I have a new catchphrase. No, not ‘Nice to see you, to see you… nice’ or ‘Just like that’. It sits alongside a phrase I tend to use a lot, which I coined back in 2010. Regular bloggites will already know what it is:
We are called to be ‘free samples of Jesus’.
If we are all trying to be free samples of Jesus to our colleagues, friends, family and companions on the journey of life we would make a significant difference to those around us.
The new catchphrase came to me in a conversation with another Baptist Minister as we were discussing how sometimes churches can turn people away because of their lifestyle, the way they dress or the way they act and in doing so turn them away from seeking Jesus. That seems so counter to the way that Jesus responded to people, welcoming those who were ostracised by everyone else, embracing those who were considered untouchable and giving status to those who were ignored and neglected.
What if our churches were ‘grace-rich environments’? Wouldn’t that be amazing! People who came to us would find generosity and welcome instead of suspicion and fear. On Sunday evening I sneaked into our church building shortly after the service had started (it was a special Harvest / Flower Festival / Songs of Praise that I did not want to miss). On the way in I could hear someone shouting in the street. They sounded a bit drunk but they were ranting at how a church had rejected them and how could they call themselves Christian. I don’t know what was going on, but I hope it was not that this person had tried to attend a church and had been refused entry. That’s not grace-rich.
Of course a grace-rich environment is going to be messy. It’s not going to be neat and tidy all the time because we will be adapting to enable others to be a part of us. It’s not going to be theologically perfect because we will be accepting of people whose lifestyle seems contrary to God’s standards (but we recognise that none of us are perfect). It’s not going to be comfortable sometimes because we will be leaving our comfort zones in order to help others. It’s not going to be easy because we will need wisdom and discernment to respond in the right way. It’s going to open us up to criticism because we will be seen to be approving of ‘sin’ by welcoming ‘sinners’.
But (and here’s the thing I like about it) a grace-rich environment is one in which we are best able to be free samples of Jesus. If ever there was a grace-rich environment on this planet it would have been the area around Jesus, perhaps within earshot, perhaps within his eyesight.
Look at the lifestyles of those who were welcomed by Jesus. Look at their backgrounds. Look at how he loved them. He did not condone sin. But he did not allow it to be a barrier to people finding God’s love, grace and forgiveness. I love Luke 15. It’s one of my favourite chapters in the Bible. We get three brilliant parables for the price of one – a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. But Jesus told those parables to the religious elite who were criticising him for welcoming ‘sinners’ and eating with them. The older brother in the third parable represents the attitude that was being expressed – that those who have fallen short of God’s standards don’t deserve his grace.
Heaven help us from if we ever start being older brothers.
Please God make our churches ‘grace-rich environments’.