2021 July 18 “Outsiders and Insiders”

Scripture   Ephesians 2:11-22   The Message

      11-13 But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.

      14-15 The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

      16-18 Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.

     19-22 That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

 Message    ”Outsiders & Insiders”   Rev. James R. Renfrew

My wife and son warn me every year in the Spring, don’t drive the lawn tractor through the wet grass. You’ll get stuck in the mud.  “Every spring you go out into the field too early. Sure, sure the grass needs to be cut, it’s growing fast, but the ground is still wet, and every year you get stuck.” The kind of stuck where the back wheels are spinning, splattering mud everywhere, and digging deeper and deeper into the mud. Soon it is irretrievably stuck, up to the axle. That’s when I call my son. “Help! I’m stuck in the mud!”  “Not again”, he says, but then he comes over and we get the lawn mower unstuck.

Getting stuck can be a problem.  First, the work you set out to do can’t get done, and then it feels like everyone is laughing at your foolishness!  And then, long after the problem is solved, all of your family and friends keep reminding you of that time you got stuck. Once our family stayed in a motel.  I was very young, and before we checked out my mom looked under the bed and found one of my socks.  For the rest of my life she would always remind me to check under the bed before leaving a room. Don’t forget to check”, she would say, and I would say, “Mom that happened fifty years ago!” But she remembered …

The last thing we would want is for a church to get stuck!  But it happens. The first Christians found themselves stuck in a big problem, not because the church building was sinking into the mud, but a problem so big that it was as if the church was about sink so deep that the steeple could no longer be seen.  They were stuck, really stuck.  Right up to the axles, and no tow truck anywhere to help.  It’s hard for us to believe they had a problem, because they were the very first Christians. How could they have had any problems?

I sometimes hear people wish we could live lives like they did in Bible times, but the truth is that those people got stuck back then in big ways, just like we can. So here’s how they got stuck. You would think that the first Christians would welcome everybody into the life of the church, that they would welcome everyone to the communion table.  They did, sort of, but they also decided that it was important to know where people came from, where were you born, what kind of religion did you grow up with, what language do you speak, what clothes do you wear, what food do you eat.  And then, depending upon the answers people gave, they would be divided into two groups, insiders and outsiders.

Insiders got privileges, first in line, the best seats, first served, the best seats, and all of that. Outsiders were last in line, the worst seats, the last served, left-overs and sometimes nothing left at all.

Paul, realized that this was wrong. At Jesus’ table there should be no insiders and outsiders, because we all belong here., Christ died and rose for all of us, not some of us.  And so this letter was written to the Ephesians urging them to fix this big program. If not fixed, they would be stuck and their church would go nowhere!

Of course, we are not Ephesians. We are Byronites, Elbonians, Bergeners, Batavians, Rochestarians.  But we can get stuck, too. Sometimes we need to take a fresh look at the walls around us.

I was at our Presbytery’s Camp Whitman this past week, on the shore of Seneca Lake.  Camp Whitman is a unique camp because it has a traditional camp program for kids from 3rd grade up through high school, but it also has a camp program for adults with a wide variety of developmental challenges. Two very different groups occupying the same camp at the same time.  It makes for some good stories.

On Thursday evening we had a communion service on the lawn overlooking the lake. It was a beautiful evening after many days of rain.  As we were getting set up, Ben, one of the adult campers approached me and begged to help serve communion.  Ben likes to be on top of everything that goes on, and he is dedicated to making Camp Whitman better every year that he attends.  So he thought he could add something to communion. Now I had arranged for a few ordained elders to help serve communion but Ben was unstoppable; there was no way I could say no.  So, “OK, Ben I sure could use your help.”

The story I told for communion was the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 people with only five small loaves of bread and two dried fish.  I had fun helping everyone there imagine that our crowd of 50 was actually 5000 people. At one point I had all of us shout to the imaginary crowd of 5000 people stretching up to the top of  the hill behind us, “hello to all the people in the back back row, we’re going to include you, too!” Ben took me very seriously. As he took the basket of bread from my hands, he whispered to me, “what if we run out?”  Now, I knew that we had plenty of bread, but Ben did not want anyone to be left out. When he brought the bread that remained back to the table, he whispered to me again, “I hope I didn’t miss anyone”.  So that Ben could relax about that I had everyone hold up their piece of bread so Ben could see that all had been served.

Here is a man who has probably had to face the world as an outsider because he is different, but given the chance he took on communion because he did not want anyone to left out.  I think that Ben grasped something important about communion, let’s make sure that we can include as many people as possible.  Sometimes communion is about saying the right words and reflecting the key doctrines of a sacrament, but for Ben it was all about making sure no one is left out.  Thank you, Ben, around the table there are no insiders and outsiders, there’s room for every one.

Every time we share the Lord’s Supper the walls that divide us crumble a little.  Of course they do, as Ephesians reminds us, Jesus tears them down.  We spend a lot of time rebuilding them, but Jesus keeps breaking them down again! That’s why one experience of communion is never enough; we keep coming back for another taste.

Here’s how Jesus offers us that taste:  Start with a little love, a little hope, a little generosity, and God multiplies it.  Let me tell you who was in that crowd of 5000:  women, men, children adults, good folks, bad folks, happy folks, sad folks, people with great faith, people with no faith at all, people with wonderful talents, people with almost no talents, people in the front and people way in the back, people who had been there all day and people who arrived late.  But in Jesus the bread was multiplied and everyone was fed.  The food that they received was not a reward, it was based on their need, and everyone needs to eat, insiders and outsiders alike!

This year my lawn tractor did not get stuck in the mud!  I finally learned how to do it right.

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