Summary: When we follow Jesus, he will lead us beyond our comfort zone with people, especially people we are not naturally drawn to.
Note: This sermon was introduced with a scene from "Traveling Light"
All of us have limits and boundaries that make us uncomfortable if we go beyond them. I was reminded of this back in November when my oldest son and I went to the Promise Keepers "Passage" event at the Anaheim Pond. At one point during the two day event they had a concert by a band named Delirious. My son really wanted to go out on the arena floor with the crowd during the concert. Now it had been pretty calm out on the floor during the previous bands, so I told him that I really didn’t want to go, but he could go ahead. So I stayed behind in our seat, while he got in line to go out on the floor. Big mistake. As soon as the band was announced, a flood of several thousand people rushed onto the floor of the arena. And of course my 13 year old son was in the front of the pack. As the concert started, I tried to tell myself that he was fine, that I’d made a good decision letting him have a little independence. But then I noticed that the crowd near the stage seemed much more out of control than the crowd had been during the previous bands. I noticed bodies being carried over people’s heads and realized that complete pandemonium had broken out. People were crashing into each other, falling down, in danger of being crushed and trampled. In fact, after a few songs, the singer stopped the show to ask security to get some control out on the floor because it was getting dangerous.
Now I had two thoughts at that moment. The first thought was concern over my son, hoping he was okay, because just letting him go out on the floor stretched me out of my comfort zone. The second thought was my wife, as I pictured myself trying to explain how I let our oldest son get trampled at a concert while I watched from the safety of my seat. Well fortunately he was fine and soon reappeared at my seat with all kinds of stories to tell of being crushed and trampled.
That event reminded me that all of us have limits on what we’re comfortable doing and what we’re not. These limits not only apply to situations, but they also apply to people. There are certain kinds of people we feel less comfortable with than others. When we’re separated from people by language, culture, or race we can sometimes feel uncomfortable, out of our comfort zone. Whether we like this fact or not, it’s true that we’re more comfortable being situations with people who are like us and less comfortable being in situations with people less like us.
Where are the limits of your comfort zone?
During the time of Jesus walked the earth, the biggest boundary separating people was the boundary between Jew and non-Jew. This boundary was an impassable boundary for many people. You see, the Jewish people had faced extinction many times in their long history as a people. As far back as the Jewish exile to Persia, a man named Haman had tried to exterminate of all the Jewish people. And of course we saw the same thing in the twentieth century in Germany under Hitler. Hatred has for generations fueled a desire on the part of some people to completely destroy the Jewish people. And if they couldn’t be destroyed by killing them, some people who hated Jewish people tried to erase Jewish people’s identity. If Jewish people could be persuaded to intermarry with non-Jews and let go all their distinctiveness as Jewish people, they could be destroyed.
So the Jewish people at the time of Jesus held on to their uniqueness for dear life. In their minds, their very existence as a nation relied on their uniqueness. In Jesus’ day, this uniqueness revolved around three areas of their life (E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism). First they were unique because their men were circumcised. This uniquely set them apart from other men. Second, they were unique in their celebration of the various Jewish Sabbaths: The weekly Sabbath, the monthly Sabbaths, and the seasonal Sabbath celebrations like Passover. Third they were unique in their purity laws, their laws that separated different objects into categories of clean and unclean. They would only eat certain kinds of food, abstaining from food that they considered "unclean," food like pork and catfish. They could only touch certain kinds of objects, while objects like dead bodies, dead animals, and people with leprosy were considered unclean. We know from history that the Jewish people of Jesus’ day felt that these distinctives--circumcision, Sabbath keeping, and purity laws--were the essential ingredients to maintaining their uniqueness as Jewish people.