Monday, June 1, 2009

"On Pain of Death"

I credit my pastor, Pete Hise of Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY, with the idea for this blog entry ...

Part 2 of this week's series.

Two-thousand years ago.
The Roman Empire.

They were the outsiders.

If they were not born to one of the 12 tribes of Israel, they were impure, unclean, unworthy, detestable, enemies.



Should they find themselves in Jerusalem, should they find themselves in the vicinity of the Jewish Temple, they would get a sharp taste of their status in the spiritual realms.

The Temple was made of walls.

The innermost wall separated the Holy of Holies, the place where God met with the High Priest, from the rest of mankind.

The Court of the Priests was the next walled-off section. Here, the spiritual leaders sacrificed animals on behalf of the people.

The next wall partitioned an area for Jewish men, or, the Court of the Israelites. Men were able to observe the priests at work.

Next came the Court of the Women. All Jews, men and women, were permitted here. Even the lowest of Israelite society were allowed entrance -- the lepers and other ritually unclean people. This was the largest court of the Temple, and it was filled with music -- singing and dancing -- at all times.

Finally ... if you did not fall into any of the above listed categories ... you were allowed into the Court of the Gentiles -- a bazaar where animals could be purchased, tours were given and souvenirs were available. This area, also called "The Outer Court," or "The Lower Court," was paved with marble and was made up of a series of porches. Corinthian pillars ran through each porch area.

And what was written on the pillars?

A death threat.

"No foreigner is to enter," it said, "If caught, he has himself to blame for his subsequent death."

The outsiders knew where they stood.

And it was nowhere near the God who loved them, who wanted to reach them.

But now. Now, these people ... Syrians, Egyptians, Persians ... had received hope.

Many of them lived in a large Roman Empire city -- Ephesus -- which was the cross-roads of trade, one in which many nationalities lived in harmony.

Ten years earlier, they had received the Gospel from a man named Paul. Their church was flourishing. They communed as one, recognizing no difference between themselves, no distinction of class or nationality.

One day, they received a letter from Paul, who was in a prison cell and writing to encourage them.

Encourage them he did.

Here's what he wrote:

"The Messiah has made things up between us so that we're now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody."

Paul knew the power of exclusion.

He also knew that the teaching of Jesus was a kick to the face of discrimination.

Few things have the power that disunity has over the church, and Paul wanted to drive that point home.

Can you remember a time when you felt like an outsider, a time when you knew that you were not wanted in a group of people?

This was never the plan, Paul says.

Who are "the outsiders" to you?

Who are "the outsiders" to me?

Tune in tomorrow for the next part of the story on what I learned about myself, about outsiders and about what God has to say about all of it.

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