I preached at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis this past weekend. LCCR is one of my favorite churches. In the sermon, I added that I love the bibilical stories about outsiders, like the Woman at the Well. I also shared my diagnosis of Aspergers with them.
“Felix the Outsider”
June 21-22, 2008
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer
This sermon begins with the story of a man and a cat.
About six years ago, one evening, I got a call from Erik, my best friend and of course, a member here at LCCR. He sounded a bit strained and then asked if I could take care of a cat that he had found. As if on cue, the cat meowed. I didn’t know if I wanted to take care of another cat since I just got a cat a few months prior. I told Erik I would meet him at home.
When I got home, I found this thin, black and white cat and he was unlike any cat I knew. My other cat, Morris, is a very gregarious cat that always wants to be petted. He craves attention. This cat, not so much. He didn’t seem to want my attention and he had this odd habit of whacking himself against a corner. When I tried to pick him up, he was very squirrley and wanted to get away from me as fast as possible.
Even with all his quirks, I kind of had a fondness for this cat and named him Felix. Felix has always been a bit of a loner and has never really got a long with Morris. When Erik and I, and our cats moved in together, Felix was even more withdrawn.
These days, Felix is still the same standoffish cat, but he has his own way of drawing close to me. Whenever I am at my desk, he comes and hovers by my computer. Whenever I took a nap on the couch, he would get on top me and lie on my stomach. He can come close, but it has to be on his terms.
Felix is an outsider. He always has been and always will be. However, this cat that doesn’t fit in, does have a way of drawing close and affecting my life. Felix reminds me that God loves outsiders, just as much as those who are on the inside.
The Genesis text today is one that has always fascinated me and gave me hope. Abraham and Sarah were told that they would be the father and the mother of a great nation. At their advanced age, they doubted this would really happen. So, Sarah asked Abraham to father a child with one of his servants, Hagar. He did so and Hagar gave birth to a son, Ishmel. After time, Sarah did become pregnant and she gave birth to a son named Issac. It was this child and not Ishamel that would be the promise God made to Abraham.
Flash forward a few years. Ishamel is now about 15, a teenager. The Bible isn’t clear about it, but for whatever reason, Sarah saw Ishamel as a threat and she wanted him and his mother gone. Sarah doesn’t even bother to name them, she simply called them the “slave woman” and “her son.” From the our modern view, it seems that Sarah is rather callous to cast Hagar and Ishamel out into the harsh desert alone.
It was distressing to Abraham. After all, Ishamel was his son. Promise or no promise, this was his oldest son and he loved him as much as he did baby Issac. But God comes to Abraham and told him it was okay to send the two away promising that Ishamel himself would be the father of a great nation. So, Abraham did as God said, relying on God’s promise. Hagar and Ishemel walk into the harsh desert. At some point, the hot weather got to Ishamel. Hagar places her son under bushes to protect him, but she expected the worse. In her eyes she had been cast out into nothingness of the desert with surely not enough resources to allow either of them to survive. She had been used and abused by Sarah and Abraham and now she and her son were going to die.
Then God steps in. God asks Hagar what troubled her and then tells her that her son would be the father of a great nation. Hagar looks up and sees a well of water. The story ends with these words, “God was with the boy.”
God was with the boy. Here is a young man, that was the result of impatience and a lack of faith was still a child of the promise.
It’s interesting, as humans we tend to decide who is in and who is out. Sarah probably thought since Issac was the promised child through which all nations are blessed, she thought that only those within the family would be in the “in crowd.” Since Ishamel wasn’t the promised offspring, he wasn’t blessed by God and was a threat to her dear Issac.
We might look down at Sarah for her fear, but the fact is, we all do this. We decide to keep certain people out of our churches, communities and neighborhoods. We tend to think that persons of color or gays and lesbians or someone who is of the wrong ethnic group or political party are not part of the Body of Christ. If someone doesn’t share our views on abortion, or the war in Iraq or gay marriage, then they are out.
In Genesis 12, we are introduced to Abraham, then Abram, and God tells him that through him all nations will be blessed. Now, when we read that and maybe when Abraham and Sarah heard it, they thought it meant “bloodlines.” But I wonder if that was what God meant. Maybe God meant something totally different. What if God meant that it was through Abraham himself that all nations would be blessed? After all, Abraham is considered a great person to three major relations and we aren’t all from the same bloodline of Abraham.
It seems that with God there isn’t so much as in and out. God welcomed Ishamel even though he didn’t fit into God’s plans.
In the Gospels, we see Jesus welcoming those who were considered outsiders. The unclean, the scoundrels, the traitors, the foreigners and so forth.
The question we have to ask ourselves today, is how welcoming we are to those who are deemed outsiders. There are those who are like Sarah, who misinterpret what God was all about tend to deem those who are in and those who are out and they get busy trying to cast those who don’t belong out.
But God shows that everyone belongs.
Recently, we have heard of the story of a young man and his family being barred from a central Minnesota church because of he is severe autistic. The part of the story that is most distressing is when the priest of the congregation placed a restraining order with the result of police standing at the drive way of the family to make sure they didn’t go to church.
God says everyone belongs, but something still gets lost in translation.
But the thing is, as God told Abraham long ago, all nations will be blessed through this old man. And the fact is, that is true, despite our human intentions. The God we serve is a God of promises, a God that will go to hell and back to make us feel welcome. God is the God who welcomes us as a good man welcomes stray cats and gives us a home, a place to belong, as part of God’s promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.