Innies and outies


Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 3 February 2019

Readings were Luke 4: 21 -30 and 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 

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The congregation were very excited about the guest preacher that week. And we hear in Luke’s Gospel that they love what Jesus has to say – at first.

It seems to turn into the WORST SERMON EVER!

Jesus provokes the happy crowd:

You are no doubt thinking to yourselves: ‘now show us signs and wonders like you did in Capernaum. Do something that will make others speak about us!’

If a prophet plays favourites with their hometown –
this messenger of God won’t be welcome for long.
The hometown crowd can come to hate what they hear.
And so the messenger of God cannot focus exclusively on the hometown crowd.

Jesus explains that this is the way it’s happened before: God’s prophet Elijah was sent to a widow. God’s prophet Elisha was sent to Naaman the Syrian.

What is significant about both these people to whom God’s prophets were sent…? Both received God’s saving power – but what really upsets the crowd, as Jesus identifies these two examples from the Hebrew scriptures, is that they were outsiders. They were not regarded as part of the chosen nation of Israel.

Elijah isn’t exclusively focused on his hometown crowd. As God’s messenger, he is sent to minister to a non-Jew, a woman, a widow. This woman can be assumed to be clinging on to the most measly status in Jewish society.

Similarly, Elisha ministers to a non-Jew. A Syrian, diseased with leprosy – and therefore recognised with the socially and spiritually stigmatising mark that distances him from community.

Jesus gives examples from scripture of non-Jews who are recognised as part of God’s saving activity. Jesus identifies with Elijah and Elisha and how God used them in an expansive/inclusive mission – without turning away from Israel.

Jesus is saying what counts is faith – not where you were born, or what tribe you are part of, or what your marital status is.

Another question for us, is: why does the crowd that day have such a strong reaction to Jesus? Am I the only one who feels this is a strongly hostile reaction? They want to kill Jesus, which seems extreme for interpreting the lectionary in a way you disagree with!

It’s likely they hear what Jesus is saying, is about THEM! He’s pointing out how God is disturbing the status quo, and therefore their assumptions about God-given community – who are the ‘Innies’ and who are the ‘Outies’.

The crowd react so strongly because the significance of Jesus’ mission has become all too clear! The Good News Jesus proclaims embraces the widow, the unclean, the non-Jew (the Outies). This messenger of God is not a tame home-boy, he is disrupting the ‘norm’ by being radically inclusive. This is what provokes such hostility.

This hostile reaction prefigures what awaits Jesus. Such hostility follows Jesus and becomes somewhat typical for how some regard him. Jesus is going to engage some, and enrage others.

And the hostility will lead to his execution. But that’s not the end…is it?

Again what is prefigured in this passage is Jesus’ extraordinary ‘escape’. Just as this passage concludes “he passed through the midst of them and went on his way”, we know that after his execution, Jesus was raised – defeating death – and continues in the mission of God.

The Resurrection is the demonstration that God’s love goes on. Perhaps it seems incredible to us that some who encountered Jesus in his ministry responded to Jesus with hostility. That some just could not stomach how outsiders could be included in part of what God is doing.

If we are to avoid a similar response, what do we need to learn from this Word of God today? I think we see in this event (and indeed in the full ministry and teaching of Jesus) we see his focus on people’s faith – not their family or ethnic ‘credentials’.

Jesus courageously rejects divisions between one group of people and another. He intentionally moves toward those shunned or marginalized by others – women, Samaritans, lepers, children. He touches and hugs and blesses unclean people. He dies to restore the relationship between God and all people. He makes himself an outsider in order to include everybody in God’s Kingdom.

As his Church, aren’t we to be the community formed by and around him; shaped by the truth he shows us? This radically inclusive Jesus guides who we are and what we do – our beliefs about ourselves and how we live that out.

What does it look like when such beliefs and practices come together?

  • Infant baptism (preached about on 2nd December 2018). No ‘prerequisites’ to belonging. You do not have to demonstrate sufficient intellectual or other ability.
  • And, related to this truth about infant baptism, we believe that our human disabilities don’t prevent us being part of God’s activity. This truth and how we involve those with any disability is something I want us to continue to fully express in our life together as church.
  • Jesus’ radical inclusiveness shapes the church, and was commented on by our Guest Speaker (Jo Randerson) at the Church Camp. She said her family immediately greeted and involved – not always the case (until they find out she is ‘someone’). As a visitor, she saw this and affirmed us for being this sort of community.
  • A fourth expression of radical inclusiveness, is this building we are in. We’re not just meeting in our homes; we gather in the city in a very unique-looking building. Few can mistake this building as being a church. It says something about how we are shaped as a community in our beliefs and practices. It’s not “necessary” to have a building that looks like this, but the big pointy thing does actually clearly identify us as a Jesus-community.

As a Jesus-community others expect us to include and integrate. I sincerely hope we expect that of ourselves – because, most significantly, God expects this of us. I was reminded this week by Rebecca Dudley (the Convenor of our Outreach Committee), that Church is one of the few places in society where all manner of different people come together. The inclusivity of Jesus-communities isn’t any less radical than when Jesus first declared:

everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

There is one further practice of radical inclusion I want to specifically mention today. It is something we already do, and have done for some time, and is so crucial to our sense of purpose. We include young people in the ministry and mission here.

Children and youth are included and involved – along with people of all ages. We believe we are all better off together, as we share in all God gives to us and expects from us. This year we are making plans to more intentionally invite young people and their families to be part of us here. And so my hope (and request to you) is that, whenever young people show up, let’s please welcome them.

Like I say, we are pretty good at this, and we want to continue to include those who aren’t here at the moment; we want to meaningfully integrate younger people in the journey of faith we share together.

What have we heard today?

  • Well, despite the hostile reaction, I don’t think we’d say Jesus gave the worst sermon ever!
  • We hear how, at the start of his ministry, Jesus makes clear he will upset expectations, including those in his hometown.
  • He has come to disturb the status quo.
  • He is on God’s mission, which is radically inclusive.
  • We hear that no obstacle holds back the purposes of God – Jesus passes through and carries on, even through death.
  • And it is THIS radically inclusive Jesus who shapes us in who we are today, and how we are a community of new life.
  • May we be willing and eager to be recognised this way and continue to follow Jesus, in expressing God’s solidarity with all people.

Amen.

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