The woman was dirty, smelly, she hadn’t bathed in weeks. She had crossed the border two days ago, escaping violence, escaping poverty, but poverty had followed her here. She had no place to sleep, no food to eat; rainwater was her only sustenance. No one would help her; all eyes turned away. She came from the wrong place, she spoke the wrong language, her skin was the wrong color. She was outcast, even from her own people; the ones she had traveled with had abandoned her, her homeland was a place that held only death, and it seemed a faint hope that here, in a new land, she might find some grace. She found herself at the doors of a church, its steeple standing as a silent sentinel against the night sky. Locking the door was the pastor, having finished with a bible study ten minutes earlier. “Sir,” she said, “Have mercy on me; I haven’t eaten in two days, I haven’t slept in three.” But he did not answer her a word. What swirled in his mind was his own comfy bed, his wife’s cooking that was surely waiting for him. What he thought of was the hassle this would cause, the trouble that could come. He was sent to administer Christ’s Word and Sacraments to the good people of his parish, not to feed migrants. “Send her away” was the whisper inside his head, and so he said, “The things I have to give are not for dogs like you.” There, he had said it; he had put this woman in her place, he had made her understand who she was. She had no right to demand anything from him or his church; she was no member of this community—she was an outcast.
You are an outcast. You are an outcast among your family, you are an outcast in your community, you are an outcast in this world. You are an outcast because you are different, far different than those around you. Among the poor, you are outcast because you have money. Among the rich, you are outcast because you live paycheck to paycheck. Among some, you are outcast because you don’t know enough. Among others, you are outcast because you know too much. Among conservatives, you are outcast because you are too liberal. Among liberals, you are outcast because you are too conservative. Among the healthy, you are outcast because you are sick. Among the sick, you are outcast because you aren’t using the right treatments. Among religious types, you are outcast because you are the wrong religion or denomination. Amongst atheists, you are outcast because you are religious at all. Among the immoral, you are outcast because you don’t participate in debauchery. Among the ‘good people,’ you are outcast because you can never be good enough.
You are an outcast because you have sinned. You are an outcast from your family because you have sinned against them, driving them away through anger, betrayal, or stupid, silly mistakes. You are an outcast in your community because you have stumbled against the law, because you have fallen into substance abuse or other great shame and vice. You are an outcast in the church because you have fallen into sin, and despite your repentance and the words of absolution, no one looks at you the same. You are outcast everywhere you turn in this world because you are different; different in behavior, different in appearance, different in language and culture, different in every way.
You are an outcast. You are outcast from men, but more importantly, you are outcast from God. You are an outcast because you have sinned, you have broken His every command. You are an outcast because you have used God’s name—His holy name—frivolously, dragging it through the mud. You are an outcast because you have been bored in this place, going through the motions as God gives His gifts. You are an outcast because you have rebelled against God-given authority, placing your own desires above all else. You are an outcast because you have hated a person that God loves, that God created, letting your anger murder them in your heart. You are an outcast because you have committed indecent acts with a person who is not your spouse, using your mind or your body. You are an outcast because you have sought to cheat others out of what God has blessed them with, using the ways of the world to get what you want. You are an outcast because you have destroyed reputations with your words, bringing others down to raise yourself up. You are an outcast because you have desired that which is not your own, refusing to be content with the blessings God has given to you. In short, you are an outcast because you have sinned, because you have made your own desires your idol.
You are an outcast from birth; the color of your skin, the language that comes from your lips, the culture your practice in your home may make you an outcast among men; the simple fact that you are human makes you outcast from God. You are outcast from men because you are different; you are outcast from God because you are the same. You are no different than any of your neighbors; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are all outcasts, standing outside of God’s glory with no way to come in.
But you are outcast, scattered no more. You are gathered, gathered to God. You are gathered because God has acted to gather you. “The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, ‘I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.’” You are gathered because Jesus Christ came to fulfill that promise. You are gathered because Christ has come to gather you back to your God, to make you no longer an outcast but a beloved child. You are gathered because Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, to search this earth for lost sheep and bring them back to their Lord and God. “These I will bring to my holy mountain, to make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
You are gathered because you are forgiven. You are gathered because Jesus shed His blood on your behalf. You are gathered because of the cross. You are gathered because of the empty tomb. You are gathered because His blood has made your offerings, poor and sinful as they are, acceptable to God for Christ’s sake. You are gathered because while you were still outcast, Christ died for you, and you are joined to Him. God promises that those who are joined to Him will dwell on His holy mountain. You are joined to Him in Baptism, you are joined to Him by faith in His promises. You, who were an outcast, are joined back to your God through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You are gathered because you are accepted by God, not on your own merits, but because of Christ. You are gathered, and your home is God’s holy mountain, His house which is a house of prayer for all people; for outcasts among men, for those who were outcast from God.
You are gathered to men because you are gathered to God; if you are cleansed and forgiven, no longer an outcast before God, then you certainly are not outcast among each other. You were all together outcasts, and now you are all together gathered, all by the blood of Christ. You are gathered to the house of the Lord, His holy mountain, which in Jesus is truly a ‘house of prayer for all peoples.’ You are gathered to where God is, because Christ has destroyed all that made you outcast from His Father. You are gathered to His altar; no longer outcast from His presence, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to Him because you are joined to His Son. You are gathered because despite all the differences that separate you from others in this world, that make you an outcast from friends, family, and neighbors, you are all together outcasts gathered to God by Christ.
You are gathered, no longer an outcast in this world; in the Church, in God’s house of prayer for all people you find acceptance, not because of who you are, but because of what Christ has done for you. You are gathered both to men and to God because of the cross; you dwell at the very center of the cross, where the vertical beam of reconciliation between God and man meets the horizontal beam of reconciliation between you and your neighbor. You who were outcast in the world, who were outcast before God, come to the Church, for here you are gathered, to men and to God. Here you will dwell, and here you have joy, the joy of salvation, the joy given by Christ. “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The woman looked at the pastor, who had in a moment decisively put her in her place, who had demonstrated quite clearly that she was an outcast, deserving of nothing from him or from the Church. For a brief second it appeared that she would give up, make a rude gesture and leave, but then she said, “Yes, sir, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” She owned it; she was called a dog, an outcast, someone who deserved nothing, and her response? “Yes, sir.” She agreed! She was an outcast, she deserved no grace, no help, no love, but she asked for it anyway, because the table she stood before was Christ’s table, and His table has grace even for the dogs, even for outcasts. She was throwing herself on the mercies of a God who had grace even for outcasts, especially for outcasts.
The pastor stood there, shocked. His rudeness hadn’t driven her away, it had brought her near. The God he served, the God he preached, was a God for beggars, for those who were outcasts and knew it, who cried out for bread and knew that the crumbs were for them. He was a God for beggars, for outcasts; beggars and outcasts like this woman, beggars and outcasts like the Caannite that Jesus received; beggars and outcasts, he suddenly realized, like me. Despite all that separated them, this suburban pastor and this illegal immigrant were exactly the same where it counted—before God. We are all beggars, it is true, he thought. And as one beggar to another, he told her where to find bread, the bread to fill her hungry stomach, and the bread to fill her hungry soul. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire!” he cried. And the doors of the church were unlocked and opened again, and two beggars went through, seeking the abundance that comes only from the table of Christ, a table overflowing for outcasts like me, outcasts like you. In the Name of Jesus, who came for outcasts, for beggars, Amen.