Misfits, underdogs and unexpected heroes. The story of God’s church has been propelled through history by Outsiders. The jewish people expected a Messiah who would restore their kingdom as a great general and king. Instead they got a carpenter from the lowly village of Nazareth. He talked about a kingdom that transcended all other kingdoms but most people didn't want to hear it.
Jesus didn’t hang with the inside crowd, he baffled the Pharisees(the religious insiders) by consorting with fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus loved Outsiders. His death and ultimate triumph came because he was an Outsider himself.
Should it have been any surprise that the Messiah would show up and many of the people who had the inside track on religion would miss it. The father of faith, Abraham, came to Cannan as an outsider from Babylon. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he was an Israelite by birth but he grew up in Pharoah’s court. He grew up as an outsider to those he would deliver from slavery. The lineage of Jesus can be traced back to a woman named Ruth. She was a Moabite, an enemy tribe of the Israelites - a total outsider. Now she is a heroine of the Christian and Jewish faith.
Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest man to ever live. John was not a conventional guy. He lived out in the wilderness by the Jordan river. Scriptures say he wore camel hair and a leather belt and he ate locusts and honey. He was definitely an outsider.
After Jesus’s ascension to heaven, the responsibility of the church fell on the shoulders of a handful of men, several who had been simple fishermen. They weren’t from prominent families, didn’t attend prestigous schools and they weren’t formally trained as religious leaders. They had virtually no influence. Nevertheless, the message of these unexpected heroes would completely overwhelm the Roman empire.
Saul of Taurus persecuted Christians. He was bent on destroying the growing movement. Today he is known as the Apostle Paul because this outsider to Christianity became its most important advocate. His letters to various Churches in the later part of the 1st century have endured as a central part of the New Testament. His brave travels took him to every corner of the Roman empire to spread the good news of Christ.
We have all felt like an Outsider at some point or another. Some of us feel like an Outsider when we go to Church. Some of us don’t go to Church because we are an Outsider there. Most people spend their entire life fighting to be an insider somewhere. We all want to belong, to feel known and to feel loved.
The problem with being an insider is that its comfortable in there. You have status, security and influence. If you are an insider, you have something to lose and when you have something to lose its harder to take risks. Its also harder to see clearly because you naturally adopt the lense of the group in which you belong and use its values to compare yourself to others.
What’s maybe the most dangerous part about being an insider is the tendency to have a constantly shrinking comfort zone. When you get comfortable in your insider-ness its tempting to start putting up more and more walls to keep others out and you securely in.
I think God desires the exact opposite for us. As we stop identifying ourselves by our membership status in a group and begin defining ourselves as his beloved, then our comfort zones should grow too. Like Jesus we will be just as comfortable with the misfits, outcasts and underdogs of society as we are with anyone else. True outsiders don’t see labels and categories. They just see other people.
Its easy to see why people who have been hurt by the Church would draw away from God, but its not God who hurt them. It was just insiders (in this case Church insiders) trying to protect their “inside-ness.” This is why so many people on both the Outside and Inside don’t truly walk out of church on Sunday and toward God on Monday. The insiders forget that God works through outsiders and the outsiders feel disqualified before they even begin.
Too often our group status limits us and God. It’s in our awareness that God “loves me”, he loves gay people, prostitutes, liberals, conservatives, poor people and rich people, that we begin to understand. We understand that there is no group that is big enough to define you or me. We waste our time, our energy and our money trying to get on the inside all the while God is waiting patiently for us on the outside.
Its easy to let the expectations of other and our unquenchable desire for approval to drive us. Breaking through those expectations and turning those desires to something more permanent has its costs. Look at the folks mentioned above. They had to give up comfort, security and in most cases the approval of their society. Still they made a choice. By their actions they chose to become Outsiders and so can you.