Thanks to Catch citizen John Fagliano for the following quote from Tim Keller in line with yesterday’s Catch about God desiring mercy over sacrifice.
Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church.
That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.
Hearing Keller’s comments brought to mind an experience I had last summer attending a concert at Hollywood Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California by a singer/songwriter friend of mine from early Jesus Music days. I thought it would be a fun surprise reunion having not seen him for years. I took with me a professor from Biola University whom I knew loved that era of music. It turned out to be everything I hoped but there was a unique twist to the evening as well.
As we drove into the church campus, we passed under a freeway overpass that had been turned into tent city for the homeless. There must have been 20 or 30 people camped there less than a block from the church. It created a stark contrast — the juxtaposition of tent city next to the staid brick Gothic structure established in 1923. It was the broken and marginalized up against the buttoned-down.
On our way home that night, the prof and I talked about what it would have been like to invite the homeless people outside to the free concert inside. They would have loved it, and the people inside would have loved them. Barriers would have been broken down. Us/them thinking would have been defeated. The stereotypes Keller spoke of would have evaporated. But why didn’t we? Why didn’t I? I thought of it, but talked myself out of it by not wanting to disrupt my friend’s concert. However, the real reason was fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of hostility from people less fortunate than me. Fear of crossing the line.
We’ve got to get over this, people. We are all one big “We.” There is no “us” and “them.” We are all in need — the people in the tents, and the people in the pews. We are all much more the same than we are different. We need to get the inside out and let the outside in. Let the church truly be the church of saved sinners — diverse but so much the same.
In a poignant commentary on this situation, one of my favorite songs by the songwriter from that concert is about Jesus clearing the temple of hucksters of religious wares and it ends with these words: “Jesus, He came on through here today and asked everyone to leave.”
Jesus drove the religious hypocrites out and brought in the needy, the sinners and the marginalized. When we welcome these, we welcome everyone.