Friday, September 28, 2018

Radical Inclusivity


These days, we could easily understand how a person could presume we have been born into ‘the worst of times.’  Of course, the reverse is also true – a presumption that these are ‘the best of times’ (it may depend on how optimistic or pessimistic one is, I suppose).

I was struck this morning, while reading part of the story of Esther in the Scriptures1, by what an incredibly awful cultural climate – and perhaps and even worse political system – into which she was unfortunate enough to have been born.  Taking in a full view of what was happening in her world in her time almost (almost?) makes one ‘appreciate’ where we are these days.  Well…no…(because that logic leads to places I hope that we, and I know that I, do not wish to go!)… but I do hope you see the larger point:
 

Even in the midst of the most egregious political systems, and the most immoral cultural atmospheres, we can – and should – and do – find God at work.  Because God never gives up on  us.  God never gives up on anyone.  Anyone! … Ever.
 
God does everything that God can, and never attempts to do what God cannot do.

There is no perfect political system (though many have tried to claim that theirs was ‘the one’).  There is no holier-than-thou culture (and yet many, also, have pretentiously held up theirs as ‘the one’). 

 
Potential rabbit trail:  You don’t suppose this is what Jesus meant when he said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you…they will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.”2

God’s Kingdom, them, is so much different.  The Kingdom of God does not force itself upon us – indeed, it cannot, for it if did, it would cease to be God’s Kingdom at all.  It is not one-size-fits-all, but one-Kingdom-includes-all. 

 
God’s Kingdom is radically, radically – hear that word, because it is so important – radically, inclusive.  One is excluded from the Kingdom, only by one’s own choice – a choice that can only be known and fully understood within the context of the relationship between God and oneself – i.e., we do not get to decide who else is ‘in’ and who else is ‘out’!  What we do get to choose, however, is whether, and how, we will open our arms wide open – like Jesus – hear this – just like Jesus – and not only welcome, but accept and include, anyone that Jesus accepts and includes. 
And who does Jesus include?  I guess we could (and should!) ask Jesus (the first Word and the last Word):
 
“All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”3

This is radical inclusivity.  And contrary to what some would suggest, it is no easy way out.  Indeed, when Jesus finishes this time of teaching, here is the reaction of many who were listening:

 
“This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?”4

Jesus’ response: “Does this offend you?”5
 
Make no mistake, friends: Radical inclusivity is offensive.  God’s Kingdom is offensive.  Scandalous, even.  But to whom was this teaching so scandalous?  Who didn’t want to accept it?  Jesus’ own disciples were the ones lamenting, “this is a hard teaching.”  And so what happened next?
 
Many of Jesus’ disciples, of their own free will, left.6
 
Jesus did not, would not, could not turn them away.  But when everyone’s included, and the club is suddenly not so exclusive as some imagined it to be, and the teachings get difficult – some do, by their own choice, leave.
 
Good news: Jesus keeps pursuing them – all of them – to the very end.  And if we are to follow Jesus where Jesus goes – arms wide open – here it again: Just like Jesus – we must do the same. 
 
It isn’t enough to just welcome people, as important as that is.  Nor is it enough to take the next step and fully accept people, even thought that too is something Jesus asks of us.  The will of the one who sent Jesus is that he should lose no one.  And so Jesus, through the grace of God – the ‘radical optimism of grace’ is how some choose to phrase it, pursues us… all of us… to the very end. 
 
In the midst of all we see and hear, touch and taste, feel and experience in the context of our times, there is this grace that finds us all right where we are:

“It is a most freeing, radical, optimistic understanding of the grace of God…that wherever we go in the world, we go to meet the Christ who is actively (not dormant or merely passively) there.”7

It’s a crazy world some days (maybe most days!) – once again though, the last Word:

 
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”8


1See Esther chapter 2
2Luke 17:20-21, 23, NRSV
3John 6:37-40, NIV
4John 6:60, NIV
5John 6:61, NIV
6John 6:66
8Jesus, as recorded in John’s Gospel (16:33)