One of my favorite pastors in the USA is John Burke in Austin TX at Gateway Church. John wrote a book sometime back called No Perfect People Allowed, a book that told stories about how his church was formed by imperfect people finding the grace of God and forgiveness in the face of Jesus. So I was glad to hear that John had a new book called Mud and the Masterpiece (Baker, 2013).
As I read this one it forms the mode or the means of how a No Perfect People kind of church was formed. That is, it was formed because people learned to see through a person’s externalities to see them as people made in the image of God.
Questions: Why is it so hard to make a church a healing center instead of a center for the healthy? Why are churches for cleaned-up people instead of muddy people? Why is a eucharist-centered church space designed so often for the already forgiven? Why are these features so in contrast to how Jesus created sacred space for the muddy people of Galilee?
So, here’s John’s thesis — and pastors you will love the stories in this book. The ruling metaphor of this book is a Rembrandt masterpiece that is (fictionally) discovered in the alley all covered with mud. Do you see the mud or do you see the masterpiece beyond the mud? That’s the whole aim of the book — getting people to see beyond the mud to see what God can make of a person. And John’s got stories of muddy people who have become God’s masterpieces. (Yes, “masterpiece” is his translation for “handiwork” in Ephesians 2:10.
What Mud and the Masterpiece is a witness to the transforming power of God’s grace in the lives of real people. Here are some highlights:
John contrasts how Jesus saw people with how the Pharisees saw people (and I would add, ahem in light of my long post yesterday, “some” Pharisees as stereotyped in the Gospels). There can be no doubt that the Pharisees chafed at Jesus’ relations with muddy people and Jesus chuffed right back at them for their lack of mercy and love. Which is the point: they saw too much mud, Jesus saw the masterpiece that grace would create.
We need more people today who have the eyes of Jesus and who see beyond the mud to the masterpiece. “Is it possible that many Christians today who desire moral reform, love the Word of God, and pride themselves on teaching truth could be missional on the wrong mission — failing to demonstrate the heart of God to a broken world?” (31)
“Do you realize that Jesus was not shocked by the shocking things people do?” (40)
“What you hold in your heart toward a person, the mental framework in which you picture them, is what people react to interpersonally” (54).