There was a news story, heard not long ago that I can’t shake from my mind.
It was about a teen-age girl who befriended a stranger on the internet, someone allegedly her age. At first the conversations between the two were affirming, encouraging and supportive.
A genuine relationship seemed to develop between these cyber friends.
Eventually, however, the relationship turned ugly. The stranger started berating the young teen, calling her ugly, terming her a looser, saying she was no good, her appearance demeaning and asserting that all the kids at school were laughing at her, behind her back.
The barrage of insults continued day-in and day-out for weeks, until the young teen couldn’t stand it any longer. Emotionally fragile, deeply sensitive, wounded and hurting, her final desperate act was to take her own life.
After the teen’s death, it was discovered that the internet stranger was not a young person at all, but the mother of another teenage girl determined to destroy her for being a rival to her own daughter at school.
Her only purpose in pretending to be a friend was to hurt her – not by firing a gun or using a knife – but by using words on social media.
It is a sad and dangerous day when we begin to believe what others say about us.
When a little girl gets it in her head that she’s clumsy or stupid like her classmates tell her she is.
When a student who is struggling in school is berated by his or her parents for not doing better
When a divorced woman begins to see herself as the damaged goods others say she is
When you get sick and the chemo treatments have taken away your dignity and other people’s eyes tell you that you are less than you used to be.
It’s a sad and dangerous day when we begin to believe what others say about us.
And then there is my own personal story about Emma.
She was the new girl in my 8th grade class at PS 93 in Brooklyn. Her parents had arrived from Hungry, and Emma spoke very little English.
I can see her now as clearly as if she had just entered our church this morning.
Emma standing in front of the class, her eyes focused on the worn green linoleum floor of the classroom, her dress too big and faded from being washed so many times, as if it had been handed down from someone older and bigger.
Her brown hair falling in greasy strands to her shoulders, like it hadn’t been washed for a while.
And instantly all of us in that class knew that Emma was doomed to be an outcast.
We had labeled her with a scarlet letter which she could never wipe away. She was a foreigner. She was stupid. She sounded funny. She wasn’t cool. She was different.
As would often happen, Emma would get ridiculed or teased, she would stand silent, red-faced, and stare at the ground, tears streaming down her face.
As an adult looking back, I can only begin to guess the damage that must have been done to her spirit.
As a child I often thought of what it must be like to be an Emma.
To be an outcast – alone, rejected, made fun of, told over and over again that you’re no good, you’re not like us; you’re not wanted, not smart, handsome or pretty.
And as a boy I experienced some of that myself being born blind in one eye with a birthmark on the side of my face.
How many Emmas are there in the world? Children, adults, young and old who feel like outcasts.
People who have been told over and over again that they’re no good, that they just don’t fit in, that they just don’t have what it takes, that they are not the right kind of people because they are not like us.
I suspect this is the mentality that has caused many of the conflicts in history.
You see.......It’s the “us” versus “them” mentality; the “in” crowd and the “out” crowd; the people who belong and the people who are outcast; the people at the center of power and the people on the margins; the pure and the impure; the remnant and the masses; the elect and the damned.
You know the scenario all too well. It has been repeated in Rwanda and Bosnia, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, the United States, and even in our own Christian Church’s.
It is that dastardly tendency to divide people into groups, some of whom are deemed better than others.
Just think about today's Gospel about winners and losers. This passage is typically preached on the basis that those who follow Christ and do good are the winners - those who don’t, well not so much.
But I’m sure that’s not how Jesus really sees it. At least the Jesus I know.
You see, I am not into this prosperity Gospel preached in so many churches. That if we are obedient to God, follow the church rules, give generously and interpret scripture literally all will be OK!
But it’s not and why?
Because in Jesus Christ there are no aliens or outcasts, only children of the Most High God. There are no misfits, only members of God’s household.
God has taken everyone who does not fit in and brought them in.
We are all God’s children, every one of us. This is why made St Pauls message was so welcoming to the Gentiles. All were welcome no exceptions - just like here at St Barts.
