Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Inside Out and Outside In"

Matthew 21:1-17

      Once upon a time, there was a church which was studying how it could do a better job reaching

out to its surrounding community.  The mission board met several times to discuss how to best

accomplish this.  Since there were many homeless in the downtown area around the church, a

men’s overnight shelter was considered.  After all, the board thought, the massive church building

with its shrinking congregation had more than enough available space; even showers adjacent to a

now dilapidated gymnasium.  Along with the homeless hungry were the hungry with homes.  Were a

free lunch program or food pantry feasible options?  With the spiraling costs of basic health, dental

and eye care, could a free or low cost medical clinic of some type be a possibility?  Or how about a

weekday worship service designed especially for those who might not be comfortable with the

traditional Sunday morning worship experience?  As the church was endowed to the tune of over

sixteen million dollars, funding for any or all of these mission efforts was a non-issue.

      Over several months, the mission board went to work doing feasibility studies, cost analyses,

logistical planning, crossing every t and dotting every i.  At the same time, however, another group

was hard at work.  Several longtime and highly-respected members of that congregation met to

share their mutual concerns about the mission board’s ideas.  These members were neither philo-

sophically nor theologically opposed to mission and community outreach.  In fact, their generosity

had for years helped fund several missionaries serving from impoverished areas of Appalachia, to

flood-ravaged coasts of the Gulf, to war-torn parts of Central America, to the starving population of

Zaire.  The concern of this group was what type of people might be attracted to their church.  After

all, the congregation had a long tradition of inviting and welcoming doctors, attorneys, educators,

business people, the cultured and the connected.  The line of rationalization was that the people in 

the church’s surrounding community might feel out of place.

      In Jesus’ day, we might imagine some of the religious leaders – most of them from well-to-do

backgrounds – sharing their mutual concerns about the work of the itinerant preacher from Naza-

reth.  His blue-collar, apparently ill-reputed hometown certainly put Jesus outside the elitist circles

of the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees.  Those most attracted to Jesus and His teaching were

among the least in the social order.  Wherever Jesus went, He was followed by the blind, the lame,

the tax-collector, the prostitute, the outcast and the powerless.  The stalwart pillars of religious

order were concerned that as a rabbi of their faith, Jesus was welcoming into the inner-circle of

Judaism the wrong kind of people; those who just might feel out of place in their temple.

      The second part of this morning’s lesson from Matthew’s Gospel follows immediately on the

hooves of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem.  We know that story well.  Jesus’ entry into the city prompts an

almost Mardi Gras type celebration.  The colt upon which Jesus rides [the only instance recorded in

the gospels in which Jesus rides rather than walks or sails] steps carefully over branches cut from

trees, along with the people’s very garments.  The shouts of the multitudes along the route of the

parade acclaim Jesus a king in the Davidic line, and the prophet of YHWH.  This procession is a threat

to both the Roman guard charged with keeping the peace, and to the religious leadership charged

with preserving the purity and unity of the temple. 

      The latter were none too open to some of the rabble accompanying Jesus.  Many were Passover

pilgrims with dirt under their fingernails and manure on the soles of their sandals.  Sure, they and

the money with which they could buy sacrificial animals in the outer court around the temple were welcome.

The money changers were more than willing to exchange their Roman coins for temple currency,

and take a little extra for their trouble.  But basically, these pilgrims were outsiders to the temple elite;

not their peeps.

      Also along the road that day were the blind, the lame, the maimed, the disfigured; those viewed

as suffering just punishment for their sin, or the sin of their parents or grandparents.  Some were

limping along.  Some were being led or carried.  Some were dragging themselves along this oddly

royal processional.  In Luke’s account of that first Palm Sunday, he notes that Pharisees were

demanding that Jesus tell these followers to cease and desist their shouts of praise.

      Beginning at verse 12 of chapter 21, Matthew recounts the familiar story of Jesus overturning

the tables of the money changers, upsetting the chairs of the vendors, and driving out “all who

were selling and buying in the temple.”  We could say that on that day, Jesus cleaned house.  In

effect, He drove the insiders out, reminding them in no uncertain terms why the temple existed in

the first place when He shouted, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but

you are making it a den of robbers.” 

