“Good morning Larry, great to see you.” That’s how I was greeted every time I opened the door to my favorite coffee shop in Tacoma, Washington, by Lisa, the young woman who managed Cutter’s Point on 6thAve. Sometimes it was “Good morning Larry, great to see you.” Other times, it was, “Good morning Larry, how are you today?” But every time, it was a genuine welcome. Lisa wanted her shop to be my shop. But not just for me. She wanted every customer to feel like her Coffee shop was their coffee shop. So after I got my coffee and bagel and found a table the next person would come through the door, “Good morning Jason, great to see you.” Then ”Good morning Renee, how are you today?” “Hey Teresa, where you been, we’ve missed you.” And on and on like that all day, every day. And it wasn’t long until the Spirit nudged me and said, “This is how God’s Church should be. Everyone welcomed all day, every day.”
In fact, when I look at how Jesus lived among us, that’s how he loved us. Jesus was a welcomer. Jesus was an includer. Wherever Jesus went, Jesus invited people of all stripes and colors to walk with him, eat with him, to follow him. Jesus included despised tax-collectors, low-life prostitutes, loudmouth fishermen, political zealots and skeptical doubters. In fact, Jesus may have been the most welcoming and inclusive person who’s ever lived. It didn’t matter where you came from, how much baggage you were carrying, what you believed, or the color of your skin – Jesus loved people by including them in his life.
No matter what was going on around him, Jesus didn’t let the political climate, the religious culture, or racial tensions define how he lived or who he loved. He was always on mission, doing what the Father sent Him to do. And one of the things the Father sent Him to do was to love others by accepting those who didn’t fit the culture’s standard of acceptance.
And so I can’t think of a better value to speak on today as we are welcomed back into the ballroom, than this value of radical inclusivity – this value of including love that was modeled by Jesus when he walked among us. And I can’t think of a more needed value in our church as we seek to be people who are helping people become friends, family and followers of Jesus. For we don’t have to look far to see how our world is becoming more and more divisive, more and more harsh, critical and condemning. Racial tensions are at an all time high. Political ideology is tearing families apart. And this ongoing pandemic has created a new division between vaccers and anti-vaccers. Political affiliations, racial prejudices, and medical opinions have become the devil’s fodder for shredding relationships and the devil is having a heyday. But Jesus has shown us a better way. It’s the way of radical inclusivity – the fourth value we’ve embraced as Rock Springs Church. Jesus wants us to love like Him, by helping people feel welcome in our lives. By including those who don’t fit in, to fit in with us.
Now before we unpack this value, let me remind you of the three previous values that are meant to shape our relationships with one another as God’s Family.
First, Unleashed Potential. Jesus sees your unlimited potential to live like Him, love like Him, and make disciples like Him. That’s why Jesus chose you to follow Him, so that as you do, He might unleash your potential to bless others with the grace and love of Jesus. That’s why we want to help every person follow Jesus. So that together we might bear much fruit and bring glory to the Father. God wants to unleashed the potential of every one of us to shine like Jesus.
Second, Mutual Interdependence. With this value we recognize that Every Person is Necessary in God’s Family. Jesus made you an essential member of His body and gave you a gift that is necessary to the health and well-being of His body. That means that every single person who calls Rock Springs your church family is an indispensable asset to what God wants to accomplish in and through His Church. There are no lone rangers in God’s family. Every person exists for the benefit of the others in God’s family. We need you and you need us. And that makes you necessary for what God wants to do through Rock Springs Church. Mutual Interdependence.
Third, Extravagant Generosity. With this value we understand that Jesus gave His all, so He could change us all – so we might give like Him. So that His grace in us might work so powerfully that each one of us would become peddlers of grace in a world devoid of grace. That we would give of our time, we would give of our talents and our treasures to be a blessing to others in this world. That we would give of ourselves like Jesus gave to us. Extravagant Generosity.
