COMPOUNDING OUR INTEREST “Why Everybody Loves Raymond” by fdjerue7eeu


									                           COMPOUNDING OUR INTEREST

                              “Why Everybody Loves Raymond”

       The TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond” revolves around Ray Barone, a successful

sportswriter living on Long Island with his wife, Debra, and their three kids. They contend

endlessly with Ray’s meddling parents, Frank and Marie, who live directly across the street and

embrace the motto "Su casa es mi casa," (your castle is my castle). They are perpetual guests,

infiltrating their son’s home to praise their beloved Raymond and to criticize his wife, Debra.

       Then there’s Robert, Ray’s brother, the outsider of the family. Ray is a celebrity sports-

writer who has a beautiful home and a happy marriage. Robert is an anonymous, divorced police

officer who endlessly moves in and out of relationships and his parents’ home as he struggles to

get his life on track. He is a physical aberration. At 6’8”, 275-pounds his hulking frame towers

over the rest of his family. His deep, wonky voice reverberates around the house in every

discussion. Robert is jealous, dejected, and rejected. He resents the fact that it feels like

“Everybody Loves Raymond” more than they love him because his life doesn’t fit Ray’s perfect

mold. It’s easy to love Raymond. He’s just like we are or want to be. He’s normal. He fits the

pattern. Nobody loves Robert. He’s just a freakish brute who just can’t seem to get it together.

       The truth is that at one time or another, we’ve all felt what it is like to be a Robert.

We’ve all starred in our own little, private sitcom called, “Nobody Loves Me.” At one time or

another, we’ve all stood in Shrek’s shoes: nervously gathering ourselves together, mustering the

courage to step into a new situation, hoping that acceptance awaits, only to hear that awkward

hush fall over the crowd, only to watch every head turn to stare at our insecure, self-conscious,

gawky, green ogreness. We’ve felt the pain of realizing that nobody loves Robert or Shrek, the

pain of being excluded from the experience of community for which we were designed.

       According to the Bible, every human being was created to live their best life within the

context of a loving, accepting community. In that sense, the Bible affirms that human beings are

created to travel in herds. We are born with an ingrained longing for belonging placed in our

souls by God. It was for this very purpose that God created an Eve for his Adam.

Genesis 2:18 [NLT] — And the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will
make a companion who will help him.”

       The Bible affirms that community was God’s idea, given to help individuals deal with

their aloneness. Dr. Michael Thompson, psychologist and former seventh grade teacher writes

that human beings, by nature, are social animals who have a deep need to be a part of a group.

We’re hardwired for it. In his teacher days, Dr. Thompson often observed that the process often

began as early as kindergarten, when kids started clambering to get into social groups. By grade

eight about 80% of all kids identify with some social group at school. The members of these

groups are often not real friends, he comments, just co-dependents searching for identity, seeking

the affirmation that they’re ok, that they’re Raymonds, not Roberts.

       A more computer savvy generation has discovered the power of the Internet to connect us

to community. Websites like Friendster, Tribe.Net and Tickle provide online forums to form

friendships of every stripe. A quick search online produces a dazzling array of potential cliques

to join, forged around common interest or shared circumstances to provide encouragement and

support. You can join cliques exclusively targeted at moms with kids under 5, people who don’t

wear makeup, vegetarians and vegans, the promotion of tolerance, or people who are tired of

Britney Spears. Some people scour the Internet for people like them, people who understand,

support and encourage them. They roam the Internet in search of other Raymonds.

       According to Psychology Today, “it happens in the cubicle corners of every office.

Cliques of co-workers gather together to trade complaints and gossip about the incompetence of

the boss” as a way of alleviating the sense of helplessness and strengthening bonds among

colleagues. At work, birds of a hierarchical feather flock together to cope with powerlessness of

their work environment by complaining with other Raymonds who know how it feels.

       You find it in the church. In a large church like ours that sits perched on the verge of

doubling our seating capacity, the value of community has to be as high as it has ever been if we

are going to continue grow healthier. We have to grow smaller as we grow bigger, providing

people with the chance to connect and grow through a large and growing number of ways: Life

Teams, interest groups, ministry teams, D-Track classes and others. We desire to connect people

with people to support and encourage them in their unique season of life, circumstances, gender,

age, struggles, interests, passions, gifts and so on. Groups are one way of ensuring that people

find community in our community and receive the support and encouragement they need.

