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Longer Tables, Shorter Walls: The Fuel of Inclusion: Compassion

Matthew 9:35 – 10:23, NRSVUE


If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are (people) who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand

— Frederick Douglass

  • The Messiah overcomes the difficulties that often stigmatize our lives. The messiah practiced inclusion. In the new community created by Jesus, the social boundaries that marked one group as insiders and another as outsiders are redrawn so that are all insiders. — Michael Brown, True to our Native Land: An African New Testament Commentary
  • 3 Things Jesus has that enable him to have deep seated compassion
  • Proximity to the Pain; without it, we are naïve about the solution
  • You cannot be an effective problem-solver from a distance. There are details and nuances to problems that you will miss unless you are close enough to observe those details. If you are willing to get closer to people who are suffering, you will find the power to change the world. — Bryan Stevenson
  • Sophistication of how unclean spirit operates; it’s insidiously acceptable, and in built-in system; it’s when we feel powerless
  • Do we actually believe that there isn’t an evil that still permeates a society whose wealth and power came from the genocide of native people and the enslavement of African people just for the benefit of European people? Like, spiritually, that kind of evil just goes away in a generation or two? Friends, it is an unclean spirit that allows for the criminalization of skin color. And this demon of white supremacy tries to blind me from all the ways my life is made easier by accident of birth. And the truth is, the evil spirit that protects me every single day is the same one that allows for Philando Castile to be shot dead for nothing more than driving while black and further to be no legal ramifications for the man who shot him dead. And for this, I feel such powerlessness and shame. And I have no idea where the healing starts. — Nadia Bolz-Weber, from a sermon entitled Unclean Spirits and Healing Compassion
  • Empathy
  • while changing behavior might get us the effect we want, healing can only happen when there is transformation of love without judgement
  • We are more than just what we are struggle with
  • To make God believable here and now is to stand in the hot white center of the world’s pain. Not just to glance in the general direction of suffering and injustice, and then sidle away, but to dwell there. To identify ourselves wholly with those who are aching, weeping, and dying. — Debie Thomas, I am Sending You


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Longer Tables, Shorter Walls: Every Imperfection Belongs

Acts 15:36-41, NRSVUE


Mark stands between Barnabas and Paul, each reading Mark from a different and completely true angle. These perspectives on Mark could not be reconciled and neither could Paul and Barnabas. There is no tragedy here, simply the truth that the risks of ministry are inseparable from the risks of relationship. Yet it seems that Barnabas was still ahead of Paul, trying to bring him where he needed to be in that inescapable struggle of trusting those who have or might or will fail us.

— Willie James Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible

  • People are a book, not a chapter; we meet people and probably stay knowing them for a chapter, a part of their lives
  • The revelation of the death and resurrection of Jesus forever redefines what success and winning mean—and it is not what any of us wanted or expected. — Richard Rohr
  • Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), an unschooled French girl who died at age 24, intuited the path of descent and called it her “Little Way.” She said (and I summarize), “I looked at the flowers in God’s garden and I saw great big lilies and beautiful roses, and I knew I could never be one of those. But I looked over in the corner and there was a little violet that nobody would notice. That’s me. That’s what God wants me to be.” [1] Thérèse knew that all we can give to God is simply who we really are; or even better, “To do very little things with great love,” which was her motto. [2] That’s all God wants from any of us. It’s not the perfection of the gift that matters to God; it’s the desire to give the gift that pleases God. — Richard Rohr
  • Call to empathy


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Longer Tables, Shorter Walls: Every Gentile Belongs

Acts 15:1-21, NRSVUE


So let us repent of pretending to decide who is “truly” the people of God and who is not, of a politics of construction and policing mythological borders of peoplehood between ourselves and others who remember the God of Israel as their own. Such is a politics that involves disowning our sisters and brothers, as well as doing violence to others who are by extension “not us”. Let us read the Bible more carefully, so as to tell the gospel as a story of deepest solidarity rather than violent supercession. And let that story of God’s love inform ways of mingling our flesh with those from whom our current borders divide us, be they territorial or deeper boundaries.

