Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Outsiders: A New Purity


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 08/25/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
podcast here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/VineyardChurchOfMilan
or via iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/vineyard-church-of-milan/id562567379


Preview – Jesus embraces everyone; that makes us nervous for all kinds of reasons. What if we lose our “saltiness”, our distinctive flavor in the attempt to love everyone? What if outsiders become a bad influence on us? Take heart – there is a new purity “in Christ” that is just as resistant to contamination as Jesus’ resurrection body is resistant to death and decay. Because there is a new creation at work in us, and that new creation empowers us to practice the same kind of radical hospitality that Jesus does, without fear of losing our purity. Our purity comes from remaining “in Christ” and that happens by continued movement in the right direction, and not by getting everything right all the time. Phew! Let’s invite everyone to join us in this party – Jesus is bringing the wine.

Now onto the sermon proper…


Disgust is at the root of Love’s tension.

Disgust is always a boundary emotion. When something is inside of us, it’s not subject to disgust; if it’s outside of us, and we perceive it as a threat to our selves, disgust makes us want to get it away, to exclude it from our selves, so that it can’t harm us, contaminate us.


Love overrides disgust. Love causes us to relax or suspend disgust so that an outsider can be embraced.


Disgust gets triggered for us in three areas, setting up love’s tension. Social, Animal-Reminder, Moral. Social: somebody is different than we are with respect to culture, personality type, economic background, race, ethnicity, nationality, skills, talents, interests, etc. Will disgust (no matter how minor or subtle) cause us to keep them at a distance, or will love move us to embrace them? Animal-Reminder: something about somebody reminds us of our fundamental neediness and / or mortality as animals (deformity, sickness, poverty, decay, poor hygiene, hunger, etc.). Will disgust cause us to keep them at a distance, or will love move us to embrace them? Moral: Somebody acts or thinks in ways that seem wrong somehow to us. Will disgust cause us to keep them at a distance, or will love move us to embrace them?


We encounter love’s tension where love & disgust go toe to toe. Your child’s diaper stinks to high heaven. Your husband’s sweaty clothes in the laundry bin. The food bits in your aging dad’s beard as you greet him at the door to his apartment. Your teenage son’s terrible music and fashion (if it can even be called fashion!). Your granddaughter’s boyfriend of a different race. Your friend’s body ravaged by cancer, making them nearly unrecognizable. Your neighbor’s religious convictions. Your employee’s unwise lifestyle choices. The bumper stickers on you Uncle’s car (maybe they are political, maybe supporting a different school, maybe Calvin pissing on a something you love). The homeless person on the corner.

We’re not going to be making the argument that Love should win; I’m going to assume most of us want Love to win.

After all, if we are here, we are at least curious about Jesus, who seemed to find a way for Love to win over disgust in all kinds of surprising situations and circumstances. On the social spectrum, his love moved him to embrace Gentiles, Romans, Samaritans, the poor, the rich, the simple, the sophisticated, men and women, young children and wise veterans of life. On the animal-reminder spectrum, he embraced lepers, the blind, paralyzed, diseased, poor, bleeding, deformed, dying, and even the dead. He embraced death itself, even. On the moral spectrum, he embraced traitors, thieves, drunkards, rebels, murderers, adulterers, prostitutes, the ritually unclean, even the demonized, not to mention you, and me.

No, we won’t be making the argument of why we should follow Jesus in dismantling disgust for Love’s sake. Rather, today we are trying to figure out how we can do it without our integrity becoming compromised, without losing our purity as children of God, without losing our distinctiveness as the family of God – as it says in the scriptures, without becoming salt that loses its saltiness. How do we remain a light for the world while opening our hearts to the world wrapped in the darkness of night? Sure, Jesus did it. And he shined brighter and brighter. His purity was never diminished. But Jesus is Jesus, for heaven’s sake. Perfect. And we’re broken people. Aren’t we? Well, yes, we are. Mostly. Only mostly. And it’s that “mostly” which makes all the difference for this discussion. Because Jesus is calling his followers to a New Purity that is different from the kind of purity we usually imagine. And it’s a purity we already have, in him.

Hold that thought, for now.


Today we’re going to talk about the church, this new community of Radically Inclusive insiders that forms around Jesus, and the New Purity that it is called to as it participates with Jesus in his saving love at work in our broken world. As perhaps you can imagine, it’s no small bite to chew. Next week we’ll finish up this series by exploring what you and I, all of us together, can actually do in light of all we’ve been talking about, some spiritual practices that help us become the kind of people Jesus is calling us to become in this area. That should be fun, and a nice change of pace. Today, however, we’re still wrapping our minds and hearts around this important and tension filled topic. We’ve got a lot to cover, so buckle your seat belts, batten down the hatches, hold on to your hats, shut the front door, milk the cows, put your tray tables in a locked and upright position.


There are two main questions we have to answer, or at the very least, explore the answers to.

1. The first question is: how does the community organized around and led by Jesus maintain its integrity?

2. And the second question is this: in light of that, how does the community organized around and led by Jesus join his mission of Radical Inclusion?

