Justin, a popular (and might I say adorable) swooping, shaggy-haired Junior, was throwing a bonfire party at his lake house. Everyone was talking about it . . . except to me. I quickly learned I wasn't invited. I wasn't part of Justin's 'group.'
Luckily, a friend on my basketball team who was close to Justin asked him if I could come. And next thing I knew, I was going! Wha-what!? I was so excited. I had dreams of arriving and being welcomed with open arms. New connections. New acceptance. A new group of friends . . .
Clearly I must have been drinking 'happy delusional juice' because when I got there, I couldn't not have felt more like an outsider.
Do you remember that clip from Sesame Street where they placed four items side by side and one of the items stood out because it was completely different than the rest?
The song is sung: 'One of these things is not like the other. One of these things does not belong . . . '
Yep, that was me. I was not like the rest of the people at that party. I looked different. I think there was a big sign on my forehead that read 'LOSER' because no one talked to me. Thanks for the reality check. This was not my home.
What team are you on?
The cliques and drama in high school can feel like an episode of Survivor. What 'team' of friends are you on? Who's in your 'social posse'? Jocks, cheerleaders, the academically elite, theater dramatics, vegans, band geeks?
Sometimes even in the Christian realm, we're segregated in a similar fashion. I recently went to a conference with 25,000 Christians who were on fire for God. It was amazing and one of the most powerful worship experiences I've ever had. However, I think my four friends and I were the only Catholics there.
I felt odd at first telling people that I was going to a protestant (non-Catholic) conference . . . almost like I was betraying my alliance to my Catholic faith. Was I abandoning my team? Can we accept those who are different into our circle of trust?
GENTILES ARE NOT ALLOWED!
Around the year 48, the early church had the same tension. An issue arose in Antioch concerning if Gentiles (non Jews) would be accepted into the Church (Galatians 2:4). The Gentiles didn't look like the Jews. They weren't circumcised (a sign of entering into covenant with God), and they didn't dress, speak, or eat in the same manner as the Jews. They were outsiders.
All the Apostles gathered at a big meeting in Jerusalem. We refer to this today as Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). This gathering marks a turning point in the history where this debate was concluded. Peter reminded us God did not make any distinctions between these new Gentile saints and those who came to faith who were Jews (Acts 15:7-9). So how could we?
We are no longer foreigners or strangers in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:19). 'Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, Christ is all and in all' (Colossians 3:11).
ALL ARE WELCOME
The world 'catholic' means universal and the early Christians realized through God's grace that the Church needs to be a place where all are welcome – even the Gentiles.
It's important to celebrate the beauty of diversity in the body of the church. This diversity doesn't give permission for anyone to live in 'sin' or just do what they want. We are unified in one body as Christ as our head (Colossians 1:18). The Gentiles were called under the new law (not a law of rules), but a new law of love and grace. A call to follow Jesus.
God's not exclusive. He wants all groups, ethnic circles, social classes, to be brought together as one people, unified in love and faith.
Last week, a non-denominational church launched a campaign called: 'Jesus loves you and your tattoo.' They handed out koozies on the gang-filled streets of Detroit with this message. I love that because it is proclaiming the truth that our God didn't come for the cookie-cutter Christians. He came for everyone . . .
The purple haired theater girl,
The tat-covered skateboard BMX dude,
The conservatives or liberals,
The ones with a broken family,
The sinner, the saint,
He came for us all.
The beauty of our Mother Church is that it's big enough to hold all of its children. All are welcome at this table . . . and He says 'come.”