Thursday, August 11, 2011

Insiders & Outsiders

3Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.   Genesis 45:3 - 5 (NRSV)

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.     Isaiah 56:6 - 8 (NRSV)

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.             Matthew 15:21 - 28 (NRSV)
We have three texts before us (relax, there won’t be three sermons!).  All three are related; it would be no difficult task to construct a sermon on any of the seven deadly sins from each of these texts.  I would like for us, however, to see one common thread running through these scriptures – the issue of human preference – who’s an insider, and who’s an outsider.
In the Genesis text, Joseph (4th in line of Israel’s patriarchs) was an “insider”.  He was not only his father’s favorite, but destined for greatness.  His brothers, therefore, were the “outsiders” and they were in no small way upset about it!  They grabbed this little brother with big dreams and tossed him into a pit; then they took the first opportunity to sell him into slavery. 
They thought their problems were at an end, but in Egypt, Joseph survived, thrived and became the overseer to the whole Egyptian empire, second only to Pharaoh.  But when famine gripped Canaan, Joseph’s brothers had to go to Egypt to find food.  Ultimately they stood before their brother to beg supplies. 
Joseph, the insider who was treated like an outsider, was now the consummate insider; the brothers were fearful of the consequences.  Our text tells us that Joseph loved his brothers despite their previous bad behavior.  Scripture says he “kissed all his brothers and wept upon them”.  Insiders and Outsiders!
The woman in Matthew the Tax Collector's, account is referred to by Jesus as a "dog."  If true, she was a real "Heinz 57".  She had Greek, Syrian and Phonecian blood running through her veins; there was nothing Jewish about her.  It was important in that culture to “know your place” and she had no business even talking to a man during the light of day.  Add to the fact that Jesus was a Jew, and a teacher – the woman was bordering on criminal!  She was definitely an “outsider”.
But the disciples considered themselves insiders.  When the Canaanite woman pursued Jesus for her daughter’s healing, the disciples tried to keep her at arm’s length; they had more important things on their minds.
When we look at the personalities of this encounter, we see Jesus, the quiet Master; there is the woman with a great need who won't go away; and there are the disciples - twelve tired men, attempting to protect their Master's vacation privacy.  It’s really quite pitiful; the woman comes about her dying daughter, and the disciples can only think of their vacation. 
One of the great scenes of pathos in all of history unfolds right here.  The woman has already laid-out her case that her daughter was suffering.  She was pressing that Jesus "ought" to heal her!  The woman kneels in worship, calls Jesus kurios, Lord, the "supreme authority." 
Simply, she says, "Help me."  She has resigned all dignity or pretense; she places herself at His disposal.  Her only request, her only hope, is that Jesus would touch her need.  She saw through her own agony that her need was so great she couldn’t even determine the extent of it, what treatment method or time frame Jesus could use.  She just gave it all to the Lord...."Help me."
With all of that pathos, the great Lord, the surrendered woman interceding on behalf of her tormented daughter, the now-silent disciples....within all that genuinely heart-warming picture....How,  O how could Jesus say what He said?  "Woman, you're just a dog...I've got children to tend to...beat it!"
Most of us would bristle if we'd been treated like that; we’d probably pitch one huge "hissyfit".  We can get offended at the slightest thing.  Well, the woman didn't get mad, or just slink off into the shadows.  She brought that motherly instinct to bear in her request.  Nothing was going to keep her from touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.  She replied to Jesus, “I may be a dog, but even the family pet gets scraps." 

What do you do with someone who simply won't go away, but continually appeals to your good side? 

Gracie Cotton (the Methodist wonderdog) has absolutely no pride.  Whenever food is on, near, or about to be within 100 miles of our table, she is on the spot.  When I watch TV, with a plate (or scrap) of anything, she whines, paws, jumps in my lap, and makes a general nuisance of herself until she obtains her fair share (translation:  whatever is left on your plate!) 
One time I didn't give her part of my snack....she just looked at me with those big brown eyes.  I was crushed for days.  (We cooked her a steak as penance).  Gracie was an outsider, an orphan, hair-matted, frightened and hungry, running-the-neighborhood outsider…but things changed! 
And that’s how it went for the Canaanite woman; and for Joseph’s clan.  The brothers thought they had become insiders; Joseph was certain he’d been forgotten – cast off like a worthless outsider.  Insiders and Outsiders!
So, in two of the three texts we can see insiders who got treated like outsiders, and outsiders who became insiders, and insiders who found out they were really outsiders.  We’ll get to Isaiah in a moment.
What about you and me?
I’ve spent most of my life as a self-convicted outsider.  Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, my generation was outside the conventional realm.  I’m Northern-born, but I’ve spent more than half my life south of the Mason-Dixon line…can I get an “outsider amen”?  In an age that worships youth, I’m closer to Methuselah than MTV…outsider!   I’m a “recovering Baptist and Yankee”.  Can we really say “outsider” here?
I’ve had some moments that made me feel like an insider (of sorts).  A friend of mine was friends with the governor of Florida.  I got to meet him, talk with him like an insider (for 10 whole  minutes). 
I caught a few touchdown passes in high school, won a bowling tournament, preached from the steps of the Florida capital in Tallahassee, and had a few articles published.  So, I’m really an insider, eh?
What does Isaiah say?
…my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  Isaiah 56:7b
Isaiah says there are no insiders….or outsiders.  God who created us says we all belong to Him, and His house should be filled with us!  Through Isaiah God tells us that the “nations” (all those outside of Israel) are going to be gathered, along with Israel.
Now, we pay homage to that – we even quote Jesus’ invitation that “whosoever will” may come.  But, does our sanctuary show that on Sunday morning?  How serious are we that there are no “outsiders”?  Who is welcome, that we may truly have no “insiders”?

·        Black people?
·        Muslim people?
·        Homosexual people?
·        Sinful people?
·        Poor people?
·        Overweight people?
·        Smokers, drinkers and pot-smoking people?

Or…must we be Good and respectable people?  Must we be educated, affluent, American, rich, good-looking, good-smelling, sweet-talking, thin and sexy people, without prejudice or sin before we walk through the door?  The question really becomes – is this a house of prayer for all nations?  Or…. is Jesus really not welcome here?
In a few weeks the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack known as 9/11 will be here.  Without doubt American nationalism will fill the airwaves.  The talk will turn to whether Muslims have any place in our society.  Anger and anguish will be re-visited.                        
Insiders and Outsiders!
In February Martin Luther King Day will roll around, and there will be racist jokes revisited, even in churches. 
Insiders and Outsiders!
So What?
Making a point is not the issue for a sermon – answering the question, “How now shall we live” is the issue.  What do we do about what we just heard?
I would like to challenge us to forget about being “insiders”.  This is what following Jesus means.  Jesus was never an “insider”.  In fact, Paul the apostle described exactly how Jesus went from being Heaven’s great insider to Earth’s sacrificial outsider:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.                      Philippians 2:5 - 8 (NRSV)
Friends, you can:
·        march up the ladder of success, be rich and famous; but there will always be someone on a higher rung of that ladder. 
·        be beautiful or athletic and talented; but there will always be another to take your place.
·        travel the greatest “insider” social circles; but someone will be talking behind your back.
In the end, Jesus was not rich, good looking, thin and sexy, highly educated, well-liked, socially-plugged-in or revered. 
He was crucified….because he cared for us….the outsiders!
This week, go in the name of Jesus Christ; bring His love to some insider who’s hurting, or some outsider who’s been beaten-down by insiders. 
Go make a difference.  You’re not an outsider; don’t try to be an insider…simply follow Jesus…make disciples…transform the world.

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