Monday, October 20, 2014

The Highest Calling - No Outsiders

Preached on Sunday, October 19, 2014

Scripture reading: Ephesians 2:11-22

Crab Creek Wildlife Area: October 2014
A forest ranger needed to talk to a property owner about a boundary issue. The owner’s property had a fence and the gate was locked. The ranger climbed through the fence and walked up the dirt road through the woods. Over and over he saw the signs: “No trespassing”, “Enter at your own risk”, “Beware of dog”, “Keep out: this means you”.
Once he got to the house the ranger was surprised to find out that the land owner was very friendly and helpful. They talked about all kinds of things. When it was time to leave, the owner looked sad and said, “Come over any time. I don’t get many visitors up here!”
Fences, and locked gates, and unfriendly signs: these can be found all over the place. But most of them are invisible. They may take the form of old wounds, and misunderstandings, and the angers. Some of them come from the way we measure people or think we ought to measure them. Fences may have been built because of the way others have measured us, and judged us.
Paul, in the portion of his letter that we read today, writes about a wall that Jesus takes down. The picture of this wall comes from a real wall that divided the Temple in Jerusalem.
This was a fence of stone (with gates and unfriendly signs) that was built in the huge outer courtyard of the Temple. The courtyard was called the Court of the Gentiles, or the Court of the Nations. The actual Temple was inside another enclosed courtyard that was inside the Courtyard of the Gentiles; like a box within a box within a box. Anyone could enter the Court of the Gentiles, because Gentiles meant nations, and that meant everyone.
Only the nation of the people of Israel could go further in. There was a stone fence in the inner part of this courtyard and there were signs, all along the fence, that said that whoever didn’t belong to the nation of Israel, who was caught inside the wall, would be responsible for his own death.
You see, the Temple was holy, and God’s people were holy and, if you weren’t one of them, then you were unholy. Only the people of Israel could come through the wall and get inside (at least further inside). You could call the people who were able to get inside “insiders”. You could call the people who were kept on the outside “outsiders”.
The Jews saw themselves as insiders. Everyone else was an outsider. They weren’t the only ones to see things this way. The Romans and the Greeks each had their own way of seeing themselves as being the ultimate insider people. In a small town, the “old timers” can be the insiders and the “new comers” are the outsiders, until the new comers outnumber the old timers.
When I was in seminary, in Iowa, in the nineteen-seventies, Iowa was a place where being in church was an insider thing. Political candidates were known to suddenly appear in church with their families, on the Sunday before Election Day, and they would come in just before worship began, when everyone else would have already arrived. They would walk down the aisle with their family and sit in the front so that they would be seen in church. Now, wouldn’t that make you proud to be a Christian, and an insider?
It’s nice to be an insider, and it doesn’t feel good to be an outsider. I am a geek, and an introvert, and a klutz. When you’re a kid, all those things make you an outsider. In some ways, those three things tend to go together. They contribute to each other.
So I was an insider in the geek-introvert-klutz club. Actually, there was no such club: no membership list, no budget, and no program. But we all knew who we were, and we hung out in the science room.
Sometimes we looked down our noses at the outsiders who played on the teams or waved their pompoms. Our science teacher, Mr. Williams would tell us that the school ought to take the money from football and spend it on science.
Probably none of our efforts helped us. All of our efforts to create an inside where we could be the true insiders and the rest would be the outsiders never helped us. It never made us better people.
The truth is that, whatever the people who played sports and waved pompoms thought about us, it didn’t really do them any good either. Only they were too popular to notice.
In a way, the insider and outsider game is God’s creation. He gave his people laws to teach them about the wall between the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean.
He gave his people a design for a place of worship that had an inside so holy that it was called “the holy of holies”. Only one person could go inside the holy of holies, and that could be done on only one day out of the whole year, and only with the blood of a sacrifice made for sin.
The real purpose of this wall of holiness was not that God liked the wall. The purpose of the wall was to teach human beings that we all love the thought of winning the insider-outsider game, and we love it too much.
In the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve, we all ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil so that we could be in charge of our own lives, and set our own standards. We did this to get some space from God. In a way we tried to make ourselves the insiders and God the outsider.
This was the first sin and it became the part of human nature that leads to every other sin. Another name for this sin is pride.
When we got caught in the garden, we tried to blame each other for what we had done. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. They were willing to make someone else the outsider in order to stay an insider.
Bullying, abuse, dysfunction in families and in marriage, wars, prejudice, tyranny, injustice, and so much more comes from this. The instinct to be the insiders has made outsiders of us all. God’s laws were designed to teach us who we are and what we are, as outsiders, so that God could safely bring us to the real inside again.
The inside of God is love, and true love destroys walls. God called the first members of his people (Abraham and Sarah) to be a blessing to all the nations. (Genesis 12:2-3) Using Abraham and Sarah, God designed a special inside and outside for the purpose of bringing a world of outsiders together, and bringing them to the true inside of his love and power. The wall between the inside and outside was planned to be temporary, all along. The wall between the holy and the unholy, the insiders and the outsiders, was to be a great example of planned obsolescence.
The sin of putting God outside was answered by God himself. God left the comfortable inside of heaven in order to join us on the outside. He judged our love of the game by letting us make him even more of an outsider: letting us kill him on the cross, as the victim of our sins.
But God created a new level of the game. God changed the cross from the place of the ultimate outsider, into the gate of the ultimate return inside. So God, in Jesus, bore our sins. Through the cross, sin is no longer a wall that shuts us outside the love and the power of God.
Then he went outside of life, into death, so that there would be no place outside his love and power. When Jesus rose from the dead he broke the power of death to take us outside of true life with him.
A long time ago, when I was home from college, I remember riding my bike out to the river. It wasn’t far; only about a mile east of our home. I was upset about the problems that my geeky introversion was creating for me. Although I didn’t see any easy solution (and I still don’t), a thought, in the form of a prayer, came to me. I spoke it to God as his word to me, “Lord, I am a wall, but you are a door.”
Paul wrote about Jesus being the way that God changes the insider-outsider game. God came in Jesus to break down the wall between God’s people and everyone else.
The real wall is no longer there. The funny thing is that this leaves us standing around on different sides of where the wall used to be. The wall is down, if there is any gap between us and them, it is only the wall in our mind. We are the only wall that is left.
We are called to act out a life where the wall is down and we can go to our brothers and sisters who don’t know Jesus yet, or not very well. Instead of calling people non-Christians or un-Christian, maybe we should think of calling them pre-Christians.
The point is that the best way we can show the community, and the world around us, who Jesus is, and what he has done, and what it is like to live with him, is to walk across the empty space where a wall used to be. We show who Jesus is by simply going and living on the outside with those who are there, because that is what Jesus did.
The world isn’t waiting for us to do this, because they don’t know what has happened and they may not even think that they care. But we called to care, and we are called to go to them.
There are no more outsiders in God’s scheme of things. You don’t know any outsiders. Everyone still lives in a world where the outsider game is going on, but the wall is down and we can go to them.

Jesus came so he could give us the command to “go”. One day, Jesus will say to us, “Come!” In the meantime, if we will trust him, his most important word to us is, “Go!”

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