Tuhina Verma Rasche, San Carlos, CA
- When you hear the words “All are welcome,” does that describe the faith space where you’re a part? How so? If you don’t feel a part, what makes you feel apart?
- Would you consider yourself to be an insider or an outsider? What are the situations that bring you to your answer?
- What makes a person and communities vulnerable?
Are All *Really* Welcome?
Ever since I’ve been a part of the church, I’ve often wondered, “Do I even belong here?” More often than not, I’m the only person of color in progressive church spaces. I’ve been told that my ideas of God in the world and how we are to be followers of Jesus are “too radical.” Even though many churches proclaim, “All are welcome,” I’ve wondered if there are unspoken exceptions. Shouldn’t it say instead, “You’re welcome here if you look and behave a certain way that makes everyone else comfortable”? I feel hurt when a community says “all are welcome,” and it’s not actually true. I feel like I’m an outsider.
At our core as human beings, we’re created to be in community with one another. With that comes wanting to belong, which makes us keenly aware that there are “in” groups and “out” groups. The division between being an insider and an outsider is painful when we want to be seen, acknowledged, and loved as God created us. It’s especially painful in friend groups and faith communities.
Why are there insiders and outsiders? Who gets to determine who is included or excluded in a community? Jesus calls the excluded “the least of these.” Those on the outside were welcome if they met certain requirements, like cleanliness, a change in social ranking, and access to power and popularity. Jesus accepts them as they are. He includes “the least of these” in the greater community. He proclaims that all (regardless of popularity, wealth, social status, cleanliness) are not just accepted, but also centered in God’s heart.
- Why do you think Jesus wanted to include the excluded? What ways do you practice inclusion and exclusion in your friend groups?
- In what ways do you want to be recognized for the entirety of who God created you to be? Are there parts of yourself you are not sure would be welcome in your social or religious community?
- Why do communities use the words “all are welcome,” if they don’t actually mean it? How does that happen?
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
There are times where it would be easy to skip over a Bible passage and pretend it doesn’t exist. This is one of those times. Yet, if we were to skip over it, what would keep us from skipping over other parts of the Bible when we struggle with the message? Jesus often gives hard words to the disciples (and us). This week is no exception.
The Gospel begins with a difficult conversation on divorce. For many people, divorce is still hard to talk about because it radically changes the lives of, not just those ending the marriage, but also family members, friends, and communities.
We need to keep in mind that divorce in Jesus’ time and divorce in our time are very different. In Jesus’ time. If a woman were divorced from her husband, she would be incredibly vulnerable. The world wasn’t (and still isn’t) built to protect vulnerable women and femmes. He answers the question from the religious authorities forcefully because vulnerable people are being hurt and it makes him mad.
In asking them how a man may divorce his wife according to the Law, Jesus is talking about what people currently know and understand. There are structures in place to protect vulnerable populations. Yet structures created by people with good intentions often don’t go far enough. Divorce, says Jesus, is an unfortunate concession to the fact that we do not always live with love and respect in marriage. Instead of having people trapped in situations where they were powerless and unhappy, divorce may happen, but it not God’s intention for marriage.
Jesus tells us to protect the most vulnerable among us. It seems that the disciples didn’t get the memo, because immediately after the conversation on divorce, they try to keep children from Jesus’s presence. Jesus speaks in support of both divorced women and the little children, people who don’t have power, both then and now. Jesus is all about being with and empowering the weakest and most vulnerable in society. The Beloved Community is for all people, especially those who are made vulnerable by the sometimes well-intentioned but always faulty power structures of this world.
The disciples, as close as they are to Jesus, don’t understand him. In preventing people from bringing children to Jesus so that he may bless them, the disciples assume authority over who is in and who is out. Jesus turns them around to a new way of being.
Jesus welcomes those on the outside, those who are vulnerable. That welcome challenges our notions of who belongs in the realm of God and who is the greatest. Those whom world calls outsiders, Jesus calls insiders and welcomes them in the entirety of who they are. Jesus continually challenges our expectations and reminds us that inclusion is incredibly radical.
- Have you invited a friend to your faith community? Did they come with you? Has something prevented you from inviting others to come with you to your faith community? Have a conversation to how your faith community is and can be a more welcoming place.
- Talk about a time where you felt like you belonged to a community and a time where you felt like you were on the outside of a community. How do these feelings feel similar? How do they contrast?
- How do you feel when another person notices a quality or attribute about you? What does it feel like to be fully recognized for who God created you to be?
- Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, ‘But I am baptized! And if I have been baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body ….’ ” Baptism means inclusion in the body of Christ. When do you encounter water? Doing dishes, watering plants, washing your hands? Record how many times a day you encounter water. Anytime you encounter water, take a moment to remember that you are beloved by God and to think about God’s promises made in baptism.
- There are many members of our community who are vulnerable and on the outside. If your faith community has a visitation ministry, a food pantry ministry, or a similar ministry, make cards with encouraging messages for these ministries.
- Find smooth rocks, markers, and acrylic paint. Draw words of encouragement on the rocks and leave them outside where people can find them for a source of surprise encouragement and acceptance.
God of inclusion, you came to us in ways that were meant to be excluded. You came as a poor, Brown, Jewish Galilean man in the midst of an empire that thought it was all powerful. In the person of Jesus, you show us just how radical inclusion can be, and that you want to include all into your community. May we extend radical invitations so that those who feel on the outside are on the inside and that those who feel excluded are included for who God created them to be. Remind us that we are loved by you. Amen.