I want to offer a couple of stories.
The first is about a family: a mother, father, and four kids. This family knew another girl in their community whose mother had died a few years earlier and whose father was unable to raise her. So, the family decided that this girl would come to live with them. They didn’t adopt her and there was no foster care arrangement. It didn’t fit any of the “normal” categories. She just became part of their family.
She stayed with them through high school; and they even helped with her college expenses. When she got married, the whole family came together for the wedding. When the family gathers for Christmas and Easter and all the big family events, all five of the children are together; the four born to that family and the one who came along a bit later. They are one family.
The second story is about a father and a daughter. The dad is an ordained Lutheran pastor in Pennsylvania, doing what pastors do—proclaiming the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. The daughter grew up as a pastor’s kid in a Lutheran home, doing what church kids do—Sunday school, Confirmation, youth groups, and all the rest. The daughter grew up, and then went to college, and she met a guy.
It turns out the guy was Jewish. Of course, she ended up marrying him. They lived in Brooklyn and she formed a close connection with her husband’s family and with their synagogue. They had a “Jewish” home, but the daughter was quite convinced that she was “too Lutheran” to ever convert to Judaism. Except… she did! She became Jewish.
But wait, there’s more. The father, the Lutheran pastor, got elected to be a Bishop in Pennsylvania and the daughter started studying to become a rabbi. At the dad’s installation as Bishop, his daughter was there, and she read from the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament); she read in English and in Hebrew. The Bishop, her dad, said, “What went through my mind was intense pride and love for my daughter’s charismatic presence, her poise, and yes, her faith.”
One family. One God.
It is interesting how the lines that divide us do not always stay so clear, even lines like family and religion. In the encounters of real life, dividing lines get blurry.
I’m not saying it is easy when we bump up against those boundaries. For the family that added the daughter, it cost them space in the home and cost them money. Even more difficult, they had to figure out some new lines of relationship. For the Bishop-dad and the Rabbi-daughter they had to reconsider religious claims about absolute truth. More than that, they had to think about their sense of identity and belonging. Those things are big demands.
And yet, out there at the edges… where we meet those who are different, that’s where the growth happens; that’s where we learn and where we stretch ourselves.
Mary “Joy” Philip was born and lived in India, where she was a professor in zoology. She then studied at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and is now a professor and theologian in Waterloo, Ontario. In her scientific and theological studies and in her life, she knows what it is to be at the margins. In her contribution to a 2010 book, in her chapter titled, “The Elusive Lure of the Lotus,” Philip writes, “Margins are spaces where there is movement, where there is constant dissembling and reassembling, where there is always a metamorphosis, the possibility of being and becoming.”
She points out that Jesus did not carry out His ministry hunkered down at the center, in Jerusalem. “Jesus, the godman lived at the margins, in the Galilees, where from, in the eyes of others, no good could come” (a reference to John 1:46). What Jesus did in his ministry was move outward… He met people out at the margins. Jesus went to the lepers, the beggars, the man living among the tombs, the woman at the well, tax collectors, sinners, and those despised Samaritans.
It’s not easy going out there; it’s not safe. Many people were unhappy with Jesus; they said he was abandoning traditional values and even that he was immoral. But it is good for us to remember, the Good News of Jesus Christ did not start with us, someone had to take it to us. The reason we have the Good News is that Jesus and others were willing to move OUT, away from the center, and take this Good News out to the margins and into the world.
There are some loud, noisy, and angry voices in our world today. People who want to define the “center” and they believe it’s their prerogative to do so. They want to reject anything with a different skin color, a different language, a different nationality, or a different religion. But pulling in to the “center” and rejecting those at the margins, that is NOT the Jesus message.
Jesus sees those other people, other groups, other “flocks” (John 10:16) and Jesus throws his arms wide open. Jesus will bring them along as well; and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Jesus didn’t say that we will all look the same, or talk the same, or think the same, believe the same things, or all worship the same way. And Jesus didn’t say it would be easy or affordable. But the direction of Jesus, the movement of God in the world is to draw us together.
This Savior, this Good Shepherd (John 10:11) came for a world and for a time just like ours, now. Jesus went out to margins for our health and healing and growth. Jesus came for the well-being of all. He came to draw us together.
One flock. One shepherd.
Pastor Erick Swanson