The Return of the Rejects
March 31, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Joshua 5:9-12 Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
How often in our lives have we heard phrases like, “You aren’t good enough,” “You aren’t rich enough,” “You aren’t smart enough,” “You aren’t pretty (or handsome) enough,” “You aren’t one of us,” “We don’t want you here,” “Why don’t you and your friends sit… over there.”
Almost all of us, at one time or another, were one of the outsiders. We didn’t “fit” in the popular group. We weren’t wanted. We didn’t measure up to whatever standards that group thought were important. This sort of thing is so common that the famous comedian Groucho Marx once reversed the whole situation by saying, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”
But even though we make jokes about it, being on the outside looking in is not a fun place to be. And when we stop talking about social clubs or high school cliques and start talking about whole groups of people that are excluded from entire societies, this isn’t at all funny and can, in fact, be deadly serious.
At the conclusion to the story of the Exodus of God’s people from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the new Promised land, we hear this story in Joshua 5:9-12.
9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So, the place has been called Gilgal to this day [“Gilgal” sounds like the Hebrew for “roll.”].
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.
After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, and after entering into the Promised land, and after harvesting crops that they didn’t even plant, God tells Joshua that he as “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” God says that he has taken away their label as outsiders, and that the world can no longer say that God’s people are anything less than everything that God wants them to be. And, on the day after they begin to harvest food from the land of their new home, the manna, that they had seen every day for forty years, suddenly stops. It is as if God says, you no longer need this miracle, I have brought you home, you have become everything that you dreamed of becoming, you have received everything that you ever wanted, I have fulfilled my promise.
Even though God’s people had lived in Egypt for four hundred years, they were never considered to be Egyptians. They were never good enough, they were never on the inside, but were constantly persecuted, tormented, and enslaved as perpetual outsiders.
But no longer.
As they arrived in the Promised Land, God’s promise of redemption is fulfilled.
The outsiders are no longer on the outside but have been invited in by God himself.
But even though this is a foundational story of God’s people, the political and religious leaders of Israel still manage to divide their own people into insiders and outsiders. Those who were “good enough” and those who weren’t. But Jesus begins his ministry and immediately sets to work tearing down the barriers between these two groups and regularly invites the outsiders to join him on the inside. And these actions of Jesus cause the leaders of the insiders to complain about his behavior. And in response, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32.
15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable:
11 “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So, he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So, they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So, his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Many sermons have been written about this passage. In fact, I just preached about it on Monday at the Lenten luncheon at the Vine Street United Methodist Church, but what I want you to see this morning is that Jesus made it his mission to seek out the rejects of the society and the people who had been rejected by the church, and invite them back in again. The father in the story wasn’t focused on the bad things that his son had done, or the many ways that he had personally insulted and hurt his father, his family, and his culture, the father’s single concern was the love that he had for his child and that he desperately wanted him back. Jesus’ point in telling this parable was to explain that this is how God feels about us. The message that Jesus wanted the world to hear is that we’ve never gone too far wrong. We’ve never been too bad. We’ve never been too far outside. As soon as we come to our senses and ask for his forgiveness, God’s single concern is his love for us and how much he wants us to rejoin his family.
But what does that have to do with us?
In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, contained in this passage of 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, we are reminded, once again, that the mission of Jesus Christ has been passed down and is now the mission of the church.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Paul immediately instructs us to view no one in the way that the world sees them, but to see the world, and all the people in it, the way that Jesus sees them. Everyone who comes to Jesus and asks for his forgiveness is a new creation and must be reconciled, redeemed, restored, and returned to the family. And that family, is the church, the gathered body of Christ. Moreover, Paul says, that Jesus has given us the message of reconciliation, we are Christ’s ambassadors, “as though God were making his appeal through us.” Our mission, our job, both as believers in Jesus Christ, and as his church, it to bring people back to God. Our calling, each and every one of us, is to go out into the world and find the rejects and the outsiders, the people that have been hurt, turned away, cast out, ignored, slighted, and rejected by our culture and by the church.
Our mission is to find them all and restore them to the family of the father that never stopped looking for them, and never stopped loving them.
So, this week as you go out in our community, and out in our world, try to see the world the way that Jesus sees the world. Try to see the people around you the way that Jesus sees them. Not at outcasts, freaks, weirdos, derelicts, or drunks, not as people who aren’t good enough, or smart enough, not as people who don’t work hard enough, not as rejects from a society that lacks compassion, or a church that often alienates the very people that Jesus invited in, but simply try to see them all as family members who are in need of redemption, restoration, reconciliation, and in need of a family who can love them back to wellness and wholeness.
We dream of a world without outsiders.
Let us be the agents of mercy and reconciliation that seek out the rejects of the world and bring them inside.
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