…and whom Oh Lord
should we include?
March 4, 2018
Scripture: Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 19:13-15, Matthew 13:45-46, Matthew 13:31-32, Rev 22:16-17
In this day there seems to be as much talk in bits and pieces as there is in real conversation and dialog….so many instances of our language being broken down onto ‘bits’ and ‘bites’. So many ‘emojis’, lol’s, keywords or popular buzzwords that can carry a lot of weight in terms of what they may mean or may imply…and there are also words that are capable of placing you into one ‘camp’ or another, into one ‘tribe’ or another in this so divided culture and society many would have us believe we are now dwelling in…even if you do not feel that such a ‘camp’ or ‘tribe’ is truly your own.
And yet, when you get right down to it, when you get to the true heart of the matter, when good people are allowed to be just good people, when often largely unfounded fears or ‘firecracker emotions’ are set aside for just a moment and people are allowed to be friends no matter what, then I believe that much of the divisive rhetoric swirling around us all proves not to live up to its billing.
And on top of all of this linguistic ‘creativity’, there is in my opinion an intense wind of the Spirit blowing through and all around the very heart of humanity, seeking to infuse hope and purposed good into the unfinished story of all of us who dwell on earth as co-bearers of the image of our God…a story in which each one of us has a part to play. Scripture affirms this when it tells us that the ‘wind blows wherever it wishes, you hear its sound but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going…’.
Which is not to say that this action of God’s Spirit is a new thing but rather to say that in juxtaposition to the current state of our culture and in particular of the divisiveness and injustice we all are aware of, these Spirit-winds of promise and possible hope stand in stark contrast…a contrast that forces those followers of our Lord who have eyes to take notice…and to take action.
Which is a long-winded introduction to one of those ‘key words’ or social ‘buzzwords’ today which carries much weight…and perhaps even more responsibility. And that word is, ‘inclusive’ or ‘inclusivity’…a word that has not only been bandied about much in the past decade or so, but also one which holds great power in its ability to impassion both sides of the current culture war debates being waged in our nation and perhaps even elsewhere. On the one side it is a word greatly feared or loathed as it seems to go right to the heart of and challenge all that divides and separates peoples of differing beliefs and understandings. And for the other side it seems to imply that no matter what, all people should be treated equally and fairly, regardless of how they may view certain faith, cultural, or historical issues that have long divided people…some issues which in my opinion still have the ability to stand in the way of the full realization of the promised ‘Day of our Lord’ or the ‘kin-dom’ of all humanity…the pursuit of which arguably remains the single greatest call and command left to us by Jesus in his prayer ‘that they may all be one…’.
And I bring up this word ‘inclusive’ for several reasons, aside from it seeming to be so central to the life and teachings of our Lord. For one, it was the word used in a presentation before Presbytery several months back by the minister of our sister church in Carmel. Pastor Martin from Gilead said that his congregation had adopted a ‘Policy of Inclusion’ some months before and had experienced very positive results and consequences from the action. And his words that day quickened in me a call and desire I have had for a while now to find a way to align some of the deepest core beliefs I hold with the outward witness and example of our own congregation.
For I have long held and sought to share that we are all equally loved and cherished in the eyes of our Lord no matter the circumstances of the lives we may have lead or continue to lead. And I believe as well that so few have ever come close to realizing the full potential of the dream God holds for each one of us…and surely even they fell short of that somewhere along the way. The Apostle Paul echoes this in his words to the Romans when he writes, ‘truly all have ‘missed the mark’ and fall short of the glory of God’.
And so, in line with this I believe with all my heart that the love of our God is far, far greater than our ability to discourage or lessen it…that the forgiveness and mercy God extends towards each one of us comes from the very nature of this God of love…and also, and perhaps quite importantly so, that the wrathful and condemning images and understandings so many ascribe to our God are a distortion of and rebuke of the true loving essence of this one we worship and seek to follow after.
