Summary: God loves everyone, especially the "wrong crowd". He wants us to know the joy of a life lived in God. He invites us to join Him in the great treasure hunt-the hunt for lost souls-and bring the great treasure to Him when we have found it.
A minister died and was waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him was a guy who was dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket and jeans. Saint Peter addressed the guy, "Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?" The guy replied, "I'm Joe Cohen, taxi driver, of New York City". Saint Peter consulted his list. He smiled and said to the taxi driver, "Take this silken robe and golden staff, and enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
The taxi driver went into Heaven, and then it was the minister's turn. He stood erect and boomed out, "I am Joseph Snow, pastor of Saint Mary's Church for the last forty-three years." Saint Peter consulted his list and said to the minister, "Take this cotton robe and wooden staff, and enter the Kingdom of Heaven." "Just a minute," said the minister. "That man was a taxi driver and he gets a silken robe and golden staff. How can this be?" "Up here, we work by results," said Saint Peter. "While you preached, people slept. While he drove, people prayed."
An inner city church, located in an area of a large American city where there were few residents, was forced to a decision. A large corporation was offering them a great deal of money for their site, on which the corporation wanted to put a parking lot. The money would enable the church to move to another part of the inner city where they would find many more people to serve. Even though this was exciting to some of the congregation, other members were resistant to the idea. They pointed out that the church was the guardian of a building whose history and architecture reached back into the early part of the nineteenth century. Denominational history had been made in that building, and some of the grand figures of the church had passed its portals.
Eventually the congregation decided to sell the site and make the move to a new building in a teeming inner-city neighborhood. The pastor who was with this congregation through all this upheaval said, "We had to decide whether we wanted to be in a museum or in mission." They couldn't have it both ways. It meant either staying on their site, glorying in their past history and serving a few people, or giving up their past and gearing themselves to a significant ministry among the city's people. They opted for mission status over museum status.
Something of this same struggle is indicated in this morning's Gospel reading. The Pharisees and scribes came down on the side of museum religion. They wanted attention given to those who were stable, pious and not a liability if invited to the country club. Their rationale was "Let's have our synagogue programs be for us dependable, like-minded types." Some present-day church-growth advocates have the same rationale. Jesus disappointed them by insisting that the issue was one of mission: to reach out to those who needed great mercy, lessons in etiquette, social graces, and perhaps a bath. Paying attention to these "lost" persons would change the comfortable fellowship the scribes and Pharisees enjoyed at the synagogue, to say nothing of putting a dent into its budget.