— Tommy Givens

  • [The West’s] accomplishment was one in which Western, mainly Gentile, Christians no longer had to interpret their existence inside another story—Israel’s. [. . . .] Stated differently, whiteness is the accomplishment of interpreting the self simply by reference to oneself, and in this respect it is the uniquely “Christian” accomplishment of no longer having to understand Christian identity as unfolding within another reality, the reality of Israel’s covenantal story with YHWH. In other words, insofar as it is a distinctly “Christian” phenomenon, whiteness is the accomplishment of no longer having to leave behind a prior reality so as to enter into another one, although this is precisely what Abram, Hagar, Jacob, Ruth, and the Ethiopian Eunuch, to name just a few, had to do. — J Kameron Carters, from Race: A Theological Account


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Longer Tables, Shorter Walls: Difference Belongs

Isaiah 56:3-5, Acts 8:26-28, NRSVUE


According to the law, a eunuch is excluded from the assembly. The law is very clear on that point. As a Jew, Philip should have viewed the eunuch as “damaged goods” and refused to baptize him on that basis. If Philip baptizes the eunuch, he will be breaking a serious rule. A rule that determined your standing with God. This is the tension throughout the early church. What do you do when your religion isn’t big enough for God? What do you do when your rules and codes and laws simply aren’t enough anymore? What do you do when your system falls apart because the new thing that God is doing is better, beyond, superior, more compelling? This isn’t just a tension for Philip; it’s one of the central struggles of the early church. For Philip, the eunuch’s question about baptism raises a far deeper set of questions about what it even looks like to follow God.

— Rob Bell, Jesus Wants to Save Christians

  • Just as the church has an underdeveloped practice of embrace so too is our ability to celebrate difference. This is especially the case for those whose sexual orientation moves beyond heterosexuality. God’s love presses us beyond quiet toleration (and certainly beyond lightly concealed revulsion) and toward extravagant appreciation of our creatureliness woven in difference and destined for communion with the divine life. — Willie James Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible


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Longer Tables, Shorter Walls: The Poor Belong

Acts 6:1-7, NRSVUE


If my sister or brother is not at the table, we are not the flesh of Christ. If my sister’s mark of sexuality must be obscured, if my brother’s mark of race must be disguised, if my sister’s mark of culture must be repressed, then we are not the flesh of Christ. For, it is through and in Christ’s own flesh that the ‘other’ is my sister, is my brother; indeed, the ‘other’ is me…

— M. Shawn Copeland, from Enfleshing Freedom

  • The establishment of the Church is re-creation of the world. But it is only in the union of all the particular members that the beauty of Christ’s Body is complete. — Gregory of Nyssa
  • Even with Pentecost, having the Holy Spirit with the apostles and leaders, there were conflicts and concerns of remembering the poor, losing sight of those in needs
  • The leadership came together and named the people to be dedicated for the ministry
  • We need to learn “apologizing to people that we care about; people with whom we want to continue to be in relationship; people who are already in our lives and with whom we have loving or caring relationships” — Mia Mingus, Leaving Evidence
  • “If we cannot handle the small things between us, how will we be able to handle the big things? Learning how to address these smaller hurts or breaks in trust, can help us learn the basic skills we need to address larger harms.”


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Longer Tables, Shorter Walls: Every Body Belongs

John 10:1-11, Acts 2:42-47, Acts 3:1-7 NRSVUE


The idea that our bodies don’t matter to God is a lovely idea that comes from a warm place with a cozy blanket, but it is not true. To be sure, I am a beloved child of God, but it does matter what happens to my body. Our bodies matter. If they didn’t, why would Jesus bother with the incarnation? Seems messy to go through all that spit and sweat and suffering if it was merely about souls. Jesus could have snapped a finger, Thanos-style, and waved goodbye to the dominions of darkness. It certainly would have been so much cleaner (and less painful) that way. But Jesus chose to take on a body and enter what it means to be human, even all the snotty bits we blush about. The Word became flesh, and we try to turn it back into words again. Our theology is incarnational because bodies matter.

— Amy Kenny, My Body Is Not a Prayer Request

  • Community of Jesus is a community of good shepherd
    • often there are false messiah, not the good shepherd; they lie, hate, steal, destroy
    • it’s too easy to hate, when we dehumanize others, when others are being numbered rather than named
    • a good shepherd knows all by name
  • Community of Jesus is an interconnected community
    • taking care of each other in the community
    • The deepest reality of life in the Spirit depicted in the book of Acts is that the disciples of Jesus rarely, if ever, go where they want to go or to whom they would want to go. Indeed the Spirit seems to always be pressing the disciples to go to those to whom they would in fact strongly prefer never to share space or a meal, and definitely not life together. Yet it is precisely this prodding to be boundary-crossing and border-transgressing that marks the presence of the Spirit of God. Acts is the story of a God who desires us and all of creation and will not release us to isolations, social, economic, cultural, religious, gendered, and geographic. — Willie James Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible
  • Community of Jesus is an inclusive community
    • while Jesus heals some, He welcomes all


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Longer Tables, Shorter Walls: All Nations Belong

Acts 2:1-13, NRSV


The disciples speak, and God accomplishes an intercultural miracle in which everyone hears the words in their own native language. God broke boundaries of culture and region in an intimate way by meeting people through the intimacy of their own home language. This is the opposite of colonizing behavior. God made no demands for cultural assimilation but instead affirmed each of their languages as worthy vehicles for meeting God.