(One might suggest that the order of the questions should be flipped, that mission should precede integrity, but in this case at least, and maybe all others, mission flows from integrity. Jesus after all, is Love, and his mission therefore, is a mission of love. In a similar way, the mission of the church flows from her identity. Your mission and my mission flow from our identity.)

Remember, in the Old Testament, the purity or integrity of God’s family – the Jewish people – is maintained through Israel’s faithfulness to a code of behavior, the commandments of God codified in the Law, and by vigilantly separating itself from impurities that threatened its integrity when it violated that code.


Purity in the New Testament is a function of being “In Christ.” It’s no longer a function of a code, nor a separation from impurity. It’s a function of our relationship to a person.

This idea of being “In Christ” is basically the idea that the purity of a follower of Jesus doesn’t flow from that follower herself, but rather, it flows from Jesus’ purity. Jesus is perfectly pure, at every level. Heart, soul, mind, strength. Love through and through. His integrity is unassailable, tested, tried, crucified and found not wanting. And so any human being – all of whom have varying degrees of impurity, of fractured integrity – who has entrusted himself to Christ and his saving work on the cross, finds that she or he is a new creation “in Christ.” She finds that Jesus has made in her (for her?) a new self, one that shares in his resurrection life, out of the ashes of her old self, an old self that is being put to death bit by bit as she shares in his crucifixion. This, of course, is mystery and mystical, and yet, at the same time, it is nonetheless profoundly real and pregnant with practical implications.

Paul writes about it in one of his letters to the believers in Corinth when he says:


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

2 Corinthians 5:17

Or in his letter to the church in Ephesus:


You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-23

All that to say, the new creation in us, that is now us in the truest sense, is pure not because our behavior is perfect, or because we are separated from contaminants, but because we are “in Christ.”

Listen to Jesus talk about the new purity in John 15:


15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.


5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.


9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

Do you see all the purity language present here as Jesus talks about his disciples being “in Him?” He cuts off every branch... He prunes… You are clean… Thrown away…thrown in the fire and burned… All of those purity references are connected to being “in Him.” Jesus is establishing a new conception of purity for humanity. And it’s a direct extension of his own purity. You will remain in my love, just as I remain in his love.

Jesus’ purity is the sort that is unthreatened by sin and death. Jesus’ purity is rooted in God’s Love and nothing else. As a result, he can practice a radical inclusion, dismantling disgust’s boundaries, and embrace sinful people without concern for being contaminated by their sin. He wants us to share in that same new kind of purity, so that we can follow him in his saving mission to every corner of the broken creation.

(Note: As “spiritual” as this might sound, this isn’t that far removed from our everyday experiences, actually. Purity is about protecting the self, so that the self can fulfil its purpose. As relational beings, our self-identity is in part a function of our relationships. When our relationships change, our identity changes, and so does our purpose. When you become a parent, for example, your identity changes as a result of your relationship to a child, and so does your purpose. And because purity and self-identity are linked, it’s not a stretch to imagine that relationship with divinity might change both one’s self-identity and how purity works.)

This new purity – remaining in God’s love – is the only kind that matters in the new creation. Listen to what Paul says about it in Galatians 5:2-6:


2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Circumcision was the old mark of purity. Obedience to the law was the way that purity was maintained. Not so with the new purity. The mark of the new purity is faith expressing itself through love. It is maintained by being “in Christ Jesus.”

Essential to the new purity “in Christ” are 2 components.


The first is relational discipleship (responsiveness to the leading of Christ through the Holy Spirit, taking step after step in obedience). This is how one remains “in Christ.”

(relational) Discipleship is an active, worship driven enterprise. It’s not a set it and forget it directional course. It is neither “justice” nor “morality”. It will always lead in both of those directions, but it is energized by surrendered, attentive, dependent, loving relationship with Jesus that bears fruit in acts of justice (*faith expressing itself through love…) and a transformed inner person (*Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…). The Holy Spirit is the counselor that directs and empowers discipleship. Brothers and sisters are the community that fosters, encourages, learns discipleship together.

One of the impacts of the reformation is that Christianity moved in one of two directions: Justice or Purity. On the liberal end, it became all about justice; that is, it became all about goodness as treating one’s neighbor rightly. Loving one’s neighbor became equivalent to loving God, and effectively, replaced loving God. On the conservative end, it became all about personal moral goodness; that is it became all about sexual purity, doctrinal purity, ethical purity. Pursuing moral purity became equivalent to loving God, and the best way to love one’s neighbor was to help them become pure. In the extreme examples of both cases, liberal and conservative, the need for a living, breathing relationship with Jesus is minimized.

Jesus is inviting us to become his disciples again. To be in the kind of intentional, day to day relationship with him where he can send us out to others with a radical embrace, outside of our comfort zones. Where he can call us to put to death some part of our old creation selves, despite the vigorous protests of our flesh. Where he can reveal to us his radical love for another and move us to repentance for our hard hearts toward them. Where he can reveal to us his radical love for us and move us to repentance for our fear and anxiety. Where he reveals to each of us, individually, who we truly are, our new creation selves, in him.


