Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Sea Lions

An Arkie's Faith column from the February 6, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

Sea lions completely covered the docks at the bayfront in Newport, Oregon. Many of the sea lions were trying to sleep while others were barking to show their dominance. Sea Lions can be loud and raucous, or adorably lazy. A small juvenile was swimming in the water near the docks. He kept trying to find a place to haul out of the water onto the docks, but every time larger males kept him from getting on the docks.

He kept trying and trying to find a place to rest on the docks, only to be rebuffed at every turn.  Finally, he was able to haul himself up onto a cable attached between two floating docks. Once he was on the cable, he kept slowly and carefully inching his way onto the attached dock. After a while, he was able to get his front flippers onto the dock. By carefully maneuvering he was able to get most of his body onto a corner of the dock. As he was trying to get enough room to be able to lie down, he drew the ire of a couple of occupants of the dock who slowly moved closer to the edge and forced him back into the water.

The winter sea lion population in Newport has increased tremendously in the last ten years. The sea lions haul out on docks, rocks and anyplace accessible in the water. The wooden sea lion docks on Newport’s Bayfront have provided a haul-out for sea lions for over twenty years. Tourists and locals alike enjoy observing these amusing and interesting animals close up.

As I watched the little sea lion trying to find a place to rest, I felt sorry for him. The rest of the time I spent watching the sea lions, he was never able to find a place to haul out of the water. No one would make room for him. Watching the sea lions on the docks and their interactions with the youngster who wanted to join them reminded me of the way I have seen a lot of people act. Many people feel shut out from society. They don’t seem to be able to get a seat at the table. Sometimes Christians remind me of the sea lions who had a place on the docks. They want to keep certain groups of people from joining them. They won’t associate with them.

Almost every kid has a memory of being excluded. I do. I was the weird kid, the chubby kid. I wasn’t the popular kid. But exclusion doesn’t stop as children grow into adults. People of all ages exclude others from acceptance, love, and affection. But Jesus was different. He went out of his way to extend love where it wasn’t expected; to society’s outcasts. In his ministry, Jesus consistently included the people that religion had left out.

In Luke chapter 15 Jesus tells three stories; the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin and the story of the prodigal son. If we read the first three verses of the chapter, it tells us why Jesus told the stories. “The tax collectors and sinners all came to listen to Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to complain: ‘Look, this man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this story.” Luke 15:1-3 (NCV)

In each story Jesus wants us to understand that he loves and cares for everyone. He demonstrated that all people are welcome at the table of God’s kingdom. In Jesus, the outcasts of society have hope. Those that the religious community marginalizes can find Him extending a hand, inviting them back into the community with dignity and affection. When you study the life of Jesus, you see that no one ever opened a wider door of hope and love to the human race.

“Come to me, Jesus said, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) No invitation could be more inclusive, more welcoming. Those who customarily feel shut out are told that they are welcome to come to Jesus. The love of God is inclusive. God’s salvation is offered to everyone no matter what their background is or what they have done in the past.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “For Jesus, there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved.” Paul wrote, “In Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek, slave and free person, male and female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28 (NCV) The kinds of divisions between people that are normal in human society, should not be found in the church of Jesus Christ. Neither race, nor ethnicity, nor economic status, nor gender, nor any other human distinction should exclude people from the church.

Gentle Reader, if you study the example of Jesus, you will see that he was a champion of the oppressed. His example was one of unconditional love, and He was against all exclusionary practices. He did not follow his society’s exclusions. This was often a surprise to those who were used to being excluded. When Jesus talked to the woman at the well, “the woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, ‘You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?’” John 4:9 (NLT) Don’t be like the sea lions keeping others from joining you in your resting place. Be like Jesus, inviting everyone to rest.

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