Cliques and Churches



John 10:11-18 NRSV

When I first moved to Enid, I was immediately told that Enid could be “a cliquish town.” They told me that within this town, there exist these “cliques,” these small groups, circles or factions of close knit, tight, cohesive people. I have also heard this said about every church that I have ever served with, and this church is no different.

However, this may not be as bad as it might sound. I believe there may be something good, even redemptive in the cliques of Enid and in the cliques of the Central Christian Church.

Jesus differentiated himself as a shepherd as opposed to a hired hand. He said that when the hired hand sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. Jesus says that the hired hand runs way because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. The good shepherd, however, knows the sheep and loves the sheep and is willing to lay down his life for the sheep.

Along life’s journey, all of us have encountered shepherds and hired hands haven’t we? Perhaps it was when we, or our loved ones, were admitted to the hospital. The nurse on duty during the day was loving and caring and compassionate. He called us by name. It was apparent that he loved his job. He acted as if he had been called by God to be a nurse. Being a nurse and caring for others was his Christian vocation. He checked on us frequently and did things for us that he really did not have to do. He was a shepherd who cared for his sheep.

Then the 7:00 shift change came. The night nurse took over. And he was night and day different from the day nurse. We asked him politely for some medicine to help us rest. He rolled his eyes and walked out of the room. We only saw him one other time during the night. We never got the medicine we requested. It was obvious that he was only there to earn a pay check. There was no sense of call, no sense of vocation.  He was truly a hired hand if there ever was one. Not a caring bone in his body. He never once called us by our name.

Jesus said that he is the good Shepherd and he knows his own, and his own know him. Jesus is describing a type of inexplicable, intimate relationship. The Greek word translated “know” in this verse is the same word used to describe the intimate relationship between a married couple.

The relationship Jesus is describing is rooted in the most intimate relationship between the Father and the Son. It is a relationship which is so intimate that Jesus later says, “the Father and I are one.”

Thus, when Jesus speaks of the flock, Jesus is describing a close knit, tight, cohesive, caring, supportive flock of people. There are no strangers in this flock. Each person in the flock knows and is known, intimately, personally, profoundly. You might say that Jesus is describing a type of clique.

This knowing is much more than mere recognition. This knowing in this clique includes a deep involvement in the life of the other. It is an involvement characterized by self-giving, sacrificial love. Where folks, Jesus says, are willing to lay down their lives for one another. Jesus was describing what should characterize the life of this church, and every church.

This is what I believe makes this installation service, three and a half months after I began serving with you as your pastor, so meaningful. If we had this service in January, or even in February, many in this flock would be like strangers to me, and I might feel more like a hired hand. I told the group Wednesday night that I was glad we are having this service in April, because now, three months in, because I have come to know you, I have really come to like you folks, in fact, I have grown to love you. I think we have a pretty good clique going on here.

However, Jesus reminds us that such mutual knowing and intimacy, which is characteristic of cliques, should never become so warm, safe and cozy that it becomes exclusive. Such intimacy and caring should never be turned inward. Listen again to verse 16. I think it may be the most important part of our lesson this morning: “I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also.”

Jesus reminds us that although a clique may represent a loving and caring, intimate community, a clique should never be closed. A clique should always be open-ended. The flock is not yet finally fixed. There are always others who recognize the shepherd’s voice and need to enter the fold.

I believe failing to remember this is the downfall of churches. We must always remember that communities of mutual caring and intimate knowledge should never be closed.

Someone asked me if we were an open and affirming church. I thought to myself, “What a sad day it is when someone feels like they need to ask that question!” Because as a church, we have absolutely no business being closed and condemning.

However, it is important to recognize that all of us possess a tendency to exclude those who are different from us: those who did not grow up in the church; folks who have no idea what it means to be Christian; folks who have questions and doubts; those who are burdened by all types of struggles; folks who are broken, physically, spiritually and socially; those who look, live, believe and speak differently. Comfortable with our clique, we may tend to avoid inviting and embracing the other.

But if a church gives into this tendency to shun and exclude others, then it ceases being a church. Because if a church is not, first and foremost, a place of grace for all people, then it ceases being Christian.

In Acts, chapter 11, we read that when Barnabas arrived in Antioch to visit one of the first churches, the first thing that he witnessed was “grace.” In verse 22 we read:

“…and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion… and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’. I believe it is important to remember that the first clique to be called to be called Christian was called a community of grace.

As Mother’s Day approaches, our thoughts will almost certainly turn inward toward family. There is no doubt about it, a family is a clique; it is a close knit, tight, cohesive community of mutual knowing and caring. But, do you remember what Jesus reminded us about families? In the 12th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew writes that as Jesus was speaking to the crowds, someone told him, “Look your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”  And Jesus replied: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mothers and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus had a very broad understanding of family, didn’t he? The clique is never closed. The flock is never finally fixed. Jesus yearned for deep, personal, intimate relationships with all who try to do the will of the Father. Jesus desired to be in a community of mutual knowing and caring with a broad range of people, with, in fact, all people.

They tell me that Enid is a cliquish town and Central Christian is a cliquish church. And I for one am grateful that they are absolutely correct.  Within our city there exists communities of mutual knowing and caring. The same is true with this church. There are Bible study classes and small groups who genuinely know one another and care for each another. They are not hired hands but are shepherds to one another.

However, during this installation Sunday as our thoughts turn inward as we commit ourselves to remain faithful to one another with steadfast devotion, may Jesus remind us that those thoughts should also be turned outward to the world. May Central Christian Church reach out and invite and embrace others, embrace even those who are different from us, realizing that the clique is never closed and the flock is never finally fixed.

May we go out and remembering the words of Jesus, “I have others who do not belong to this fold. And I must bring them also.”  And may we remember that we are not hired hands; we have a vocation and a high calling… We are the body of Christ.

Teresa of Avila described it this way: “Christ has no body on this earth but yours…Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world; yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”  Right now. Right here.  Let us pray together.

Lord Jesus, even though we crucified you, you rose from the dead and returned to us. Even though we forsook you and denied you, you returned and sought us out, as a shepherd seeks lost sheep. You called us by our very own names, and you summoned us to follow you as sheep follow their good shepherd. So here we are. We are together because you have called us to be together.  However, there are many others who you have also called and summoned who are not here, not yet a part of this flock.  May we have the grace and the courage to bring them in also.  Amen.

2 thoughts on “Cliques and Churches

  1. Jarrett, I’ve never broken down that passage before. Thank you. You may have just caused a ripple in me to write a new post. As always, bless you. Glad to be a member of your online church.

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