In other words we all truly are members of one family…a family loved, cherished, and adored equally by our Lord Jesus…a family called to live as one people seeking after blessed community in harmony one with another and with the earth that was given to sustain and nurture us.
And following after the example given us by Jesus we are called to welcome all who come to us, all who cross our paths, all who share our earthly home. In Christ we are one, and our outward witness must be a clear reflection of that and a clear rebuke of any and all that would seek to divide, marginalize, or not include another who shares with us the image of our God. Even Franklin Graham, when reflecting on the legacy of his father’s life this week, said that all his father ever wanted to convey through his ministry and in all of his crusades was that ‘God loves you’.
And then last week I received a text from Evie which contained a link to a YouTube video of a ten year old blind autistic boy singing. As most of you know we have long had a relationship with the local Cerebral Palsy Agency. A number of our members worked for them including myself a number of years ago, and individuals with differing levels of ability helped out at Cascade Farm in the past as well as cleaned our church buildings for a number of years. And after getting to know a number of them, and realizing that some held deep beliefs regarding God and faith, I always wished there was a way we might be able to include them in our worship and church life…feeling that we had something of great value to offer to them. And somewhere I still feel we do have something here worth sharing with any and all who cross our path.
And then the text and video came from Evie. And as I watched it I was convicted to the very depths of my soul. The video showed this young boy, holding his white tapping cane and singing ‘Open the eyes of my heart Lord’…a song we have used in our own worship many times. And by the end of it I was not only in tears at the beauty of this young man’s witness, I also realized that I had long been shortsighted in my desire to bring such individuals into our church family in order to share our gifts with them, rather than also realizing that in truth individuals with differing abilities may in fact have as much or more to offer and bring to us. And that realization both humbled and inspired me. And it renewed my desire to truly make our congregation one that welcomes all…one that is inclusive…a church in which the table we profess is our Lord’s truly has room for every human soul who comes forth.
And so, in addition to my own Spirit-led decision to reach out to agencies serving individuals with differing levels of ability and to invite them into our church family, our Council decided to adopt a Statement of Inclusion of our own, taking a firm stand that we as part of the family of God covenant to never again exclude anyone from our family who comes seeking our Lord. And as slightly different from many similar statements in circulation in our society which seek to affirm what those agencies will not do in terms of discriminating against this group or that, our Statement of Inclusion seeks to affirm what we will do, to share that our intent truly is to welcome and partner with any and all who come through our doors and into our circle of friendship.
And so the statement of policy the Council has affirmed reads as such:
‘Assured that the love of our Lord is without condition and called to extend the same, we welcome people of every race and nation, of every age and gender, of every sexual orientation and socioeconomic standing, and with every level and variety of ability to join with us in pursuing the graceful ‘kindom’ of our Lord’.
Our deepest gratitude to Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz who helped us to move from the dominant language of ‘Kingdom’ over to the loving concept of God’s ‘kindom’.
In this way, and by this statement we affirm that this church is a place of welcome to all who are seeking a relationship with our Lord of love, with all who may have been injured or hurt by the church of our ‘fathers’. And while there may be certain items contained within that statement with which some have issue, it truthfully reflects the beliefs of those called and elected to lead this congregation in the ways of our Lord. And it is my belief as well that it is a clear response affirming the winds of God’s Spirit that are calling for new wineskins into which new wine might be placed.
And so, join with me and your Council as we continue to reach out, striving to welcome all into our fellowship, inviting them to share at our table through our openness, our grace, and our readiness and willingness to help. And let us also seek after the wisdom to recognize and receive the gifts of all who come, as we continue to pursue a just, inclusive, and peaceable world…a world in which all of God’s children may live into the dreams and promise our Lord placed upon us from the very dawn of Creation.
And…as we gather around the table of our Lord let us consider that…perhaps this is the ‘yoke that is easy’
…perhaps this is the ‘pearl of great price’
…perhaps this is the ‘mustard seed’
…perhaps this is the fulfillment of our Lord’s call when he uttered, ‘Let anyone who wishes…take the water of life…as a gift.’