Come to the Table

By Sadie Zegarac

November 10, 2016

The following is Sadie's sermon manuscript from the Well gathering on 11/10/16. There was a technical error with the audio, but she's been kind enough to provide us with the full manuscript below!

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I’m going to start out by telling you something that I’ve been historically bad at, which isn’t technically a usual introductory tactic, but we’re rolling with it. Tonight we’re talking about inclusion. And I was bad at that for a long time. Probably, if I’m being honest with you, I still am sometimes. In 6th grade I was the mean girl. I hung around the wrong crowd and let them influence me. Much like Cady Heron if you’re familiar with Mean Girls. So much so that my two best friends and I were regularly pulled aside by our teacher so that we could apologize to the girl we were consistently awful to. My heart breaks any time I even think about that version of myself. I’m wildly uncomfortable any time she is brought up because I know better now. I’m generally embarrassed to share those kind of stories. I learned a lot through middle and high school. About kindness. About how you have to be kind in order to develop actual friendships.

Then, my freshman year of college I was angry with the “in crowd” within my community. Soon enough I was in that crowd and did a pretty bad job at including people until my senior year. Those of you who knew me in college got to know the truest version of myself during my senior year. I’m probably a truer version of myself now, which makes sense because we are constantly being made into the likeness of Christ (or at least that’s my hope). But during my senior year the pendulum swung and everyone was invited! Come on in!

There was something more subtle going on with me in high school and college, though. Something maybe we have become more comfortable with instead of outright exclusion through hatred. What I think probably goes on in most of us is exclusion through apathy. This one is dangerous because it’s not as easily identifiable.

“I’m just too busy.”

“I never get to see my friends throughout the week, so this weekend is just for them and not you.”

“It’ll be too uncomfortable or awkward, so I just won’t put out the invitation.”

Not speaking up when you notice something is off.

This one is usually less intentional but still very much felt by the other party. The option for us is to translate the gospel into the other person or demographic’s language. God wants to meet them where they are, not necessarily bring them to where I’m at.

Where does this unwillingness to include come from? Maybe our fear of being forgotten. Maybe our uncomfortability with no longer being in control. That’s mine. I’m a control person. Maybe we are terrified that we will no longer be the favorite. Also mine. A core fear of mine is that I’m always second best. So, if you’re invited, that fear could become a reality.

All of these reasons are incredibly selfish. In every example so far, the lens has been on us. Me. We are the main character.

I want to tell you a story where the main character’s name is Jesus and we are the ones being welcomed. We are the ones who needed acceptance. We were the historically dirty, unclean, exhausted, mean, judgmental ones that instead were welcomed at the banquet table with Christ. The Lord of all the universe, in all his holiness and demand for reverence, was (and still is) so in love with us and our mortal, confused selves that he invited us to be sons and daughters. Not servants. Sons. Children.

Let’s jump into some scripture and read Acts 15:1-10.

Did you catch verse 10? I’m going to read that again because we are going to camp at that verse for a while. “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?”

I’m going to jump into a short history lesson about the Gentiles and suggest that we as Christians have forgotten our “Gentile-ness”. Follow along.

  1. We have a small group of people called Israel. They are the chosen people of God, the elect, the circumcised, the ones God made a covenant with. Then we have the larger group of everyone else outside the Jews called the Gentiles. They were the uncircumcised heathens.
  2. The Gentiles were then able to become one of the chosen people if they were converted. Aka circumcised and kept the Law of Moses. We see this argument from the Pharisees in the passage we just read.
  3. Paul’s understanding (coming from Romans 11 and most of his writings if you check that out on your own sometime) is that the Christian Gentiles – those after Christ – are now adopted into the covenant family. The Church (big C) is at the intersection of Jews and Gentiles. What made them the Church was the acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
  4. The Gentile Christian understanding was that Israel broke the covenant with God but could become Christians through baptism and no longer adhering to the Mosaic Law. The thought the Church only existed within the boundaries of the Gentiles. Quite a switch from the first point.
  5. Now came something called Christendom. Essentially, Emperor Constantine in the 300s AD made Christianity the religion of the empire. No longer was Christianity connected to a people group or belief system but instead to a physical place. The Church became political entity. The Jews were politically excluded from this space. So, the Church was a political and physical space based on it’s connection to the empire.
  6. And now we have made it to the New World. The Church looks a lot more like a specific race or demographic of people instead of an allegiance to God or even a place as we talked about in the last point.