The second essential component of the New Purity “in Christ” is a commitment to defining the community by its center, which is Christ. The community is made up of those whose hearts (internal compasses?) are pointed towards the center, and whose energies are harnessed to move ever closer to the center. It is therefore the attractiveness and initiative of Christ that forms this community, and thus it is characterized by radical diversity, not homogeneity. And its boundaries (where they exist, and such as they are) are permeable, not impermeable.

Are you drawn towards Jesus as best as you understand him and using your energies to move towards him as best as you know how? Then you are included. Do you not understand him very well yet? No matter. The community is here to share what it has learned so far. And to learn from you what you have learned. Have you not moved very close to him yet? No matter. The community is here to help you with your next step, as God gives you faith to take it. Do you not know what the next step Jesus has for you is yet? No matter. The community is here to share what it has learned about listening. And to share what steps Jesus has shown it to take, inasmuch as it might help you discern Jesus’ voice in your life.

This requires resistance to attempts to re-define the community in any other way. With any other center. Or any other schema (socio-moral boundaries, for example). Note: as individual followers of Jesus, we’d do well to resist defining ourselves any other way, too. We are who we are, in Christ, because of our relationship to him. Because of the attraction of our hearts and the direction of our energies. Not because of our score on the “looks like a Christian should look” test.

It also means a resistance to the participation (and especially leadership) of would-be members whose hearts are pointed away from the center, and whose energies are harnessed to move away from the center (or, for that matter, to point or move others away from the center). This resistance, of course, happens in the context of the love which is at the center of the community, so it is predicated on the dismantling of the disgust boundaries that prevent love. Every would-be member of the community of Jesus is met with a posture of love, and out of that love discernment is exercised about what kind of discipline best maintains the integrity of the community and participates in Christ’s love towards the would-be member. This is perhaps most analogous to how a loving family would treat a family member engaged in destructive behavior.

The toxic impact of disgust on human beings is that it produces the kind of exclusion that dehumanizes. Christ has come to re-humanize human beings ravaged by sin, so disgust works at cross purposes to his saving work. It must be kept in check, regulated. Although exclusion remains as an acceptable (but rarely exercised) option for maintaining the New Purity, it is different than the exclusion produced by disgust. It doesn’t discount the image of God in the person (you’re dead to me!), but rather respects it, and grieves the loss of fellowship, maintaining the vulnerability and will to embrace that grief reveals. And it is not permanent; it maintains a hope of future inclusion, predicated only by repentance (a redirection of the heart and energized movement).


Ok, so we’ve got a new identity, in Christ. And we have a new purity, in Christ. So what’s the mission, the calling? The same as it’s always been – to be a Light to the world. How that light shines, though, is new in light of our new identity. It shines by displaying Christ in the love of his followers.


Our primary tool for shining that light is Hospitality. Hospitality (Christ’s radical inclusion) functions both as the light and the welcome “into” Christ. Christ is seen in the act of hospitality. He is seen in the community and loving fellowship at work therein.

Welcoming strangers is where it’s at for the church. God himself is identified with the three strangers that Abraham extends hospitality to by the Oaks of Mamre in the Old Testament. It’s what Jesus did when he ate with sinners, and in the end, it’s what led to his death. We are supposed to do the same.

Jesus links himself to strangers in Matthew 25. When we welcome the least of these (the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned), we welcome him. Notice how those groups tick the check boxes on the three kinds of disgust…

When we welcome children, we welcome him. Again, our embrace of kids is one of the primary ways we overcome disgust with Love in our normal experience.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is all about true Hospitality. The Samaritan overrides disgust with love on all three fronts – the Jew is enemy to the Samaritan, the Jew is morally suspect to the Samaritan, and the Jew is a reminder of mortality because of his injuries and helplessness. And yet the Samaritan practices radical hospitality out of love. (Interestingly, the ones who pass the injured man by, do so because of purity / disgust concerns.)

The kind of hospitality we are called to practice is costly, as the Good Samaritan’s was. Purity in Christ isn’t threatened, but the self does expose itself to pain, trauma, loss, diminishment even. This was Jesus’ experience. It was the Father’s experience. It’s not the end of the story; resurrection is always the end of the story for those who are “in Christ.” But along the way. Today. Tomorrow. Love may well cost us something. Something precious even. Our life. Our situation in the world. In some way, the well-being of the other is how we define our self-hood. It’s Jesus’ name even – YHWH is Salvation.

Hospitality is where the re-humanization of human beings ravaged by sin and a sinful world begins. Hospitality – Jesus Brand Hospitality – matters. We cannot let disgust of any sort keep us from practicing it. God desires mercy, not sacrifice. Because in Christ, the sacrifice is complete. It’s time for Christ’s body, the church – that’s us – to become a living sacrifice. Jesus Brand Hospitality is our spiritual act of worship.


This is why our assignment from Jesus is what it is. Together we follow the way of Jesus, creating breathing room for the disfavored to find favor, for the discounted to count, for the disconnected to connect. Starting here.


