The Ingroup – Ephesians 2:11-22
A couple of years ago I had to make one of those dreaded calls to our medical insurance provider to find out if a certain medical procedure was covered. I don’t know about you, but I always have some resistance to those kinds of calls. They always start out with the warning that says that they may be tape recording the call for training purposes. That alerts me because I know that they are really trying to tape what the caller is saying. So I start right away to think about exactly what I am going to say and how I am going to say it, to make sure that it is as friendly as possible, but still communicates what I really want to know.
But this time the “friendly warming message” ended and the customer service agent answered and identified herself, rather than moving into questions that would identify who I was, the first things she said was, “I see you are from Indianapolis”, reading the caller ID, “How about those Colts. I think Andrew Luck is so cute!” Talk about knocking you off balance! We shared a few pleasantries about our hometown team and then she mentioned how much she admired our entire organization, and how difficult it was to be a Colts fans since the answering office of my insurance company was in Pittsburgh. And we know what team plays there.
By the time the conversation was over I had discovered what I needed to know and had a nice chat with a stranger who had become somewhat of a friend. That is what happens when you become aware that you are part of a whole that is experiencing common ground. In this case it was being part of the Colts fan group. While certainly not a a Colts fan, that is exactly what Paul is trying to say so that the new Christians in Ephasis. He wants them to understand that they are part of the larger family of God: the community of faith in Jesus Christ regardless of what they had been before or how they came to faith. They were to live in community as part of a large community of God where there are no insiders or outsiders. In this great fellowship of God they would all be equal.
As Christians every Sunday here at Faith, we remember the great strength that we have that comes from being part of a larger whole when we make our Affirmation of Faith, which is really a Confession of Faith, meaning that this we say and believe together. And it reminds us that we are part of a larger whole that is much bigger than just Faith Presbyterian Church.
On this day when our nation is still reflecting and debating what it means to be an American and possibly what it means to make “America Great Again”, in light of the anger, hatred and violence that took place in Charlottesville about eight days ago, we really do need to hear Paul’s words. “At one time you were Gentiles by birth, called the “uncircumsion” by those who are called the circumcised .. …For Christ has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing walls, that is, the hostility between us. . . so that you are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saint .. built on the foundation of the apostles..”
If we were to contemporize Paul’s words for today, they would sound something like this: “Once you were called the outsiders by those on the inside but Christ has all people equal destroying that which seperates us in that the anger and division between and among us would disappear, for we have become heirs of the saints and the apostles who have gone before us.”
There are two things that we need to remember from Paul this morning. And the first is that society will always try to lead people to identify others toward whom they will show form prejudice.
Dr. Seuss’ lesser-known stories, The Sneetches is a fable we should all learn. The Sneetches are tall, yellow creatures who live on beaches. In Seuss’ story these creatures are divided into two groups: those who have green stars on their stomachs, and those who don’t have green stars. The green-starred Sneetches comprise the “in-crowd.” They build exclusive campfires around which they sing their little songs. The Sneetches without green stars on their bellies are the outsiders. They are the losers.
But one day, “a fix-it-up chappy” named Sylvester McMonkey McBean comes to town with a strange contraption called a Star-On machine. For a mere three dollars, Sneetches without a green star can line up and get green stars on their stomachs. Naturally, all the no-star Sneetches jump at this chance. The in-crowd Sneetches are no longer distinct; this upsets them very much. But Sylvester McMonkey McBean also has a Star-Off machine. For ten dollars you can get your star, which defined you as an “in” person, removed, thus distinguishing yourself anew. This back-and-forth escalates until, as Dr. Seuss says, “Neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew whether this one was that one or that one was this one or which one was what one or what one was who.” Being part of either the in or the out group had become so powerful that they had difficulty forming a new identity that allowed others to join them.
This little parable reveals a profound truth about our relationship with God and our relationships with other people—about the agony of being excluded and about the thrill and sometimes snobbery of being included. C. S. Lewis wrote about this reality of inclusion and exclusion in his essay “The Inner Ring.” He said this: You discover gradually in almost indefinable ways that this inner ring of inclusion and exclusion exists and that you are outside it; and then later, perhaps, you are inside it. … It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, … I believe that in all of our lives at certain periods and in many of our lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the drive to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside of it.
My sociology professor in College was also a Presbyterian Minister who said in one of his lectures, “It does’t matter what our background, our nationality, our race or our geographical residence may be, there will always be someone or group of peope we will try to push or exclude from the inside of society where all of the benefits are found, to the outside of society where there are fewer benefits.” If you would talk with Dr. Reiber outside of class he would say that it is only faith in Christ that would tear down those walls and allow us to include the outsider in the inside. Kind of sounds like he got that from Paul, beause it is in Christ and through Christ that we become part of an assembly that is large enough and inclusive enough to bring all of the outsiders in and we are all equal members of God’s family, no longer aliens but citizens of God’s community.
I think that Paul knew that it was going to be difficult to do away with the walls and barriers that people and society set up to separate us from one another, and to make some feel that they are on the inside while others feel that they are on the outside. So he gives us a foundation that is built on the Apostles and prophets with Christ as the corner stone. Now I don’t think that this means that our foundation is based on something out of the past. It means, rather, that as part of a large inclusive group that welcomes all, we exist as a fellowship support to one another and make sure that we reach our goal of love and serving one another.
In the fall a number of years ago, Linda, a young woman, was traveling alone up the rutted and rugged highway from Alberta to the Yukon. Linda didn’t know that you don’t travel to Whitehorse alone in a rundown Honda Civic, so she set off where only four-wheel drives normally venture. The first evening she found a room in the mountains near a summit and asked for a 5 A.M. wakeup call so she could get an early start. She couldn’t understand why the clerk looked surprised at that request, but as she awoke to early-morning fog shrouding the mountain tops, she understood. Not wanting to look foolish, she got up and went to breakfast. Two truckers invited Linda to join them, and since the place was so small, she felt obliged. “Where are you headed?” one of the truckers asked.
“In that little Civic? No way! This pass is dangerous in weather like this.”
“Well, I’m determined to try,” was Linda’s gutsy, if not very informed, response.
“Then I guess we’re just going to have to hug you,” the trucker suggested.
Linda drew back. “There’s no way I’m going to let you touch me!”
“Not like THAT!” the truckers chuckled. “We’ll put one truck in front of you and one in the rear. In that way, we’ll get you through the mountains.” On that foggy morning Linda followed the two red dots in front of her and had the reassurance of a big escort behind her as they made their way safely through the mountains. Caught in the fog in our dangerous passage through life, we need to be “hugged.” With fellow Christians who know the way and can lead safely ahead of us, and with others behind, gently encouraging us along, we, too, can pass safely.
In Calcutta, India, there is a children’s home named Shishu Bhavan; founded by Mother Teresa, the home continues to be operated by her community, the Missionaries of Charity. On the wall of the home hangs a sign that reads:
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
LOVE THEM ANYWAY
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies,
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight,
People really need help but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY
Mother Teresa once said of herself, “By blood and origin, I am all Albanian. My citizenship is Indian. I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the whole world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.” (A Simple Path, Ballantine Books, New York: 1995). Because of her profound sense of belonging to God, Mother Teresa also had a sense of belonging to the world. And because she belonged to something greater than herself, her service as well as her meaning was found out in God’s world.
So take some time to capture and be nourished by the fellowship of God’s community so that you would be strengthened to open the door of life and citizenship in God’s kindgom with those who have been on the outside for so long. For you are all built into the dwelling place of God. Amen