Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Oct. 9, 2022
“Outside In,” by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd
Sermon scripture: The Gospel according to Luke 23:32-43
When you’re at the end of your rope, the last thing you expect is that something great is just around the corner. The two criminals who were crucified next to Jesus would have had every reason to fear what came next. Pain. Suffering. The unknown minutes, hours, or days leading to death, and…then what?! At the time of Jesus’s crucifixion, we have a pretty good idea that, in addition to perpetrators of heinous crimes, it was a punishment reserved for those who posed a threat to the powers that be. Typically, people who were a political threat or an enemy of the State would be the ones who were crucified. Perhaps partly to make it especially painful and humiliating, but also because it was a deterrent, a disturbing warning to those who might think otherwise and stay in line. In other words, it was a brutal means of maintaining control. Here, at the end of Luke, the outlook is pretty bleak. We might wonder what thoughts were in the minds of those two criminals as they were hung on their crosses next to Jesus. Did they despair? Had they simply gone numb? Were they resigned, or did they fight it every step of the way? And when we feel as though our well has run dry, what thoughts race through our minds? Ok, so we may think it’s too different to relate, as we’re not enemies of the State; but…who is to say that these guys were either? We know they were crucified and called criminals, and that one of them insults Jesus while the other criminal chastises the one who threw out the insults. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
When we’re isolated, living through a time of challenge, a time of darkness, it does not seem like the light is right next to us, waiting to be seen, really seen. While magnified beyond any previous experience during the early COVID-19 lockdowns, human isolation and separation persist today as we continue to wrestle with the virus and become more entrenched in a culture of digital technology and political divisiveness. A short moment ago, we again affirmed our covenant promises with one another, confessing our mutual call to “follow the example of Jesus Christ.” Over the last couple of weeks in our Loved Renewed series, we explored what it looks like for us to promise to one another as a church. We listened to the voices of our youth alongside our own as we considered how we might go about walking with one another in all Christian faith and love. And in doing so, we’ve witnessed in our own words, in our covenant, and in scripture, that we are a people called to make good on our promises, to listen to one another and God, and to help bear the challenges we face side-by-side.
Today, we remember our covenant reminder that we are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Note: Not the example that one powerful person expects, nor the example that the broader culture or tradition expects; rather, we are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ himself. In congregationalism, we uphold the freedom of conscience in the believer to discern the scriptures, but we also do so together as the church. This means that where there is great freedom there is also great responsibility. In other words, we, as a congregational church, have a great responsibility to read and study the Bible; we are called to dig deeper and deeper to see what that example might be in the actions of Jesus. And this is challenging! It can be difficult to dig into the scriptures and to see things that charge us with changing our lives. How much more work must we do? How many things should we give up? Why is it so hard to follow Jesus? Well, I’ll tell you one thing, the way of the world has always wanted to give glory to itself. From the riches and power of ancient kings and queens to the bandits and thieves who steal them only to become kings and queens themselves, people have a bad habit of raising their claim to glory above all else, including those who are disenfranchised and need the most help. Because of this habit, we raise those who are on the inside of power and glory, seeing them as natural allies in our desire for the same. Insiders have kept outsiders from entering for millennia and we see this repeatedly reflected in the Bible. However, we also see how God acts and God works through people to reach the people with the least amount of power, influence, or glory. In particular, we see this in the biblical actions of Jesus, who continually reaches out to and includes people who were on the outside.
Jesus takes the lowly child and says we must be humble like this child. He raises widows, tax collectors, the sick, lame, and blind. He even includes people outside of the family of Israel, when He points to the neighborly love of a Samaritan. While the world looks at things inside out, Jesus ministers outside in. Dying on the cross, having no reason (that we know of) to hope or have faith of any kind, that other criminal says to Jesus something amazing, something which seems to reveal more faith than we can imagine, he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Having come to the end of the line, with quite literally everyone giving up on this criminal, through the darkness, we see the light of faith and hope emerge from the outside in. Jesus answers him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” When it may seem that nothing else matters, that no one cares, Jesus rescues us. No matter what the powers of the world may think, Jesus loves us and includes us; may we not give up on him. Amen.