We All Belong
I remember one Sunday in Chicago Heather and I decided to visit a church where our friend’s mother was the pastor. It was a little bit of a drive being in the far southern suburbs, an area of Chicagoland we never spent a lot of time in. After finally arriving at the church we were a little late, we found some mostly empty pews. As we approached the place in the service where the choir was going to sing we noticed that everybody sitting around us was giving each other sheet music. They than proceeded to stand up while the rest of the congregation remained seated, some turned to look at the group of standing choir members that we happened to be seating in the midst of. That is right we somehow managed to show up late to this church where nobody knew us and sit ourselves right down with the Choir. I wanted to disappear I felt so foolish, like an outsider who just ruined any chance of welcome I may have had. The congregation was friendly and welcoming but that did little to subdue my feeling of non-belonging.
The woman Jesus confronted in today’s Gospel had every right to feel that way. She was a gentile woman asking Jesus for help, being a gentile she had no right aprproaching a Jewish rabbi, being a woman in that world she had even less right. I am sure as well that having a demonized daughter made sure she was even marginalized in her own community. This is a woman who was an outsider by every possible definition, yet she crossed all those boundaries and brought her need to Jesus Christ. Even when Jesus Christ challenged her she didn’t shy away but offered a confession of faith that any disciple would be proud of. This outsider knew who Jesus was and came to him in faith despite it being against the rules of society.
Just a week removed from Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees where we are faced with the dark truth that insiders often create stumbling blocks for themselves and others we are confronted with the flip side of the same coin. In Jesus’ words and the woman’s words we are reminded that in God’s eyes there are no such things as insiders and outsiders, haves and have nots, and us and them. Yes the life and work of Jesus Christ was initially for those labeled as God’s chosen people, which ironically included those Pharisees he is always rebuking. But the grace and glory of God as we have come to know in the incarnation is to great to be lavished on one small group of people. The grace that is offered in Jesus Christ is made available to all people regardless of whatever side of whatever line they may be on.
As a matter of fact Jesus came because throughout the history of humankind we have proven ourselves again to need that life-changing grace of God. Perhaps it is safe to say that in God’s eyes we were all outsiders and have-nots. Between the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus we have become insiders and the haves. We have been welcomed fully into God’s presence and been given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The healing that we see in today’s Gospel lesson, both the exorcism of the daughter and the healing of the deaf man was more than a healing of individuals, but communities that have been destroyed by divisions created out of sin are restored and made whole.
In the 2nd reading James the brother of Jesus speaks to what happens when a community of disciples let human partiality take root. Not only are we sinning but we are actively damaging the Gospel. When the church shows the partiality that the world shows, creating groups and cliques the church isn’t acting as the Body of Christ. As Gentiles we need to be grateful that the promises of God were and are for everyone. As baptized Christians we should feel compelled to take pause and think about ways that we have indeed participated in a system of brokenness and partiality, and thank God that Jesus came to fix what was broken and draw us all to God.
In such an individualistic and polarized society I think we need to really reflect on how radical God’s word is. Sin is not only separation from God but also isolation from one another, distortion and brokenness of community. Last week at Immanuel we baptized a baby boy Iver Neal Ellingson, this week at Zion we witnessed Cathy Larsen and Adam Roethler reaffirm their baptisms, claiming God’s promises for themselves and officially joining our fellowship. Brothers and sisters today readings about the impartiality of God’s grace and the universality of his love made incarnate in Jesus Christ give us an amazing opportunity to reflect on what membership in our local congregation and in the Holy catholic church mean, remembering that when Lutheran say catholic it is always a lower-case c and means universal. We are doing more than officially acknowledging their presence on the pew beside us. We are welcoming them as blessed Brothers and sisters in the Glorious Presence of God. We are receiving them as fellow sojourners on this journey to which God has called us all in baptism. We are being blessed by the gifts that they are in our community a faith. A community torn and broken by sin and yet restored and transformed by Jesus Christ. I want to leave you today with not an answer but a question, in a world full of us and thems, haves and have nots, insiders and outsiders, how do we live in that world while living for a God who shows no partiality?