Genesis 12.1-3; Acts 10.1-16; Matthew 18.1-5
I was included and I was amazed. I thought I was on the edge, just a part of the backdrop to a scene in which the great and the good would and should occupy centre-stage. But the lead singer said loud and strong into the mic, “That guy with the afro is Pete our road-manager – actually he’s our peace-keeper – stops us from fighting when we should be working together. Give Pete a hand!” Huh! Didn’t see that coming, but it felt good. These were very clever musicians and they actually wanted me hanging around.
And you know the warm feeling of being included, or remembered warmly by people you loved – perhaps it suggests that we have a gift to give someone else. The gift of inclusion, of unqualified acceptance – that looks past culture, social position, appearance, even disregarding a prickly personality.
If you’re enjoying the glow of being a part of something good – is it okay to keep it to yourself? Isn’t that something you ought to be sharing with outsiders, with “fringe dwellers”, with the socially insecure? Precisely because you’ve been included and accepted and welcomed – in Christ and His astonishing, embracing grace.
A community of blessing is what God had created through the medium of the covenant,(such as that He made with Abraham – …in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.) This sign of favour was to be a means of including all the nations.
And we see that appearing again in a vision to Peter – understand, he wasn’t being shown a new dispensation from the dietary laws, this was about the peoples of the earth for whom Jesus had died every bit as much as He had died for the people of Israel.
In the stories of the first covenant and of the gospel (the new covenant) and of the new community of God (the church) God was blessing people precisely so they would something with which to bless people previously considered outside or beyond His favour.
For Peter this new Spirit-Filled and enabled circle of favoured ones was suddenly being expanded beyond his wildest dreams. As the Acts story unfolds it is clear that God intends to bring the once pagan Romans into this circle of favour – that they were loved as much, and as much a community in His grip as the Jerusalem community of the apostles and their converts.
Even the unseemly and embarrassing belonged close to Jesus as He ministered on the earth – sure they had issues in their lives to deal with, but so did the group closest to Him. That even extended to small children climbing all over Him, perhaps asking the childish questions that must seemed such a waste of time to His immediate followers. They were specifically not to be excluded – they were instead pointed to as a model for saving faith. How’s that for inclusive, for saying to children that they matter to God?
A community of invitation isn’t about only opening the doors of the church for some people but for anyone who wants to come in and even for people we couldn’t imagine coming in. But listen if Jesus is our model, as He should be, then it’s not just about waiting, even the prodigal father rushed out to greet his tentative wandering son, and the King sent his servants out among the outcasts with invitations to the feast.
So doesn’t that suggest that if we really mean that everyone matters that we should find out who God is sending us to bring “home”?
And doesn’t it mean that if children, even at their most annoying, matter to God, then maybe other people we don’t take seriously, are of equal significance to the Divine Lover and worthy of being found and included?
However, I suspect we still need to learn the lesson about who matters and who doesn’t right here at home – at Forrest Hill Presbyterian. Even with the best will in the world, we will find this side of the apocalypse, that we harbour a measure of prejudice about people in our church, and while it may not have anything to do with culture or ethnicity, it may have everything to do with past history, with embarrassing opinions or habits, or even social standing.
Even the most egalitarian have their blind spots. We need continually to re-learn what love means, and what according significance to another means.
Everyone matters so we are constrained to treat people well, to include them, to work with them as equally loved by their Creator and their Saviour, as inhabited by the same Spirit.
So we look for ways to broaden our experience of those loved by God – I would argue that we do this in order to experience more of what God is really like (since we are the image of God). There are to be no barriers caused by culture or ethnicity. Nor are there to be any barriers to be caused by age or stage in life, or even from what they had done, or been, prior to becoming of the Kingdom of God.
There are not to be barriers even if our theologies are different in the peripheries of belief.
In the process, and finally, we become willing and hospitable bearers of the Good News to any and all with whom the Lord confronts in our role as the local mission frontier station.
Ready for the adventure yet?