Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Radical Inclusion"

            In the early 1960s, racial tensions were at a great height, with sit-ins and demonstrations taking place around the country to protest segregation.  On May 6, 1960, President Eisenhower signed into law the Civil Rights act of 1960.  Under the new Kennedy administration, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was formed on in March of 1961.  In May of the same year, the first Freedom Rides took place in Washington, DC.  Violent white resistance in three southern states prompted President Kennedy to dispatch federal marshals to keep the peace.  It was in this turbulent year that Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) published his lovely little story, The Sneetches, highlighting the pointless artificial separations we create between people who are basically the same.

Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches
Had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches
Had none upon thars.
Those stars weren't so big. They were really so small
You might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all.
But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, "We're the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches."
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they'd snort
“We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!"
And whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They'd hike right on past them without even talking.

            Star-belly Sneetches left Plain-belly Sneetches out of their children’s games, out of their social events, out of every aspect of life, insisting that Star-bellies were superior in every way.  When a salesman came to town, offering to put stars on Plain-bellies for only $3 each, everybody made the change.  But the originally-starred Sneetches complained because they wanted to maintain their superior status.  So, the salesman told them that it was no longer fashionable to wear stars, and removed all their stars for $10.  But then the newly-starred Sneetches wanted to be like the newly-plain Sneetches, so they had theirs removed.  And on and on it went.

Then, when every last cent
Of their money was spent,
The Fix-it-Up Chappie packed up
And he went.

And he laughed as he drove
In his car up the beach,
"They never will learn.
No. You can't teach a Sneetch!"

But McBean was quite wrong. I'm quite happy to say
The Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars
And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.[i]

            We’d like to say that history, or Dr. Seuss, or somebody, has taught us a lesson, but today it seems we have the same issues with who’s in and who’s out as we did in the early 1960s.  Some of the “in” people have changed, and some of the “out” people have, too.  Many of them have remained the same.  But society and churches still resound with voices of judgment and exclusion, rather than the radical inclusion taught by Jesus.

            In the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel, Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration (v. 20).”[ii]  Like many African-Americans in 1960s America, who wanted equal rights, opportunities, and access—Many Greeks in Jesus’ day wanted to be included in the religious practices of the Jewish people.  These “Greeks” weren’t necessarily from Greece; this was a nickname among Jesus’ people for Gentiles—anybody who was not Jewish.  These spiritually seeking outsiders were so attracted to the Jewish worship of God that they were willing to risk becoming social and political outcasts in order to find the truth.  So they came to Jesus’ disciple Philip looking for answers.

            Most students of most rabbis would have turned these Gentile seekers away, but Jesus was no ordinary teacher, and Philip was no ordinary disciple.  Nearly every time we see Philip in the Gospels, he is bringing people to Jesus.  First, he introduces Nathanael to the Master, and then he is one of two disciples involved in bringing the boy whose lunch would feed a multitude.  So instead of turning them away, Philip thought, “Perhaps Jesus would welcome even people such as these.”  Without another moment of hesitation, he told Andrew about it, and the two disciples told Jesus.

            It’s easy to picture Jesus’ welcoming face as He meets these spiritual seekers, these “outsiders.”  He trusts them by dropping truth about His own death and calling them to abandon all their false priorities in exchange for eternal life.  Then He says a radical thing: Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me (verse 26).”  In a land of Star-bellied Sneetches, Jesus told these Plain-bellies that they were acceptable too, without having to change a thing.  All that’s necessary is that they follow Him and serve Him.  Later, Jesus underscores this radical inclusion by saying of His own crucifixion, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself (verse 32).” In fact, in this same story, God speaks from the heavens and many in the crowd only hear it as thunder.  Only those with seekers’ hearts discern that something supernatural has happened—might these observant people have been the same Gentiles who came to Jesus?

            Paul echoes this radical inclusion when he says in Romans 10:12-13, “For there is no difference between Jew and Greek: The same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  In addition to ethnic or language differences, Paul adds gender and economic differences to those things that God cares nothing about (Galatians 3:28).  Romans 2:11 (GWT) says, “God does not play favorites”—and neither should we.  To God, Sneetches are Sneetches—people are people.  And when churches and Christian groups say, “all are welcome,” the should mean it—with no exceptions.

[i] Seuss, Dr. The Sneetches and Other Stories.  New York: Random House.  1961.
[ii] Scripture quotations taken from the NLT.  Underlined words are my own emphasis.

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