Insider or Outsider
I will always remember the first clergy group I attended shortly after being called as a pastor to my very first congregation. I was the first woman called to this congregation and one of only a few women pastors in the area. I walked into the room and as others started to gather, I realized I would be the only woman in attendance that day. The men in the room greeted me pleasantly, and then ignored me as they engaged in a conversation with each other about the most recent basketball game they had all gotten together to play. They touted their great shots, how great it felt to be active, and debated who played the best that day. I don't play basketball. I don't like it, and I'm terrible at it. I'm short and I'm just not interested in being aggressive enough to play well. I'm a woman and I'd just had my second baby, so my life was filled with mom stuff. I think they knew by looking at me that I was unlikely to speak the language of basketball, which is what made their conversation that much worse. Not to be ignored, I piped in, "I don't really play basketball, but I play a mean Candyland."
It was one of many experiences in my life when I was clearly the outsider. (All of us experience this in some way -- not just women.) Their conversation was, at best, ignorant, and at worst, contemptuous. I wanted to let them know I would not be shaken, and at the same time, that I was comfortable in my own skin, even if my skin made me an outsider.
Several years later in a new congregation and with new colleagues, I had a very different experience. I became part of that colleague group that was wonderfully mixed -- genders, ages, experiences, theological perspectives. These people knew that they became better when they surrounded themselves with people that were not just like them. We learn and grow from the differences we each bring, and strangely, that knowledge brought us together. We bonded quickly, and eventually they elected me the leader of their group.
Two of the same types of gatherings, but two vastly different experiences. In one I was clearly the outsider and would remain that way. In the other, we all became insiders simply by the effort of walking into the room. I believe the latter is what God intends for our world, and what Paul was highlighting for the Ephesians, once outsiders (Gentiles non-circumcised), now insiders (Christians, still non-circumcised). The influx of differences did not detract from the value of the group, it enhanced it. We are stronger because we are not all the same, and our we belong simply because we exist.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Ephesians 2
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now 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 has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So 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, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.