Last Friday I tested positive for Covid 19, which is a real kick in the teeth for a pastor. If I’d been diagnosed on a Monday I would have been out of quarantine in time to preach! However, thanks to technology and a dedicated group of volunteers, the Sunday service still went off without a hitch. You can listen to the message by clicking here if you’re interested.
Since I’ve been staying in the last few days I’ve had quite a bit of time on my hands to sit and think about the message, and one of the things I’ve been challenged with is who I’m comfortable having around me. As a pastor it’s all well and good to give a sermon on how Jesus spent time with people considered sinners and condemned the Pharisees for their ceremonial hypocrisy; but the story I shared about a morning in my home church still lingers in the back of my head. Now, just to be clear, I won’t ever be doing that kind of test on our congregation so there’s no need to be nervous! However, the point still remains that a group of people who claimed to love Jesus failed to welcome and love a person who didn’t look like us.
To be sure, there are mitigating factors in that story. If someone unfamiliar walked into your home I’m sure you’d be slightly taken aback and maybe even a little bit understandably apprehensive about their intentions. It’s natural to have some fear of the unknown, and this student posing as a hitchhiker looked very out of place. However, we were not in our homes. We were in a church building during a Sunday service that was open to the public and I’m sure we were all hoping to welcome new people to add to our numbers that morning. The caveat apparently was that we were hoping to invite new people who were like us – people who would blend in and not cause a disruption. In that case, the values we claimed to hold to were not the values we were operating by. It’s tragic, but it happened. I don’t think this was something unique to my home church either. It’s something that we need to be honest about as we gather ever Sunday in Alberta Beach.
Having worked in ministry for the better part of a decade, I can attest the fact that ‘doing ministry’ with people who don’t fit into what we’d typically identify as the ‘church mold’ is messy and disruptive. Trying to show love and value to a teen who doesn’t have good hygiene is difficult for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that the other students can’t handle being around them. Deciding who is eligible to serve on the worship team should be a matter of talent, but if someone is not a professing believer or if they are a professing believer but they are living with someone they’re not married to, can they really be on the stage? Doing a nice, clean, organized Sunday church service when there is a person with schizophrenia in the congregation is difficult because they will say and do things that make people feel uncomfortable. I get it; being around messy, disruptive people is hard, especially when all you really want to do is come to church, see some people you know, listen to the sermon and go home.
As we gather Sunday after Sunday, we need to be mindful of what it is we are in the church building to do. There is certainly a responsibility to provide a clean, healthy and safe environment for anyone who comes; and more than that there is a responsibility to be bold in our proclamation of God’s word. There was nothing about Jesus’ preaching and ministry that shied away from calling everyone, sinner or saint, to a life of holiness. However, there is something that we can easily miss in that picture of Jesus – he never required people to improve before he would be seen with them. If you are a follower of Jesus dedicated to becoming more and more like him daily, then we need to be mindful of those people who have come and who do not fit the mold. It’s important to realize that while Sunday morning is a day to be encouraged, equipped and spiritually fed, it’s also an opportunity to put the words of Jesus into practice. We cannot make the mistake of believing that the church is for church people. We need to make sure that our church is a place for hurting, disruptive, ‘unchurchy’ people to experience the love of Jesus through the authentic love of his followers.
It’s been a challenging week for me as I’ve thought about this, but the encouragement has been that no matter how many times I’ve gotten this wrong, Jesus invites me to get it right next time. I’m looking for the next opportunity to do that.
You are loved.
(Originally published May 18, 2022)
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