Practical Suggestions:

1. Read Colossians 3:1-11 and reflect on the connections between disgust, purity, boundaries, and new creation in Christ. My written notes online will have comments if they are helpful.

3 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Colossians 3:1-11

Vertical dimension connected to purity / heavenly good (no disgust) earthly bad (much disgust). And yet death (the ultimate earthly reality) is the doorway to being raised with Christ. And our response to the sinfulness in us (the hindrances the old purity) is to put it death, to put it away from us. Our disgust is applied selectively to our old selves, and embrace is applied to our new selves. And the boundaries that used to divide us into insiders and outsiders (Greek / Jew, Circumcised / uncircumcised, etc.) are now dismantled and all that remains is Christ, all in all. Paul is subverting our old disgust responses at the heart of the old purity, establishing a new conception of purity “in Christ.”

2. Challenge your Disgust. Help out in a ministry that expresses hospitality and requires you to relax or suspend your disgust response out of love. Children’s, youth, compassion, foot massage, for example.

3. Eat with a stranger at the Summer Splash.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Outsiders: Dixie Cups, Disgust, and Demons. Oh, and Jesus.


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 08/18/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
podcast here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/VineyardChurchOfMilan
or via iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/vineyard-church-of-milan/id562567379


2nd week in a series entitled “Outsiders.” Having to do with the tension we feel about embracing outsiders, personally, and in the groups we are part of, especially the church. On the one hand, we are drawn to embrace outsiders because of potential benefits they might bring, or out of compassion, or even by curiosity. On the other hand, we are nervous about outsiders because they can bring influences, ideas, practices, etc. that threaten our integrity or mission or uniqueness. We are calling this Love’s tension, because it’s the tension at the heart of love. This topic has application from dating to having children to organizational management to commerce to culture to immigration to social reform.

[Bachelorette example…Brooks dumping Desiree…had to maintain his integrity (purity), but felt like a violation of justice (the pain it caused Des)…yet to not cause the pain would also be an injustice (it would lead her on under false pretenses), and compromise his integrity as well…even though his choice was clear, the tension was powerfully felt]


We are looking at Love’s tension primarily through the lens of how it impacts faith communities, because this is the context in which our book, the Bible, shares its wisdom and witness most directly.


Last week, we looked at the old Testament, the part of the Bible that has to do with Abraham and his descendants, the people of Israel, and their relationship with YHWH, the one true God who authored the universe and is engaged in a cooperative, long term mission with humanity to set right all that has gone wrong in his original creation. We talked about how the Old Testament illustrates love’s tension, the tension between the twin impulses of purity and justice. Purity as illustrated by Israel’s impulse to be true to their calling to be God’s chosen people, faithful to him and his commandments. And justice as illustrated by God’s commands to Israel to treat outsiders in her midst with dignity and fairness, and the prophets’ vision of a future in which today’s outsiders were tomorrow’s full participants in the life of the family of God.


Looking today at the New Testament, and the radical way Jesus related to those whom the insiders in his day and age (the well off, the religious orthodoxy, the powerful, the social watchdogs) considered outsiders. Social outcasts. Tax collectors. Shepherds. Gentiles.  Samaritans. The poor. Women.  Lepers.  The demon possessed.  Even those we might call sinners (like the woman caught in adultery, like Zacchaeus, the original white collar criminal).

Jesus approach was unprecedented. On two fronts.  


One, Jesus didn't keep outsiders at arm’s length; instead he crossed all kinds of social boundaries and ate with these outsiders, which was a really big deal in his culture.  To eat with someone was to treat someone like family, in a day and age in which family bonds were even stronger than they are today.  You'd die for family, without hesitation.  


And not only did Jesus reach out to these outsiders, but he made them the true insiders in his movement.  He invited them to the head of the table by redefining what an insider looked like in the community defined by him.  

To Jesus, insiders were anyone willing to be what Philly Vineyard pastor Brad Zinn calls "Arounders." People who were willing to be around Jesus. To stick close by. To listen. To follow where he led. In fact, Jesus taught in parables, he said, in order to be a little bit confusing. So you had to stick around and ask him questions, to wrestle with his meaning. So that those who stayed around and stuck close would get the “secret of the kingdom.” So that people who didn’t stick around wouldn’t understand him, wouldn’t get it. As a result, many who were previously insiders became outsiders – like the Pharisees – and many who were previously outsiders became insiders - like Mary from Magdala, who been afflicted with demons before meeting Jesus, or like the Samaritan woman at the well who’d had more husbands than you could count on one hand.


Jesus, in other words, had a groundbreaking approach to Love’s tension, the tension between purity and justice, the tension between sacrifice and mercy. Jesus’ practice - Radical Inclusion – has something to say to all of us, in every area of our lives where we experience it, and especially in our communities that bear his name.


However, to more deeply understand Radical Inclusion’s relationship to Love’s tension, we need to understand the roots of this tension.

Logically speaking, it’s not a true tension. In other words, logically, we can understand the need to preserve the integrity of a person, or a community of persons organized around a mission or purpose, a set of values and distinctives. This is the purity impulse. And we can understand logically and intellectually the need to pursue justice, for things to line up with the goodness of God. This is the justice impulse. Purity and justice can coexist logically.

