“SOUL-ful People: Outcast Oriented – O”

Posted By Beckie Sweet on Mar 12, 2023 | 0 comments

March 12, 2023 ~ Third Sunday in Lent

Rev. Beckie Sweet


We are nearly at the mid-point of our journey through Lent.  As we prepare for a joyous celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, we realize that we have work to do in our own lives, and congregation, community and world, in order to live into the reign of God on earth which was and is God’s intention for creation.  As humans, we don’t usually look forward to addressing the conflicts between life and faith.  In fact, we tend to avoid those conflicts as it is easier to walk away from injustice, rather than to take the risk to speak up about it, and do the hard work of changing attitudes and correcting systems that perpetuate injustice.

That is exactly why God sent Jesus to live among us, and to model taking-on the religious and political establishment in order to confront social ills.  Specifically, during our Lenten journey this year, we are addressing racism, and its continued prevalence which causes harm, division, and oppression, even in our day.

Two weeks ago, when I introduced this worship series, “SOUL-ful Living for SOUL-ful People” I mentioned that I have been inspired by Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’ messages during worship at the Chautauqua Institution last summer, and her book Resurrection Hope.  Last Sunday we began to spell out SOUL: S O U L, as we explored what it means to be “Stone-Catchers” when folks are being unfairly harmed due to biased systems.  Today, we consider what it means to be “Outcast Oriented” as we endeavor to live in growing faithfulness to God’s Word.

Last week we asked what it means to be SOUL-ful People in a nation with a warring soul.  The question goes deeper as we reflect on whether this nation ~ our nation ~ will be defined by the pledge of liberty and justice for all, or by the legacy of slavery.

When Dr. Douglas was a child, her mother would often sing spirituals in their home.  One that was sung often was her mother’s own version of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.”  If you want a real treat, google that and go to the You Tube recording of Mahalia Jackson singing this.  But the version of this song that Dr. Douglas heard over and over again, went like this:

Poor little Jesus boy, born in a manger,

Poor little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you were.

The world would treat him so mean, Treat my people mean too.

Poor little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you were.


She remembered once, as a little girl of seven, riding through inner-city Dayton on a cold, rainy day.  Through the car window, she saw two children about her age, a girl and a boy, crossing the street.  They were disheveled and not properly dressed for the weather.  They looked, as she imagined, cold and hungry.  At that tender age, even as her faith was just beginning to form, Douglas vowed to God and to herself that when she grew up she would find a way to rescue those children from the blight of the inner-city.  In her mind, she knew that there was a connection between Jesus’ humble birth to a poor couple and these children.

In this same way, Douglas said, enslaved Africans in America knew that there was a connection between the reality of their oppression, and that poor little Jesus boy born in a manger.  You see, the white slave chaplains introduced the slaves to Christianity ~ their form of Christianity ~ but not to a relationship with a Savior who came to liberate them from their oppression.

Yet, the slaves came to know the God who inspired Moses to demand that Pharoah let his people go.  The enslaved Africans knew that God’s intention  was for all people to be free.  Yes, the slaves came to know the Jesus whose essential message was delivered for the benefit of the marginalized and the outcast.  In his first public sermon, Jesus said that he was sent by God to bring good news to the poor, the prisoner and the blind.  Indeed he quoted the prophet Isaiah’s words that God intended to set the prisoner free.

We are to be stone catchers and outcast oriented.  We are to be oriented to and accountable to those who find themselves on the underside of justice.  Our scripture text for today makes it clear that we are doing holy, sacred work when we inaugurate justice for the outcast, feeding the hungry and thirsty, sheltering the homeless, clothing those who are cold, being present with the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.

Inasmuch as God’s future calls for dignity for all people, we must begin with justice for those who are marginalized, pushed aside, disrespected and cast out.  When we prepare to take on a cause, do we focus on those who have the least, who’ve suffered the worst, and who have so much to offer?  Dr. Douglas states, “Only when all who have been denied justice ~ because they are the ‘wrong’ color or gender, or have the ‘wrong’ sexual orientation of national identity ~ only when they are permitted to achieve their full human potential, can we say that the hope of achieving God’s reign on earth is realistic.

Do you remember hearing about Pamela Brown on the news in May of 2020?  Pamela was a 42-year-old black woman, the mother of two, and poor.  She was trapped in a marginalized manger life in a poorly ventilated, single-side trailer.  There were holes in the floor where rodents would crawl through, and musty mold that triggered her daughter’s asthma.  Pamela worked as a cleaning person in the local hospital, where she contracted COVID-19.  She succumbed to the virus, leaving her children in the care of the county’s child welfare system.

Friends, we are accountable to Pamela’s children, and to all children who need food, safe shelter, access to quality health care, education, and LOVE.  When these children are supported enough to grow into the people God intends them to be, then we will know that we are on the moral arc that bends toward justice.  We must be Outcast-Oriented in the laws we support, in the communities we build, and in how we order our living.

Dr. Douglas wonders whatever happened to the poorly clothed little boy and girl she saw crossing the street in Dayton.   In her memory they would stay forever young, and poor, and in need of charity.  Douglas became a teacher and pastor who would change the life options for children and adults the world labeled at “outcast.”  The memory of those children lives in her soul, fueling a deep sense of accountability to those with black and brown skin, those treated as second-class members of the community, those forgotten, those without opportunity.

How can we make a difference to those entrapped by a manger reality?  We must be forever both stone catchers and outcast-oriented, living the lives Jesus told us to live when he said, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever your did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”


Poor little Jesus boy, born in a manger,

Poor little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you were.

The world would treat him so mean, ‘Treat my people mean too.

Poor little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you were.

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