stain glass and on the cover of literature that impressed me greatly, the towel, and the basin.

These symbols remind us of Christ's washing the disciples' feet and his command that we do likewise. These two symbols have come to represent for me the essence of what ministry is really about. They also represent the essence of what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples and us, servant hood not lordship.

In the portion of Mark's Gospel we read this morning, Jesus is confronted again with an age-old tension and another teaching opportunity. This time it is not about 'who is the greatest' but about 'who is acceptable and worthy of ministry'. Put in terms of this faith community the question might be phrased as 'who is worthy to wash feet'.

When John complains to Jesus that someone had been discovered doing healings, i.e. servant ministry, John's real complaint is that ' he was not one of us'. This imposter servant minister was going around doing good in the name of Jesus but the man was not a 'member of the team'. He was not in the 'club', the 'inner circle'. In terms we might use today, he was not baptized, confirmed, or ordained, he had not even transferred in his church membership.

The response that Jesus gives to this concern and tension raised by John is simple and direct, "Don't stop him…if he's not an enemy he's an ally." Then Jesus goes on to make sure John and the rest of us fully understand how little it takes to qualify for the 'Jesus Team', "Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side."

The denomination that has given me credentials to teach and preach says it this way: "Christ did not exclude anyone from the table, neither should we."

We know from Holy Scripture both Old and New Testament that the issues and the tensions of whether the faith community will be inclusive or exclusive are ancient and ongoing. The model God has given to us to settle this tension is Jesus. Jesus never hides or runs away from this tension, He models for us how God wants us to live in the kingdom by both what he says and what he does.

Look at just some of the examples. When Jesus was confronted with the sin of a prostitute, he befriended her, saved her life, and challenged her accusers. When he washed the disciples feet, he washed the feet of Judas too. It was Judas, who turned away from Jesus, not Jesus, who turned away from Judas. On the way to Calvary, Jesus accepted the help of a non-Jew, a black African to help him carry the cross. Hanging on the cross in pain and shame he asked God's forgiveness be given his executioners and accepted a convicted thief to be the first to join him in heaven.

"Don't stop him…if he's not an enemy he's an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side."

The call of Jesus is always to a higher place, always to inclusiveness, servant hood, and forgiveness. While the world is about excluding those different from us, Jesus is telling us in word and action that all are welcome and no one is expendable.

While the world is about 'who is the greatest' and lordship over the weak, Jesus tells us that real ministry is about servant hood and he models for us what he means as he washes feet, even the feet of Judas.

While the world is about getting even and punishing the guilty to the maximum, Jesus calls us to a life of love, healing, and forgiveness. He says 'turn the other cheek', 'love your enemies', and 'forgive seventy times seven'. He teaches us to pray, 'forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us'.

Beloved, the institutional church has many faults but it is also blessed to have many members and branches that understand what Jesus wants of us. I believe this branch of Christ's body, Marsh Swamp Original Free Will Baptist Church, understands servant ministry. I believe this because I know the Pastor who shepherds you. I know from Pastor Well's witness that you model servant ministry each time you wash feet. You then make it real and come alive, when you help your neighbors after a storm, when you visit the sick, when you give clothes and food to those who have none, and even when you give just a cup of water in His name.

If there are any here who have not publicly confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior, you are invited to come forward during the hymn of invitation. One of the Deacons of the church will greet you at the alter rail and pray with you. They will explain to you how this community of faith has chosen to follow Christ and do servant ministry in His name.

I invite all of us, as we sign together, to commit ourselves to being an inclusive community that practices forgiveness and continues to do servant ministry.

And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, majesty, dominion, power, and glory this day and forevermore. Amen.

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