John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
I remember back in the days when we used phone books being rather dismayed at the number of different Christian denominations that were listed. It felt like hundreds upon hundreds of different ones. According to a study by Gordon Cromwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 different denominations in the world. 41,000! Really? Didn’t Jesus pray in John about asking that his followers might be one like he and the Father are one? It feels like these walls started with passages like this. “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” Because they aren’t like us, well then…they aren’t us. How many times have I heard this over and over? Because we do not line up perfectly on every theological point, every way that we worship, how we interpret Scripture, but even if we claim the name of Christ…well, they aren’t us.
In preparation for our trip to South Africa next year, I am re-reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and I am so powerfully struck by the way that even though his opponents put him in prison for 27 years, he was able to come out and call for forgiveness. Rather than putting up new walls, he called for tearing them down.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom.
Bitterness, hatred, us-vs-them – they are all bricks that we use to build up walls between us – religious, racial, economic, political – we have too many walls today. Let’s start breaking them down, offering one another the nourishment and refreshment like Jesus speaks of here – a cool glass of water to sooth the embers of bitterness and hate. Water to cleanse and make clean and forgive.