“I don’t know why I’m about to tell you this, but ever since you shared your story, I knew I had to talk to you.”
Precious words that immediately grabbed my attention, pierced my heart, and blessed my soul.
A week or so before, my friend was called into the
Principal’s Pastor’s office. I’ve been there before, sitting in “the hot seat”, fully aware of my guilt, but also anxious as hell, wondering what version of my story my “shepherd” was told. Isn’t it sad that so many of us fear a call from the preacher, when Jesus handled things so differently? Jesus, the one who loved the whore. Jesus, the one who brought the thief into communion. Jesus, the one who sheltered the adulterous woman from the stones of death. Should I remind you of the position those men held in the church: those men who would have rather murdered her than counsel her? Instead of placing the woman on the hot seat, she witnessed The Good Shepherd on The Mercy Seat.
My friend met with her closest friends recently and bared her soul. This precious child of God, who has more books on the subject of her struggle that Oprah has clothes, sat with three people she trusted deeply and shared her story. She not only shared her struggle, but in a moment of transparency, went far enough to ask her confidants to walk with her through this trial. She was hoping for some accountability. When she wasn’t making as much progress as one of her “friends” thought she should, that particular person said, “Well, you might as well just go live in your sin.”
Let’s take a look at Jesus again and reflect on the words and actions of Our Standard. Seven times throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus become frustrated with people and turn them over to their own depravity. Oh…wait…what? That never happened? Ever? Not once?!
Then who in the World do we think we are?
It is heart-breaking to hear stories like my friend’s, of people who have been so far removed from their struggle that they forget what it’s like to crawl out of the pit. I think in many cases, the Church has placed so many demands on Grace, that “the World” has begun to say, “Why even waste my time? I could never measure up to them.” The brand of Christianity that many live today is eerily similar to the outwardly pious, inwardly deceptive Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
“Never again,” said my broken friend, “will I allow the person in the pew next to me to go unnoticed”. Beautiful words from someone who has felt not only unnoticed, but unwanted. Our pews are filled with ragamuffins, in need of messy grace. Each Sunday, our churches are host to many who live ashamed of their story and fear someone finding out just what all they’ve done, whether it is from the pew or the pulpit. We have created a culture of white-washed tombs: a people who are more concerned with the external demands of religion, than the internal gift of Grace.
Dear God, from our pulpits and our private conversations, may we focus more on the unconditional love and never-ending grace that comes from you than the lists of rules and demands we have constructed. Give us, oh God, eyes that seek out those in need. Open our ears to hear the cries of those who live in the shadows. May our hands be used to wipe away the bleeding tears of those who hurt so deeply. Use our voices to echo Your songs of deliverance to the captives. As we strive to live like the Good Samaritan, give us hearts that consistently pour out the same Grace we have been given. And God, as we journey down this Ragamuffin Road, please let our words be scarce, only speaking when it is absolutely necessary. When we do open our mouths, instead of the venom of vipers, let us utter praises to the God who frees those bound in religion, breathes life into old dry bones, and allows young and old to dream again.
Heal the pain in our pews, Abba.