      Then, Matthew tells us, “The blind and lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.”

Do we see what’s happening here?  That rabble the religious leaders so disdain – those dirty-finger-

nailed, smelly-sandaled, sin-racked pilgrims looking for the face of God in His house of prayer;

those wrong kind of people – find themselves now within the inner-circle; seeking and finding

healing and wholeness at the very feet of Christ, in the halls of the temple of God. 

      To make matters worse for the chief priests and scribes who were trying to preserve the peace,

purity and unity of the temple, children were evidently loose in the temple shouting Jesus’ praise.

It was like a children’s chat run amok.  And the priests were livid as they scolded Jesus:  “Do you

hear what these are saying?”  I like Jesus’ answer:  ahhh….”Yes.”  Then drawing upon the words of

Psalm 8, Jesus asks:  “have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you

have prepared praise for yourself.’” Other translations render it:  “Out of the mouths of babes

and sucklings, thou hast brought perfect praise.”  This apparently shuts them up for the time

being.  This periscope [I love to use that word, which is just a seminarian’s way of saying “passage”]

ends with Jesus departing from the temple to Bethany where He would spend His last days, staying

with dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus whom He had raised from the tomb.  There we have

it:  a parade; a driving out of insiders; a welcoming in of outsiders.

      As you know, folks knock daily at the doors of Central Presbyterian Church.  Some are looking

for food.  Some are chasing gas money or bus fare.  Others are seeking lodging.  No small number

are looking for a warm place and a friendly smile.  A few are looking for guidance and prayer.  As

best we can, we try to help most all visitors and turn few away empty.  In many instances, we ex-

tend an invitation to join us for Sunday worship.  Few if any show up.  But what if they did; these

folks who figuratively have dirt under their fingernails and manure on the soles of their sandals? 

How would I receive them?  Would I extend to them the same right hand of fellowship I’d extend to

the well-groomed and the well-spoken?  Would I recognize in them a desire to find healing and

wholeness in this house of prayer?  Would I treat them as an insider, or an outsider?  These are not

rhetorical questions.  I struggle with them.  And so should all of us who are on the inside.

      How about those who represent the long-rejected and long-suffering of our society who recog-

nize in Jesus one – maybe the only one – who accepts and loves them for who they are:  the single

mother; the gay man or lesbian woman; the learning disabled; the mentally ill; the person of

different ethnicity or skin color; the biracial; the physically-challenged; the teen with the purple hair,

and pierced tongue, and sleeve of tattoos.  As those who profess to be Jesus’ followers, would we

too accept and love them – not for ‘who they can become,’ but for who they are?

       If Jesus’ arrival means anything, could it mean that He comes into town to turn things inside

out, and outside in?  Could Jesus’ arrival mean turning me inside out, and outside in?  As a Presby-

terian, seminary-educated, relatively affluent, decently groomed, grounded as I am in Christian

doctrine, I’m challenged by that.  And so should all of us who are on the inside.  As Forrest Gump

once famously said:  “And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.” 

      Let’s return to that church struggling with community outreach.  After several months of discus-

sion and negotiation, it was decided to do a trial run at a free luncheon.  A date was set.  A cooking

and serving crew was enlisted.  A menu was prepared.  When the day came, a few from the dissent-

ing group decided to stop by the church to keep an eye on things.  As it turned out, the community

response was overwhelming, and the serving crew was short.  Although their hearts weren’t in it,

the keep an eye on things folks agreed to put on aprons and help serve.  Mrs. Jones [we’ll call her]

was walking by one of the tables when she heard a voice:  “Mam.” She turned and saw a little boy;

his hair disheveled; his glasses held together with tape crooked on his face; his nose encrusted; his

clothes soiled and torn.  “Mam, I haven’t had anything to eat for a while cos my mommy doesn’t

have any money.  This tastes so good.  May I please have some more?”  Tears streamed down her

face as she returned to the kitchen to get another helping for the little boy whose family she and

Mr. Jones began to pick up on Sunday mornings and bring to church.  That day, Jesus had arrived for

Mrs. Jones, turning her inside out, and outside in.  Amen.