Summary: Jesus called 12 men who were misfits to take the gospel to the world. Our churches today need to be a place where misfits can belong.
Do you remember the movie Places In The Heart? It stars Sally Fields, John Malkovich, Danny Glover, and Ed Harris. The movie is set in the Depression era. A small town sheriff is killed, leaving his wife and two small children to try and scrap out a living on their cotton farm. When the bank threatens to foreclose, the widow takes in a border, a blind veteran of the Great War, played by John Malkovich. Later, a black drifter, played by Danny Glover takes up residence. Together, the widow, the blind man, the black man and the two children try to pull off the impossible; to get the first load of cotton picked and hauled to the gin so that they can win a monetary prize sufficient to save the farm.
The most compelling thing about the movie is the odd mix of characters who make up the central cast of characters; a widow with no farming skills or knowledge; a blind man who is bitter about his life; a black man who struggles with honesty; and two little children.
Did you ever notice how often good stories work that formula?
The Odd Couple --.a neat freak and a world-class slob have to learn how to live together.
Gilligan ’s Island -- seven people, all of whom are weird in some way, stranded together on a deserted island.
The Dirty Dozen -- twelve hardened criminals and a colonel on the outs with his commanders on a mission to eliminate the Nazi leadership.
And it isn’t just television shows and movies. Disparate characters all united in a common quest populate some of the greatest works of literature.
To Kill A Mockingbird,
The Grapes of Wrath,
Of Mice and Men.
And of course, the Harry Potter series of books works this same theme.
Okay, you’ve been listening to sermons all your life, so you know where I’m going with this. There’s another famous book that features tons of stories in which an odd mixture of characters are drawn together to form a tightly knit community. Want to take a guess?
The Bible. Let me show you what I mean.
Do you remember the scripture that was just read from Mark 3? It is the selection of 12 men from the hundreds of followers of Jesus that He would take and train to change the world.
For a moment let’s take a look at two of those guys, Matthew and Simon the Zealot.
Matthew was a tax collector. Simon was a tax protester.
Matthew was a revenuer for the Romans. Simon was a rebel.
Matthew was wealthy. Simon was a commoner.
Matthew made his money overcharging people like Simon. Simon lived to eliminate people like Matthew.
Talk about an odd couple.
With that in mind let’s look at one more passage: Acts 2: 5-12. Read
Remember the tower of Babel? This is the undoing of Babel. The first miracle of the church was not tongue speaking. It was community making. And the reason it qualifies as a miracle is because it runs counter to the normal, natural human response to diversity.
There was an article in the AJC last month about a new study done by Harvard University and the Civil Rights project. Now that many schools are no longer under court-mandated desegregation, sociologists are tracking a pattern called re-segregation.
Black families and white families usually live in separate neighborhoods, so schools are beginning to reflect the demographics of the community around them. Schools are becoming almost exclusively one color or the other. It is a natural human response to differences. But when you look at how the story of the gospel begins and how the church was born, it becomes clear that God is more than a little in favor of diversity.
Romans 15:7 puts it this way: Accept one another just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
What do we do with that passage and the others that celebrate the forcing together of all kinds of odd groupings? Let me suggest two or three responses.
First, we need to recognize that the church is going to be a magnet for misfits.
Don’t be offended by that. Matthew was a misfit. So was John.
For that matter, so was Jesus. He didn’t fit into any of the slots in which first century Judaism slated people. He didn’t fit their expectations of the messiah.
So when I say that the church is a magnet for misfits I don’t mean to be disrespectful of people who don’t fit in. They are running in some pretty good company. Think about the church where you grew up. Weren’t there some people who were -- to be perfectly honest -- just strange?
In Franklin there was a family who was a little to in to holistic medicines. I remember on a retreat the son was suffering from a headache and knowing his families’ thoughts about medicine I asked him what I could do for him. He asked for a cabbage leaf and a dark place where he could sit and meditate for a few hours. We gave him a room and he sat there for 2 hours with a cabage leaf on his head.