Listen to our service and sermon below:
Is there anything harder than being on the outside looking in?
We are all wired for connection, for belonging, and all of us know the pain that comes when that doesn’t happen. Maybe as a little kid, you found out that all your friends got invited to a birthday party but you. Or maybe later on in school, you showed up for lunch one day and all your friends were sitting together but they hadn’t left a seat for you. Or later on, you got cut from the team, didn’t get a part in the play, didn’t get admitted to the school you’d set your sights on. Maybe you thought it would be different once you were grown, but it turns out that there are all kinds of ways to feel left out, all through life.
Is there anything harder than being on the outside looking in? Maybe. Maybe knowing that our insides don’t match what people see on the outside is just as hard.
The news of two celebrity suicides this past week reminds us of that reality quite starkly. Fame, fortune, family, travel, and what looked from the outside to be full, happy lives – we’re tempted to think that would be enough. They were insiders. They belonged. And still. They suffered in ways we can’t imagine. The inside was hidden from the outside.
The question of inside and outside, of insider and outsider, can be a challenge from either direction. It hurts – bad – to be on the outside, looking in. And it hurts – bad – to have stuff going on inside you that you just don’t feel safe showing on the outside. And sometimes it’s the fact that you can’t be your authentic self – you can’t let the inside be seen by the outside – sometimes it’s that very fact that locks you out from others. Because you can’t feel safe or good being who you really are, you can’t trust that others will still love you and accept you and claim you as their own.
The issue of insiders and outsiders is a core theme in our gospel story this morning and throughout the Gospel of Mark as a whole. Jesus comes challenging the long-established practices and understandings of the insiders, the religious authorities, the people who draw the lines that show the world who is inside and who is outside. He challenges the establishment by healing on the Sabbath, and by forgiving sin as if he had the authority to do so, and by eating with sinners and tax collectors. And suddenly it started to become very clear – not only was he pushing back at the insiders, he was drawing outsiders in. And that’s when things really started to get dangerous. Because insiders can put up with a lot of pushback, as long as they’re still in control, but when their privilege is threatened by outsiders being drawn in and lifted up – that’s when things get nasty.
As much as Jesus was stirring up the anger of the authorities, he was stirring up hope among those who needed it. They heard the stories of his healings and his exorcisms and his power, and they started following him, all these people who had been shut out because of their diseases or their injuries or the demons that had pushed them out of their right minds. These outsiders pressed in so close to him, trying to just touch him. He had to take measures to keep from being crushed.
After a little time away, he went back home. He went to a house with his disciples, and right away, the crowds came, too. Came into the house, pressed in so tight that no one could even eat.
Word got to his family that he was back in town. The news of the fuss he was causing had gotten back to them, too. Mark tells us, “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.” Or as the Contemporary English Version puts it, “When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazy and went to get him under control.” It’s like they were trying to stage some kind of intervention.
But when they got to the house, there was no room for them there. Mark tells us his mother and his brothers came, and, standing outside, they sent to him, and called him. I feel so bad for his mother, standing there on the outside looking in. She’s worried for her boy, the one who has gotten everybody all stirred up. He’s tangling with the authorities. People are calling him crazy. The scribes are even trying to make it sound like he’s evil, or possessed. What he’s doing is of God, but they’re saying it’s of Satan. And now there she stands outside, with her other sons, helpless, unable to get to him, to protect him, to protect her family. They stand there outside the house, and they have to send word through a crowd of strangers to him, to try to get him to come out and come home.
The word gets to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those sitting around him, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
He has completely redefined what it means to be on the inside now. It’s not so much that he’s rejecting his family as it is that he’s expanding it. He is opening up what it means to be family. He is transforming it from something insular and self-interested and self-protected to something expansive and inclusive that will push people to grow and to serve and to live God’s purpose in the world.
He is drawing people in, all the way in. Not the usual insiders, but the people who, having been on the outside, knew they were needy for what Jesus was saying and showing and doing and giving. Needy for his presence. Needy for the deep change he had come to bring – an exorcism not just for individuals but for the social and religious institutions, too. They came inside the house with him, to be close to his teaching and his healing and his power, and they found themselves pulled all the way in – into the new family.
Things would get harder for Jesus from here on out. The people who had always thought of themselves as insiders, the ones who interpreted the Scriptures and reinforced tradition and tended the rules that kept people in line, they could not accept Jesus’ wide, wild, inclusive, reckless, dangerous welcome and love for all, including tax collectors and sinners and even women. He kept taking God’s love shut him down. They put him to death. Only even in his death, he subverted the whole inside/outside thing – he wouldn’t stay inside the tomb, but instead burst outside the realm of death, to bring new life – and the new family.
And now that privilege and power and blessing is ours.
Have you ever felt yourself on the outside looking in, only to then have someone pull you in? There may be nothing more powerful.
Years ago, when I was in college on a campus ministry retreat, my friends and I went on a hike in the woods at night. It started off as a fun, exciting adventure by moonlight, but before too long, I fell behind in the dark. I could hear my friends talking and laughing, up a few yards ahead, and I felt like they didn’t even realize I was no longer with them. I felt invisible. Left behind. They made it to the clearing we’d been aiming for. They gathered around in a circle, with their arms around each other’s necks, and they started singing. It was dark, but the moon was just bright enough that I could see them huddled there, together. I could see them, and I could hear them, as I stood a few yards away at the edge of the clearing, my sense of rejection wrapped around me like an invisibility cloak. I felt the tears rising up in my throat. They didn’t even realize I wasn’t with them.
And then, just as I started to turn away, I saw two arms unhook from around two necks. And those arms – from two friends, now looking straight at me with smiles on their faces – reached out at me, and gestured for me to come into the circle. They saw me. They reached for me. I stumbled towards them. They threw their arms around my neck. I was in the circle now. We were singing.
Those two friends didn’t know it, couldn’t know it, I barely knew it then myself, but their action changed everything for me that night. I had spent my growing up, as an army brat, the new kid, always, everywhere. I had spent all my growing up feeling like an outsider looking in. Even when my family settled in one place for middle school and high school, even in my church youth group, I felt it – the outsider. I felt like I didn’t fit, ever. So I was always looking for signs that that was true – that I was not accepted.
And then that night my sophomore year in college, standing there in the clearing in the woods in the dark, feeling invisible as I literally stood outside my circle of friends – a physical confirmation of everything I’d always felt. Until those two arms flung open and pulled me in – their love broke down my hurt. Their embrace was a physical embodiment of the love of Jesus. And their seemingly simple gesture not only healed something in me, it became a lifelong symbol for me of the astonishing power we have every single day to change someone else’s life, with the simple power of a loving action.
Looking around at the needy, ailing, pressing, hungry crowd, Jesus said, “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” And now, that is you and me. By the wide, wild, inclusive, reckless, dangerous love of Jesus, we have been pulled into the new family, brought inside by love, where hurts can be healed and hope can be shared. A family where we can be who we really are, and still be loved and claimed. And as part of this family, we are blessed to be able to extend that same wide, wild, inclusive, reckless, dangerous welcome and love Jesus showed us. We are part of the deep change Jesus is about in this world, part of the shaking of the powers of darkness by the forces of love. It starts here, now, in this place, with you and me. Now is the day. Now is the kingdom. Now is the family. Now is the time, to throw our arms open wide.