September 13, 2017
Rock Springs Family Values: Radical Inclusivity
Values! Every one of us has a set of values that color how we approach life. Our values shape how we interact with each other. When you worked, your company had a set of values that determined how you did your work. Your work may have had values like, excellence, efficiency, and hard work.
When you got married, you brought values into that relationship. For example, in our marriage we’ve always valued harmony. So if Becky and I ever had a disagreement or conflict we made sure we never let the sun go down on our anger. We always tried to work out our conflict before we went to sleep. It wasn’t always easy, but we’ve done it
And most of us have raised a family. So whether we recognized them or not, we all had family values. For example, before Becky and I started our family, we were good friends with the Slovers. They had two teenagers, Jeff and Wendi. And we noticed how well they got along with each other. And so we determined that when we had children, we’d instill some values into them that would help them love and cherish one another, respect and encourage one another. And although they did their fair share of fighting early on, we can safely say that both Kayla and Courtney grew up with a healthy respect and love for one another.
And when it comes to our Church Family, we also have a set of values. Some of them are unspoken, some we’ve worked hard at fleshing out, and others we are still discovering. A couple weeks ago I was at a Church Planters Boot Camp, where I was learning how to help new Church Planters discover the values that were unique to their new work. As we went through this exercise, we learned that there are two things that help determine what our values should be. First, what God wants His people to embody in everything they do. And second, what is unique about the cultural context we are trying to reach. What I discovered in this second area is that we have some unique strengths that God wants us to tap into. At the same time, we have a few idols that hinder us from becoming the kind of people He wants us to be. And some are just neutral realities that can work for or against what God wants to do through us.
So, here are some of the unique realities of our cultural context: We have…
- A diversity of cultural and religious backgrounds. We have people from the Midwest, the Northwest, the Great Lakes, the Rockies, Alaska and even California. Most are conservative, but plenty are not. And most have some sort of church background but some do not. So we are quite diverse culturally and religiously.
- A diversity of people who have prospered in their vocation and life. We’ve got people who are well educated, entrepreneurs, some who have run their own companies or made it to the top or have just worked hard and have experienced the blessings of the American Dream. And that leads to the next one. We have…
- A diversity of people who want to enjoy life and make new friendships
- A diversity of people who still want make a difference with their lives
- A diversity of people with the freedom to enjoy life and make that difference but have limited years or health to do it all.
But we also have some of the idols that can hinder us from living out the values God wants for us. I’ve identified three. So here they are:
- An independent spirit “I only want to do what I want to do”
- An addiction to convenience “I’ll serve, but only if fits within my schedule”
- An addiction to comfort “I worked had to get to this place. So don’t ask me to risk getting out of my comfort zone.”
In fact, you could say, these are not just unique to us here, but to just about anyone who’s grown up in our American culture.
So what are our values? How does God want us to embody our faith in a way that fits who we are as a people? Well, that’s what we are going to dive into for the next five weeks, as we begin unpacking our Rock Springs Family Values. Some of these will be familiar. Others will challenge us. But at the end of the day, our hope is that as we move forward together as His people, what we look at over these next five weeks will give us clarity and power to be the blessing He calls us to be.
So lets dive in with the first value that needs to embody everything we do together. And that is this: Radical Inclusivity. Now that may sound weird. So let me say it this way: Jesus included everyone, so we will do the same. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what you’ve done, or what you believe, Jesus showed us how we are to treat everyone, not just in this church, not just in our community, but wherever He leads us to serve. So if you brought your Bible with you today, let me encourage you to open them to Luke 10:25-37, where we will see how Jesus dismantles the barriers that we put up to keep people out, so we might begin to live and love like Him.
Now as we come to this passage, we need to remember that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi serving in the midst of the Jewish culture. But that culture was full of tension everyday. First, they were under Roman occupation. They were often unjustly used and abused by their occupiers. Everyone hated them and especially hated having to pay taxes to Caesar and to live under the constant threat of these pagan outsiders.
