FOURTH SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT
Specialising in Outcasts
1 Thessalonians 2.11 You know that we
treated each one of you just as a father treats his own children.
Jesus attracted enmity by relating
freely to those who one way or another lay outside the bounds of good
society in his day. In turn, outcasts were attracted by his radical
openness to them.
Since then Christians have been, and still are,
preoccupied with drawing boundaries around God's kingdom and improving the
efficiency of heaven's passport control.
I experience discomfort - sometimes intense - with
official Christian exclusiveness. In that discomfort, I find it helpful to
recognise two quite distinct proclamations in the gospels.
The first, and the more prominent, proclaims the
difference between the sheep and the goats, between those who believe and
those who don't, between those who stay awake and those who fall asleep,
between those who have oil for their lamps and those who run out, between
the saved and the damned.
The second proclamation asserts God's love for all. It
was this crucial truth that Jesus lived out by eating with outcasts, by
welcoming moral lepers, by refusing to exclude others on religious
grounds, by counseling love even of our enemies.
Christendom has a horror of this accepting openness. I'm
not alone in recognising that that there are in consequence probably more
people in exile from the Church today than ever before. In the words of an
Anglican bishop, traditional Christianity is dying because "... for
countless numbers who live in the Christian world, it [has] ceased long ago
to be compelling"
An important aspect of the tradition which has driven
countless exiles out of the City of God into the wilderness is, in my
opinion, the Church's insistence that adult men and women today be treated
"just as a father treats his own children." In Paul's time his approach to
authority was normal and natural. It no longer is.
More than 200 years ago, Immanuel Kant recognised
humankind's growing unease with a parental God when he pointed out that a
move away from "self-incurred tutelage" was in process. "Tutelage," he
wrote, "is the inability to use one's understanding without the guidance
of another person." He urged that you and I dare to know for ourselves, to
have the courage to use our own understanding.
Unfortunately, some who are exiled from the Christian
fellowship remain uneasy. Like me, they wonder if they're guilty of
self-willed pride in their intense discomfort with being treated "just as
a father treats his own children."
However, far from being weirdoes who need only repent
their prideful rebellion, I believe that exiles are those who are in tune
with the way God works, who recognise that maturity requires autonomy. In
turn, autonomy requires the courage to succeed and fail, to rise and fall,
to go out and return, to live and to die - without parental supervision.
So there is no need to take blame for being an exile.
Exiles are just as much in God's care as anyone else, whatever the
in-crowd may say.
Why should that truth be trusted?
Because we exiles follow after a pioneer exile, a reject
who died a criminal's death on the rubbish heap outside Jerusalem, the
official City of God.
 J S Spong, Why Christianity Must Change Or