I took a last minute decision to take a couple of hours out this morning to stop, think, pray and wait on God. After dropping the kids at school I normally turn my attention to the daily office of the Northumbria Community which I have on CD in the car. I just couldn’t focus and I sensed just an incredible angst in the pit of my stomach.
So, I took myself aside, had a walk around Paddy Freeman Park and then settled down to get to the bottom of it. The Lord led me to look at James 2. A really powerful passage. I had only remembered the ‘favouritism’ aspect of it but what came through really strongly was the fact that James was speaking to a group of people who were not only showing favouritism, but doing so from what James describes as being from an ‘evil’ place…a seat of judgement which conquered any sense of gracious embrace or welcome.
What has been rumbling around in my head for a wee while is the whole question of connecting with people, not on or terms, our conditions on our turf, but on theirs. Finding the commitment to be truly missional involves those things. I sat in the park and watched people go by and asked ‘what would it take to inspire interest in that person to explore the person and claims of Jesus?’ and ‘what would church look like for that person to feel welcomed and valued?’
And then I guess I wept a bit, just sorry for all those things I’ve either been part of or have witnessed where some comment has been passed out of a place of judgement on people. I’m not an innocent, I’ve done me fair share of ‘thought policing’ in the past, but so beyond it. Engaging in ‘iron sharpens iron’ discipleship processes are a different kettle of fish to judgemental rebukes or comments made unasked for and unwelcomed. Pastoral ministry of any sort, either formal or informal, is not an automatic right to invade peoples lives unbidden. ‘Church people’ might tolerate it, those who aren’t most certainly don’t and neither should they!
What kind of community would the church be if it welcomed everyone like the man with the fine clothes and gold was welcomed….what if even the poor man with the shabby clothes was given the best seat in the house? This is, in fact, what I believe Jesus would have done. We welcomed every sinful scoundrel to a place around his table and gave them the honour of being with him.
On one occasion, the Pharisees asked Jesus ‘why do you eat and drink with these scum?’ Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I have a long way to go…the church has a long way to go…before anyone could ever cast aspersions about our outrageous bias towards and investment in ‘tax collectors, sinners, drunkards and gluttons.’ But even leaving behind ‘the leas of these’, there is still much to be done in leaving the 99 for the 1 needing to be found.
I need to work out the practical response to God’s message to me today. May it be for his glory, honour and fame.