Thinking more on my last post and how my daughter brought two trans friends to our church when it was holding a baptism service. Afterwards one of them said to her it was the first time religion hadn’t made them feel condemned and I think that’s a very telling statement on the state of the church..
A conversation on my social media recently sprung up around the statement that most churches would be more welcoming to a murderer than to a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
These two comments made me think a lot about who Jesus and his disciples spent time with. Jesus spent time with outsiders, people who were shunned by the priestly classes of society. Take tax collectors for instance. Now nobody cares much for the tax-man but in Jesus’ day the tax-man wasn’t just an unpopular civil servant. The tax-man was a traitor to his people who worked for the occupying Romans and to make it even worse he routinely stole from his own people, adding to their misfortune. Jesus ate with Samaritans, which would be like a Pompey supporter being friends with a Saints supporter only a thousand times worse. One of his disciples was a Zealot, essentially a terrorist. Another disciple, Peter, was well known for his anger issues and his tendency towards violence. He spent time with prostitutes and serial adulterers. One of the first individuals to be baptised after Jesus’ death is an Ethiopian Eunuch, someone who’s sexual identity was not really male or female. The first person Jesus promises a place in Heaven to is a robber and probable murderer being crucified with him.
Some of these people would have been classed as “sinners” but Jesus eating with them did not mean he agreed with their sins or wasn’t looking for change in them. Jesus had a welcome for everyone who was willing to listen to what he had to say. His dislike of the Pharisees wasn’t a blanket dislike. His problem was with those who were hard hearted, who placed rules above love.
When I look around church I see people who have been Christians for decades but struggle with the idea of loving your neighbour if it means people not like them. I see people on the beginning of their journey who are there because they have experienced unconditional love and want more. I see people who don’t understand the Bible but have an instinctual understanding of the nature of Jesus and want to be more like him. I see people of all shapes and sizes, all with different levels of Biblical knowledge and understanding, people striving to reflect God’s love and Jesus’s teachings the best they can.
When the Pharisees looked at the company Jesus kept they saw sinners. They saw labels that put those people into specific boxes that made dealing with them very straight forward and simple. Jesus saw people and he taught his disciples to see people.
Each of us has a type of people we struggle with and they are usually people who are different from us or fail to meet our expectations of what a person should be like. I have groups of people I struggle with. There are groups of people whose mere existence winds me up at times. But I know individuals in those groups as people and I understand them. I’ve looked beyond the label and met them as people and I still disagree with some of them but I understand something of why they are the way they are.
When Jesus said “Make disciples of all the world”, he didn’t exclude anyone. He didn’t say we didn’t have to try with alcoholics or BMW drivers or Pompey supporters or people of colour or LGBTQIA people or poor people or rich people or …………. (add your own prejudice here). He said all the world. How did Jesus go about that himself? He met peoples needs, whether feeding 5000 or saving a woman from being stoned for adultery. He went where they were, whether a temple or a Samarian well. And he did not judge people as individuals. When he met them, he met them with the full force of his love and let that make any changes they needed to make.
He met them with the full force of his love and let that make any changes they needed to make. And that’s the challenge. Human nature is such that we seek to fix what we view as wrong and if we can’t fix it it becomes worthless, worth less. Changing people requires God to have space to work on them. We make that space by treating them with love and respect. Sometimes they won’t be changed and that’s okay. If they’ve had the opportunity and they refuse it, that’s their right. Maybe it wasn’t quite the right time. Sometimes what we think needs changing isn’t what God wants changing and we have to remember that we follow God’s will, He doesn’t follow ours. We need to be seeking his will in everything and see where that leads us. And it might well start with removing the log from our own eye.