Maybe this past summer, you’ve had opportunity to be around lots of people – crowds in public places…
… surrounded by sunbathers on the beach lounging and reading summer novels,
…or, bumping shoulders with other families doing “back to school shopping” in the malls,
…or, waiting in long lines at the airport, and then trying to find your seat in crowded airplane.
Observing the crowds around you, have these questions ever crossed your mind?
What makes me different?
What sets me apart? As a person? But also as a person of God, a follower of Jesus?
What distinguishes me from everybody else?
There’s a popular young adult fiction entitled “Divergent” by Veronica Roth.
Have you read the book, or seen the movie last year?
In this futuristic dys-utopian society, the main character, Tris, discovers and explores her identity.
Now, this isn’t easy because the society in which she lives forcibly tries to put all its citizens into five different groups, or “factions” based on personality traits.
So for example, those who are predominantly selfless, altruistic by nature would be put into one faction, the courageous, brave into another, the sharp-witted, intelligent into another, and so on.
It’s discovered, however, that Tris is among those few who aren’t so easily pigeon-holed into any one of these clearly defined factions, because she has many different personality characteristics and could be put into any one of these factions.
Tris is among a minority, a small percentage of people like this.
They’re called “divergent”, and they’re shunned, feared, and even persecuted for being different than everyone else, for going against the grain.
They are truly “divergent.”
Tris struggles to come to terms with her unusual “divergent” identity, and struggles to survive in a hostile and dangerous society.
This story reminds me of how Christians, how followers of Jesus, historically, have also been “divergent” from mainstream culture.
Because, following the ways of God, the ways of Jesus, means, in some significant ways, NOT following the ways of the world, of our society.
For example, throughout history, in Bible times to this day, we’ve always lived in a violent world – where the values of “power and might make right” dominate, where the values of aggression, rivalry, and brutal force have always dominated collective thinking.
You know: the idea of:
Solving your problems by bullying, intimidating, eliminating or destroying your opposition.
Looking out for yourself first.
Climbing the ladder while stepping on others, and who cares about anyone else.
Fight and Might makes Right.
This violent aspect to human nature and human culture throughout history has been a constant.
And the people of God, in the best of days, have been “divergent” from this cultural mainstream ideal of violence.
From the times of Moses, to the time of Jesus and the Early Church, people of God have always tried to figure out alternative, peaceful, and creative ways to solve problems, deal with conflict, or to handle difficult people and situations.
…by seeking God’s ways of mercy, reconciliation, right relationships, inclusion of and care for the outsider – as evident in our holy scriptures.
The Gospel passage today tries to point the way to live in peaceful right relationship with one another, and to properly care for one another in conflict.
You know: addressing the person with whom you have difficulty, directly, respectfully, keeping it private, one-on-one, and only gradually expanding the circle if nothing seems to be improving.
But this passage does more. It puts us in touch with the unbelievably amazing, extreme depth of the love of God.
Listen to what he says: Jesus says we are to treat perpetrators of wrong, who even refuse correction, or reconciliation, as “Gentiles and tax collectors.”
Gentiles and tax collectors were typically despised and shunned as outsiders.
But this is what Jesus and his life and ministry was all about – showing care and hospitality to the outsider, to the despised, the forgotten, the least and the lost.
And so, Jesus wants us to treat even those who injure us with care and hospitality!
Even to the unrepentant who has inflicted pain and hurt, followers of Jesus are to extend, in some creative way, care and hospitality.
Such is the extreme depth and width of the mercy and grace of God!
And to be a follower of this God, of this Jesus, is to take on this amazing, purposeful, fulfilling mission and identity; to reflect in some ways through our behaviour, the reconciling, caring love of God.
We’ve been hearing in recent news about the troubling, and alarming frequency of young Canadian men, between the ages of 18 and 25, going overseas to Syria and North Africa in order to join extremist, violent groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Canadian men!
Adrift and unmoored from a meaningful purpose in life, lonely and lacking a sense of belonging in their lives here in Canada, these young men have been especially vulnerable to recruitment by these extremist groups, which promise exciting adventure in far-off lands, and a “belonging” to a team with a clear sense of purpose, however brutally violent and deadly it may be.
In this violent world and climate of uncertain identities, don’t we as followers of Jesus have a unique opportunity to show a contrasting way of life, a way of being that not only is “divergent” from our violent culture, but also a way that can be life-giving, world-changing, healing and transformative?
And that’s why it’s important to be in community.
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” Jesus says.
One can’t follow Jesus alone. Like a “rogue” disciple.
We need the help and support and inspiration from others who are also trying to walk the way of Jesus.
And we need the help, support and inspiration of Jesus, not only as an example to us, but as Holy Presence with us, nudging us, filling our hearts, and giving us courage to act as Jesus acted.
God didn’t give up on Jacob, Moses, King David, and Jesus’ disciples Peter, Matthew, Mary and Lydia – even as they so famously failed again and again in their attempts to follow God’s way – as we read in the scriptures.
And God doesn’t give up on us today.
God continues to love us,
…and to show the extent of that love,
…that reaches to the deepest corners of our hearts and world,
…that reaches to farthest horizons, allay ways, deserts, and villages of our world,
…a love that embraces all people whom God created.