The Abbey has been reading from Luke as a group for several months now. We have just now gotten to chapter 6, the readers-digest version of the Sermon on the Mount. And we were challenged by the vision of a community in our neighborhood who might forgive every enemy, not charge interest on loans, and when someone steels from us- we would give them more in return. It shaped us. We want to be those people and yet we're scared of trusting the "other" that much. We know we can't afford to be that open, that under-secured, that loose handed about our safety and possessions. When we faced that fear we also realized that, somehow (and I know this feels far fetched) being known and beloved by Jesus has shaped some yoda-like people of faith to live in such a way: open, under-secured, and loose handed. We risked wondering if personal transformation might bring this kind of living (I know, but I told you it seemed far fetched). Anyway, when I mentioned this to my friend David, last night, he said I should read the intro to Eugen Peterson's translation of Luke. It made me laugh at the coincidence of choosing this gospel book to read first as a group. We at the Abbey have been outsiders to church and religion so long that we are very reluctant to start any kind of church that would put others on the outside. We resist talking about personal transformation (knee-jerk-ed-ly so, perhaps) because we want transformation to be not about us, but for the good of everyone around us. Peterson's intro hits this spot on...
Most of us, most of the ttime, feel left out––misfits. We don't belong. Others seem to be so confident, so sure of themselves, "insiders" who know the ropes, old hands in a club from which we are excluded.
One of the ways we have of responding to this is to form our own club, or join one that will have us. Here is as least one place where er are "in" and the others "out." The clubs range from inflormal to formal in gatherigs that are variously political, social, cultural, and economic. But the one thins they have in common is the principle of exclusion. Identity or worth is achieved by excluding all but the chosen. The terrible price we pay for keeping all those other people out so that we can savor the sweetness of being insiders is a reduction of reality, a shrinkage of life.
Nowhere is this price more terrible thn when it is paid in the cause of religion. But religion has a long history of doing just that, of reducing the huge mysteries of God to the respectability of club rules, of shrinking the vast human communty to a "membership." But with God there are no outsiders.
Luke is a most vigorous champion of the outsider. An outsider himself, the only Gentile in an all-Jewish case of New Testament writers, he shows how Jesus includes those who typically were treated as outsiders by he religious establishment of the day: women, common laborers (sheep herders), the racially different (Samaritans), the poor. He will not countenance religion as a club. As Luke tells the story, all of use who have found ourselves on the outside looking in on life with no hope of gaining entrance (and who of us hasn't felt it?) now find the doors wide open, found in the and welcomed by God in Jesus.
I hope that Neighbors Abbey keeps its doors so open that no one can stay "inside" while others are "outside." And while I do hope that we transform as group (me being the first in need of transformation- fo sho) I pray that we never become more a part of our group than a part of the neighborhood we hope to see transformed!