This week, as the World Vision kerffufel was unfolding, I saw a phrase from Denny Burk that caught my eye. He concluded from his survey of scripture:
Thus it is impossible to be a “follower of Christ” while endorsing or participating in a same-sex marriage.
The idea of being a follower of Christ caught my attention. Immediately I began to think of this in terms of discipleship. And I slowly began to see that it might truly be impossible to be a disciple and continue to support an agency that allows for homosexual marriage as it brings relief to needy children.
What does it look like to be a disciple? Three stories run almost back to back, demonstrating what being a disciple might look like in such a situation.
In Mark 9, Jesus has just predicted his death (vv. 30-32). Not understanding what Jesus was saying, what kind of Messiah they were following, the disciples rambled off on their own conversation.
An embarrassing conversation.
A conversation about which of them is greatest.
Not seeing the crucified messiah before them, they did not see the mirror of the Cruficied that was showing them what the life of following must entail.
And so Jesus had to show them. The kingdom of God is not like they think it is. “Being first,” says Jesus, “entails being last, and servant of all.”
Jesus then takes a child: the low person on the ancient totem pole of social hierarchy. His words are stunning: “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me isn’t welcoming me but God, who sent me.”
To reject World Vision is to play the part of the disciples: to place ourselves in the place of being rebuked by Jesus for pursuing greatness through power. To find ourselves rejecting the Jesus who is in the child for the sake of our own attempts to build the kingdom of God in our own image.
The story continues.
John hopes to clarify that the disciples as a group provide the boundary markers, protecting the name of Jesus, and the kingdom it brings.
“Teacher!” says John. (BTW: in Mark, if you want to find someone who doesn’t know what’s going on, look for the person who calls Jesus “teacher.”) “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, but we forbid him because he doesn’t follow us.”
To be a disciple is to think that our group circumscribes the sphere where God’s blessings are known. Clearly if you’re not with us, you cannot truly be a follower of Jesus.
Jesus says, “Don’t stop him! … Whoever isn’t against us is for us.”
To pull out of supporting an organization that is doing the work of God in the name of Jesus because they do not follow us in the particular way that we are following Jesus–this is to play the role of the disciples.
And the disciples are rebuked by Jesus for placing themselves at the center of the kingdom of God, remaking its upside down nature after their own image.
In the wake of these two rebukes, the third story is all the more shocking.
It’s only 20 verses later. In Mark 10.
The people are bringing children to Jesus for him to bless them (Mark 10:13-16). The children. The ones about whom Jesus has said, “If you receive one of these, you receive me, which isn’t receiving me, but the One who sent me.”
The disciples, the ones who were just rebuked for thinking that they form the wall of partition between Jesus and the world, they hindered the children.
The disciples missed their chance.
In striving to protect Jesus, they refused to embrace the children.
They missed Jesus.
And they placed themselves in the mortal danger of causing one of the little ones to stumble (that’s at the end of ch. 9).
Withdrawing from support of World Vision in order to faithfully follow Jesus, in order to keep those children from the mercy being offered in the name of Jesus, this might truly be the only way to be a disciple.
Because being a disciple looks like playing power games that blind us to the upside down nature of the kingdom of God.
Because being a disciple looks like establishing our own Jesus-follower bona fides while spurning the notion that Jesus is present in the children standing in front of us, coming through us to find the blessing of Christ.
The roller coaster of the week gone by will be forgotten by most of us in a few weeks time. But what it managed to do for a brief instant was lay bare the tendency that resides deep within us.
It laid bear the rut that is easiest to fall into for those of us who follow Jesus most closely.
It is the danger of being a disciple. It is the danger of being of the company of disciples who fail to see that the cross changes everything.
It is to bring ourselves under the words of Jesus’ rebuke.
It is to be sent out from the presence of Jesus with the calling to relearn to find him: not in the world circumscribed by people like ourselves, but in the face of the child who comes to us in order to find Jesus.