— Drew G.I. Hart

  • In this passage, God is doing something new, with the coming of the Holy Spirit
  • The Holy Spirit is moving in 3 ways
  • Spirit of God is moving the believers into a belonging that celebrates and values differences over conformity
  • Usually unity demands conformity, to be assimilated, to forget your own culture
  • For a long time, church demands similar conformity
  • Salvation means being disconnected from our people, from our community, and brought into the white family of God. “Between me and the other world… Blackness should be demonized, and whiteness divinized… That was the terrifying thing about what I had become. My body and my Blackness had become a problem, and I had let it. I had passed into the other world, the white world, and I had become free, and wet, and washed, and clean, and white as snow, and white as white folk desired me to become… That day, when I went down dry and my body came back up wet, the waters bringing me into whiteness won. I came up new: I was not Black — I was Christian. At least that’s what I was told: My Christian identity was more important than my racial identity. –Danté Stewart, from Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle
  • Second, Spirit of God is moving the disciples to interculturalism, as opposed to just multiculturalism
  • Lastly, Spirit of God is moving people to love; the focus should not be just the gifts from God, like speaking in tongues


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Vignettes of Hope: New Hope (In the Midst of Chains)

Acts 16:16-34, NRSV


The United States now has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of nearly every developed country, even surpassing those in highly repressive regimes like Russia, China, and Iran. In Germany, 93 people are in prison for every 100,000 adults and children. In the United States, the rate is roughly eight times that, or 750 per 100,000. The racial dimension of mass incarceration is its most striking feature. No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

— Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

  • Not much details on the slave girl, but it was easy for people to recognize the demonic spirit in her, but failed to recognize the demonic act of treating people as commodities
  • The persistent crying out from the slave girl is to remind us all to listen to those underprivilege, often the cries are uncomfortable to hear
  • Tackle anything which is likely to lead to diminishing returns for investors and you must be wrong from the very start! National leaders have used the same logic to resist doing sensible things about climate change. Don’t threaten business! — William Loader, Easter 7
  • Owners are the high priests of the economic life. Owners fear no religion, no faith or its adherents. They only fear interruptions to the smooth flow of capital. These owners unleash an imperial power that is always at their disposal, one drenched in the seductions of money and influence. They take Paul and Silas against their will and bring them into the marketplace in front of the authorities, and from the site of commerce and control, they say the words that will bring exactly the desired effect: “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews — Willie James Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible
  • While Paul and Silas in jail, even with jail being broken, they stayed, sang praises to God, demonstrating love and care for other prisoners and jail guards


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Vignettes of Hope: New Access

Acts 16:9-15, NRSV


A lot of people suggest that the Millennials and Gen Z have given up on traditional religion. I do not think that is accurate. I believe they are doing what most generations have done in their 20s and 30s – taking a break from organized religion. Some will come back when children are born. Others will not return until the arc of their life experience brings them back to recognizing the need for spiritual community.

— Paula Stone Williams, The Stages of Faith

  • We give away our freedom because we care more about belonging
  • We care more about belonging than the truth
  • There are 3 moral standards in human history
  • The oldest: there is no greater moral good than protecting integrity of our tribe
  • There is no greater moral good than obeying the teachings of gods
  • In secular America and the west, there is no greater moral good than protecting the freedom of individuals; origin from Christianity
  • We often ignore our soul and spirituality, because of our ego: power and safety
  • 6 stages of spiritual development
  • At stage 4, Doubting everything is the beginning of wisdom, and it’s terrifying
  • Retreating back to stage 3, easier to just follow the rules
  • Or stuck in stage 4, just dropping out of spirituality, and let ego taking over
  • Or moving on to stage 5, not so much in following rules, but more rooted in love


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Vignettes of Hope: New Experience

Acts 11:1-18, NRSV


Theologically and objectively speaking, we are created in union with God from the beginning (e.g., Ephesians 1:3-9). But it is hard for us to believe or experience this without a healthy ego and boundaries. Thus, the first part of the spiritual journey is about externals, formulas, superficial emotions, flags and badges, rituals, Bible quotes, and special clothing, all of which largely substitute for an authentic spiritual experience (see Matthew 23:13-32).

— Richard Rohr, The Container and the Contents

  • Peter changed, not because of new information, but because of new experience
  • Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community. – bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, 2003


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