It’s one of the biggest rivalries in college football. Every year, Army officers-in-training from Westpoint square-off against their Navy counterparts from Annapolis. The competition is intense, as feelings ride high. For those few hours on the gridiron, the opponent is clear. But when the last touchdown is scored, and the contest moves to the theatre of war, old rivalries melt into unity. Army and Naval officers join forces to battle a common enemy.
A rivalry gone-too-far threatened unity in Jesus’ day. John, one of the “sons of thunder,” complained that someone else was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. “We tried to stop him,” said John, “because he was not following us” (Mark 9:38, NRSV). The Lord gives a long response, but the take-away line comes in v. 40 – “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
One of the saddest phenomena of our time is division of the Body of Christ. The Army would never fight the Navy, yet many are the casualties of “friendly fire” between churches. Denominational rivalries risk morphing into something ugly. Sometimes, we even turn our “guns” on other believers, simply because they are not “with us.” We forget that – whatever our theological differences – we have a common enemy, the devil.
John Wesley held out hope for church unity. In his sermon, Catholic Spirit, he urged: “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.” At the signing of the “Declaration of Independence,” Benjamin Franklin cautioned: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Let’s rid ourselves of a sectarian spirit.
“God, your word teaches us that the hand needs the foot, and the eyes need the ears. Forgive us when we have sown seeds of division, then denied that the bitter harvest was of our making. Show us today how we can be instruments of harmony and cooperation in your Church. Through Christ our Lord we pray, AMEN.”
Reflections from Scripture for Day 26, in Cambridge Daily Reading Bible, 1995