It doesn’t matter how old we get…we still have labels….Conservative….Liberal. Democrat… Republican. Pro-life….Pro-choice. Black lives matter….Blue lives matter. Patriot…Protestor. Socialist….Capitalist. Pro government….Anti government. Individualist (my rights)….Community minded (common good). Christian….Atheist. Anti gun…Pro gun.. BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) ….White. It’s pride month — LGBTQ ….Straight.. And we tend to assume those labels somehow capture the totality of who a person is….but life is messy. Complicated. And some people will be all over the map…because of their stories. Their experiences. We are nuanced… But we want to belong. So we divide into camps — the circumcised….and the uncircumcised. Gentile and Jew. And we demonize those who are not us. Dehumanize. We are the Law abiding….the circumcised — you are the criminal…the uncircumcised. We are good…you are bad. And we justify all our horrible behavior…the atrocities of nationalism in all its forms…because these people are not one of us. Atrocities against Jews…against Muslims… against Christians…against Native Americans…against Japanese…against Black americans….against inmates…against immigrants…against refugees. And this happens all over the world. This is at the heart of evil in every nation…in every tribe. The demonization of the “other”. We are good. You are bad.
This is human behavior. Who’s in and who’s out? We play that game constantly as humans, don’t we? Who’s against us and who is for us? We separate ourselves into teams…into tribes…into political parties…into religious communities…into nations. You are one of “us”….”they” are not.
But Jesus calls us to see the world differently. Jesus calls us to see one another …to see all people as children of God. Samaritans and Gentiles and Jews alike. Jesus comes to be our peace…to break down the walls we erect. And to look at the strangers and say…”they are on my team”. We are in this together. We need each other. But more importantly…we all need Jesus. We all need grace. We all need forgiveness. And Jesus comes to reveal that grace, that forgiveness…for all of us. Jesus comes to knit us together…in all our diversity…into one humanity…into a dwelling place for God’s fullness…God’s love for all.
I’ve talked about Father Gregory Boyle before….he’s a priest who works with gang members in Los Angeles. He started “Homeboy and Homegirl” Industries and wrote a couple of books about his ministry — “Tattoos on the Heart” and “Barking to the Choir”. I recommend them to anyone. The heart of his work is the boundless compassion of God that leads to radical kinship. Kinship is how he understands the kingdom of God — it is that radical sense that we all belong to each other.
Anyway, at our Bible study this week, Patti shared a quote from “Tattoos on the Heart” which speaks perfectly to God’s radical inclusion. “No daylight to separate us”, Father Boyle writes, “only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
This is who we are as followers of Jesus…as a community of faith here at ALC. This is our voice…who we strive to be. A community that pushes outward instead of inward…to welcome those who feel unwelcome. To love those who feel unlovable. To help people recognize their beautiful identity as children of God…in all their complexity. To strip off the labels…and know that all are welcome. All are God’s beloved. No one is disposable. As Father Boyle says…to let each and every person know that they are exactly what God had in mind when God created them.
We live in a world that divides…that draws lines in the sand. And everytime we draw a line, Jesus hops across to the other side. And Jesus says “peace” to you who are near….and to you who are far off. Ever widening the circle….Jesus claims every person has dignity and worth and is valuable. No life is more valuable than any other. All belong to God.
The labels…’oof’, they are powerful. They suck us in…wanting to belong. Wanting to be “right”. And it is always so easy to point fingers at those who are on the other side of the line as we all continue to advocate for the things we believe will make the world a better place. But as followers of Jesus…we will resist and stand against the lines that divide us…we will be adamant that no one is disposable. We will welcome every person…EVERY person as God’s beloved ones. Even those who disagree with us. Even those who hurt us.
The way of love….of boundless compassion…is not the way the world operates. The world operates through fear. But Jesus casts out all fear and Jesus erases the lines that divide us. We have a cartoon that has been on our office door for some time…it’s Jesus with a big ole eraser…just erasing lines. The lines of nations…tribes…colors… genders…sexualities….political parties…religions. When God looks at the world…there are no lines on this big blue ball….we are all simply God’s children…made in God’s image…diverse and beautiful and beloved. This is the beloved community we are a part of here at ALC. This is the beloved community we strive to embody for our neighbors. Where everyone belongs. Where all are welcome.. It’s on the sign, after all. God’s grace for all. Amen.