We are in the midst of a political season—the debates are over, the polls are open for early voting, the commercials and mailers have gone out in bulk, but instead of focusing on presidential politics, let me pull you into the much more heated, contested, and nasty sphere of lunchroom politics. It was in the lunch room where you were either offered a seat at the cool table or shunned, it was where there were fights to the crazy shenanigans. Chelsea’s brother likes to tell the story of his lunchroom antics—when a group of friends switched out the small and delicious vanilla ice cream in those little containers with wooden spoons for mash potatoes. They sat back and waited for someone to scream and scream they did.
Sometimes, lunchroom politics goes far beyond juvenile pranks. Let me take you back to 1985, Russiaville, Indiana. At Western Middle School a 13 year old becomes a symbol of a national debate which played out in a lunchroom. In the mid 1980’s very little was known about HIV or AIDS, and so a middle school lunchroom became the place where the controversy erupted. It was there that Ryan White found himself banished to a table by himself. It was in the lunchroom where he felt ostracized. Ryan suffered from hemophilia and unfortunately received HIV infected blood. Although the doctors said he posed no threat to any other one else the match had been struck. Suddenly, parents, teachers, and students panicked that HIV would spread, administrators were pressured to ban White from attending school, there were death threats and bullets fired through the front window of White’s house, all in an attempt to answer the question: Do this young man belong?
Today we are going to confront a remarkably similar situation in our sermon series called The GREAT EXCHANGE. We’ve been looking at the idea of stewardship, how God gives us our time, treasures, and talents to invest as an investment in us. Crafting within us a character like Christ, setting us apart with a Commission, and allowing us to engage in his plan to reveal our purpose through a Call, but today we find the Great Exchange today is taking our human consternation (like the fear of the students, teachers, and parents in Russiaville, IN) and replace it with God’s divine compassion. To figure out how we become stewards of relationships defined by compassion we turn to unlikely interchange that Christ experiences in the book of Mark 1:40-45, after being in solitude and prayer, Jesus is confronted by a man with leprosy.
Notice first Jesus Emotions—40 A man with leprosy[a] (a variety of skin disorders fell under this heading) came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Jesus was indignant…”At different times we get a glimpse into the humanity of Jesus, when he wept over Jerusalem as his final Passover approached. As Jesus saw the pain Lazarus’ death caused he grieved, when he saw his Father’s temple becoming a house of robbers he reacted with righteous anger but this seems like a strange case was Jesus mad at being asked to help this poor man?
Most Bibles put a footnote in saying that another translation is possible—“filled with compassion” yet indignation is still a defensible position. The question is what was Jesus indignant over? Constantly, Jesus demonstrations of emotion come over frustration at how a sin ravaged world has worked over, ostracized, marginalized, and pushed to the outer edge those that Jesus had created. Jesus’ emotion is clear—he sees in this man not a problem to fix, an inconvenience to circumvent, but a human being in need of someone to care. A man who was so isolated outside of community that he would ask Jesus if he was willing to make him clean, so programed that he thought even the Messiah wouldn’t truly care about his plight.Not care–that was the role that Wally had been signed up to fulfill. Wally was an awkward and shy child who needed a role in the church production of the Christmas story. The teacher finally decided on making him the inn-keeper. It required that Wally only to shake his head and say one line “Sorry, we’ve no room.” Wally grinned from ear to ear when he learned of his important role and he couldn’t wait for the big night. It arrived soon enough, and the play was proceeding according to plan. Mary and Joseph had traveled to Bethlehem and come to the door of the inn. Joseph knocked on the door and it opened to Wally. “Please sir, do you have a room we could take?” asked Joseph. Wally shook his head and replied. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room”. Now the boy playing Joseph was a particularly confident child, and while the script called for he and Mary to turn away at this point, Joseph decided to exercise some dramatic license. “But sir” he said to the innkeeper, “My wife is about to have her baby and we need somewhere to stay. Couldn’t you find us a room?” Wally’s face went white – this was not planned for! – And he paused for a moment before repeating his line. “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.” “But sir” replied Joseph, “We’ve traveled such a long way and we’ve nowhere else to go and my wife is very tired. Surely you can find us somewhere.” Wally bowed his head, shook it sadly and said, “I’m sorry, we’ve no room.” Forlornly Joseph and Mary started walking away. Wally, now fully into his role, felt shamed and saddened. A tear trickled down his cheek. Then his voice was heard calling out. “Wait! Please come back. You can have my room.” It may not have been according to script, but at that moment Wally gave perfect expression to the Christmas story.
Emotion is never scripted. We have a tendency to analyze, plan, formulate, but emotion causes urgency and necessity. There are a lot of people who would never step inside of a church, not because they don’t believe. Frankly, they don’t know if they believe, but they know based on every standard they can think of that they don’t deserve to be loved, not after their choices, not after their failures, not after that identity has been branded into them so thoroughly. Maybe you see the single mom at the grocery store struggling with her uncontrollable kids—what’s your response—indignation at her struggles or indignation at her isolation? Vince Antonucci wrote a book called Guerilla Lovers, he was writing to Christians calling on them to join the war for the souls, trying to translation our theology that all people are made in the image of God—to our tables, to our checkbooks, to our lifestyles. Maybe taking flowers to someone in the nursing home, cookies to firefighters, or offering a helping hand to that single mom struggling. There are some things that should draw the emotion out of us.