       The challenge of community, whether at school, online, at work or even in the church is

what happens to the Roberts. Our tendency is to become little clusters of Raymonds, people who

understand us, support and encourage us, people who are like us. Then along comes a Robert or

a Shrek, a so-called outsider longing for belonging. Instinctively a shift happens. Suddenly, we

are no longer in the role of Shrek. Rather we are playing the king, eager to exclude those who

don’t fit the mold. Suddenly the group that so warmly included us, so coldly excludes others:

people of the wrong gender, colour, age, or season of life; people with wrong socio-economic

status or education; people of the wrong religion, sexual orientation, or dress size; people with

the wrong physical, mental, and emotional abilities or who have physical, mental, and emotional

disabilities. The sad truth is that even in the church there some people are sent the clear message

that nobody loves Roberts like them. It happens even among people who ask, “What would

Jesus do”. For some reason, Jesus’ followers still often cluster in closed, exclusive cliques even

though their so-called leader lived in a radically open, inclusive community. It is surprising the

churches can be so closed when the truth about Jesus is that, besides his interactions with his

disciples, the bulk of Jesus’ ministry time was spent with the Roberts of the world, the outsiders.

       Contrary to the cultural norms of his day, the primary audience of Jesus’ ministry was the

peasant throngs of Israel. They were called the Am-Ha-Aretz in Hebrew, the “People of the

Land” and they were just regular people: spiritual seekers who, day after day, did their best to

figure out the truth about life and to live under God. Yet, they were serially ignored by the

religious elite; disdained as ignorant and irreligious sinners who knew nothing of the Scriptures.

The rabbis believed it was impossible for the Am-Ha-Aretz to live rightly so they never bothered

to teach them. Their irreligious lives were so distasteful to them that even their clothes, utensils,

pots and money were defiled and would defile anyone who touched them. The spiritually

“mature” never offered any help to the Am-Ha-Aretz for fear of aiding and abetting a sinner.

       Yet, Jesus’ attitude was different. Jesus’ heart broke for irreligious, spiritual seekers.

Matthew 9:35-36 [NIV] — Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their
synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and
helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

       A literal English translation that last verse might read, “When Jesus saw the condition of

these seekers, ignored by the religious establishment, it tied his stomach up in knots.” It made

Jesus sick to see that no one cared about spiritual seekers in his culture. It turned his stomach to

see them being harassed by religious leaders and helpless to find their way to God without any

spiritual leadership in their lives. For Jesus’ part, instead of looking down his nose at them for

their ignorance, he taught them the good news about God’s love. Instead of refusing to offer any

help, he healed all their diseases and sicknesses. Instead of running in fear of being defiled, he

rubbed shoulders with them every day. No wonder it says in Mark 12 that the Am-Ha-Aretz

listened to him with the delight that can only be felt by outsiders invited in for the very first time.

I read this and it makes me wonder whether we who ask, “What would Jesus do” are doing what

Jesus did by inviting irreligious, spiritual seekers into relationship as friends.

        As you read on in the Gospels, you discover that Jesus also devoted plenty of time to

touching the untouchables of society, the people that society had ignored, people like lepers. In

first century Israel, a person with leprosy was a social outcast, torn from his family and home

and forced to live in a colony outside the city. Whatever he touched was religiously defiled and

would defile anyone who touched it. The law saw that at all times leper had to humiliatingly

identify himself by wearing all the marks of mourning: ripped sackcloth garments, a veil to cover

his face, and dust thrown on the top of his head. He was required to repeatedly shout, “Unclean!

Unclean!” to alert innocent bystanders of his presence and to warn them to steer clear. Failure to

comply resulted in 40 lashes with a whip. Lepers often went years, even decades, without any

physical contact whatsoever. They were lonely, unwanted and unloved, branded and excluded,

tossed aside into colonies to be forgotten by everybody…except Jesus.

Mark 1:40-42 [NIV] — A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you
are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and
touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and
he was cured.

        The leper’s burden is not the illness that ravages his body. His concern is not that he is

unhealthy but that he is unclean, excluded from all religious, social, the communal, and family

life so long as he is sick. So Jesus, again filled with compassion, his stomach tied in knots at the

plight of this social outcast, does what no person has done in years. He tenderly reaches out his

hand and touches him, saying, “Be clean. Be cured. Be included.” In our society, leprosy is

rare but lepers aren’t hard to find. AIDS has become a modern leprosy. Many senior citizens are

cloistered into communities and ignored. The mentally, emotionally, and physically disabled are

shuffled aside and forgotten. It is not hard to find those who have been ostracized by society,

even for being financially down on their luck. I read this and it makes me wonder whether those

who ask, “What would Jesus do” are doing what Jesus did by touching the “untouchables”,

remembering the forgotten and inviting them into the community as friends.