For example, revisiting last week’s discussion, we understand, logically and intellectually, why God would want outsiders to be treated with dignity and value as human beings, especially by a people who were once themselves outsiders who had been humiliated and devalued in Egypt. At the same time, we understand, logically and intellectually, why God would not want his family to covenant with anyone outside of the covenant he established with them, because it could cause Israel to lose her integrity as his family. And indeed, that’s what happened when Israel lost her concern for her faithfulness to God. (Background behind the Phineas story…the Midianites deliberate seduction of Israelite men for the purposes of defeating them militarily by getting them to lose the protection of YHWH). There is no logical tension here.

And yet.



There is a profound psychological tension that always arises between these two impulses. It’s a tension we feel. Consider Israel’s response when they realized how they had abandoned God after succumbing to the seduction of the Midianites. They expelled the Midianite wives and children from among them, sending them alone and defenseless out into the wilderness, certainly resulting in much suffering and even death. This feels like the right thing to do from the perspective of purity – the contamination must be eliminated so that integrity can be restored. Yet, this also feels like the wrong thing to do from the perspective of justice – others are suffering for the sake of Israel’s healing. And it’s inherently messy – some of us will feel the former emotion more strongly, and others will feel the latter.

The best way to understand this is with Dixie cups.

[Have everyone swallow. Give everyone a Dixie cup. Have them spit in the cup. Ask them to drink their spit.]


What you probably experienced is called core disgust. It’s an emotional, psychological phenomenon. Disgust is a boundary emotion. When our saliva is inside of us, it’s part of us. There is no disgust. As soon as it crosses the boundary of our self, it’s an outsider and somehow unclean.

Logically, swallowing that spit is no different than what you did when you swallowed before you had the Dixie cup. Nothing materially has changed in the physical properties of your saliva. Except that it crossed the boundary between being an insider and an outsider. To not drink perfectly good spit is an injustice of sorts, logically.

And yet most of us still feel disgust at the prospect of drinking it.

Because, psychologically, everything has changed when our spit is an outsider to our bodies. It’s been contaminated somehow and is now a potential contaminant. We feel it.


Disgust is such a powerful emotion because it’s meant to protect us from potentially lethal toxins. In fact, when we feel disgust, our instinct is to spit, or vomit, to retreat, to push away, to expel, to kill (think: insects…).


Anytime we are faced with the purity impulse, disgust is the emotion that comes along for the ride. And anytime you feel disgust, at some level it’s purity of some variety that’s being threatened. And anytime we are dealing with disgust and purity, we are dealing with issues related to boundaries. To the line between what’s inside and what’s outside. To the line between insiders and outsiders. The Dixie cup phenomenon is everywhere.

This is at the heart of Israel’s day of atonement practice, the ritual of symbolically placing the sins of the nation on the back of goat (the scapegoat), and sending it outside the walls of the city into the desert. The high priest would lay his hands on the goat, confess the sins of Israel, while people prostrated themselves and privately confess. Then the goat was led to a cliff outside Jerusalem and pushed off its edge, so that it wouldn’t ever return to the city. It’s an expulsion of the sin toxin from the people, restoring their purity.


One of the problems, though, is that disgust is capable of being misplaced. (Have you seen a twelve year old trying to eat vegetables?) It’s such a powerful emotion, and it’s role is so important, that it will always err in the direction of protection. I know my disgust about the saliva is misplaced, logically. But I still feel it; I don’t want to drink the spit. I know my disgust is misplaced about mushrooms. But I still don’t eat them. I know the snake or the spider won’t hurt me. But I want to get the snake as far away from me as possible. I’d prefer if someone would squish the spider, eliminate it as a potential threat. Even fake snakes, spiders, poop, throw up etc. will all produce the same disgust response in us; this is just how it works. Better safe than sorry, right? Right. Except when we retreat so far into safety that we keep ourselves from God himself. Or when we do injustice to others in the name of God, unwittingly giving God a bad name while trying to preserve our purity in a misguided way so that we can give him a good name.

And it seems as if this error-prone nature of disgust caused these kinds of issues for Israel. The priestly tradition of holiness, sacrifice, and purity came under critique by prophets like Amos and Hosea.


Amos writes this, quoting God:

"I hate, I despise your religious festivals; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5:21-24


And Hosea writes this:

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.

Hosea 6:6

The New Testament makes clear that some kind of disgust / purity / holiness error had happened in Israel at the time of Jesus. The insiders in Israel were concerned about the fact that Israel was under the rule of Rome. It felt like Israel had been unfaithful to God, and were now out of his favor. They needed a return to purity in order to gain his favor again. Who were the contaminants, the toxins that needed to be avoided, neutralized, or perhaps even spit out? Well, they were the sinners, the social outcasts. Tax collectors had gotten in bed with Rome, they were impure. Prostitutes were violating marriage beds and were impure in a different way. Lepers were contagious, and probably were sick because of some other sin of their own, or perhaps their parents, and so they were relegated to leper colonies. Gentiles, and those who rubbed shoulders with them were impure by association. Same with Samaritans. The poor. Sinners. These impurities were Israel’s problem.

