Insiders and Outsiders

Our world is often shaped by our understanding of insiders and outsiders.

We tend to feel most comfortable with people who resemble us and who think about life in the same ways that we do. We divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups by defining distinctions based upon race, ethnic background, economic level and even political party. Surveys have shown that Christians in America are most segregated on Sunday mornings during times set aside for worship. Denominations like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) continue to struggle with the fact that members of the ELCA are more than 98% white even after people have tried for decades to change that.

In Matthew 15:20-28, we find an absolutely fascinating story from the life of Jesus. Jesus has traveled into a land that’s inhabited by both Jews and Gentiles. And, while Jesus is in that area, a Canaanite woman approaches Him and asks Him to heal her daughter, who is possessed by a demon. We might expect Jesus to heal the woman’s daughter in the same way that He healed so many others. But, in this short story, Jesus responds to the Gentile woman’s request by saying: “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and to feed it to the dogs.” And, frankly, Jesus’ response continues to shock me every time that I read it.

Jews didn’t allow dogs to live in their homes in Jesus’ days, but Gentiles often looked at dogs as pets who deserved kindness and care. But, the word “dog” was also used in a very different way. The Jews didn’t want “those kind of people” – the dogs – to mix with “our kind of people.” The Jews called outsiders “dogs” because they didn’t live their lives based upon Jewish teachings and purity practices.

But, before we look too harshly at the Jews in Jesus’ days, we need to consider some of the things that are happening in our own lives, right now.

People who do not attend worship services are sometimes looked down upon by the people who do attend worship services. Churches sometimes draw clear distinctions between the people who are members and those who are not members of the congregation. People who struggle with mental illnesses, homelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction often find the doors of churches locked when they get there. America continues to be most segregated and divided during the one hour when people are worshiping on Sunday mornings than at any other time in the entire week!

But, then, Jesus seems to turn on His heels.

Right after Jesus says that it’s not right to feed the children’s bread to the dogs, the woman responds, “But even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” And, right after that, Jesus commends the woman for her great faith. Faith realizes that God is a God who welcomes and embraces both insiders and outsiders alike. Faith realizes that God is a God who looks past the artificial barriers and walls that we build between people who are like us and people who are not like us. Economic barriers are challenged as we gather to celebrate Holy Communion at an altar rail where company presidents kneel beside the folks who work for them. Faith creates radical hospitality that gazes beyond distinctions that are based upon race, ethnic background, economic level and political party.

Great faith recognizes the fact that Christ’s Church is meant to be a home for everyone, and great faith recognizes that even deep divisions and barriers can be overcome when love is allowed to rule in our hearts. And that’s the challenge that’s placed before us as we listen to this intriguing story from the life and ministry of Jesus.

Let radical hospitality challenge you and transform you. Let the love of Jesus empower you and enable you to see that the Church is meant to be a place that welcomes everyone. And, as that’s happening, let the love of Jesus tear down the divisions and barriers and walls that we continue to build, create and maintain even inside the Church itself.

This Week’s Message: “Insiders and Outsiders”

It’s All About the Table

Bread and wine

Some things drive me absolutely crazy.

Think about this scenario…. You’re in a hurry, and you either want to print something that you have been working on for several hours or you just want to send a quick email. And then, your computer freezes. CTRL/ALT/DEL sometimes does the trick. Sometimes you need to hit the power button and hope for the best. I have even had to unplug my laptop and remove the battery pack. And why? Because, sometimes, a computer gets so messed-up that the only thing you can do is re-boot the entire system.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), God clearly sets a choice before us. We can love God and obey God and keep God’s laws, or we can allow ourselves to be led astray by other gods. We can live our lives following God and be blessed, or we can choose to live our lives in a different way and not be blessed. And, according to Deuteronomy, the choice is ours.

And then, Jesus comes along….

Jesus tells us that, even though we’ve all be told that we should not commit murder, we do the same thing when we get angry. Jesus tells us that when we drift off-course, even a little bit, it’s both horrible and inexcusable. And then, Jesus gets radical! We’re told that, if our eye causes us to sin, we need to pluck it out. We’re told that, if our hand causes us to sin, we need to cut it off. Because, after all, it’s better to live your life without one of your eyes or without one of your hands than it is to spend eternity in Hell, right? (You may want to read: Matthew 5:21-37.)

Sometimes, our lives get as messed-up as a frozen computer. We can’t always fix the damage we’ve done. We can’t always repair relationships that we’ve broken. We can’t always fix things and make them right again after we’ve made choices in life that have caused us to lose a part of our good health.

