The IT Crowd

Much to my surprise, today’s sermon prep has led me to this episode on the IT Crowd on Youtube, where ultimately Jen is saved through the power of roleplaying games! Posted here simply because I enjoyed it last time I saw it and want to be able to find it again when I want to watch it properly later…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4G_lNeSUOg

(can’t embed it to watch here)

So what’s the sermon about? What does this video have to do with it (am I simply wasting time when I should be working!)? You’ll have to come along on Sunday morning to find out, but it’s something to do with the question ‘who is in the in-crowd?’

You’re Not Invited!

There’s nothing worse than being excluded.

There’s nothing worse than everyone else in your class going to a party and discovering that you’re not invited. I remember clearly lining up for games and not being picked. How is it that at a disco everyone else knows the latest moves to the current favourite tracks but you don’t?

Okay, these examples are fairly frivolous, although painful at the time. There are of course more serious examples. Children being excluded from school. Prisoners being excluded from society. Women being excluded from the vote until not so long ago. Blacks being excluded from white’s only areas under apartheid. Immigrants excluded from entering because of the country they come from. This list could go on and on. The human race excels at stating who is in and who is out, who is welcome and who is not. Perhaps there are times when living in a fallen world that this is required in order for society to function, but often our exclusions derive from our fear and selfishness.

Exclusion is another of those themes that runs through the Bible. After the Fall Adam and Eve are excluded from the Garden. With the collapse of the Tower of Babel, and the establishment of different languages and cultures, inevitably different groupings would be excluded from each other through the inability to communicate with each other, which would in turn lead to suspicion and rivalry. Foreigners are excluded from marrying into the People of God. Although the Israelites were to welcome aliens in their midst and offer them hospitality, Gentiles were excluded from the Temple, as were children, eunuchs and the disabled. As for the lepers…

But then comes Jesus and everything changes.

He welcomes children and calls them the greatest.

He talks to women and treats them with dignity and equality.

He heals the lepers, sending them to the Priest so that they can be re-integrated into society.

He offers forgiveness to any who seek it and eats with tax collectors and prostitutes.

After the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday, he rides to the Temple, overturning the tables. We are told that the blind and lame came to him and he healed them and the children came and were shouting in the courts (Mt.21:12-16). Up until this point they were barred from entry!

This growing circle of inclusion spreads even further in Acts. The Ethiopian Eunuch is baptized in Acts 8 and then the disciples discover that the Spirit is given to the Gentiles too – and how can they reject those who God has accepted!

This is the glorious message of Easter, Jesus has smashed the barriers and all are allowed in. To borrow the words of the wedding service, what God has joined together let no man put asunder!

Re-imagining Relationships

At church we’re working through Mark’s Gospel on Sunday mornings between Christmas and Easter, and I’ve decided to read it as my devotional reading each day as well during this time. Reading it again, I’ve been struck by many things, and I’m only a few chapters in! It paints a picture of Jesus far from the nice sandal wearing wimp that he is sometimes portrayed as. Here is a man who acts with determination and authority, not caring what others think of his deeds or teaching, but with a clear vision of what the world could be or should be, and living out that life and pushing for that life now.

One of the key themes that has hit me so far is his desire to overturn the inclination we have to exclude those who are different to us. In the first few chapters these are the people he goes out of his way to include, challenging the prejudices of the culture around him.

In chapter one he drives out an evil spirit from a man in a synagogue, heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever and ‘cleanses’ a man with leprosy. In chapter two he heals a paralytic and dines with ‘many tax collectors and “sinners”. The list continues. Each of these is in some way excluded from society around them. When you dig a little deeper, often this exclusion has a religious aspect to it. In some cases this is clear – for example the demon possessed man, but in others to us less clear. Take the Sunday School favourite, the paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends. The root concern of this story is not his condition, but the religious belief that he was blighted with his disability because of serious sin in his family – it was a punishment from God. Jesus cuts straight through this by declaring his sins forgiven – and so restoring his place in the community (and heals him to boot!) Or the man with leprosy, he would have been excluded, considered as ritually unclean, and defiling of others who came into contact with him. Again Jesus heals him, cleansing him (the text pointedly stresses that ritualistic religious word, not ‘healing’) so he can be part of the community again. Just to make sure, Jesus sends him to the priest so that his cleansing can be ‘officially’ sanctioned, so that he could be ‘officially’ included once again. This was a risky act; coming into contact with someone with leprosy would have caused him to have been considered unclean too. As the man failed to follow this last instruction, perhaps this was a turning point in Jesus’ work – maybe he was now seen as tainted in some way. If he wasn’t then, he certainly was after his meal at Levi’s house with the tax collectors and sinners – those excluded from polite society because of their anti-Jewish collusion with the pagan Roman establishment, and those rejected because of their lifestyles were deemed to be unacceptable by the leaders of the faith.

Reading these passages has challenged me to take a long hard look at my attitude to others. In what ways do I unconsciously exclude others because of how society or indeed religious attitudes around me see them? In what ways do I not see people, or actively avoid them? Who does my church exclude? Who are the excluded in my community? Who in my life ought I be actively trying to bring back into the community – and do I have the guts to do it even if this means being ‘tainted’ as Christ was?