I'm a bit haunted by a scene from my life that took place in middle school. It involved me, my church family, and a peer of mine at school named Kenneth. The important thing about Kenneth for this story is that he was not "mine". We weren't unfriendly, we just weren't anything.
One Sunday, I had settled into my seat along the wall of our church youth room. Class had begun, which made it all the more awkward when the door opened and a visitor came in. It was Kenneth. I watched as Kenneth anxiously scanned the room looking for a "spot," and perhaps a friendly face. His eyes caught mine, and I saw a little light of hope flare up on his face as he saw a familiar face. I am sad to report that I snuffed that out in no time flat by quickly looking away, communicating to him clearly, "I do not welcome you here." Why? I wish I had a better answer, but frankly, it is because he was not one of "us, here" and so did not fit my picture of church. He was one of "them, out there." The Kingdom, as I understood it, was about us, here.
Meeting Jesus has helped me see my flawed picture of what the Kingdom was and who the church is here for.
Today, I want to introduce you to a man in scripture who had a similarly flawed picture of the Kingdom. He, too, thought that it was for those who were "his" (the Jews) and that it was to be established "here" (in Jerusalem).
As he met Jesus, however, his picture was confronted and he learned what I have also learned, that the Kingdom, and therefore the church, was not, and is not just for "us, here." It is also for those beyond us, beyond here.
We all have barriers that keep us from reaching out to those who are not here, and are not us. It is okay that they exist, but it is not okay to let them stop you. Not if you follow Jesus.