Sunday, December 4, 2011

Right Where You Are

One of the many arguments I hear from people as to why they do not attend church or why they are not ‘religious’ is that at one time or another they were turned off by feeling like someone was trying to cram religion down their throats. They were turned off by blatant, in-your-face, guilt-them-into-accepting-Christ; evangelism.  I will be the first to admit that perhaps in some cases there are people who desire and need this type of evangelism in order to encourage them to take a leap of faith.  But for many people it is one of the easiest ways to push them away from Christ.

I have never been known as a ‘Bible basher”, using scripture and evangelism to verbally beat people in to submission.  The only thing you get from that is a bunch of people who are tired of being beaten so they give you what you want just to shut you up. 

One of the points of the Christian religion is to allow you to be met by the living Christ.  There’s an old song from the 80’s called, “Right Where You Are” that spoke of this same idea. The image is of God, in the flesh of Jesus Christ, meeting us wherever we are in life.  He met the woman at the well, Simon while he was fishing, and He meets you wherever you are in life.  We don’t have to come up to meet Him, Christ steps down to be with us.

I believe that if Christ were walking here today, He wouldn’t walk on the side of the street where the church rummage sale was taking place.  I believe He would be walking on the side of the street where the homeless hung out, where the druggies scored, the prostitutes worked, and where the lonely and depressed go to end their lives.  He wouldn’t be knocking on the church door but He would be knocking and opening the proverbial closet door where thousands of young people are hiding, scared of who they are and how people will treat them. 

I like the tagline of the United Church of Christ:  Whoever you are, where ever you are on life's journey, you are welcome here!”  Wherever you are. That is a powerful image, isn’t it?  Just think about where YOU are right now on life’s journey. Think about where you have been and all the changes that have occurred – the colors of your journey have changed so many times during your journey yet Christ has been the one constant.

The First Congregational Church of Baraboo, Wisconsin invites anyone who has “…ever known exclusion…or questioned how dogma and doctrine can be so hurtful…” to visit them and experience a ministry that they believe is truly Christ-centered. 

The United Methodist Church still explicitly and categorically excludes gay and lesbian Christians from full participation in the life of the church yet more than 360 United Methodist congregations have voted unanimously to become a welcoming or reconciling congregation – welcoming people of all orientations in to full membership and participation.  Proof that the hearts of God’s people are earnestly seeking and listening for the voice of God.

The Episcopal Church calls for full civil equality for gay men and lesbians and the Church’s General Convention has passed resolutions that allow for gay and lesbian marriages in states where it is legal.  Gene Robinson is the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop. 

I list these (and I could list thousands of other short news briefs) to support a point:  God is simply not finished with us.  Did God simply create us and then let us to our own devices or is it possible that God continues to create us?  Is it possible that the kingdom of God is so diverse in its color, flavor, ethnicity, background, orientation, that those within the creation are unable to see it yet?  Did God create us from one cookie-cutter or is it possible that God’s creation contains countless imprints, colors, creeds, life-styles, etc. 

Some religious organizations still refuse to ordain women although as early as 2285 BC Sumerian and Akkadien were priestesses who held equal status of high priests.  In the Buddhist tradition Ani Pema Chodron became the first American woman to be ordained as a Buddhist nun (bhikkhuni).  In 1989 Barbara Harris was the first ordained bishop in the Anglican Communion for the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and in 2006 Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected as the first female presiding Bishop.

In the Wesleyan tradition, those who come to be ordained are asked an important question.  “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life time?”  The answer is tough but it is asking for a pretty specific response.  I expect only to be made perfect in love at the time of my death but I am working today as if it were possible to finally achieve it in this life. 

"As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:12–13, NAB)  This is a powerful passage of scripture as the Apostle Paul talks about how each body part works together.  "The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,' nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.' Indeed the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary . . ." (1 Cor. 12: 21-22) The wonderful thing about God is His generosity in creation.  Each part is so different from the other yet without one another, the whole cannot function, cannot be complete…in other words…fails.

We are all members of one body. Christ is the head and substance and everyone else has a job to do.  A role to play and responsibilities to attend to.  The hand cannot be a foot and the leg cannot be an ear no matter how hard they try.  It is wrong for the ear to say to the other parts, “you need to be more like us”.  It simply won’t happen.  Yet when the ear expects that and purposely shuts out the other parts the ear fails.  The ear cannot possibly complete its purpose.   

A church in Kentucky recently voted to not allow bi-racial couples in the church or to participate in the life of the church.   A friend of mine was denied the position of Director of Music because someone found out he was gay.  A family was denied access to the church school because, although they paid the annual fees, they didn’t meet the required annual pledge to the church.  A man and his wife hit hard financial times and enter foreclosure; and because of that they are asked to step down as elders. 

My heart aches for these people and for the countless others who have been ‘turned off’ to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of people with blinders on their eyes.  But my heart aches, also, for the people who made the decision to remove someone from the church.  I believe they are missing a valuable point.  If our pews were meant for only the righteous we would be preaching to an empty room.  If our doors only opened to the Godly, they would always be closed.  If everyone could give as the church wants everyone to give, the offering plate would be empty.

The call to ministry is a personal, intimate calling.  If God only wanted the perfect – perhaps he should not have called me.  If God only wanted the righteous – perhaps he should not have called me.  If God only wanted those who never questioned faith or never struggled with spiritual matters – perhaps he should not have called me.  If God only wanted those who looked the part and dressed just like everyone else – perhaps he should not have called me.   But if God called me because of my heart and because my faith in Him is authentic and my love for humanity is wide – then His calling is perfect.

Were I to have a church, I would want people to know this:  if you are imperfect, come in.  If you have a dark past, come in.  If you believe no one who loves God should be excluded, come in.  If you are being true to how God created you, come in. If your mind is as wide as a clear night sky, come in.  If you have a genuine, authentic love for Christ, come in.  If you seek – come in.  If you have unbelief, come in.

God’s creating nature will not be mocked. 

No comments: