As we’ve been digging into our new vision statement at St. James,
“Forgiven and Invited to Live and Love Like Jesus,”
over the past several weeks we’ve explored
what it means for us as a church to be forgiven and invited;
what it means for us as a church to live like Jesus the provocative preacher
and whether we could be a provocative church;
what it means for us as a church to live like Jesus the itinerant teacher
and whether we could be an itinerant church;
Today we look at Jesus as the “Outsider’s Choice…”
and whether St. James could be known to be a church for outsiders.
I don’t know about you,
but I’ve always hated being an outsider…
It brings up painful feelings from elementary school
worrying about whether I’ll have a partner on the bus for the field trip;
or from middle school
worrying about whether anyone will work with me on the group science project;
or from high school
worrying about whether I’ll have a date for Homecoming.
A few weeks ago, at the beginning of the school year,
NPR asked people to share on Twitter
stories from when they were the odd person out –
when they were “the only one.”
As you can imagine the stories were both funny and poignant.
One man wrote,
“I was the only Asian in my 4th grade class;
I was asked to explain Buddhism.”
A woman wrote,
“I was the only Indian on my high school lacrosse team;
when my teammates did spray tan,
I did sunblock.”
A man wrote,
“ I was the only Iranian kid in class in a predominantly white grade school.
Kabob sandwich in a sea of peanut butter & jelly.”
And in the words of a woman,
“My family moved to America when I was four;
In first grade I was the only girl whose mother didn’t know enough English
to chaperone field trips.”
You know, if we’re honest, it really doesn’t get much easier as an adult!
We still don’t want to be the ‘only one’ – the outsider.
We want to belong.
We want to fit in.
The other night I presided at a wedding for a couple
neither of whom are members.
I didn’t know anyone at the wedding…
and I admit I worried a bit about which table I’d be seated at at the reception.
I admit I had a touch of that old fear of being the outsider.
Most of us don’t like being the odd one out,
and we deal with it in different ways…
Sometimes in a good way –
we become joiners…
we join a book group;
we join the Rotary;
we join a church;
we join the Stewardship committee (okay maybe that’s wishful thinking!)
But sometimes, in our effort to belong, to fit in,
we begin to exclude others,
to condemn others,
or even to demonize others.
(It’s why groups like the KKK still exist
and would even try to have a rally in our town.)
The KKK is an extreme example of the frightening potential that I think is within each of us
to prove that we’re okay because we’re part of the group…the group that belongs…
and they (point finger) are not.
The ‘they’ could be any number of outsiders in our world today:
– the poor
– the rich
Jesus stuck with the outsiders.
The gospel of Matthew says that Jesus is walking along and he sees
the man Matthew sitting at the tax booth.
He says to him, ”Follow me.”
And Matthew gets up and follows him.
And then Jesus follows Matthew…home….to his dinner table for a meal.
The Pharisees are outraged.
They ask the disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus overhears and answers for them,
“‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
Go and learn what this means, (and he quotes from the OT book of Hosea)
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’
Jesus offers a remedy.
But the remedy is not for the tax collectors and sinners –
it’s not for the outsiders.
Jesus offers a remedy for the insiders…
His medicine is mercy.
As biblical scholar Greg Carey has noted,
Jesus has many harsh words to say in the gospel of Matthew,
but he directs none of them at sinners.
He calls for repentance,
and he denounces the cities he has visited for failing to repent.
He pronounces woe against the scribes and the Pharisees.
But in the gospel of Matthew Jesus not once chastises tax collectors and sinners.
He does not criticize them.
He does not demand their repentance.
He simply eats and drinks with them.
On the other hand,
who are the people Jesus rebukes?
The Pharisees – the devout ones – the religious ones!
And Jesus says, the prescription for them is mercy.
As we as a congregation of St. James try to live into our vision statement,
might we consider what it would take to become a church for the outsiders?
It will require mercy not sacrifice.
It will require acceptance.
It will require forgiveness.
It will require humility.
It will require change – but changing of ourselves not of ‘them.’
Jesus has offered the remedy.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician…but those who are sick,” he says.
Mercy will bring us healing.
Mercy will make us a church for outsiders.
Mercy will help us to live and love more like Jesus.
Dear God, our prayer for this day is “Help us always to choose mercy.”