It seems our society has a way of creating a culture where it is acceptable to label people as part of the in crowd or as outsiders. Even if we say that such labeling is unacceptable, perhaps we can be honest enough to confess that often even the church has allowed such labeling to continue to exist.
In high school there were the jocks, the cheerleaders, and nerds. You definitely knew who fit in and who didn’t. Today the labels may be different, but they are still there.
The issues of insiders and outcasts is serious business that doesn’t go away when we become adults. Workplaces (and churches) are known for the cliques that exist. Perhaps you may recognize one of these phrases, revealing the presence of insiders v. outcasts mentality:
• New people feel as if the old guard won’t listen to their ideas.
• The old guard can’t figure out why the new people don’t want to fit in.
• This person supports immigration reform – that person doesn’t want to talk about it.
• That person/pastor/leader hurt my feelings – time to leave the church.
• You name the issue you support – there is someone who opposes it.
Yes, our society, the church included, has become expert at creating and sustaining walls that divide. I think that’s why Peter’s vision of clean and unclean from Acts 10:9-16 is important to me.
It seems that even the leaders in the early church dealt with insider/outcast issues. In response to that God gave Peter a vision which clearly said that Peter was not to apply labels where God had removed them. It was a message that Peter had to hear three different times before he could accept it as a message from God. Immediately after having the vision that third time Peter hears a knock at the door. It is representatives from a gentile (can you say outcast?). Peter opens the door to the men, and goes with them, resulting in the wall between Gentile and Jewish believers being torn down.
Paul writes similar words to the people at the church of Ephesus. Read these words from Ephesians 2:
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For [Christ] is our peace; in the flesh [Jesus] has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 [Jesus] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that one new humanity might be created in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
Paul is clear, the solution to the insider v. outcast issue is nothing less than the grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus, Paul tells us, has overcome every division that separates us. We know that, but it is hard to live into the reality that Christ came to create.
You may not have created the culture where you are. It may have started decades before you got there, but who are the insiders at your place of business – your church? Who are the outcasts?
Here is why I believe the church is important – we are called to specialize in grace. You, pastors and lay alike, leaders and helpers, you are the people who truly make a difference in the world. Let us tend this new creation that Jesus came to establish with grace and love. When we do that can you imagine what we can build together when the walls that divide are broken down?