Immanuel Lutheran Church
Saint Paul Area Synod
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Accepting a Cup of Water
The following is an excerpt from an article by Pastor David Lose which is especially relevant at this time.
38John 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." 39But 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. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For 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.
From whom would you accept a cup of cold water? I ask that question be-cause I think this passage contains some of the more heart-breaking lines in Scripture:"And we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."
Just pause and think about that for a moment. The disciples come across someone who, as they report to Jesus, was "casting out demons in your name." But doing good work in Jesus name wasnt enough for the disci-ples. Why? "Because he was not following us." Notice the shift in pro-nouns. This other person is doing works of power in "your name," but "not following us." Apparently, it is not enough to be a follower of Jesus; you have to be a certain kind of follower. One that tows the line, that shares their theological commitments, that conforms to the disciples expecta-tions, perhaps that is therefore under the oversight or control of the disci-ples.
Its interesting to me that John, the disciple making the report, seems to expect Jesus approval. He is not asking a question, "should we have stopped him?" But rather offers an almost matter-of-fact account: "And we tried to stop him, because he was not following us."
Far from giving his stamp of approval, however, Jesus corrects John and the others: "Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us." Its almost as if the disciples dont realize how signif-icant or challenging their mission is, and Jesus admonishes them to find and accept help wherever they can.
But then he goes further, saying: "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." Strikingly, that small gesture alone, according to Jesus, is enough to secure ones reward.
As I read this passage in light of the stark polarization of our times, Im not sure how much has changed. The church has not escaped this polarization but rather has allowed itself to be defined almost entirely by the terms of the current political climate. Christians set the standards of what constitutes genuine faith saying: "You cannot be a Christian if you:
voted for Donald Trump,
didnt vote for Donald Trump,
oppose LGBTQ rights,
support LGBTQ rights."
It doesnt take long to realize that both sides serve as mirror twins of the other, simply in allowing their convictions to serve as the criteria by which to determine whether or not another person can bear the name of Christ.
I am not advocating surrendering ones convictions, but rather encouraging us to exercise what I might call "empathetic imagination" to try to know, understand, and even respect those with whom we disagree.
There are so few spaces in our world and culture right now that create space for genuine conversation where each party takes on the responsibility to be able to hear and describe the beliefs of the other, for heartfelt engage-ment that doesnt devolve into partisan name-calling, and for respectful while also spirited disagreement that refuses to give up on the inherent worth and dignity of those in an opposing party. Can the church be that kind of place? Can our congregations?
In Christ, David
David Lose has served as a professor at Luther Seminary, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and is currently Senior Pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Minneapolis