Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible readings: Colossians 3:11; Matthew 25:31-46 (Guiding Principle 2 - Inclusive)
Our guiding principles work together in so many ways. They may highlight different areas, yet they are intimately connected. Today’s guiding principle is that we will strive to be inclusive. Last Sunday we looked at discipleship. We can see how these are connected, because if we are striving to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, we will grow to be more like him, who our guiding principle (in the small print) tells us: …showed no discrimination to anyone no matter their race, social standing, gender, beliefs or faith..
So if we are striving to be inclusive, we are not doing it because it is popular in the modern age, not because it is a political issue these days, but because we are striving to be Christ centred (our first principle), and it will be in line with the work of the Holy Spirit (our second principle) whose guidance we seek, as the Spirit is a Spirit of unity, not of division. This also holds true for our last principle, which we will talk about next week, because striving to include everyone, to realise that everyone needs Jesus Christ in their life, is a true witness to the gospel, (and that is the fifth of our guiding principles: Witnessing to the gospel. Our decisions and actions will be a positive witness to the gospel.)
Inclusivity is a battle that the church has been fighting for millennia. And we have not always succeeded. In fact we need to humbly admit that often the church has actively worked for the suppression and marginalisation of minorities and the oppressed. We as human being are so good at justifying to ourselves every attempt to marginalise others, to differentiate between those who are somehow on the inside, and those who are on the outside.
But the correct response to the chequered history that we may have in this area is not to beat ourselves up about it, or to have our heads in the sand and pretend that it has not happened, but to repent of it, and to strive to do better.
And so we have to be careful even with the very language that we use, we need to keep analysing it and asking what it would feel like if I were hearing it from another’s point of view?
We often use what are called “closed sets” to draw a line around certain people and say that these ones are in and these ones are out, these ones are members and these ones are not, and it may just be for the purpose of statistics, but it serves to make us think in a certain way. Have you ever noticed that it is very rare that people talk about those who are in and those who are out, are the ones who are on the outside? They are always distinctions and boundaries put up by those who are on the inside, often of walls they or others like them have built, to make themselves feel superior to others.
Have you also noticed that our Lord Jesus, the one who we are trying to grow to be like, went out of his way to break down every man-made barrier that he ever came across. He even went out of his way to break down some God-made barriers!
Think about the boundaries that he crossed to impact the lives of Zacchaeus a chief tax collector, the woman caught in adultery, a Roman centurion, tax collectors, sinners, lepers, a blind man who the ruling religious authorities decided must have been guilty of some sin, (as this justified them excluding and hating him), a Samaritan woman, a demon possessed man, a guilty dying thief on a cross, ten more lepers. Jesus loved them and healed or saved them all.
This does not mean that he left them all as they were. No. Love changes people. He loved them first. It was his perfect love that changed them, not years of exclusion and shunning.
If you look around St. Marks, we are what I would call a fairly monochromatic church. We are mostly upper middle-class white people, many of whom have a farming background, but not necessarily. This is not by design, but we still carry the tail-end effects of being a German church, and the fist Lutheran Churches here were set up to look after the Lutheran Germans that migrated to Australia and` worked the Darling Downs.
But we are just one church, not the whole church. Worldwide, I would imagine that even within our own denomination of Lutheranism, there are more Asian and African Christians than white ones. Definitely among Christianity as a whole. We are part of a huge and varied body. Different colours, different backgrounds and histories and ways of life and homes and practices and songs and churches, BUT one Lord, one Faith, one baptism. (as St. Paul says in Ephesians 4:5).
Inclusivity, done right, becomes a subconscious, automatic thing. I love that in the story of the sheep and the goats in our Gospel lesson for today, both those who had fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, visited the prisoner, clothed the needy, looked after the sick, and those who had not, had no idea that they had done so, or had been required to and had not.
When did we do that Lord? Or when did we not do that? They hadn’t seen it as a big deal, just a way of life. Christian inclusivity, based on the knowledge that all are loved children of God, all are made in the image of God, and that here there is Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, will be an enculturated thing, as natural as breathing.
But until it becomes that, it will take work.
And so we will keep asking the question. And it comes down to questions as simple as this: Will we keep doing worship online after we are able to go back to full services together in this church? This is definitely an inclusivity question.
It would be easier not to keep doing online services. And it’s easy to think that it’s okay to stop doing them, because those who were always able to come to services will still be able to. But is being exclusive of those who are geographically further away, or those whose age makes it hard to get out to public worship, or others in varied situations?
Our answer to questions like this will determine whether we are taking our own guiding principles seriously, and whether, like Jesus, we are willing to go the extra mile to cross barriers.
This one will be a constant struggle for us, as it has been in the past. We have to make sure that we do not twist God’s word to make the bible mean what we want it to mean, to back up our preconceived ideas, rather than reading it in the context in which it was written. Because when it is understood properly, the gospel, the good news of salvation, is about freedom, not oppression. It is about equality before God, not exclusivity and discrimination.
It is a battle that we will continue to fight. To strive to get it right, so that our church, our lives, our homes, will be a witness to others of why they would want to hear the message of the gospel that we proclaim. If we live in a way that is offensive to everyone, why would they want to hear what we have to say? Why would anyone want what we have, or want to be like us?
And so our last guiding principle is that we will be witnessing to the gospel. Our decisions and actions will be a public display of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and saviour.
We will look at what that means next week, as we strive to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ to the world.
Until then, we continue the work to which we were commissioned, to go and make disciples of ALL nations.