Jesus Talks to Outsiders; Jesus Talks to Insiders

exclusion

 

There are always outsiders who don’t quite fit in.  Outsiders may be outside by an inch: an odd quirk keeps them out of the inner circle.  Outsiders may be outside by a mile: their skin is the wrong color, or their religion is wrong, or their culture is a threat.  We like to keep people outside our circle… well, outside.  We push them to the margin.  We blame them for their problems.  When outsiders come to our church, our smiles are a little forced, and they pick up the cue: go find your own people.

Jesus met outsiders in his day.  Tax collectors were outsiders.  Jesus met at least two. To Matthew he said, “Follow me.”  “Follow me” is the ultimate invitation to become an insider.  To Zacchaeus, he said, “I going to stay at your house today.”  This is less an invitation, and more Jesus busting down the door of the outsider to say, “I’ve come to make you an insider.”

In Jesus’s day, women were outsiders.  For Jewish males, foreign women were seen as exotic temptresses.  Jewish women were thought by some to be of value only for bearing children.  Jesus stopped to noticed women, not as sexual objects or reproductive agents.  He gave hope back to a widow when he raised her son from the dead.  When a woman who had ongoing bleeding touched the hem of his garment, he stopped to discover her, and then pronounced her healed.  He protected a woman caught in adultery from being stoned.  His longest recorded conversation was with a Samaritan woman at a well.  He changed her life and her village.

Every time Jesus encounters the outsider, he speaks to them invitingly.  He notices them.  He lets each of them know they matter to God.

There are always insiders who have position and power.  Oddly, insiders often protest they are not insiders.  Sometimes they do this so their power can stay hidden.  Sometimes they protest because they are genuinely clueless about their privilege.

We all long to be inside.  This longing is so deep, if we are deprived of it, we will create our own insider group to exclude others (usually people from another insider group that threaten us).  Kids from dysfunctional families join a gang.  A group at work forms to gossip about another group at work that gossips.  We want to be inside.

Jesus met insiders too.  Pharisees were insiders.  Their keeping of the religious code made them the spiritual elite.  Every time Jesus encountered a Pharisee, he challenged their ideas of superiority.  When Jesus met Nicodemus, a Pharisee, he opened the discussion with a challenge: “You must be born again.” Translation: your insider status counts for nothing.

The rich young ruler was an insider, based on the fact he was rich, young, and a ruler.  Jesus loved him enough to tell him to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow him.  A more radical challenge could not have been giving. The rich young ruler couldn’t do it.  Being an insider was more important than following Jesus.

Every time Jesus met an insider, he challenged them.  He challenged their convictions.  He was fearless.  He did not need or want their approval.  He had no desire to enter their inner circle.  He wanted every insider to turn away from the insider circles they had created to realize the radical change they needed.

Churches are supposed to speak like Jesus. Followers of Jesus need to speak invitingly and warmly to all outsiders.  We need to say, “Come and see.”  Followers of Jesus need to speak confrontively to insiders, especially to ourselves.  There are too many opportunities to fool ourselves into believing we’re special because we keep a religious code.  Maybe instead of passing the peace of Christ, we should pass the challenge of Christ: “Are you humbly seeking Jesus each day?”

Don’t miss the truth of Jesus: He loves the outsiders enough to invite them in.  He loves the insiders enough to challenge them with the truth.  Which way is he loving you?

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Sunday…

alexander

With Apologies to Judith Viorst:

I woke this morning with an empty feeling in my stomach and my head hurting.  I tripped over my shoes in the middle of the floor and couldn’t find my toothpaste so I had to brush my teeth with baking soda.  I got in the shower and just when I got shampoo in my hair, the hot water cut off.  I hate cold showers.  I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I went by Starbucks on my way to church.  The drive-through line was long, but I waited anyway.  I ordered a caramel Latte’ with whipped cream.  I got an iced mocha Frappuccino.  I hate iced mocha Frappuccino.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I pulled into the church parking lot and looked for a space.  All the good spaces by the door where gone.  There were guest parking spaces, but there were also people there hanging out like vultures.  I hate vultures.  So I pulled around back and found an empty piece of grass.  I hate parking on grass.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I went to the nearest door.  It was locked.    I went to another door.  It was locked, too.  I hate locked doors. The third door was open.  When I went in, I didn’t know where I was.  I looked for a sign.  All l saw was a poster encouraging me to “Win a Million More in ’54.”  It was old.  Something smelled bad.  I hate things that smell bad.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

A man walked by, in a hurry.  I hurried after him, asking, “Where is the worship service?”  He gave me a dirty look.  I hate dirty looks.  He said, “It’s that way.”  I wasn’t sure which way he pointed, so I just followed him.  He went through a door marked “Men.”  I found what smelled bad.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I heard music.  I followed the sound.  I found a door, with light shining under it.  The music was on the other side of the door.  I opened the door and walked in – right in front of the congregation.  Everyone stared at me.  I hate being stared at.  I tried to duck into the first pew I saw.  Someone tapped me on the shoulder and pointed.  I turned and saw the sign “Reserved.”  I hate reserved seats.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I moved to another pew.  The music leader talked on and on and on about the next song we were going to sing.  I hate music leaders who talk instead of sing.  Finally, we started to sing.  Then he paused and said, “If you love Jesus, raise your hands high.”  I hate raising my hands.  I’ll bet they don’t raise their hands for Jesus in Australia.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

We were told to greet our neighbors.  I turned around, only to find everyone behind me had turned around and were laughing and talking with the people sitting behind them. I stood there like a dummy.  I hate standing like a dummy.  Then a man told us to sit down.  He told us about a trip, a meeting, and something called “Women’s Auxiliary.”  It sounded like a place you keep spare women.  I was bored. I hate being bored.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

The preacher got up.  He told us about his burden.  He told us how he asked God to not make him deliver this message.  Then he started to yell.  He yelled for 45 minutes.  I hate being yelled at.  He kept telling us to “repent” but he never told us what it meant to repent.  I hate it when I don’t know what things mean.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

Then came the offering.  The usher came and stood by me with a plate.  I didn’t have any cash so I shrugged my shoulders.  He gave me a dirty look.  I hate dirty looks.  I’ll bet they don’t take up offerings in Australia.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

The service ended.  I waited for someone to say something to me.  No one did.  I waited a little longer.  I saw my neighbors from across the street.  I thought they would come over and say they were glad to see me.  They ignored me.  I hate being ignored.  It was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I found my way back to the smelly bathroom and out the back door.  I drove off.  It had been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sunday.

I thought church was supposed to be about “Good News?”

I sure could use some.  I don’t want any more terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.  I especially don’t want any more terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Sundays.