The Privilege of the Gathered

August 16, 2020, Pastor Kurt Lantz

Dear outcasts gathered to the people of God,

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Have you heard all the chatter about white privilege? It is the declaration that in North America, those who have white skin enjoy privileges that are denied to people whose skin is of a different shade. It draws attention to instances where people appear to be treated differently based on the colour of their skin, particularly by law enforcement but also in regard to opportunities for education, employment, political advancement, safety, and many other facets of social life and order.

 

White privilege has fueled sin from people of white northern European descent against people of other ethnic origins. It has fueled sins of pride, self-righteousness, physical harm, dishonest dealings, lies, and even murder. When sinful human nature is given the opportunity to seize a place of privilege, that is the way it reacts. It does all it can to seize it, to hold on to it, and to keep anyone else from getting it.

 

Sadly, the response of those oppressed is often displayed by the same sins: pride, self-righteousness, physical harm, stealing, slander, and murder also. The sins of one do not justify the sins of the other. The sins of the privileged do not justify the sins of the oppressed; nor do the responses of the oppressed justify the sins of the privileged. You cannot argue with the holy Law of God which reveals these sins in all people, in you and in me.

 

These sins of the privileged and the oppressed do not reside only under the category of ethnicity, but also in the categories of religion and sexuality and economy. In every way that mankind is divided into categories which separate one from another, sinful man has found ways for one to grasp privilege over another and for the oppressed to try to make them pay for it.

 

Our Old Testament Reading speaks of God's way of dealing with the outcasts, foreigners who felt that they were oppressed and denied the privileges granted to Israelites, specifically the privilege of access to God. And it wasn’t only foreigners who felt this way or were made to feel this way by the privileged. You might notice that the appointed Old Testament Reading makes a jump to skip over a few verses. While the context of the verses included make a direct connection between the foreigners who joined themselves to the God of Israel and the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel reading who cries out for mercy to Jesus the son of David, the verses skipped over include another group that often felt oppressed and left out, a group whose sexuality was in question over a physical disparity—eunuchs. People who struggle with their sexual identity in our day can also feel that they have been excluded from the Lord and His Church.

 

Notice that the Word that comes from God Himself is not subject to the sinful thoughts and motives that derive from privilege as sinful mankind interprets it. God has no need to seize privilege or to oppress people in order to maintain it. He is God. While His Word does make exclusions and set categories over different groups of peoples, it is not so that one group will oppress another, but so that everyone, no matter how they might categorize themselves or how they might feel forced into any particular category, will find that the Lord has not excluded them from His great gift of salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

God created us male and female (Genesis 1) so that we would see the unique characteristics He has as our Father and we as His children; of Jesus as the Bridegroom of the Church and we as His bride. He called Abraham and set him and his descendants apart, but so that in his offspring all nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12). He excluded eunuchs and women from the service of the temple and still restricts the office of the Holy Ministry to qualified men (1 Timothy; Titus) so that we would all see the Lord’s care of us as a faithful husband cares for his wife and as a dear father comforts his dear children.

 

So, through Isaiah, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from His people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”’ For thus says the LORD: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please Me and hold fast My covenant, I give in My house and within My walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be His servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast My covenant—these I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:3-7)

 

The LORD does not exclude the foreigner or the eunuch. He does not give privilege in terms of salvation to exclude anyone by colour of skin, country of origin, physical deformity, or sexual disparity. His house is a house of prayer for all nations. In His house they all have an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Our LORD identifies Himself as one who gathers the scattered, not as one who scatters or sends away those who seek His salvation in repentance and faith.

 

The LORD will not exclude those who have not excluded Him. If you, from whatever nationality Ancestry DNA determines as your origin, whatever the colour of your skin, whatever the state of your physical body, whatever sexual temptations may trouble you, if you do not exclude the LORD as God, He will not exclude you. He has a place for you in His house. If you have joined yourself to Him by His name through Holy Baptism, He will not cut you off. If you will have Him as your God, He will have you as His child. If you will love His name, He will share it with you. If you will keep His Sabbaths, coming to Him for forgiveness and salvation, He will forgive and save you. It doesn’t matter to Him where you come from or what physical or sexual struggles you endure. His house is open to you for you to bring your prayer, confident that He will answer in grace and compassion.

