I was chatting to an old friend the other day as we shared stories about travelling and exploring the world; something I think we are all looking forward to doing as Covid seems to loosen its grip on the world, and things open up a bit. I found myself sharing some of my Travel’s in Kenya and the amazing time that I had there when I was last there in 2016. There is nothing like seeing another country, experiencing its culture and seeing what constitutes normal life for the everyday people; one of the best ways I have found to do this is to travel through church connections.
Yet, as we talked about that trip, I found myself reflecting on some of the difficulty amid all the wonderful things that I had got to see when I was there. Namely, compared to the last time I was in Kenya – the year before – I felt increasingly isolated and was for the first time aware of how isolated I was in terms of Travel. There were a couple of different situations where I felt a bit more vulnerable because I wasn’t part of the team. The year before, when I had been travelling, and we hit some metaphorical bumps on the road, there were people there with me to react with and bounce ideas off.
I remember wishing that I had someone else with me to bounce things off and help make decisions in those isolated moments. I think (if we are being honest); that sense of loneliness is how life can often feel; every day, we find ourselves competing with others in traffic to get to work, or even competing in work. Life often pits us against one another, and in the relentless competition, we can find ourselves increasingly alone and sometimes wondering if there is anyone out there. Additionally, (if we are honest) that loneliness is often most felt in our faith! We come to Jesus and marvel at who he is, and then as we try to live for him and walk the road of Discipleship that is before us, it can feel like we are walking alone. Yes, we know we are part of a community of faith. Still, somehow the lies of the world seep into our understanding of Church, community and Kingdom, and we find ourselves thinking not with the mind of Christ, but, the mind of the flesh: thinking that others are threats to our success rather than colleagues in the Kingdom; feeling that we are in competition for holiness rather than together in service; convincing ourselves that we have to outperform others in faith rather than with everyone renew our dependence on the Grace that we had already received. While the world might compel us to compete; the Grace of God will compel us to the example of the Cross and help us to realise that in the Kingdom of Christ, we are all working to the same end – the Glory of God.
Passage: Mark 9:38-41 CSB
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” 39 “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus, “because there is no one who will perform a miracle in my name who can soon afterward speak evil of me. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us. 41 And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in my name, because you belong to Christ—truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward.
You in Your Small Corner (38)
The disciples have been travelling with Jesus, and as they have walked with him, they have grown more fond of him, his company, and his Cause – at least how they understand it! They love that they are Jesus’ disciples, yet, have still to grasp what that actually means as they walk with him; thus, they seem to see it as more a position of status than a beginning of something. As they listen to Jesus teach and their lives are slowly transformed by him, they are still considering the things of the Kingdom through the lens of the world. Hence, as they travel with Jesus and come across someone else ministering in his name – someone unknown to them – they do not delight that the Cause of Jesus is spreading; they are threatened and annoyed by the apparent success of someone they do not know! They see competition rather than a colleague, as they seem to rush with to Jesus to tell of their action and await his praise. Specifically, they saw someone acting in his name who was not part of their group, but he did not have to worry about it anymore. They had told the person to stop casting out demons because they did not belong to their group. The irony is that as they act in ways more akin to the world than the Kingdom, it would seem their motivations are sole of the world: it seems that they are jealous of the apparent success of the unnamed person in an area they had failed. They wanted nothing to do with the unnamed person, yet, Jesus wanted nothing to do with their worldview and jealously as he used this moment of pride to teach them that in the Kingdom of God, they are never alone and if someone is working in the name of Jesus then they are working to the same goal! It’s the same team!
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
It’s the Same Team (39-40)
No sooner had the mouth of John stopped moving to inform Jesus of this threat had the ears of John and all the disciples hear the rebuke of Jesus. “Don’t Stop him!” I wonder what they must have thought at that moment as they wrestled with trying to understand just what Jesus was teaching them and what it meant to follow him. They had come thinking they had done something right and that their teacher would be pleased with them, to only hear that yet again they had made a mistake. Yet, as Jesus further expanded on his reasoning to let the other person act, the logic makes sense, and we would struggle to find a reason to disagree with him. Why should they not stop him? Because he was working to the same end – he was ministering in the name of Jesus in ways that Jesus had just shown the disciples – they might have struggled to understand and fulfil the task- but here was one having success. Not success in any earthly sense of the world, but kingdom success! He was ministering in the name of Jesus, and as he ministered, he was bringing Glory to God and advancing the Cause of Jesus (The Kingdom).
