I’ve been in Maryland since returning from my last teaching trip several weeks ago. Home is always difficult for me. I wrestle with issues here in my little home town that I seldom face elsewhere. Like feeling included. I haven’t sorted it all out yet, so I’m not sure what’s actually real, but the singers in my head locked arms this week and shouted like a Wagnarian chorus that I … just … don’t … belong. It felt like there were walls to scale everywhere I turned.
We humans weren’t created for that. We were made for community and designed for inclusion. In fact, if I had to distill the Kingdom into one simple concept, I just might choose the word “relationship.” Isn’t that what we see in Jesus? The God-man invaded his world with arms wide open to publicans, pharisees, centurions, lepers, adulterers, drunks, and fishermen. It’s a sad thing that we sons of Adam haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet.
Several years ago I received a desperate Email from a young friend: “Help,” she said, “I’m in my last year of Bible school, and I’ve suddenly realized I’ve got a serious problem. See… I grew up in a Christian home, went to a Christian high school, hung out with my youth group, and now I’m graduating with a missions degree from a Christian university. And I’ve suddenly realized that I’ve never really had a non-Christian friend!”
Many of us have gone down that road. It’s endemic in the church culture. We divide people into two groups: believers and unbelievers. And then we draw a circle around ourselves and make it our mission to draw the outsiders into our circle. “Conversion”, we call it. “Wouldn’t you like to be one of us?” The problem with this model is that it doesn’t seem to fit the method of Jesus. He simply included everybody, and invited those who would to believe and follow Him. The traditional evangelical model looks like this:
Phil and Rachel are “in.” Amer, Emily and Baxter are “out,” and we find Annie troublesome since she “converted” last year, but hasn’t done anything with it. So … is she in or out, because we really need to know.
I think Jesus did it more like this:
He includes everyone and invites those who will to follow him. Notice Rachel, Baxter, and Annie are going their own way, and Phil isn’t moving at all. And yet they’re loved and invited to the party nevertheless. Jesus breaks down every wall and calls us into His presence and our neighbor’s presence as well. Maybe we ought to organize our own chorus and sing an anthem of inclusion. I’ll bet the angels would gladly join in.