And now this morning, we are going to take a fresh look at radical inclusivity. This mindset that no matter where you may have come from, no matter what you may have done, no matter what you look like or how you live, we will welcome you with the love of Jesus. We will include those who don’t fit in, to fit in with us.
And one passage that helps us understand this value is the Parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus reveals to us in Luke 10:25-37 So, if you brought your Bible with you today, why don’t you open it to Luke 10, where Jesus reveals the kind of love that is willing to include those who don’t usually fit in.
But first, let’s look at the cultural tension surrounding this encounter: At that time, Israel labored under Roman oppression and frequent attacks by neighboring Samaritans. Jews hated the Samaritans. They were Jews who had intermarried with Gentiles – so they were despised as half-breeds. But what was even worse is they had adulterated the Jewish religion and were considered heretics. A good Jew wouldn’t be caught dead with the likes of a Samaritan and vice a verse. So the racial and religious climate was rife with tension. Religious discussions would quickly degenerate into debates over which race held land claims to Jerusalem and which ethnic group was truly God’s chosen people. It was kind of like the political climate of our day! So then, in response to one of these religious debates, Jesus told this story about a shocking hero. It began, like many conversations that Jesus had, with a question:
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?”
Now, 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 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 he believed to be a fundamental truth. He is asking Jesus to give his definition of the boundary markers of God’s kingdom: 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 this religious expert or would this question trip him up? But with his reply Jesus breaks down one of the barriers that keep us from including people in God’s family.
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 begoing 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
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 than a motivator when it comes to loving others. He shows this religious expert how keeping his religion actually keeps him from doing what God desires. And what God desires is that this naked and wounded victim receive mercy. But what we see is that, 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 man it should be the people who are committed to serving God. But they don’t. In fact, Jesus makes sure his listeners hear that they intentionally crossed to the other side. Why? Here’s why: Religious leaders in first-century Israel believed people could be rituallycontaminated 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 these religious leaders intentionally avoided this man so they could stay clean. They kept their distance, so as not to defile themselves. Otherwise, they would’ve disqualified themselves from their “religious service.” Here’s the point Jesus is making: The Jews had made religious ritual more important than mercy. They valued ritual over love.
So in telling this parable Jesus is exposing one of the barriers that keep us from loving those who need love: Jesus came to break the barrier of religion. Keeping your religion can keep you from loving your neighbor. We do this in different ways today. We tend to exclude others who don’t believe like we do, or worship like we do, or live like we do. Far too many Christians have misinterpreted the passage in 2 Corinthians that says: we are to have nothing in common with unbelievers, therefore, we should be separate from them. 2 Corinthians 6:17. So rather than include people who don’t share the same faith as us, and we choose to have nothing to do with them. We avoid them. Rather than get involved in the messy business of loving the unlovely, we justify our indifference with our own sense of self-importance. We put religion over relationship. We value ritual over love. And when that happens, we’re just like these men who intentionally avoided someone in need. We’ve let our religion keep us from loving our neighbor. But as we see here, Jesus came to break the barrier of religion.
Jesus also came to break social and racial barriers. That’s what we see next as Jesus continues the story: 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 quite dangerous. Robbers worked this road all the time. This bloodied victim 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. It meant that he was allowing himself to be inconvenienced. Stopping here may have meant missing a business opportunity. He might lose income. And stopping here to help was going 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. It cost this Samaritan something to love this stranger. But he did it anyway.
So there’s much Jesus would have us learn from the good Samaritan. He was a man of compassion. He was generous. He was a man willing to put the needs of others ahead of himself. He sacrificed much to care for a man he didn’t even know. So when 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?” The answer was obvious. And yet this religious man can’t even bring himself to say the words, “the Samaritan.” Instead, he answers: “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 religion, regardless of their race and regardless of their social standing as people who God wants him to love. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:36-37 Go and love others like this Samaritan loved this man. Don’t let any religious, any racial, any political or any social barriers keep you from loving your neighbor.