The Pharisees made it their mission to do something about Israel’s purity problem. Their solution was to separate the outcasts from the true Israelites, and keep Israel from being contaminated by them by marginalizing them more and more. By keeping them in the Dixie cup. And maybe throwing the Dixie cup away.


But Jesus’ didn’t see things the same way. He didn’t seem disgusted by sinners. He was called a friend of sinners. He invited them to be his followers. He seemed to be under the impression that instead of contaminating his purity, they would in fact be contaminated by his purity. So when he touched a leper, instead of Jesus getting leprosy, the leper was healed. When Zacchaeus, a tax collector who’d cheated his fellow Jews for financial gain and to gain the favor of Israel’s enemy, Rome, climbs a tree to see Jesus, Jesus invites himself over for dinner, and Zacchaeus ends up giving half his wealth to the poor, and paying back anyone he’d cheated 4 times more than he’d taken. Jesus has no fear of contagions; contagions have fear of him (this is why the demons are always stirring up a ruckus when he is nearby). He’s taking the impure outsiders, treating them as insiders, and in the process, restoring their integrity as human beings.

In fact, what Jesus seems to be arguing through his symbolic actions and words is that it’s not the outsiders that are making Israel impure and must be separated by social boundaries, it’s the boundaries themselves, and those who are maintaining them that are compromising Israel’s integrity.

Listen to Miroslav Volf, from his book Exclusion and Embrace:


An advantage of conceiving of sin as the practice of exclusion is that it names as sin what often passes as virtue…In the Palestine of Jesus’ day…a righteous person had to separate herself from [“sinners”]; their presence defiled because they were defiled. Jesus’ table fellowship with “tax collectors” and sinners,” a fellowship that indisputably belonged to the central features of his ministry, offset this conception of sin. Since he who was innocent, sinless, and fully within God’s camp transgressed social boundaries that excluded outcasts, these boundaries themselves were evil, sinful, and outside God’s will. By embracing the “outcast,” Jesus understood the “sinfulness” of the person and systems that cast them out.

In Matthew 8 and 9, Jesus heals a man with leprosy, heals a Roman centurion’s servant, casts demons out of two violent, demon possessed men, forgives and heals a paralyzed man, and then invites a tax collector to be his disciple. While he’s eating dinner with Matthew’s tax collector and sinner friends, the Pharisees show up and demand an explanation.

Listen to Jesus’ response:


On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When Jesus says “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” he’s quoting the prophet Hosea. I believe he’s saying to the Pharisees that we can’t resolve the tension between justice and purity, between mercy and sacrifice until our hearts, our desire, is love for the outsider that over-rides our misplaced disgust responses and leads to mercy towards them. Only then can we have eyes to see the way God wants us to approach questions of purity.

After all, what is love if it’s not the willingness to relax or suspend disgust so that an outsider can be embraced? Isn’t this what we do when we change our child’s diaper, or wipe snot from her nose? Isn’t this what we do when we kiss? Isn’t this what we do when we care for the sick?

We don’t eat our kids poop, and we still try to keep it off of our bodies as much as possible. But when push comes to shove, we’ll choose mercy over sacrifice, every time, for the sake of love.


This is what Jesus does. He suspends disgust in order to embrace us, all the way to the cross. It’s as if his justice is, in fact, the defining feature of his purity. His mercy is his sacrifice. He loves us. All of us who have been outsiders to God.


Practical Suggestion:

Sit with this parable. [Read “Salvation for a Demon” by Peter Rollins…] Spend some time thinking about it. Talking about it with friends or family. On Friday, pray about it. Ask God if there is anything he wants to show you or say to you through your engagement with this story. Then just wait and listen for one minute. As always, I’d love to know what you hear, so let me know if you’re up for it and it’s not too personal.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Outsiders: An Old Tension


sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 08/11/2013
video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand
podcast here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/VineyardChurchOfMilan
or via iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/vineyard-church-of-milan/id562567379


Human beings experience profound inner tensions when it comes to outsiders. People who are in some way “other.” People who are different in some way that feels significant to us. Age, gender, race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, culture, nationality, various loyalties (brands, teams, political ideas), or sometimes just because they’ve rubbed us the wrong way.

Here’s a famous interview with one the world’s foremost thinkers on the subject of outsiders…

Why do we experience tensions around this topic? Maybe because we’ve all been outsiders in some setting, or to some people. We hate it, don’t we? It’s distinctly unpleasant. And yet, at the same time, we make others into outsiders all the time. Sometimes consciously, sometimes without even thinking about it.

On the one hand, outsiders can be beneficial to us. Relationship with outsiders may enlarge us, strengthen us, improve us. They interest us. Their strengths or the best parts of their culture may be attractive to us. Their perspectives can help us solve problems we haven’t yet solved on our own. If we get close enough to them without fear clouding our vision, we see their value as fellow human beings. Their beauty inspires us. Their pain produces compassion in us.



