The Upper Room Devotion for Thursday, September 21, 2023, was written by Andrew Garnett of Virginia.
38 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.” 39 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. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 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.
Mark 9:38-41 NRSV
I pastor a church that has a long-running program to serve our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness or food insecurity. Every Monday, our campus turns into a hub or people to find food and clothing, access social services, or connect with other resources. Each year we serve thousands of meals, distribute tens of thousands of pounds of groceries, and give away thousands of clothing items.
This program is run almost entirely by volunteers. Some of them are members of our church - but remarkably, most are not. The volunteers who come to serve are as varied as our city. Some are religious, while others are not. Bringing in so many volunteers from outside our congregation can sometimes make my church members worry that we might lose our Christian identity.
Indeed, we have Christian convictions we cannot compromise. But another truth of our faith is at work here. "No one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me, "Jesus said (Mk. 9:39). When those from outside our church join us in the work of Christ, we all become more receptive of Jesus. As we are drawn into the life-giving work of God, we have more opportunities to see the good news come alive.
Pastor Anthony's Thoughts
Jesus has and continues to call into service a variety of people, some who are part of church communities and others who are not. Andrew's reflection highlights a concern of some church people, who worry that "outsiders" will not "appreciate" their church buildings. Yet, when we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we find Jesus frequently associated with those considered "outsiders." In truth, the greatest opportunity we have in demonstrating the transformational love of Jesus comes when we serve alongside "outsiders" without judgment, condemnation, or requirement that the join our church.
Jesus urges us to engage with those outside the walls of our churches that we might establish new friendships that become an avenue for Jesus to enter new lives. The struggle many church people face, is that we don't often engage with people outside our church walls in meaningful ways. We don't engage in purposeful conversations, nor do we step outside our comfort zones to speak to people. Yet, how can we expect the family of God to increase, along with our churches, if we are afraid, unwilling, or resistant to engage with new people? We don't have to be biblical scholars, nor powerful evangelist to talk to people, we simply must be willing to allow the Jesus in us to connect with the Jesus in others.
Dear God, help us reach out to others every day. Show us how we can offer compassion and hope to your children in need. Amen.