The Principle of Exclusivity

Today’s sermon from North Presbyterian Church, Kalamazoo

Click here to read the biblical passage

Sermon outline:

  1. Principle of Exclusivity
    1. Exclusive resort/interview
      1. “We have something that no one else has”
    2. haves/have-nots, insiders/outsiders
      1. Who are the haves/insiders in 21st century North America?
        1. Who gets to sit at the “cool kids” table in our culture? Wealthy, beautiful
      2. Who are the have-nots?

Text

  1. Paul – What is he urging Christians to do in this passage? Pray
    1. For whom? “Kings and all who are in high positions”
    2. What culture is Paul writing in? Roman Empire
      1. Who is king? Caesar
        1. Is Caesar an insider or an outsider to Roman culture? Insider
      2. Who is Paul writing to? Christians
        1. Are they insiders or outsiders to Roman culture? Outsiders
        2. It was illegal to be a Christian
  • The Romans thought we were a threat to national security, terrorists, trying to overthrow the government, undermine society
  1. We were excluded, discriminated against, persecuted, hunted, killed by patriots
  1. Caesar is the ultimate insider of the Roman Empire
    1. Excludes the Christian outsiders – discrimination, persecution, murder
    2. Is Caesar a Christian? No, pagan
    3. As a pagan, is he an insider or an outsider to the Christian Church? Outsider
  2. So, how does Paul invite Christian-insiders to treat powerful pagan-outsiders to the Church in this passage? Fight fire with fire? Exclude the excluders? No, pray for them
    1. Because this reflects the heart of God for outsiders
      1. “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
        1. Who does God desire to be saved? Everyone
      2. “For there is one God”
        1. How many? One for Christians and another for Caesar? No, one
  • “There is also one mediator between God and humankind”
    1. How many? One for Christians and another for Caesar? No, one
  1. This mediator, Paul says, is “Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all”
    1. For whom? All

Application

  1. God’s deep desire is for all outsiders to become insiders, to know that they are loved, they belong in God’s family
    1. This is what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about – welcoming outsiders as insiders
    2. Our world system operates on the Principle of Exclusion, but the kingdom of heaven operates on the Principle of Inclusion
    3. This world system builds walls between people, but God wants to tear those walls down
      1. Ephesians 2 – “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us… he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God”
    4. Are we doing this, Church? Do we believe it?
      1. Do we believe it for ourselves?
        1. Every one of us harbors a secret fear that, if others saw us as we really are, they could never love us
          1. So we put up walls around us and hide behind them.
          2. We even think we can do this with God. So, we put on our Sunday best and show up to church, pretending that everything’s okay. But we’re not okay.
        2. God sees that, and guess what? God loves and accepts us anyway, not in spite of our faults, but with That’s grace.
        3. Trusting in God’s grace gives us the power to tear down the walls within ourselves and admit, “It’s okay to not be okay, because I am loved. Even if I can’t love myself right now, I am loved by One whose love for me is far greater than my ability to mess myself up.”
        4. I think a lot of us need to be reminded of that, from time to time
        5. Paul says it: God’s desire is for you. God wants you here.
        6. God loves you. Full stop. And you are constitutionally incapable of out-sinning God’s love. I hope you believe that for yourself, today.
      2. Do we believe this (trust God’s grace) for others?
        1. Do we build walls between our neighbors and ourselves or do we tear them down?
        2. Do we operate on the world’s Principle of Exclusion or God’s Principle of Inclusion?
        3. When we look at our neighbors, God asks us:
          1. “Do you see my child, who…”
            1. Is poor, is homeless, is sick, is a refugee, is an immigrant, speaks another language, has a skin color that is different from yours, is LGBTQ, is Muslim, is addicted to drugs/alcohol, is disabled, lives with a mental illness?
          2. Do we see God’s children?
          3. Do we look at them and hear God’s heartbeat for them in St. Paul’s words: “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”?
        4. This, God’s desire, is the heartbeat of the Gospel
          1. God writes no one off
          2. Excludes no one, not even the excluders
          3. Not even Caesar, the pagan emperor and hater of Christians
          4. There is a place for him at the table of Christ, which means there is also a place here for you
            1. St. Paul writes, earlier in 1 Timothy: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.”
          5. This was the founding principle of Paul’s ministry, which is how he is able to say: “For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle”
            1. God’s unconditional and all-inclusive love
            2. This is the reason Paul and the early Church practiced their ministry of reconciliation, even in the face of bitter persecution
            3. This is also the reason we Christians are called to practice our ministry in the world today: not to exclude but to include, not to build walls but to tear them down, to speak the word of truth to those don’t know the deep and abiding truth that they are loved.

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