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Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Lectionary Scriptures: Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148:1-14, Revelation 21:1-6, John 13:31-35

The lectionary readings for the coming Sunday got me to thinking about where my inclusiveness comes from.  I cannot remember ever thinking that groups needed to be excluded because of their color or creed, etc.  It feels like there’s something in my inner being that protests against the idea of rejecting people or living according to some kind of hierarchical classification.  I want to argue that such systems are against human nature, but somehow there are those around who seem to be inhabited by other attitudes.  (At the moment I’m talking about individual attitudes, not institutional structures where we all participate in prejudicial systems---which raise another question:  Where do those come from?)

I don’t remember my parents ever uttering a word or expressing an attitude that evaluated other people or groups negatively.  We lived near the railroad where “hoboes” regularly knocked at our door seeking a meal.  They were never turned away without one, regardless of color.  My grandfather used to say, “I’d rather feed ten men who were playing me than turn away one in real need.”  The church I grew up in welcomed German refugees following World War II as well as Japanese-Americans who had been released from internment camps.  One of my teenage memories is of eating in the home of one of those Japanese-American families.  I suppose the biggest prejudices in the small northwest Washington community where I grew up were against Native Americans and Japanese-Americans, but I was encouraged to interact freely with both.  My earliest ministries had me living in Hispanic and Native American communities.  (Again, I’m not trying to claim I’m free of all prejudicial attitudes, simply that most of the influences that got through to me were in the opposite direction.  I could offer a number of other examples.)

Whatever the other influences, I would suggest that inclusiveness is a “God” thing.  It’s impossible to be closely attuned to the presence of God without sharing in the inclusive Love that emanates from the Divine Mystery.  Earlier I talked about wanting to claim that exclusiveness is against human nature.  More importantly, my experience is that it’s against God nature, or, if you wish, against the very nature of the universe and reality and Life.  All kinds of life have an existence in reality as we know it.  They are included and “accepted” as part of the amazing throbbing whole.

Scripture then is only part of the picture, a testimony to how we human beings experience reality and the presence of God.  Yet, I am a person who is and has been influenced by scripture.  In this week’s readings I see testimony to a God who is inclusive in ways that boggle the mind and who calls us to participate in that inclusiveness.

 The reading from Acts is a story specifically about expanding the horizons of inclusiveness.  It tells of a vision that came to Peter in which he was told to go minister to a Gentile Centurion, a person he deemed unclean, not someone he should associate with.  In fact, to do so, he thought, would violate his religious commitments and put his soul at risk.  The story is told in chapter ten and now, in chapter 11, Peter repeats the story to “the apostles and the believers who were in Judea” a bit concerned that perhaps “the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God.”  (Acts 11:1)  Consider the following verses:

1.      Verse 9---“What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”
2.      Verse 12---“The Spirit told me to go with them and not make a distinction between them and us.”
3.      Verse 18---“Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Obviously the issue here was the inclusion of the Gentiles.  Sometimes we need to be reminded that our roots are in Judaism and that the inclusion of the Gentiles (that’s most of us) was a major leap.  Peter must have been stunned. 

How hard it is for us to get beyond old perceptions.  In contrast to what I said earlier, if I grew up with a major prejudice, it would have been against Catholics.  There were few Catholics in our small community and the church was about a block from my home.  It worried me when I walked past.  Who knew what demonic things might be going on in there?  At the same time, I had no trouble playing with my Catholic classmates, some of whom were neighbors.  It was only in my college years when I became friends with an older Catholic co-worker that I realized that here also was a creature of God.  God is always calling us to a larger inclusiveness.

One might also pursue the themes of clean and unclean in reflecting on this text---“clean” and “unclean” being another way of drawing lines that include and exclude.  In Peter’s day these categories were applied to, among other things, what foods were acceptable and unacceptable.  His vision is of a sheet coming from heaven filled with all kinds of “unclean” food.  A voice invites him to eat and he refuses.  (vss. 5-8)  It’s interesting that the vision has to be repeated three times before Peter gets it.  (vs. 10)  Sometimes it takes a lot to get our attention and change our prejudices.  We might treat this story as calling us to ask ourselves about the ways in which we use nice neat categories for the organization of our thinking, our behavior, our relationships.

The Psalm stretches the inclusion even further.  It is an ecstatic hymn calling all creatures and all creation to sing out in praise.  Consider the list: angels, sun and moon, stars, heavens, waters above the heavens, monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds, kings and all people, princes and all rulers, young men and women, old and young.  (vss. 2-4 & 7-12)  If that isn’t inclusive I don’t know what is.  Imagine a gathering in a sanctuary with birds flying around, a tiger at the end of your pew, snowflakes falling from the ceiling, water bubbling up from the floor.  Of course, part of the point is that God’s inclusiveness is much larger than anything that can be contained in a sanctuary.

I’ve commented a bit the past two weeks on the Book of Revelation.  The only thing I will add from this week’s reading is the inclusiveness that reaches beyond all that exists in the present moment.  God’s inclusiveness is defined by the statement:  “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”  (Revelation 21:6)  Back when I was in seminary, Your God Is Too Small was a popular book by J.B. Phillips.  The title says it all.  Anything less than a God who is all-inclusive is not the God we find in this week’s lectionary readings.

In the story as told in John’s Gospel, Jesus spends time after his final meal with the disciples trying to prepare them to live when his physical presence no longer walks and talks with them.  Several chapters are sometimes thought of as “Farewell Discourses.”  This week’s reading includes his central instruction for the life that is ahead of them.  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35---The same words are spoken in John 15:12. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”)  He passes the torch of inclusiveness to us.  It is as if he says, “I represent a God of inclusive Love.  Now it’s up to you to carry on that work of representation.”

Why are we inclusive?  Where does inclusiveness come from?  It comes from God who calls us to see the wonder of his Love at work in and through all people and all things in every age from beginning to end and beyond---or as Buzz Lightyear might say, “To Infinity and Beyond.”


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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