And then, just when we’re ready to throw in the towel, Jesus provides a solution.

In the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take and eat. This is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” And again after supper, He took the cup and gave thanks, and He gave it for all to drink saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is shed for you – and for all people – for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

In essence, Jesus comes into our lives during a holy moment and shuts down everything that isn’t working right. We come to the Table weighed down with sin and brokenness, and Jesus sends us away forgiven and renewed. We come to the Table burdened by all of the mistakes that we’ve made, and Jesus shines light in the darkest corners of our lives and send us back into the world to live in a new way.

But, even after that holy moment, we still go back into the world and make mistakes, don’t we? We’re called to live our lives in a new way, but we don’t always do it. Even after Jesus forgives us and renews us, we can still go away with hearts that are hard and with attitudes that are unwilling to be changed.

And that’s why Christians live from Meal – to Meal – to Meal – to Meal.

We come to the Table to be forgiven and renewed, and to be sent back into the world. And, when we go back into the world, we mess up again. And so, we come back to the Table of the Lord to be forgiven and renewed, and to be sent back into the world. And this kind of Christian life, lived from Meal to Meal to Meal, is our spiritual journey.

You see, Christian worship isn’t just about flashing lights, music that stirs up emotions and having a chance to listen to the best preacher in town. Christian worship is not about the buildings where Christians gather. It’s not about singing only familiar hymns or using the “right” instruments. It is, certainly, not just about touching base with people that you haven’t seen all week.

Christian worship is always about the Table. Christian worship is always about the Table where we find forgiveness, renewal and strength to meet the week ahead.

And the next time your computer freezes, I want you to remember that. We come to the Table weighed down with sin and brokenness, and Jesus forgives us and re-boots the entire system. We come to the Table as people who are far less than perfect; and Jesus forgives us, renews us, and then sends us back into the world to live our lives and to help our world to become a better place for us all – at least until Jesus calls us to come back to the Table again next week.

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Food for Your Soul

Bread and wine

Many people are watching what they eat these days.

Doctors tells us that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables. I suspect that most of us know that it’s not good to eat a slab of bacon every morning, or to make potato and corn chips a regular staple in our diets. But what are you feeding your soul?

A lot of people seem to be confused about what their souls need and a lot of churches are scrambling to provide what people want in larger portions. Many churches are focusing upon the marvels of technology, and they’re filling their services with flashing lights and loud music. Most pastors know that folks in their congregation want a service that lasts about an hour each week. Many pastors try to accommodate special events by trimming other parts of the service. And sadly, in an effort to provide what they think people are searching to find, many churches eliminate – or seldom celebrate – Holy Communion.

It’s easy for us to forget that we live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal.

At the Table of the Lord, God creates a space in our lives where company presidents and the people who work for them kneel beside each other. At the Table of the Lord, God creates a little “snippet in time” when people who are homeless and people who live in a mighty mansion are offered the exact same meal in the exact same portion. And then, God sends us back into a world where hundreds of people compete with each other every time a new job is posted. God sends us back into a world where people are not at all reluctant to push other people out of the way as they climb to the next rung of the corporate ladder. God sends us back into a world where people build their identity by defining life as “us versus them” – “insiders versus outsiders” – “people who are just like me versus people who simply aren’t.”

Living a life of faith isn’t easy. Living a “Kingdom Life” that bears testimony to the fact that God has given ALL of us value and worth and that lifts-up the fact that EVERYONE deserves to be honored and cherished as a Temple of the Holy Spirit isn’t easy in a world that’s built upon competition and getting ahead of other people. And that’s why the life of the Church is built around a Meal. The Bible tells us that, from the very start, the earliest Church was built around gatherings where people shared Bread and Wine.

God forgives us and renews us and strengthens us at the Table; and then, God sends us back into the world as people of faith. And, with a new set of eyes and with a heart that has been filled by the power of the Holy Spirit, God sends us into the world as people of faith who have been given a little glimpse of how the Kingdom of God really works and who are called to point other people in that direction. And when we grow weary, God brings us back to the Table to be forgiven and renewed and strengthened again. Jesus calls us to live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal.

You see, the Church is built and is sustained by the Meal. Holy Communion continues to be food for our souls in a world that’s so filled with consumerism and searching for the greener grass that many people are losing touch with what their souls are searching for in a world where life’s never easy.

Jesus continues to build His Church around a Meal that’s meant to strengthen us and give us a glimpse of God’s presence in the world. Holy Communion is a little “snippet in time” when Jesus provides a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s eat!

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