Many years ago, as part of a neighborhood evangelism/outreach sponsored by the very white, upper-middle-class church I was a part of, I came in contact with a cheap hooker. This was only a few years after Julia Roberts portrayed the “Pretty Woman” in the movies, and the contrast could not have been more profound. The hooker caught in my fish net wore the suggestive clothing of a whore, but she did not look the part. She was repulsive to talk to – except for the fact that she was the only person we reached out to who seemed genuinely receptive to the invitation to come to church!
I was just a young man. I was not one of the power players at church. I did not live in one of the fine upper crust homes; I did not earn a big pay check; I had not been trained in ministry. I was just one of the foot soldiers answering for duty. And I was one of the few to even get a nibble on the line. I had someone expressing interest in the invitation to come to church.
And it started to hit me like a two-ton heavy thing while she favorably responded to me: Oh… Jesus. This woman will not fit in at our church. Oh… Jesus. This woman will not be welcome at our church – not really. Oh… Jesus. I am in too deep now. If this woman really accepts my invitation to come to church, she is likely to get hurt in ways and at levels we cannot ever heal.
I did a lot of growing up standing there in that apartment complex that night praying like that under my breath while this wayward soul – exactly the kind Jesus would encounter and minister to – examined her own broken life and contemplated her need for church. Mmm… hmm… I did a lot of growing up just then.
How do you think I viewed my church after that?
We were not fit to love Jesus. I could see it in our eyes, in our worship, in our nice things, our patterns of behavior and social exchanges – our “Christian” culture.
Just the other night, I met a man who was working his way out of homelessness along with his wife. But it turned out his wife had warrants with the court. She turned herself in to answer for whatever crimes she had committed. The man wanted to see her one time before she was shipped off to face justice, but he needed proper identification. Sadly his had expired. He could not afford to update it. Could there be an exception made just this one time?
In an age of terrorism and mistrust, no such exceptions are allowed – and for good reason. But what if the man were to be connected with a church who would help…. a church who would come pick up the guy, drive him to the DMV, pay the $15 fee, and then drive him back to see his beloved wife for a 20-minute visit before she is shipped off? What if?
Just imagine the teachable moment presented just then for a “church” to learn how to love a sinner. This man was reduced to tears. Justice needed to be faced, but somehow this wasn’t really facing it. Just imagine the impact a couple of hours time and $15 could have on this man’s life at JUST THAT MOMENT!
Could I give him your number?
Yeah. I scrambled around and found a phone number to a church and gave it to the man. I told him to ask these people for help. But as I did it, I sensed down in my bones that I was giving him the wrong number. I personally know the individuals who answer that line, and I easily imagined them telling the man that he did not fit their program, that they could not help him, or that he could get help somewhere else.
Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe they did help him. But if so, then something has changed. And I would be pleasantly surprised. For I have no desire to criticize. I have every desire to see the man (and his wife) touched by Jesus. I just think it is highly unlikely that the church I referred him to would actually do it, despite them being one of the premier assemblies for helping such people.
What kind of church to you attend? Does your church throw a Luke-14 party? Does your church reach out to the Matthew-25 Jesus? Does your church answer the Revelation-3:20 knock at the door?