On the other hand, outsiders can be experienced as threats. Relationship with outsiders has the potential to be destructive and painful. They can challenge our sense of control, place demands on our resources, bring ideas or practices that threaten our established identity or way of doing things. Outsiders can make us uncomfortable. They might be a bad influence, not good.

This tension is at the heart of the parent’s dilemma when her child goes off to school and makes friends. Will her child’s friends add to, or subtract from, the quality of her child’s life?

This tension is at the heart of the immigration debates in our country in recent years.

This tension surrounds hiring decisions. Social calendar decisions.

Every group capable of generating “insiders” feels this tension about “outsiders.” Families. Circles of friends. Athletic Teams. Neighborhoods. Companies. Churches.


Truth is, this tension matters to all of us, every human being, because it’s the tension at the center of love.

You get married because there is this profound pull towards an outsider, and you make each other into insiders. It’s wonderful…! It’s terrible…! The first days and weeks and months are a working out of this tension.

You have a baby or you adopt a child. There is this profound pull towards someone who was such an outsider that they didn’t even exist in the universe until very recently. And now they are insiders. It’s wonderful…! It’s terrible…! The first days and weeks and months are a working out of this tension.

What wisdom does the Bible have to share with us about this tension in our relationships with outsiders? I want to talk about this primarily from the perspective of a faith community, a local representation of the family of God.

Students and youth leaders spent the last week trying to find ways to share God’s love with outsiders. Yesterday there was a blowout blessing party for outsiders at compassion ministry. In two weeks we’ll be massaging the feet of outsiders at the relay for life. In a couple of months, we’ll be pouring blood, sweat and tears into the Fantastic Fall Free-For-All for outsiders. What will we do as some of those outsiders experience God’s love and say, “Let me in!” Do we say, “Well, you’re welcome in if you are willing to act like an insider in a certain set of key ways.” Or do we let them in like we welcome a spouse or a baby, giving as much time as required for the working out of the tensions that come with the kind of love that transforms all of us into insiders with God and each other?

As we look for God’s wisdom in the Bible on this subject, my hope is that you’ll find help in working through this tension in every arena of your life - personal, social, work, spiritual. But we’ll focus our main attention on the question from a faith community perspective, because that’s the lens the Bible looks at it from primarily. I’m indebted to some insightful work by Brad Zinn, a Vineyard pastor in Philadelphia, who got me thinking about this over dinner in Anaheim a few weeks ago, and who then shared a summary of some research he’s done on the topic at the Blue Ocean Conference in Boston last week. I think we’ll take three weeks on this, to finish up August.


Week 1: The Old Testament // A Tension

Week 2: Jesus // A Radical Inclusion

Week 3: The Church // A New Purity

(thinking about a series on the first couple chapters of Genesis in the fall, as well as something on Daring Greatly – the courage to be vulnerable in the face of shame, and possibly a series called “Beautiful Things” inspired by that song we sing in worship, looking at how God makes beautiful things out of our messes, to celebrate our 10th anniversary later this fall. Have some planning to do to pull it all off, so I’m happy for your feedback as I prep for the fall.)


Today we’re going to look at the first part of the Bible, what’s often referred to as the Old Testament or the Old Covenant. It’s the collection of writings that traces the story of a group of people descended from Abraham and his wife, Sarah. God promises to bless Abraham and his descendants, and in turn, to bless all of humanity through them. This is the Covenant part of the “Old Covenant.” And what we see in this part of the Bible is how this tribe of people – eventually called Israel, and sometimes referred to as the Hebrews, and sometimes as the Jews.

The Old Testament displays tension when it comes to how Israel, the people of God, relate to outsiders.

On the one hand, foreigners are perceived as a bad influence, especially because of their relationship to various idols and false gods.


Deuteronomy 7:1-4:  "When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you...you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly."

Tipping point: Phineas story in Numbers 25. Not a story you’re likely to have learned in Sunday school… Leads to something like a genocide of Midianites.

6 Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spearin his hand 8 and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman's stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000. 10 The LORD said to Moses,11 "Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites."

Climax: Ezra (10) & Nehemiah (13)


22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love. 23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah.


 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God's name and said: "You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?" 28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me. 29 Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites. 30So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. 31 I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me with favor, my God.

Nehemiah 13


On the other hand, the Old Testament also shows blessing and protection towards outsiders. As if maybe they’re not so bad. And don’t forget, they is we, mostly.

At almost every point there is a pushing away of the outsider, there is a counterpoint embrace in the Old Testament.


“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:9-10,33-34


In Numbers 12, we see Aaron and Miriam criticizing Moses for marrying a foreign woman. The Lord hears it and gets a little torqued about it. So he punishes Miriam with leprosy. (Another one that doesn’t make it into a lot of picture bibles…) Moses pleads for her healing in the end, and she gets healed, but still – it’s quite a different tune from the Phineas story, isn’t it?


The Old Testament has the book of Ruth in it. Ruth is story about a Moabite woman, married to Boaz, an Israelite man, who becomes the mother of Obed, who is the Father of Jesse, who is the Father of King David (and eventually in Jesus’ line). And Ruth was written around the same time and Ezra and Nehemiah, the books that have the stories of Israel purging the foreign women and children. What gives?

