Throughout Jesus’ ministry, inclusion of everyone was his message and purpose; in the way he lived, loved, and taught others. It was what ultimately got him killed. And yet, here we are.
Can we look honestly at ourselves in the context of that truth for a moment?
Wait! Don’t leave…
If you want to leave because you’re afraid your beliefs may be called into question and you’re not sure you can defend them, wouldn’t that signify that something is wrong?
If you want to bolt, cover your ears, send a few choice words my way – something or Someone needs your attention… God Maybe?
If it is to be real, the faith we adhere to requires truth-telling. Deep down, whole-hearted, fierce, raw, unabashed, truth-telling – first to ourselves and then to others.
Does your faith today look any different than your parent’s faith when you were a child or what you were taught in Sunday School? It should. We should always be maturing in faith. Ownership of our beliefs is critical to the moral integrity that guides our lives. If it is not, why not?
Is it fear of what lies outside the immovable brick walls of our comfortable, unchallenged belief system? Walls that separate us from those who are not like us? Walls that keep God at a safe distance? Walls that violate the very essence of our being – God within us? Are we so busy projecting our pretentiousness onto others that God sits in our shadow?
I am reminded of the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke’s Gospel (18:11-13). The Pharisee unexpectedly dropped dead and found himself standing before God.
(Fun Factoid: When he was standing in line, which, make no mistake, he hated – he thought to himself, “Gosh, God’s shorter than I imagined!” Wait, no, that was Moses at the burning bush. Sorry.)
Anyway, he suddenly noticed the guy standing in line next to him (not behind him, which he also hated!). “Ahhh, that low-life tax collector is here. This should be fun!” Now, our Pharisee was always prepared for this day and kept his handy “ain’t I special” checklist on him at all times to impress God.
He finally got to the head of the line, “Ahem, I thank you, God, that I am not like, you know, those people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” He then whips out his checklist, “I fasted, I tithed, I didn’t cuss or lust-on weekends, I didn’t kill anyone (God side-eyes him) – okay, that one time it looked like I shoved that heathen into a pit – but that was an accident – he slipped. I swear – oops!” (side-eye again!)
Then, he turned his smugness toward the tax collector as if to say, “Good luck topping that, loser!” But the tax collector humbly stood there praying for God’s mercy. Which God immediately granted as the Pharisee desperately tried to rewrite his “this ain’t getting you out of hell” list.
The tax collector knew what we often fail to accept about ourselves: We’re ALL sinners. All of us. Romans 3:11 is a sobering reminder of that truth, “None is righteous” There are no exceptions. So, we simply try to make ourselves exceptions, just like the Pharisee. Do I detect a bit of a HUMPH slipping through those clenched teeth of yours? Huh? Come on, were you doing that?
Was there suddenly a God-thump on your heart trying to remind you of that piety and self-righteousness that has been shielding you from the truth of your indifference, or perhaps even participation, in the anger and violence we see today against others?
Of course, scripture tells us that brutality against humankind has existed since the beginning of time. We don’t even get through the first book of Genesis. First, God creates Adam and Eve. Then he tells them, “Go on now, make some beautiful babies and fill the earth. Spread the love!” They have two beautiful bouncing baby boys: Cain and Abel. Just two chapters later, Cain kills Abel, and it all went sideways.
It’s nothing new. It’s just that now we can see it every blasted day! We cry out, “How could anyone commit such evil against other human beings?”…and then turn off the news or computer screen and go about our business, pronouncing to God, like the Pharisee, “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like them!” But is that true? Come on, don’t get all huffy again. Hear me out because it’s essential to look at what underlies acts of violence.
Hating and hurting others does not begin with violence; it begins in the heart. Of course, none of us want to hear that, but every one of us has the potential for evil. John Phillip Newell tells us, “There are angels of light and angels of darkness in us all.”
Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Now, you could probably puff out your chest and proclaim that you have never murdered anyone, and you likely never will. But how about this…do you reject or shun anyone? Do you gossip about or make fun of someone who is not like you?
In 2013, Susan Boyle walked onto the stage of Britain’s Got Talent. The audience and the judges snickered and laughed at her appearance and awkwardness. She was used to that because she was made fun of all her life. But, somehow, she mustered up the courage to walk onto that stage and belt out a song that stunned everyone there to dumb silence:
She became famous overnight but could never overcome the belief that she just wasn’t good enough. People surrounded her everywhere she went. They screamed and cheered for her, but she never felt truly loved.
The song she sang that night was Les Miserables, “I Dreamed A Dream”. Pay close attention to these words:
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So much different from this hell I’m living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed
It’s a stark commentary on the shallowness of humankind, and the unconscionable fact is that we, as people of faith, are no different.
Jesus spent his life calling out that “holier than thou” attitude of the elites and raising up those cast aside, rejected, and unworthy by the world’s standards. He is trying to speak that truth to us. But are we listening? From the looks of the mess our world is in today, it doesn’t seem so.
If we consider ourselves professed believers, we must first change in the depth of our hearts if the world is going to change. We must remove the blinders and look honestly at the faith we declare. Religion begins and ends with rules and dogmas. Spirituality moves beyond that mentality.
Religion stupefies the love of God and proclaims that if you’re not like me, you don’t matter one whit. If you don’t believe what I believe, if you don’t profess what I profess, sorry for you, you’re destined for hell. Have a nice trip.
We see the “ALL ARE WELCOME” sign on the front of many churches. But, I wonder if it’s true…the “ALL” part in particular. Often it is actually saying, “You are welcome to become one of us if you clean yourself up first. We are here to share our truth of salvation and save your wretched soul from damnation!”
If we don’t loosen our grip on our narrow-minded belief systems tucked into the stone walls of our churches, the divisions we experience in our lives and communities will only deepen as we entrench ourselves in a sanctimonious attitude, not born of faith but of fear.
How can we go on pretending we have some kind of VIP membership to the right hand of God, that we have the Penthouse Suite awaiting our arrival in “heaven” when we refuse to acknowledge our sinfulness against our brothers and sisters? At the same time, claiming to be bearers of God’s love. You do know that’s what we are called to be, right?
Did you know that Mahatma Gandhi once considered becoming a Christian? Yep, he read the Sermon on the Mount and fell in love with Jesus. He wanted to emulate him. So, one day he went to a Christian Church in India, but they wouldn’t let him in! He since said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” That should shame every one of us. It should cause us to look deeply into our own hearts and ask ourselves if we are Christian in name only. And that should send us to our knees where God does his best work!
2 thoughts on “Members Only – Keep Out!”
Powerful message! 👐🏻 You never fail to amaze. If Christ came to our churches, would He see unity, humility, acceptance, and LOVE?
There’s a reason He was born in a manger, visited by “lowly” shepherds and the Gentile magi. The elite and the pious were too occupied with “essential” things to pay our Savior a visit. Can we ever bow our heads low and admit our sinfulness and need for Christ like that tax collector? I pray. 😔
Way to pierce the heart and deflate our egos, Linda! Keep writing! ♥🙏🏻
Thx Breanna! And your thoughts, from such a young person are encouraging to me – the old one (lol)! It’s the younger generation that needs to be encouraged and shown the beauty and majesty of God’s love! Carry on, darlin’!
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