And by telling us this story, what Jesus does for this for religious expert, he does for us: Jesus removes the barriers we use to keep people out. By telling this parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus declares that there are no boundaries in God’s kingdom. Every person is equal in his eyes. Every person is a neighbor to love, to help, to include. It doesn’t matter where they come from. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. It doesn’t matter what they believe, or what politics they hold, what lifestyle they’ve chosen, what they look like or if you’ve got absolutely nothing in common with them. Jesus wants us to go and do likewise. We are to go and love those who need the love of God. And one of the best ways we can love in this way, is by including those who don’t fit in, to fit in with us.
You see, Jesus knows that if we define “neighbor” only as those who are similar to us – people who are like us p people who are part of our own religious and/or ethnic community – then we will never stretch ourselves to love beyond those whom it is natural to love. Jesus instead calls us to a love like He loves. And so Jesus takes the world of his Jewish audience and turns it upside down and inside out. He not only stretches their definition of who is to be included as someone to love, but he makes an outcast the hero of the story.
That is why we’ve embraced “radical inclusivity” as one our core values as God’s people. In fact, radical inclusivity is what Jesus did for you by dying for you. Jesus let nothing get in the way of laying down His life for you, so He could include you in His family. On the cross Jesus broke the ultimate barrier that kept you from God. He broke the barrier of sin. And what made this act such a radical display of inclusivity, is that the moment you believed, God didn’t just include you in His family, He adopted you as His very own beloved child. And so Jesus shows us today that there are no barriers to whom we are to love. Jesus wants us to love like He does, by including like He does. Jesus wants His people to open their arms to love the unlovely, to welcome the misfits, to embrace those who are on the outside looking in.
Jesus wants us to create a culture of grace where anyone and everyone is welcome all day, every day. If there were ever a place where someone could come and find welcome and a place to belong – it’s in His Church. That’s why Rock Springs Church values radical inclusivity – it’s because we want to love like Jesus loved us.
So where do we start? How might we let God’s grace work in us to change us to be more like Jesus in this way? How might we become more accepting, more gracious and more including of others. Here’s a couple of ways we might do this:
First, Ask God to help change how you see people. God’s Word says, The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 What do we look at? What do people perceive as the basis of acceptance today? People looks at our beliefs: Do you think and believe what I believe? “If you do, I might accept you.” People look at our politics: “Are you liberal enough to be my friend?” “Do you share my conservative values?” People look at our skin? Are you attractive or homely, are you black or white? People look at our lifestyle: Are you rich, are you poor? Are you straight, are you gay? People look at your religion: Are you a Muslim or an Atheist? Are you Catholic or a New Ager? Jesus doesn’t do any of this. He looks past our outward appearances, our behaviors, our associations, and our sins and sees you. He sees you as someone He created and someone He loves. And He loved you so much that he broke the barrier of sin that kept you from God so He could make it possible to include you in his family. Ask God to help you see people like Jesus sees people.
Secondly, Be the kind of person who initiates including. Don’t wait for someone else to make the move. Most people are just waiting for invite. So take the initiative. Start the conversation. Be hospitable. Now that things are opening up a bit and the weather is getting warmer, have a dinner party with a few guests. But rather than invite the usual suspects, invite a person you wouldn’t normally invite. Team up and do this with another brother or sister and see what God might do.
Here’s a little challenge for us all: Try to initiate a new friendship this month. Strike up a conversation with a new person at the dog park, in the woodshop, on the pickle ball court, or on the golf course. Remember, there are new people moving into Robson every month. People come here not just for the warmth of the sun, but for the warmth of new friendships. Can you imagine if everyone of us initiated a new friendship over the next month and then invited them to Church? We’d not only double in size, but there’s a good chance God might change a life for eternity through your one act of inclusivity. Make friends with sinners. This is what Jesus did. And when he did, he changed lives with this simple act of love.
Finally, Be a Barrier Breaker. This was how Jesus lived. Jesus constantly broke barriers that kept people from God. He befriended sinners. He accepted 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 the heart of radical inclusivity: Jesus loved us so we could be with Him. Now let us go and do likewise. Let’s pray.