 

Jesus answered the cries of the Canaanite woman who called after Him (Matthew 15:21-28). He had grace and mercy for her who called in faith, expecting that He had more than enough love, compassion, and mercy for her and her demon-possessed daughter. Knowing of that love and mercy of the Saviour of Israel, the Son of David, she came although she recognized she did not have any privilege. She was not a daughter of Israel. She was a foreigner, a descendant of those wicked peoples that God had driven out of the land in order to give it to Israel. She did not come claiming oppression and demanding reparations. She knew that any crumbs that might fall from the Master’s table would be more than enough for her. She did not come insisting on her rights and demanding that Jesus change His ways and His Law and His manner of doing things. She humbly came recognizing that she didn’t deserve anything, but that He was gracious enough to heal and to save even her and her daughter.

 

That is the way of our loving and compassionate Lord Jesus. His grace is offered to all because He paid for it all when He gave His life for the sins of the world. He atoned for every sin stemming from a position of privilege and for every sin in response to oppression. He came from the ultimate place of privilege, but humbled Himself to be obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2). “He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7).

 

In the likeness of men, He came to save all of mankind, not of any particular nationality or ethnic group. He came to save all of humanity, to give His life as a ransom for the sins of the whole world, the privileged and the oppressed. And we see Jesus time and again giving of Himself to those who were pushed aside by the privileged. That is why the Gospel reading of His encounter with the Canaanite woman sticks with us. It doesn’t sound like Jesus at all at first, until we see that He was underscoring the great faith of this foreigner in contrast to the disciples of little faith who were continually in His presence.

 

Jesus came to gather the outcasts and those who have been scattered so that all might find their place in His house, where He answers prayer with unfathomable mercy, where He comes to us in His body and blood to cleanse us in body and soul. This guarantees that you have a place here in His presence. You can come here with gladness and joy knowing that He will not cast you out or push you aside. You, whatever your condition, can come to Him.

 

You don't want to change this God. You don't want to take away His privilege. For it is His privilege to save all who come to Him repenting of their sins and looking for peace: peace from a world of conflict, peace from a world bent out of shape by the curse of sin, peace from disfigured bodies and consciences and desires, peace from oppression and privilege.

 

We don't get to change His commandments or His creative decree about male and female. We don't get to change the rules about sexuality or the faith that He has instituted. We don't get to demand any change in the social order or structure that flows from His own divine authority. That is all His privilege to institute and uphold and demand. We can rejoice that He exercises His privilege for our everlasting good.

 

We do get the privilege of being the recipients of the blessings that He brings through what He has instituted. For He has not instituted His commandments to oppress us, but to set us free from the oppression of sin and its curse on this world, on our bodies, and on our consciences.

 

This grace is for you and He is zealous for it to be yours. Jesus quoted this OT passage about His house being a house of prayer for all people when He drove the money-changers and those who sold livestock out of the temple (Matthew 21). Understand that they were not in the innermost part of the temple transacting their business around the altar, but in the temple court designated for the foreigners who wanted to bring their prayers before the God of Israel. Jesus saw that these money-changers were overextending their privilege so that it was pushing out those of other ethnic backgrounds who sought the grace of God in the place where He promised it could be found. That is what brings on God's wrath and judgment.

 

But His grace and mercy continue to be extended to all who seek Him, even as it has been from the beginning. In the offspring of Abraham all nations are blessed. The Son of David is the Saviour for the Canaanite woman, a light to lighten the Gentiles while still being the glory of His people Israel (Luke 2).

 

“Let the peoples praise You, O LORD, let all the peoples praise You” (Psalm 67:3), even me from my place of privilege and also when oppressed. For God's holy Word must remind me as it did the Jews and Gentiles of the first century Church from our Epistle Reading: “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!” (Romans 11:30-33).

 

From the depths of God's wisdom and unsearchable judgments He has gathered one as disobedient as me into His house, and through the same inscrutable ways of His, He continues to gather others who have been scattered. He will keep gathering the scattered from places of privilege and from under oppression to the very end of days.

 

 

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.