One of my favorite toys as a kid was Mr. Potatohead.
For old time’s sake, I brought one with me today…. only in 2016, we have gender parity
so I have Mrs. Potatohead.
I learned recently that the original Mr Potatohead was just the parts,
and that you used a real potato for the base and stuck the parts in.
But the new ones have this handy dandy storage space where you keep all the parts…
Hmmm… this is turning out rather strangely! (all eyes)
Let me see what else is in the box.
(rummage around, finding only feet and arms)
This is not going to work, either!
This strange Mrs. Potatohead reminds me of First Corinthians.
St Paul uses the human body as a metaphor for Christian community.
The very definition of the human body is that it has many parts with unique form and function.
St Paul writes “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
… if all were a single member, where would the body be?”
In the same way, every member of the human family is different, and has a unique contribution to make.
So if people only associate with folks in the same tax bracket or same social circle as themselves,
the community loses the richness and the value that God intends.
In my high school, there was a kid named Viet Le.
He was born in Viet Nam; he spoke with an accent, and was very smart.
That’s about all we knew about him, because to those of us born in the US,
who had lived in the same town all our lives, Viet was different.
He did not fit in.
He was a nose in the midst of a school-ful of eyes.
What I have learned since is that Viet and his sister Maya were part of the mass migration
commonly called the Vietnamese Boat People.
Over 800,000 Vietnamese escaped the country in a 20 year period between 1975 and 1995.
They left because of the hardships of economic sanctions and the devastation of war.
They crowded onto a small boat with 75 other refugees, navigated into open sea,
and floated until they were picked up by a merchant ship which brought them to other countries in SE Asia.
As many as half of the people who attempted to leave Vietnam in this way never made it.
Viet and Maya did make it; they stayed in a refugee camp in Thailand for 5 years
before they were accepted to come to America.
Viet could speak three languages, and he loved Star Wars.
He probably had a lot of interests, and he was really smart,
so he probably would have been a great conversation partner.
But we never heard his story of escape, or about his favorite movies.
He was different, and we just didn’t think of him as one of us.
The summer after my freshman year, I got a letter from Viet.
It’s return address was Harvard University, and he got straight to the point.
The letter said,
You probably remember my name, but you don’t know much else about me.
You were a person who could think deeper thoughts, but you never got to know me.
I think we could have been friends, but you didn’t give me a chance.
I am doing well at Harvard now, and I hope you are well, too.
Sincerely, Viet Le.”
I see now that I missed an opportunity with Viet.
He was right; I didn’t appreciate the diversity that he represented.
I was like the eye saying to the hand, “I have no need of you” because he wasn’t an eye.
As I think about it, I was a kid who didn’t really feel accepted at school—just like Viet.
People didn’t understand my interests, they didn’t appreciate me, the ‘smart girl.’
But church was a place I was accepted.
I treasured my friendship there because I could be myself and not be judged;
I had a place among my youth group and the community of the faithful.
But I somehow missed the point of Christian community.
The point is not to snuggle down into the comfort of community
the point is not cozy homogeneity.
It is instead to extend a place in the community to others
to enlarge the scope of that community
to make a space for others at the table.
You see Jesus doing this in what could be called his inaugural address in the synagogue that we heard today:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…
to proclaim release to the captives and to let the oppressed go free.”
Jesus makes space for the people who were most often left out,
his mission is specifically for the forgotten and the displaced.
So today the refugees and prison inmates and the homeless would be the first people Jesus would get to know.
And in your school and in your town, it would be the people who are in some way different, unaccepted.
It might even be you.
The deal is that Jesus isn’t here as a human being anymore—he lived 2000 years ago.
We don’t have him among us like his disciples did.
Instead, he depends on us to extend his invitation.
He depends on us to be his hands of welcome and his feet to go where the people are.
I don’t have another chance with Viet.
I can’t go back to the past, and erase my ignorance and lack of confidence that kept me from reaching out.
But I do have another chance with the people I meet in the present.
And in honor of them, I make a new Mrs. Potatohead.
I give her eyes, and feet, and hands, even earrings!
But I am going to leave one hole empty, as a reminder that we are not yet complete.
There is someone out there Jesus wants us to reach out to.
Jesus wants us to be with them, listen to them, get to know them on their own terms.
That’s what welcoming is.
That’s who we are: the Body of Christ.