Here is where our concept of Church generally lies. This might prick at you a little, but please give it some consideration before you decide I’m lying. “Do these people look, act, behave, smell, think, etc. the same way that I do?” If yes, come on in! You get to join. If no, yikes, sorry but you don’t belong here.

Those qualifications I just listed are incredibly dangerous. Back to the passage, “Why do you try and test God?” My question to you: Why do you try and create the qualifications of the Kingdom when you yourself could not bear that yoke either?

It was not up for debate at the Council of Jerusalem whether or not the Gentiles got to be included. At this point, the Pharisees were not saying they didn’t belong. There was so much evidence of God’s favor moving through the Gentiles! The real question was, “Where do we put them? Do they need to keep the law in order to have a seat at our table?”

How often are we trying to chisel away at and force other people around us into a mold of the Kingdom that was not created by God but instead was a product of your own longing for comfortability?

God blessed the Gentiles without circumcision and without the law. “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”

By faith.

It is by faith that you have been invited in. A brief look at Israel’s history will show us that it is not by the law that we are saved. At the birth of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai when Moses brought down the 10 Commandments (which were actually 600+), they broke the law by worshiping the golden calf. Fast forward to the end of the Old Testament in Nehemiah and we find the Israelites breaking the law, breaking the Sabbath, and marrying pagan women. From beginning to end, Israel could not bear the yoke of the Law.

Those parameters are not the thing that brought the Gentiles into the family of God. What does it mean, then, to be included as part of this community? The community right in this room?

It means that you belong before you believe. It means that the Christians in this room who profess Jesus will not put a yoke on you that they themselves could not bear. It means that regardless of your gender, race, political opinion, etc. you have a seat at the banquet table of Christ.

The lingering question in all of this might be: “So Sadie, do I need to do anything  to follow Jesus?” The answer is yes, but it is not a written in stone, 600+ different laws kind of answer. It answer is a little messier than that. In community, we figure out not only what belonging means but also what it means to be faithful followers of Christ. We wrestle with and tease that out together.

It was not up for debate at the Council of Jerusalem if the Gentiles got to belong. They didn’t know where they fit. In the same way, it is not up for debate if the people you have been excluding belong. We have to do the hard work of wrestling with the “fit” question. It is not necessary to know where each person fits before they get to belong to the family. I barely know where I fit when I see my blood relatives during the holidays. There are some demographics that I don’t know how to respond to, but what I do know is that they are the Lord’s first. I cannot choose to simply not respond. Can we all agree to trust that the Lord knows better on this one? That He might have a slightly better understanding of what the Kingdom looks like than we do?

Exclusion is not the heart of Christ. We see this time and time again throughout the Gospels. Jesus choosing the company of sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes instead of the religious elite. I spend a lot of time around the “religious elite” during college. Not inherently bad. Bummer that I missed out on so much more.

What does it mean for us as the Church to be a people of inclusion? It’s a given that you get to be part of the Kingdom if it’s something you want. What does it mean for you and for all of us to be faithful followers of Jesus in the moments when we don’t have answers?

Maybe it looks like awkward amounts of vulnerability. Extending a hand to those that you have previously ignored. One of my dear friends gave me incredible advice when I was on a mission trip and quite frankly at the end of my rope with certain individuals on the team. “Sadie, look for what Jesus is doing in them. Where can you see Christ?”

So friends, “Where can you see Christ in the person or demographic of your exclusion?” Start with simple truths that they are made in His image and work from there. It’s difficult and messy, but I’m certain that it’s also completely worth it.

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