       Read further and it becomes obvious that Jesus’ open, inclusive community extended

across ideological lines as well. Jesus was very comfortable befriending people of other

religions, specifically Samaritans. The Samaritans practiced what was considered a polluted and

heretical form of the Jewish religion. As with Islam, Judaism and Christianity, there were both

similarities and differences between the religions, but it was the differences that caused the Jews

to thoroughly reject the Samaritans. The rabbis taught that a person who eats with a Samaritan

might as well be eating pork. No Jew was permitted to transact any business with any Samaritan

for any reason. The Jews were taught that the word of a Samaritan was utterly untrustworthy and

must be disbelieved. As with Islam, Judaism and Christianity, a profound suspicion and violent

antipathy ran deeply between the Samaritans and the Jews, except for a Jew named Jesus.

John 4:1-4 [NIV] — The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples
than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord
learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through

       No Jew ever “had to go through Samaria” just as no one has to drive through Thunder

Bay to go to Winnipeg. There are always options. Jews were taught to pick a route that led them

as far around Samaria as possible. Yet, Jesus saw a perfect opportunity to engage in a respectful

dialogue with people of another religion. On this occasion, Jesus needs to draw water from a

well and humbly requests the help of a Samaritan woman. A conversation ensues because of the

surprisingly courteous and considerate way in which Jesus, a Jew, treated her. She discovers that

he is a rabbi and the discussion quickly turns to religion, giving Jesus the opportunity to answer

her questions about faith, clear up her misconceptions about God, challenge her to a better life

and to consider following him as her saviour. In the end, she devotes her life to him because he

deliberately chose to engage in respectful dialogue that honoured the dignity of someone society

said he should shun. I read this and it makes me wonder whether those who ask, “What would

Jesus do” are doing what Jesus did by opening a respectful dialogue with people of other

religions by inviting them into the community as friends.

       Just as Jesus’ open, inclusive community extended across ideological lines, his open,

inclusive community also extended across ethnic lines. To a traditional Jewish mind at that time,

there were really only two groups of people: Jews and everybody else. The Jews were God’s

chosen people. Everybody else, they believed, were God’s rejected people and they were out to

reject them just as God had done. It was a matter of Jewish orthodoxy to believe that all Gentiles

were hardened sinners bound for hell. Jewish religious teachers assumed that it was unsafe for

Jews to ever leave their cattle, women or male relatives alone with Gentiles because they are all

under suspicion of bestiality, lewdness and murder. No Israelite midwife was permitted to assist

a pregnant Gentile woman in childbirth, as she would only be bringing one more sinner into the

world. Any father who arranged an inter-racial marriage for his daughter was to be stoned to

death. His daughter was to be burned alive. One rabbi even wrote that killing a Gentile counted

as your good deed of the day because you were eliminating sin in the world by eliminating a

sinner! Yet, Jesus loved people of every race and befriended them.

Mark 7:24-26 — Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and
did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.

       Jesus, longing to escape from the crowds of northern Israel, retreats for a few days to the

city of Tyre, in modern day Lebanon, and rents a room at a Tyrian bed and breakfast. Jesus’

willingness to even enter Tyre is already a radical statement of his ethnic inclusivity. It would be

like a Jew vacationing in modern Baghdad. More than that, it was taught that merely entering

the home of any Gentile would pollute a person and cut them off from God. But then, Mark goes

on to say, a woman from Syrian Phoenicia barges in on Jesus’ vacation, begging him to heal her

daughter. She is an ethnic Greek, from Lebanon. For clarity, there was just as much love lost

between Jews and the Lebanese in Jesus’ day as there is today. Yet, instead of rejecting this

ethnically Gentile woman, Jesus tests the authenticity of her faith and warmly grants her request,

sending her home to a healthy and whole daughter. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus

being open and eager to engage in relationship with people from other ethnic groups. I read this

and it makes me wonder whether those who ask, “What would Jesus do” are doing what Jesus

did by engaging with people of other races and inviting them into community as friends.

       Finally, not only did Jesus go out of his way to include and befriend irreligious seekers,

down-and-outers, and people of other faiths and ethnic groups, Jesus went out of his way to

befriend people with the shadiest, most despicable, sinful reputations imaginable. He befriended

tax collectors. Tax collectors voluntarily provided the hated Romans with a steady stream of

income by extorting money from their fellow citizens often by violent means. They were the

ancient Mafia in Israel and as a result, they were branded as robbers, brigands, murderers, and

reprobates and excluded from society. According to the rabbis, a lie told to a tax collector was

no lie at all. His dirty, mob money could not even be accepted as alms. Like an airborne virus,

he infected everyone and everything in his general vicinity with religious defilement. By our

society’s standards, they were the drug abusers, drunk drivers, child molesters, abortion doctors,

gang members, prostitutes and strippers. By Jesus’ standards, they were some of his best friends.

Luke 15:1 [NIV] — Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear
him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners
and eats with them.”

