A man arrived at the gates of Heaven.
St. Peter asked, “Religion?”
The man said, “Methodist.”
St. Peter looked down his list and said,” Go to Room 24, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
Another man arrived at the gates of Heaven.
“Go to Room 18, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
A third man arrived at the gates.
“Go to Room 11 but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.”
The man said, “I can understand there being different rooms for different religions, but why must I be quiet when I pass Room 8?”
St. Peter told him, “Well, the Baptists are in Room 8, and they think they’re the only ones here.”
There are exclusive clubs and then there are ultra-exclusive clubs.
The Giga Society: There are 6 members. Six. Membership is not limited by money, background, or a cap on the number of members allowed in. Yet, as of right now, there are six members; two in the United States and four in Europe. Why so few? It might have something to do with the fact that you have to be smarter than .999999999 of the population to join. According to their own web site this means “in theory one in a billion individuals can qualify”. To do so you have to score more than a 195 on one of their accepted IQ tests, which, frankly, sounds pretty hard to do.
Ejection Tie Club: To join this club of 5,607 members (only 10 of whom are women) you must have survived being fired out of a military plane by ejection seat. Sounds like an awesome club, right? You have to be pretty hard core to go through something like that and live to the tale. However, you might have noticed it is called the Ejection Tie Club. Yes, this exclusive club of current and former service men and women, who all at one point stared death in the face, exists only to hand out special ties so that “when they weren’t in uniform, members would have some form of recognition among themselves”. There are no dinners, no get-togethers, no awards for bravery. Just ties.
We are so very prone to draw lines between those who are in and those who are out. Sometimes we do it by gender. Many Christian traditions still restrict ordained leadership to men. Sometimes we do it by ordination. Sometimes we do it by age, or sexual orientation, or ethnicity, or income level… (Didn’t someone recently say that 47% of the population was beyond his reach or interest because they didn’t make enough money to pay income tax?)
And sometimes we do it by religion. Truth be told, we often do it by religion.
And here’s where I want to stretch: can we allow this passage to shape how we think of those who name God differently, or even not at all? This seems particularly pressing to me in light of the offensive video made to belittle another faith.
Okay, so I know that in terms of this particular passage, the unnamed exorcist is performing these acts in Jesus’ name. What we don’t know, of course, is whether that makes him a follower of Jesus, a would-be follower, or just someone who’s heard Jesus’ name works like a charm. What we do know is that he seems to make the disciples nervous, so nervous, in fact, that they try to stop him…but can’t.
We also know that after apparently giving his blessing to this unnamed character, Jesus then turns the tables and lectures his own disciples against the peril of placing stumbling blocks in front of others.
All of which makes me wonder: is our fear of those who are different from us – placing a stumbling block before persons of other faiths that makes it harder to see and feel the love of God? If so, what should our response be those who believe in a faith different from our own or who have no faith whatsoever?
Perhaps at this point, we should think about those bracelets everyone used to wear. Except rather than simply ask, “What would Jesus do?” we might instead point to “what Jesus actually did.” In this case, Jesus says not to stop someone who is doing good even if they’re not a member of your group, not to refuse the help of someone even if you don’t know whether they believe the same things as you do. and not to place stumbling blocks in way of anyone who is in need. He concludes by saying, “be at peace with one another.”
There is no dress code, there are no dues, there aren’t even rules about how you need to believe. Sure, we have a constitution and bylaws, but the purpose of those is not to Exclude anyone, but to remind us that we are an Inclusive people, that our purpose in gathering is to remind one another what it means to be a disciple—to share all we have with the needy, to welcome the outcast, to love the unloveable.
There are NOT the marks of an elite club. They are the marks of a forgiven community—a community that refuses to draw a line in the sand, a community that breaks barriers, a community that leads all people to this table of Love.