They also lived with a constant racial tension with the neighboring Samaritans. The Samaritans were not only considered to be outside of God’s covenant people, they were ancient enemies. One scholar put it this way. Feel the weight of his words. He writes: “Bitter tension divided Jews and Samaritans. Samaria was sandwiched between Judea and Galilee. The Samaritans emerged about 400 BC from mixed marriages between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews regarded them as half-breed bastards.” Not only that, but the Samaritans created their own rival religious practices that made a mockery of Jewish belief. They established their own temple and claimed it was the true one, denouncing the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. In response, the Jews destroyed the Samaritan temple. Then, when Jesus was about 12 years old, some Samaritans sneaked into the Jerusalem temple at night during the Passover and scattered human bones over the sanctuary floor to desecrate it. Then the Jews retaliated with more violence. The racial tension between Jews and Samaritans was about as raw as it could get at the time of Jesus.
So it’s within this context Jesus is asked one of the greatest questions ever: “Who is my neighbor?” And it sets Jesus up to teach us one of the greatest values about how Jesus wants us to include all people. So let’s read: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” You see in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, God commands His people not only to love Him, but also to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). The context of this Old Covenant commandment suggests that “my neighbor” applies only to other Israelites. So by asking Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” the religious leader is challenging Jesus on what they believed to be a fundamental truth. He is asking Jesus to give his definition of the boundary markers of God’s kingdom: of who is “in” and “who is “out.” Of course, his assumption is that, as a religious Jew, he is already “in,” so by asking “who is my neighbor?,” he is asking who is also “in” with him.
This was a direct challenge to Jesus. Would he line up with what this religious expert believed or would this question trip him up? But with his reply Jesus breaks down religious barriers that keep us apart: In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite (a Temple assistant), walked by and saw him, but he also passed by on the other side. Luke 25:30-32
Notice what Jesus is doing here: Before introducing us to the hero of the story, Jesus begins by insulting the religious establishment by showing them how their “religion” is more like a barrier rather than a motivator when it comes to helping a person in need. He is showing this religious expert how keeping his religion actually blocks him from doing what God desires. And God desires that this naked and wounded victim receive mercy. But first the Priest, and then the Priest’s assistant, can’t be bothered with this person, because their religious commitments were more important.
Do you see the disconnect? If anyone should help this person it should be people who serve God. But they don’t. Why? Why when the need is so obvious, do both these religious workers intentionally avoid this victim? Jesus makes sure his listeners hear that they intentionally crossed to the other side of the road. Why? Well here’s why: Religious leaders in first-century Israel believed people could be ritually contaminated by contact with a dead person – a contamination that would last a full week, and could only be undone by ritual bathing. Priests especially were to avoid all contact with a corpse, except for family members. And some believed that they could become ritually defiled if even their shadow touched a dead person.
So if these religious leaders were on their way to serve at the temple, this explains why they not only kept going, but why they made a point to go the other side of the road. They kept their distance, unless they got too close and so defile themselves. You see, if they did that they would disqualify themselves from their “religious service.” Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s pointing out how these religious workers put religion ahead of relationship. They put ritual ahead of love.
This is why Jesus came to break the barrier of religion. Religion gets in the way of relationship every time. This is one reason why we want to keep our “religious activities” to a minimum here at Rock Springs. But at the same time, whenever we do any kind of ministry, our worship services, our journey groups and especially when we launch neighborhood groups this fall – that this value “radical inclusivity” welcoming anyone is always part of what we do.
I remember the tension I felt in my first role as a Lead Pastor in Langley, BC when it seemed that all my ministry was always at the Church. Whenever the doors were open, I was supposed to be there. And I felt that something wasn’t quite right about that; because I never had much time to get to know my neighbors, let alone ever serve them or help them. All they ever saw of me was when I got in my car and headed off to a church activity. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved serving as a Pastor but sometimes I felt so disconnected from the very people Jesus said I was to love – my neighbors.