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in the community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together:
In Short, the point Jesus was making was that this man, and anyone who would come after them, was not their enemy, not something to worry about because they were on the same team! The disciples were not in a privileged position that they had to protect from others; no, they were simply the beginning of something that would extend from them and beyond them as God called all people to himself through faith and them empowered those who responded to live with Him and for His Kingdom. Thus, one who performs a miracle in the name of Jesus is hardly going to turn around the next minute and speak evil against the same name. In a simpler sense, a devout Football fan of one team will hardly support another team five minutes after a match. Hence, the disciples are to worry about those who are clearly opposed to them; and not see threats through jealousy. The reframe that will shape belonging and cause in the Kingdom is “those who are not against us are for us.”
One wonders about the motivation of the disciple’s rebuke; we cannot know their mind at that exact moment, that is, if they genuinely thought they were doing the right thing or if there was something else motivating them, something more sinister. Yet, it is hard not to be drawn to Mark’s placement of this incident: that right after the disciples had failed to cast out demons and follow the instructions of Jesus, they rebuke someone who succeeded where they failed. You wonder what the abiding motivation, not one of protecting the Kingdom but Jealously of another who succeeded where they failed. Perhaps a lesson for each of us to consider the motivations from our hearts that shape our own decisions and choices in both life, Church and the Kingdom. When we make choices for God or seek to act in the Kingdom, is the primary motivation really the name of Christ, or might we be acting out of selfish ambition or jealousy. Let us consider our own hearts this day and make sure our goal is that of the Kingdom. And as we consider our own hearts, so we consider our own effort, that if we are not working against one another then quite simply we are working with each other! Thus, another point that we must consider is how are we supporting those around us who are walking the same road – are we team players who rejoice in the success of others and are willing to help those who might be stumbling along the same road or are we a lone-wolf happy in the crowd? In the Kingdom of God, nothing can be done alone, so let us consider how we might both encourage and support the family of faith around us and further afield: We are on the same team and working to the same goal.
It’s the Same Goal (41)
“We glorify God by living lives that honour Him.” – Billy Graham
What is that goal? The advancement of Christ’s Kingdom (inclusive of the building up of the Church and the encouragement of all disciples as they walk the road of faith in the power of God) and too Bring Glory to God’s name. to the Cause of God. The Christian world shapes human existence and purpose through the Imago Dei (Image of God). That all of humanity, regardless of its belief, reflect something of God in its existence; thus, if that is our base existence, then our ultimate purpose is to the same end – to reflect God. Even more so in the Kingdom, which we enter through faith by the Grace of God to do the work of God. That work is ultimately included in the ultimate purpose of human existence: reflecting God into the world or, in other languages bringing Glory to God’s name. What is it to bring Glory to God? By how we live, act, speak, think, feel and exist when people encounter us and see us, they think marvellously and positively of God. As one person put it “We glorify God by living lives that honour Him.” Thus, the final words of Jesus that a deed was done in the name of Christ for the Cause of Christ should never be rebuked because the motivation is the Glory of God and the advancement of the Kingdom. All deeds done for such Cause and Glory have value and significance and will bring about reward in matters eternal. Acts we do for one another in the Kingdom are akin to serving Jesus himself; thus, together, we serve and rejoice and know that even the simplest act is the fruit of our walking with Jesus and a guarantee of our greater purpose and reward – life with God. We are all in the same and working toward the same goal.
Conclusion: We are Never Alone
We are never alone; even when it feels like it, we must hold on to the truth and hope that wherever we are, whatever we find ourselves going through, worrying about, we are not alone. On this journey of Discipleship, as we walk the road of faith, even if there are no people around us, we can be assured that God is with us. I found myself feeling alone and isolated in Kenya when I faced difficulties, wishing I had the support of a wonderful team. Yet, it wasn’t until things were better and I had time to reflect that I realised I was never alone, I might not have had a team with me, but even there, I was part of a Team as God bought the right people into my path to help me at each moment. People who have become friends all these years later. People who had no need to help me but desired to do so because I was a brother in Christ, and they recognised (and valued) that we were on the same team and working towards the same Cause. As I reflected on that season I was travelling in Kenya, I realised that while I didn’t have a team with me, I wasn’t alone because I was there as part of the Church, and we were all on the same team. God provided people to help me out
“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.” – John Piper