The Ultimate Outsiders

Heritage Presbyterian Church

12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 20, 2023

Scripture readings:  Genesis 45:1-15 & Matthew 15:21-28

During my early college years, my parents got divorced.  My mother lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and my father moved to Washington D.C. for a new job.  Recall that my family was Catholic at the time.

When my parents tried to attend their local Catholic churches, they were told they could continue to worship – but neither of them could receive Communion because both of their sin of divorce.  I was shocked and angry when I discovered this. 

For this reason – as well as for many others – I left the Catholic church in 1979 and joined my grandparents’ Presbyterian church in 1980.  I have loved and cherished my Presbyterian faith and experiences ever since.

As I look back on this, I remember clearly talking with both parents and hearing the pain in their voices.  My family LOVED the church, but Mom and Dad felt like outsiders.

When I first arrived at Heritage, I was determined that everyone who came through our doors would be welcomed to worship, encouraged to get involved, and invited to share Communion with the rest of us.  So far…so good!

I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who has ever been made to feel like he or she is an outsider.  Lots of reasons for this feeling may exist, and perhaps not all of them are necessarily bad.  But avoiding them on behalf of others seems to me to be Job 1 for any church and any believer in Jesus.

And…wouldn’t you know it?  We have two outsider stories from Scripture for today!

In the first story, Joseph was sold into Egyptian slavery by his own brothers!  If you go back and read the details, you will see what an insufferable brat Joseph was!  It must have been almost impossible to be around him for even a short while.  And wouldn’t you know it…he was his father’s favorite son!  

Preferring one child over another is a recipe for resentment, anger, and possibly violence.  But preferring one child over another is almost guaranteed to make the non-preferred children feel like outsiders.

So, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery, faked his death, and moved on with their own lives.  

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Joseph was beginning a long journey as the ultimate outsider: he was a foreign slave in a foreign country.  It didn’t matter who his father was; it didn’t matter if his father loved him the best, and it didn’t matter if everything that had happened to him was the results of a dirty trick by his brothers.

He was just a slave.  He didn’t really count.  He was the ultimate outsider.

And then…things changed again and got even worse.

He was brought into the pharaoh’s palace where Mrs. Pharaoh made a play for his affection.  Joseph resisted her, knowing that would only cause more trouble for himself.

No matter…maybe he forgot that he was a slave…a foreigner… an outsider.  Because no one believed his side of the story, so he was thrown in jail for the high crime of touching Mrs. Pharaoh.

He turned to God for help…possibly for the first time in his life.  And God heard his plea.  And Joseph eventually worked his way into Pharaoh’s good graces, and even became a high-ranking Egyptian official serving Pharaoh wisely and expertly.

It would seem that Joseph was no longer an outsider.

But then things changed again…

In our reading for today, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt seeking food because of a severe famine in Israel.  Egypt had plenty of food because of Joseph’s good work.  They could easily give, share, or sell Joseph’s brothers any amount they could carry.

First, Joseph seemed to revert to his former nasty self.  He berated his brothers, tricked them, accused them of being spies, threw them in jail, and scared the living daylights out of them.

When he had done all he could do, his heart broke and he confessed to them who he was.  Now they were really terrified!  Joseph still had the power to end their lives.  But he was not the same Joseph.  He was no longer an outsider, either in Egypt or in his own family.  Joseph and his brothers broke down, hugged one another, and Joseph forgave them all.

Israel was saved from the famine.  Joseph’s entire family, including his younger brother and his father, were also reunited, and they all lived together in peace and love for the rest of their days.

Next, we have a New Testament outsider who dared to approach Jesus.

Let’s stop here for a minute and consider all the types of folks that Jesus took the time to talk with and help:

  • Tax collectors
  • Roman soldiers
  • Lepers
  • Women
  • An unclean woman who has been bleeding for more than 12 years
  • Zealots bent on slaughtering Roman soldiers one at a time
  • Samaritans and Greeks
  • Even the demon-possessed

Any and all of these folks would be considered outsiders by the good and righteous folks of Judea in the times of Jesus.  But just by walking around and encountering people, Jesus demonstrated that he welcomed and accepted all of God’s children.

But a Canaanite?  A Syro-Phoenician?  Those people were the ultimate in WEIRD!

They were even outsiders in their own countries.  They dressed strangely and decorated their faces with piercings and tattoos and odd markings.   They were part of a group of people who worshiped idols and had strange deviant practices.  They were known to sacrifice their own children from time to time.  

These were not fun people!  Even in an area of the world that included many completely different types of people and beliefs, the Canaanites stood out as outsiders to just about all people in the area.

Yet, this woman came to Jesus and begged him for help with her demon-possessed daughter.  Talk about some nerve!

Jesus ignored her at first.  (What?)

Then he remarked that he had come to feed the children of Israel and not the dogs under the table.  (WHAT?)

Then the Canaanite woman replied that even dogs are fed by the crumbs that drop from the table.  (WOW!)

The Canaanites may have been outsiders, but nobody ever said they were stupid.

This demonstrated her faith in Jesus to everyone listening, and her daughter was healed.

After that, I wonder if that Canaanite woman still felt like a dog under the table, an outsider.

After that, I wonder if the Apostles caught the lesson.

After that, I wonder if this strikes the hearts of believers the same way that it hits me today.

Or…am I an outsider in my theories and opinions?

The lesson for me is that Jesus included everyone in his ministry.  He may have used some of them to teach lessons, but the lessons are there for all of us to learn and apply today.

So, are there ANY outsiders in our hearts?

  • What about divorced people, gay people, trans people?
  • What about immigrants, no matter their country?
  • What about Palestinians, Iranians, Afghans, Russians?
  • What about Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, progressives, and even a Libertarian?
  • What about female pastors, non-Presbyterians, Jews, Pentecostals, Muslims, Hindus, Longhorns, Aggies, and – God help us – Dallas Cowboy fans?

What about ANY and ALL groups of “other people” who occupy our hearts and minds with nothing good at all?  

What about all those folks?  Are they outsiders?

If so, perhaps they do things to deserve that label.

Or, perhaps, we are wrong when we leave them outside.