Friday, February 3, 2012

Until there are no outsiders

Today we’re drawn into God’s house in a special way. Some of you normally worship somewhere else, but came through the door to support our boys on Scout Sunday. And together we celebrate the Cub pack here, where each week there are new people at the door wanting to come in. All kinds of people: Some are younger than others, or taller. Some talk more, or faster. Whatever the differences are, when they are here as the Pack, the boundaries fall away. I’ve watched kids literally get down on the ground to be with someone trying a new somersault, speaking an encouraging word of hope and support, offering a hand up. God’s been here in their midst even though they may not know it. Drawing them together in fun, and bringing healing and solidarity, especially for some who weren’t sure how to fit in. There's a popular public service announcement for kids being bullied and the slogan is “it gets better.” But the truth is that when someone feels like they are on the outside looking in, they don’t want to hear “it gets better” they want it to really be better NOW. As I watch our boys, living into who God created them to be, it makes me wonder if they in fact get this in a way we adults forget. We get good at boundaries and can lose sight of the meaning of God’s healing and love and the radical ways it changes life NOW.

Jesus came preaching and healing, casting out all the things that are tormenting people. People who were on the “outs.” Then he comes into Simon Peter’s house and meets the mother in law who’s unwell. It’s unclear what’s wrong but she’s someone Jesus should avoid. He not only stays, he crosses another boundary. He touches her hand. She’s unclean and not related to him. He should NEVER touch her. But he meets her and then lifts her up. To do that, he has to get down to where she is. But through him, God’s love restores and draws her back into places cut off from her. She can return to being who she was created to be. She won’t be in the back room anymore. She can walk out that door and in to life!

This is what the presence of God’s love does. It breaks down boundaries, draws people in, and brings healing and wholeness. Who wouldn’t want that?  No wonder the news spreads and now eveyone is OUTSIDE the door wanting IN, wanting to be where Jesus is.  Where limits are cast out, divisions are healed and all the people touched are now IN again. Everyone there is restored, but then Jesus doesn’t say, “Let’s just celebrate all of the IN people here.” He keeps going. Because there are more places to break down boundaries, and more people to touch, and more love and healing and wholeness to bring. He continues to reclaim the kingdom and to proclaim God’s saving action. Because this is what Jesus came IN to our world to do.

Then Jesus empowered his followers to continue this mission. The IN are to go OUT and proclaim the good news- breaking down boundaries, connecting with others, living out God’s love and healing and wholeness and meeting all who stand at the threshold, just beyond this good news, and drawing them IN.

But to meet those others, is hard. When we become the IN people, it’s a struggle as others also want in. Old labels are hard to cast off, whether it’s “Jew, slave, weak” or the ones we use today. And as people move in and out, and struggle to survive, we fall into worrying about our fair share, and how welcoming we should be. We worry we’ll lose our identity. So we sort each other out, and fall into boasting, deciding who we are based upon who we’re not. It’s hard to remember we all have been met by Christ. And we can forget what and who we have in common is Christ. The deeper result then is that those who are at the door and want to be healed and lifted up, AREN’T.  
While we struggle, God gives us the one thing that can help us rise above this. It’s the same thing that saves us-God’s love. It’s the real thing we have in common and it’s the power we receive. When we let this shape us we stop identifying enemies, boundaries and competitors. Living out God’s saving love means abandoning boundaries so no one will be abandoned. Like our boys, we may have to get down alongside others in lots of places to exist with them. But to really proclaim God’s love we must exist in someone else’s world and meet them there. This is more than doing something for someone, or doing it with them. It’s experiencing their perspective to end separation. When we exist with someone who is poor, we begin to grasp poverty so we can proclaim God’s saving action in a way that’s meaningful. When we exist with the immigrant, we discover their fears so we can proclaim “no boundaries” in a way that is real. When we abandon boundaries, we “Exist with” others. We set aside our labels and our priorities and experience directly how fragile someone else’s world is-how it is hard to feel good or healthy or safe. Then God uses us to really lift them up, draw them in and speak of the love we share as equals. NOW. This radical way of loving challenges everything. It’s costly physically, emotionally and in every way. Those outside our understanding of it will mock us, or proclaim it’s foolishness as we give up what’s ours in the eyes of the world.
The only thing that can motivate us in such times is the awareness of the depth of love God has for each of us. God came into our midst and is with us for no other reason than the fact God loves us for our own sake.[1] As deeply as we will sacrifice as parents for our children, for us as God’s children, God’s love is even deeper. By imitating this love, we proclaim the good news that when God’s love is present there actually are no outsiders.  That love is so broad it heals all our divisions. May God empower us to touch, to speak, and to exist with others in all the fragile places until the time when, in the fullness of God’s world, there will be no one left outside at the door -because God will have drawn them all in.

[1] Sam Wells and Marica Owen Living without Enemies  and Gretchen E Ziegenhals, Chrisitan Century, 1 25 2012

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