Sunday, December 11, 2016

“We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves. We do it for people like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need - regardless of race, politics, class, and religion - is your neighbour. Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith, but everyone is your neighbour, and you must love your neighbour.” ― Timothy J. Keller

Today, I was going to rant about all those churches who are solely defined by the four walls of their buildings, who only exist so that their members can come together for a couple of hours every week to pat each other on the back as they agree with each other theologically and politically and ignore the same sections of the Christ’s teachings.  Not only is that kind of rant far from kind, it’s really only for me.  Instead, I want to praise every church that has a food pantry, that feeds the hungry, that spends a significant part of its budget on those outside its walls.  I want to praise every church who takes their sanctuary to the streets and who welcomes all who enter its doors and does everything it can to make them feel welcome.  I once pastored a small, rural church that wanted me to evangelize—so I did.  I more than doubled our Sunday morning attendance from around twenty to almost fifty.  I was then told I was having my pay docked and the church would try to find a new pastor.  The chairwoman of the administrative board put it this way, “We don’t mind new people as long as they are just like us.”  I had brought in the poor and Hispanic people who were seeking Christ—foolish me.  Of course there are “closed door” churches in every town, but I want to celebrate those who know that the word for “church” in the New Testament does not mean a building (the Greek word is “ecclesia”) but those people called out to create change.  There are many, many churches who understand and respond to the story of the Good Samaritan and the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners.  These are the things that Christ emphasized and even claimed that entry into heaven would depend on your doing these things.  God bless those churches who spend on mission, foreign and domestic, who actually welcome all who enter their doors with smiles and good wishes.  I have a good friend who was once into alcohol and drugs and was suicidal one night.  He was literally lying in a gutter thinking about ways to kill himself when he noticed a church across the street that was exploding with song and laughter.  He pulled himself up and staggered to the door of that church where he was greeted, welcomed, seated and made to feel like a real someone.  It wasn’t an overnight miracle, but that night started a long road for him that ultimately led him to the ministry and positions of importance in the church he finally chose to serve for the rest of his life—and is still serving it.  He played a large role in my becoming a minister and I still look up to him.  All because a church ignored his clothes, the smell of alcohol, his slurred speech, and welcomed him into the house of God.  Praise God for all those churches who still do that—whose doors and arms are truly open to all as all are children of God.  As the picture to the right so eloquently points out, we are to love our neighbors, whoever they are, whatever the color of their skin, however bad they smell, however they challenge our comfort zones and there are churches out there that do just that.  I am proud to have been a pastor to one or two churches (one relatively small and one relatively huge) who are still making me proud of their work for others on behalf of our Lord and Savior.  Churches who shut their doors to even one who isn’t like all the others inside are not churches at all in my opinion.  If your church has open doors and open hearts and open arms, God bless you.  You are the hands and heart of Christ in your community.  It is no small thing.  You are blessed.

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