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The Inclusive Church
November 11, 2018, 12:00 AM

Grace and Peace to you from the Triune God. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God.

The church is an interesting space. So long as you are not making it an unsafe space for others or misbehaving badly we let you stay. If you look funny that is not a problem. If you have little or no money that is not a problem. If you are rich that is not a problem. If you have twenty children or if you never had children that is not a problem. If you are long term married, or always single, or divorced, or widowed, whether or not you remarried that is not a problem, you are welcome here at church. We try to make the church a place where “All Are Welcome.”

Making sure all are welcome is not always easy. We as humans have a tremendous propensity to order and categorize life including people. We look for people who are categorized as being “like us” or who are in a grouping we would like to be in and spend our time with those people. We look for people who are categorized as not like us so that we can avoid them. Yes, these are broad generalizations but it is the tendency of humans as a species to prefer those who are like us and to dislike those who are not like us.  Interestingly, we are not alone, it is broadly true of sentient beings that they prefer the like and the number of us who say human being means like me is relatively small. As we read the bible, we come to understand that this is not new but something that humanity has been struggling with from its very start.

Working to see Human as the inclusive category is something that we as the church have been doing since the beginning. For all we try to make the church a place of welcome, Grace holds a special place in the church world. It has been the case that Sunday morning is the most segregated space in the United States. We have historically black denominations as well as historically white denominations. Since we tend to worship in our mother tongue that also means that we have churches designed for people who speak English as well as  for people who speak Spanish, Creole, Mandarin, Japanese, German, Swedish, Norwegian and a few other languages. Please note that I am referring in the list of languages only to the ELCA Lutheran churches and the list is not comprehensive.

We segregated by language even within the ELCA and because we tend to go to church in our neighborhood it is also true that the church tends to be segregated socio economically. Not that we tried to do this but it has largely happened for a number of societal reasons. It has also happened because we tend to hang out with people like us and that means we tend to invite people like us. Additionally, I am not sure about you but no matter how inviting the church is that worships in Mandarin, I am likely to be lost for most of the service and so will likely choose a different congregation to visit the following week. Now in German or Spanish I know enough to follow along and it would be good practice, so I might go if only for the practice. We see the same thing here sometimes when people, like the feel of our congregation and so they stay even though they are primarily Spanish speakers but have enough English to follow along. 

I am pretty sure that while the segregation of worship space has happened for all of history that was not what Jesus had in mind. Consider our gospel text this morning Jesus meets and goes to dinner at Matthews house. We look and read that Jesus went to dinner at the house of one of the writers of a Gospel and so we think why not. Jesus' peers however looked at it differently. Jesus' peers saw that Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most despised members of society. You see tax collectors first and foremost collected money on behalf of the evil empire but then so that they could make a living they were empowered by the empire to extort money from you above and beyond your taxes. So, they collected the tax and a surcharge on top of the tax. Whatever they collected as surcharges was theirs to keep and so they tended to push for large surcharges and thus Tax Collectors became almost despised and yet here we read that Jesus went to dinner with Matthew, a tax collector, who had apparently also invited some of his friends and since we tend to hang with people like ourselves, the friends happened to be tax collectors and sinners as well.

The well meaning people around Jesus wanted to protect Jesus from these “bad men.” Well meaning people wanted to make sure that Jesus understood the kind of people he was sitting with. Well meaning people wanted to make sure that Jesus did not submarine his ministry accidentally by hanging with the wrong group of people. So these well meaning people went to Jesus to ask him, right. No they went to his disciples and asked why he was eating with Tax Collectors and Sinners. Why is your teacher eating with these people does he not know what they are in our society. In good human fashion they triangulated in the disciples of Jesus to try and resolve their anxiety over Jesus eating with “those people.”

Thankfully, as tends to be the case when you are talking about someone who just happens to be part of the Almighty, his super hearing picked up on what they were saying. Jesus heard what they were talking about and gives this short monologue, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mat 9:12-13

Can I simply say that this is really good news for you and for me. Jesus acknowledging that he is with people that are not “the right kind of people” is good news for you and for me. Jesus' monologue is good news for you and for me because it includes us. Jesus came not to help those who get it ALL perfectly, ALL the time but those who have made some mistakes along the way. Jesus came not for those who perfectly abide by the law and will of God but to reconcile the sinner. Then Jesus makes the reference to our first text and one that has been used to promote inclusion in the church over time. That last little phrase at the end of our passage from Micah that reads Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly before your God. Alternatively, it has been translated Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly. It is really good news that in some ways this church better represents the kingdom than many, in that we do end up with a diversity of people here. This is really good news for us personally, because it means that we are welcome here. This means that Jesus wants us to be here as well as that “other” person who is not from our group. You and I are loved and forgiven and welcomed into this place and to God's table to receive the same mercy and forgiveness that the tax collectors and sinners were receiving that evening and that all who enter here will receive.

The church may have ended up segregated in many places because it is run by fallible, fallen human beings. The church may have ended up separated by socio-economic standards because we humans tend to hang only with our own. The church may have ended up separated and segregated but that was not what Jesus intended and that is really good news for us because it means that we are loved and forgiven and welcomed into this place. We are the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was eating with that evening who need the great physician to help heal us. We are those who have been brought to the table by Jesus in spite of our foibles and flaws. We may ask what God demands for this grace and the answer is not great sacrifice but instead to change how we live so that we reach out to other broken and hurting tax collectors and sinners. God only demands that we share what we first received. God only asks that we share with other tax collectors and sinners the great love that brought us forgiveness and healing in our moment of need. So, I send you forth from here knowing that you are loved, forgiven and healed so that you can share love, forgiveness and healing with a world very much in need.