"Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40).
John, one of the rambunctious "Sons of Thunder" among the disciples, complained to Jesus that some rival preachers were driving out demons in his name. He and his brother James distinguished themselves in another incident when they asked Jesus to call down fire on a town that had refused to let them enter. Or when they sent their mother promote their intersts to Jesus.
Their proprietary interest in the mission was less about proclaiming God's kingdom than about their exclusive role as Jesus' lieutenants. They didn't want others horning in on the glory. Jesus must have smiled even as he shook his head at their misplaced enthusiasm. The power of God was being manifested wherever they went, for both his disciples and others who caught the spirit of the campaign and wanted to help break the spell of fear and control cast over people by the forces of evil.
In addressing the competitive approach of his disciples, Jesus gave history a principle that must always define the church's ministry: "Whoever is not against us is for us." God's abundant gifts flow freely to anyone who wants to do good. Cooperation is better than competition when it comes to advancing justice and serving those in need. No credentials or affiliations or special rank and status are needed to do good and oppose oppression.
One of the positive and exciting aspects of today's highly connected world through social media is that movements for good are discovering each other and joining forces nationally and even globally. Workers' rights, tolerance for diversity, care for the environment, economic fairness, peace and nonviolence efforts -- all these advocates can recognize common goals. Those who want exclusive control or insist on ideological or religious exclusivity become obstacles to real progress.
It is the time of Pentecost. The Spirit is alive and grace is loose in the world. Despite many signs of breakdown and polarization, we also see breakthrough and new energy being released in the very naming of serious problems. Despite the poisonous rhetoric of some and attempts to divide, we are witnessing real public debates over the future. If we believe in and trust that God is with us in all our human striving, we should rejoice to live in "interesting times," and even more, in the earth-shaking, fiery and wind-driven Age of the Holy Spirit.