Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday 14 October 2007 - Us and Them

This is a short talk which I used at a half-hour 9 am communion service. It was expanded into a discussion at the 10:30 am service at another church. The talk is based on Luke 13:22-30.


It seems to me that to be a Christian is to obey the Great Commandment to love God and to love our neighbour as ourself. To be a Christian is to try to do God’s will knowing that we will inevitably slip up, get things wrong and sin. And to be a Christian is to know that God’s Good News is that, when we do sin, that being wrong can be forgiven by the grace of God.

But the preoccupation of the people in today’s reading is ‘How many will be saved? Will it be only a few?’ I wonder what answer it was that they wanted to hear? Did they believe that God’s Kingdom was only for the chosen few? Were they worried that they would not number among the chosen? Were they looking for an assurance of their own citizenship in the Kingdom?

Or did the people asking this question think they knew that they were part of the chosen few? Were they asking the question because they wanted assurance that God was going to exclude their enemies from the Kingdom? My suspicion is the latter. I suspect that the people weren’t as concerned with their own participation in the Kingdom as they were concerned about who was not going to be given admission. After all, no good Jew would want to be part of a Kingdom where there was even the remotest possibility that one of their Roman oppressors might be given admission.

‘How many?’ the people wanted to know. ‘What’s the quantity?’ I wonder if they were expecting to hear an answer of ‘Twelve times something’ representing the tribes of Israel?

But Jesus refused to answer their quantitative question and painted a picture instead.

There is a great house party going on. People from all corners of the world have travelled a great distances to be at this party. And Jesus’ current conversation partners seem to be shouting from outside: ‘Hold on a minute! You’ve invited the wrong people into your house! We’re the ones with the genuine tickets! We’re the sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!’

What is it about human nature that causes us to divide the world into us and them? When we get caught up in this game of ‘us and them’ we seem to forget to be grateful that we’ve been given tickets to the party ourselves. And we start to get worried about who we don’t want to see at the party.

In the New Testament, the people who engage this kind of ‘them and us’ thinking are usually the scribes, the Pharisees or the high priests. But we are at risk of totally missing the point if we think that these parables have nothing to do with us.

In Christianity today, we have people who are vitally concerned with identifying who it is that will not be invited into the Kingdom: perhaps it’s the adulterers or the homosexuals. Or perhaps it’s the CEOs of multinational corporations or those who continue to exploit the poor.

The twist in the tail, of course, is that each one of us here this morning has a different ‘us’ and each one of us has a different ‘them’. And I believe that ‘all can be saved’ and that all the different ‘us-es’ and all the different ‘thems’ will be invited into the Kingdom, and it’s not for you or for me to decide who God will exclude.

I think the question for you and me this morning is: ‘Who is my ‘them’? And my suggestion is that when we pray our prayers of intercession this morning, let’s remember these people in our prayers.

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