I sometimes still battle with that. Running a church can sometimes get in the way of having time for people. That’s why we don’t have a lot of “religious activities” here at Rock Springs. We want people who have come to the Ranch to enjoy life and make friendships to do just that. Because when you do that, you then do have time to listen, to learn, and to see opportunities to serve and love when those opportunity come. Jesus came to break down the barriers that keep us from loving people. And religion can be a convenient barrier for. But that’s not the only barrier Jesus came to break. He also came to break social and racial barriers. That’s what we see next as Jesus continues the story: Jesus breaks the barriers of race! Let’s read in verse 33, But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ Luke 10:33-35
Wow, how pointed is this? When the Samaritan shows up as the hero in this story, this must have been shocking. Here, this despised half-breed sees this bloodied victim and takes a huge risk going help him. After all, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was dangerous. Robbers worked this road all the time. This bloodied victim on the side of the road could actually be a decoy. So to stop and give aid meant taking that risk. It also meant that he was willing to let go of his “to do” list. Stopping here meant missing a business opportunity. He might loose some income. He might get home late and worry his wife. And obviously it cost him something more than his time. He poured oil and wine on his wounds. He gave him a lift to the local hotel, stayed there with him; then gave the manager cash to keep on caring for him until he came back.
Jesus leaves no doubt as to the nature of this Samaritan – he did whatever it took to make sure this man was cared for. He was a man of compassion. So Jesus then turned to the religious expert and said, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
WHO was the neighbor? Now Jesus is the one asking the questions. Who was the neighbor to this unfortunate victim? And now this religious leader can’t even bring himself to say the words, “the Samaritan.” No, instead, The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
But Jesus isn’t finished with him yet. He adds injury to insult. He tells this man who thought he had it all figured out, that he must go beyond seeing Samaritans as neighbors. He must now go and see everyone regardless of their race or religion or social standing as people who God wants him to love. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37 Go and love the same way. Don’t let any religious, racial or social barriers keep you from giving mercy to ANYONE in need.
And what Jesus does for this religious expert, he does for us: He tears down the barriers we so often use to keep people out. There are no “ins” or “outs” with Jesus. There are no boundaries in his kingdom. Everyone is equal in his eyes. Everyone needs love, and acceptance and mercy. Go and do likewise!
That is why “radical inclusivity” is one of our core values as God’s people. We are to put no boundaries on our love and acceptance of people. And for us to be this kind of a people – to be the blessing God calls us to be, then Jesus needs to keep on breaking down the barriers that can separate us from those we’re called to love.
So, here’s a little test. Who is a Samaritan to you? In other words, to whom do you feel superior? Whom do you secretly or not so secretly despise? Ask yourself, if you feel superior to: Liberals Conservatives
Rich People Poor People
Mentally challenged people Mentally superior people
Landscape laborers Interior Decorators
Attractive People Ugly People
Illegal Immigrants White Supremacists
Muslims New Agers
People who drink People who don’t’ drink People who drive you to drink
You can make your own list. All of us have a natural affinity to welcome and befriend; to love and to care for people who are similar to us. And there’s nothing wrong that. But if that’s all whom we ever invite to our table, if that’s all whom we ever befriend, if we only include those who make us feel comfortable, then we are no different than those who do not know God.
You see, when Jesus came he broke the barriers that keep us apart, so he could bring us together as one. Jesus lived radical inclusivity. He hung out with sinners. He befriended tax-collectors, He dined with whores, He touched lepers, and when he hung dying on the cross between two criminals, and one asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
That’s what’s really at the heart of radical inclusivity. Jesus wants us to be with him. That’s why he died for us. We were once on the outside looking in. Let me close with this reminder for all of us: Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13
Jesus included everyone, so we will do likewise! Let’s pray