And then, Isaiah gives a glimpse of the future:


1 This is what the LORD says: "Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. 2 Blessed are those who do this-- who hold it fast, those who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keep their hands from doing any evil." 3 Let no foreigners who have bound themselves to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely exclude me from his people." And let no eunuch complain, "I am only a dry tree."


4 For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant-- 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. 6And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant--


 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." 8 The Sovereign LORD declares-- he who gathers the exiles of Israel: "I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered."

Isaiah 56

It’s like a “hang in there” statement in the Old Testament. As if God is aware of the tension, and says if we’re patient, we’ll see how he resolves it all.

So what can we learn from this tension?


The tension is between two things: purity & justice. On the purity side, God wants those who follow him be part of a community that carries his blessing in such a way that the community bears witness to his holiness and glory (a religious way of saying, so that the whole world could see that he is uniquely good and uniquely great). This is no small concern – it matters because God desires life for his creation, and life flows from him to his creation as his creation trustingly receives life from him. If his image-bearers don’t see his unique goodness and greatness, they won’t trust him to come to him for life, and they will instead look to other sources that fail to give them life. If the community that bears his name loses its distinctiveness because of the corruptive influences of those not shaped by his presence and obedience to his commands, becoming like every other community, then God’s hope for restoring life to his dying creation is in jeopardy. To move Israel towards purity, he forbid them from making commitments to outsiders who might use those promises to move Israel away from trusting dependence on him.


On the other side is justice. Justice is things being how they should be. Right. Lined up with God’s goodness. Interestingly, the justice provisions assume a lack of strict purity. They assume Israel will have outsiders within her borders. Because of tribal loyalties, a foreigner was likely to be ignored, treated badly, kicked to the curb with hardly second thought. Compound that with the fact that outsiders were often outsiders through no fault of their own; displaced by war, born to those displaced by war, etc. and often poor because they had little status or opportunity in ancient societies where opportunity was family dependent. To move Israel towards justice, God commanded them to view foreigners as if they were native-born, connecting it emotionally to Israel’s experiences as foreigners in Egypt. He made merciful insertions into the law to provide for food for them.


The tension arises when those two impulses, purity and justice, pull in different directions. We feel it when we read about how the Israelites treated the Midianites, don’t we? We applaud Israel’s desire to return to God and reject the idols they’d come to worship, but we are repulsed by the violence against these foreign women and children.


So takeaway one, for us, then, is this: Purity matters. Our approach to the outsider should be mindful of our calling to be set apart for God’s purposes. The life God is forming among us is a holy treasure, ours by a gift of grace, easily lost through inattention or distraction.

Takeaway 2? Justice matters too. Our approach to the outsider should be mindful of the reality that God loves the outsider, and values him or her as much as he values the insider. And that he calls us insiders to make sacrifices for the sake of the outsider, as an expression of his love for them, to bear witness to it – a love that we get to enjoy 24/7, but that the outsider may only experience through our actions towards them.

Getting married, joining your life to another person? Having a baby? The life God has formed in you is a holy treasure, a gift of grace, easily lost through inattention or distraction. As you welcome the outsider in, allow them to be who God has made them to be, make sacrifices to demonstrate the value that they have to God and to you, but do not let go of the treasure of who God has made you to be and the mission he has given you. [common errors, especially with kids…]

What do we do when those two impulses seem to be at odds with each other? Well, we’ll explore that one next week as we consider Jesus and his approach of radical inclusion.

Before closing, let me offer a third takeaway. Messiness goes with the territory when it comes to God revealing himself to us. It’s rarely as clean and clear cut as we’d like it to be or imagine it should be. And that’s because he meets us as we are (which always involves some degree of brokenness), and moves us towards his good destination at a pace that we can handle.


Messiness always accompanies mystery. God (and God’s will, his good pleasing and perfect will), because he is fundamentally personal, is mystery, not puzzle. And mysteries are receiver dependent, not sender dependent. (Probably worth a fuller discussion another time, but for now: with puzzles, we are missing key information; understanding depends on information, which is a function of that which is hidden. With mysteries, the data is already there; understanding depends on processing that data, which is a function of us. God is mystery – he is constantly revealing himself; it’s we who have the work of understanding to do, aided by his Holy Spirit.) If we are to receive God’s revelation to us of who he is and what his will is for us, it’s going to be messy along the way, because we – the receivers – are a bit of a mess, aren’t we? God seems to be cool with the messiness. Will we allow ourselves to be?


Practical Suggestions:

1. Ask for help if your answer is Yes… Have you stopped depending on God or let go of his mission for you and started depending on something other than him or begun to pursue lesser goals because you got wrapped up in an outsider you welcomed (consciously or unconsciously) in his place?

2. Make a list of people (either specific individuals, or a category of people) you would have difficulty imagining eating a meal with and feeling comfortable with hosting in your home. Then, imagine Jesus eating a meal with them, and inviting you to join him. Take note of what feelings you have, and process that with God in prayer.