       In first century culture, to invite a guest to a meal was to honour them with peace, trust,

friendship and forgiveness. To invite someone into your home was more than sharing food. It

was sharing life. The Gospels tell us of only eight times when Jesus accepted a dinner invitation,

yet a full 25% of them were with tax collectors and sinners, the same percentage as with devoted

followers! It’s No wonder that Jesus’ reputation among the religious elite was as a drunk and a

glutton because his friends knew how to party! I think it was a badge of honour for Jesus.

       I read that and it makes me wonder why my reputation hasn’t suffered because of the

character of some of my friends. It makes me wonder how many of us eat with bad, sinner

friends as often as we eat with good, Christian friends. Our concern is to have good, Christian

friends. Our kids are sent to Christian schools, we work for Christian companies and socialize

with Christian families, all in the name of good, Christian friends. Now, there is nothing wrong

with Christian schools, companies or families. Jesus had at least twelve sort of good, Christian

friends. But, if I read Jesus well, his driving force was to have just as many bad, sinner friends.

I read that and it makes me wonder whether those who ask, “What would Jesus do” are doing

what Jesus did by sharing their meals and their lives with people of spurious reputations.

       Here’s the point. We’ve built a new auditorium because we believe that God is not done

adding people to our community. Yet, the greater the number and diversity of people, the wider

the variety of spiritual understandings in the people who attend our church, the more we develop

a Jesus kind of church: an open, inclusive community that made plenty of space for friendships

with irreligious seekers, down-and-outers, people of other religions, people of other races, and

even some really bad, sinner friends. We need to compound our interest in others, especially the

others that the rest of the world is content to ignore. We need to make sure that we are doing

everything in our power to not communicate to them that they can just go to hell for all we care.

       So, on your outlines I’ve suggested three simple steps that we can take as a starting point

to becoming a radically, open and inclusive community, a Jesus kind of community. None of

these are rocket science. All of them are significant. First, to compound your interest in others

categorically deny categories. The world’s peoples are divided into categories: by political,

socio-economic, educational and marital status. There are male and female, management and

labour, the able bodied and the disabled. We lump people together by religion, race, colour,

sexual orientation, age, size, season of life and a million other categories. But, once a person

associates with Christ, all that changes.

Galatians 3:28 [NLT] — There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For
you are all Christians--you are one in Christ Jesus.

       In the church, there aren’t black people and white people. There aren’t rich people and

poor people. There aren’t male people and female people or even dog people and cat people.

There are only people. We will only open the door to becoming an open, inclusive Jesus kind of

community when we can stop categorizing people as anything but people who need Jesus.

       Secondly, to compound your interest in others don’t judge the “judged”. We need to

admit to ourselves that God has not appointed imperfect people like us as the arbiters of holiness

or the final authority on right and wrong for the planet. Look at Jesus, the only example of

perfect humanity. According to John 8, Jesus standard answer to judgmental people who were

eager to condemn the sin of others was, “Only someone who has lived a perfect life is authorized

to be a judge.” As the only one qualified to judge the world, even Jesus didn’t come to judge.

John 3:17 [NLT] — God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.

       According to John 8, Jesus standard answer to a convicted sinner caught red handed in

the act of adultery was, “You are forgiven. I don’t condemn you but go and sin no more.” There

is a place for lovingly confronting sin, but we will only open the door to becoming an open,

inclusive Jesus kind of community when we can stop judging the judged people in our world.

        Thirdly, to compound your interest in others, welcome the “unwelcome”. There are those

that society has branded as less than welcome. These are the ones to whom Jesus opened his

arms the widest in loving, gracious acts of hospitality. The book of Hebrews sounds this note

with crystal clarity.

Hebrews 13:2 [NLT] — Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done
this have entertained angels without realizing it!

        Jesus’ challenge to his followers was to develop open homes of radical hospitality,

throwing the doors open wide on a regular basis to strangers. What kind of radical Jesus

community would we become if every person would commit to show hospitality at church to one

absolute stranger every week, if every family would commit to show hospitality in their home to

a family of absolute strangers once a month, and if every LIFE team would commit to show

hospitality in their LIFE team by inviting one absolute stranger to LIFE team every season?

What kind of radical Jesus community would we become if we tattooed on our hearts an

eagerness to shower that hospitality on irreligious seekers, on down-and-outers, on people of

other religions and ethnic groups and on really bad sinner friends? On Roberts and Shreks?

        Years ago, Peter Gabriel recorded a song called, “Not One of Us”. The chorus is simple.

“You may look like we do, talk like we do, but you know how it is. You're not one of us.” Yet,

in the second verse he sings this: “There's safety in numbers when you learn to divide. How can

we be in if there is no outside? All shades of opinion feed an open mind, but your values are

twisted. Let us help you unwind.” That’s a Jesus kind of community. That’s what it means to

compound our interest in others by becoming more inclusive. As it says on your outlines, “God

will have truly made a church out of “us” only when there is no longer any “them”.


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