Recently in an interview. Justice Clarence Thomas said:”There is noting that binds us together as a nation anymore.” I think he was right but Christ will and can fill that role.
Bind us together as the great hymn says....Bind us together Lord.
You see: the God who created us and saved us is the only one who can say who we are. And that is of extraordinary importance in a world like ours where labels are hurled at us all the time. Where there is such polarization .
A world that says if you are disabled, that you are damaged. If you are old, then you are useless and the best is behind and not in front of you.
If you have an addiction, then you are hell-bound.
if you speak out against a sexual predator your motives are questioned.
If you’re unregistered , you are second-class. If you’ve got the wrong color skin, then you’re inferior. If you speak with an accent, then you’re stupid.
Those are the kinds of things that label us as winners and losers and make us feel as good as dead. That divide us, that divide this nation.But they are simply untrue.
But There comes in the gospel a different story.
It’s that God has declared once and for all who we are. That in baptism God has sealed us with the Holy Spirit, and made us his “beloved children - forever.”
Nothing can take that away from us. No label, no exclusion, no pronouncements by a sick person on social media, an uncaring classmate, a warped society or even a president.
Let me tell you a true story.
When Ben Hooper was born many years ago in the foothills of Eastern Tennessee, little boys and girls like Ben who were born to unwed mothers were ostracized and treated terribly.
Parents would say things like, “What’s a boy like that doing playing with our children?”
Saturday was the toughest day of all for him.
Ben’s mom would take him into town; to the general store, to buy the week supplies.
Often. other parents in the store would make snide comments just loud enough for Ben and his mother child to hear.
Comments like, “Did you ever figure out who his daddy is?”
What a tough, tough childhood!
When little Ben was twelve, a new preacher came to pastor the little church in Ben’s town.
Almost immediately, little Ben started hearing good things about him – about how loving and nonjudgmental he was.
How he accepted people just as they were, and when he was with them, he made them feel like the most important people in the world.
One Sunday, little Ben decided he was going to go and hear the preacher. He got there late, and he left early because he didn’t want to attract attention, but he liked what he heard.
For the first time in that boy’s life, he caught a glimpse of hope. Ben went back to church the next Sunday – and the next and the next. He always got there late and always left early, but his hope was building every week.
Because the message he heard was clear. “For you, little Ben Hooper of unknown parentage, there is hope!” There is hope!
One Sunday as Ben was working his way through the crowd to leave, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He turned around and found himself looking straight into the eyes of the preacher. The preacher asked him a question that had been everyone’s mind for the last twelve years:
“Whose boy are you?”
Instantly, the church grew deathly quiet. you know the kind of silence that is deafening.
Slowly, a smile started to spread across the face of the preacher until it broke into a huge grin, and exclaimed, “Oh, I know whose boy you are! Why, the family resemblance is unmistakable. You are a child of God!”
With that the preacher swatted him across the rear and said, “That’s quite an inheritance you’ve got there, boy! Now, go and see to it that you live up to it.”
Many years later, Ben Hooper said on the day he was elected Governor of the State of Tennessee that he had gone from being the child of an unknown father to being the child born of the King.
My friends - We live in a world that has become accustomed to defeat and ridicule. Too many people make peace with despair as if that is their only choice.
But especially on thisThanksgiving weekend we know it isn’t true.
Because for those who believe in Jesus Christ there is no death or sorrow only hope – no despair. There is only a constant going from darkness to light.
My friends. Claim the promise of victorious living for yourself. Take your light into the darkness, share it, proclaim it, and live it with passion and conviction and generosity as a child of God.
We are yours, O Lord, yours always, for all eternity – marked as Christ’s own forever; heirs of eternal life; inheritors of heaven; beloved sons and daughters of the Most High God, Christ the King.
Yes, yes thats the secret to what can bind this nation and us together, thats what can make a difference in our communities, our families and our nation - Christ the king Christ the King. We just have to accent him into our hearts and let him do the rest.
Because all are welcome into Christ’s kingdom no exceptions - no exceptions.