Summary: In a community where 40% of the people don’t give a rip about church what are we to do? How are we to approach them.
The 1950’s was a boom time for the Church in the U.S. and the favorite game for believers was “Hide and Seek”. Congregations would hide behind their walls and stained glass windows and those outside would seek us out. If you hadn’t noticed the world doesn’t play “Hide and Seek” anymore. Today those outside are the ones who are likely to be hiding and if the Church wants to play we have to be “seekers”. Now that may sound pretty simple but often congregations have become like the foreingers in an embassy, locked away behind their walls in safety, all the while bemoaning the horror going on outside.
A recent Jim Carry movie, Bruce Almighty, is the story of a human given the power but not the wisdom of God. Carry proceeds to make a huge mess of things, resulting in everything from natural disasters to financial calamities. But when his girlfriend, Grace, becomes fed up with his immaturity and leaves, a broken Bruce says to God, "How do you make someone love you without affecting free will?" God, played by Morgan Freeman, replies, "Welcome to my world. When you figure that one out, let me know."
What Freemen doesn’t tell us is that God does not how to make someone love him without interfering with free will. He gave us Jesus so that nothing could come between God and us ever again. That is God’s Work. It’s in the past because it has taken place. It’s ongoing today because the offer and relationship is still available and being acted upon. It’s will continue (future) because God isn’t done yet. All of this is God’s Work, but…but He gave us the task of sharing this love with the world, with our neighbors. God’s Work but Our Task.
To do this task we need to realize that there are three groups involved with us. The first is the world. I hope you were here early enough to see what it looks like to have 40% of our neighbors with “no faith involvement”. This doesn’t mean no church involvement. It means no religious involement of any kind. In fact, of the 57,700 or so people in our zip codes of 97217 and 203 there are only 35% or about 12,110 who identify themselves as having a “strong faith commitment”. And the statistics say nothing of those who were part of a congregation and fled, left, drifted away or got burned and see no place for the church in their life.
Did you see what Jesus did in Luke 15. He is at a party with the world. He doesn’t stop the religious leaders from attending. But he is where the tax-collectors and sinners were. He knows who it is that needs him and he is present for them.
A second particpant in this is God. God does something enormously foolish in our eyes. God radically sees the single lost one while leaving the others behind. There is an inordinate amount of time, energy and effort spent on the least. Why? Because God loves to rejoice and the rejoicing takes place when the coin, the sheep, tax-collector etc. are found and become aware of God’s love and respond to it. Leonard Sweet writes, “Jesus’ world seemed over peopled with outcasts. Jesus’ table fellowship with real-life low-life’s outraged the pious among the people of his day,..An authentic biblical table culture will similarly outrage the pious of our day, especially when the church starts imitating Jesus and "throws parties" for those not yet "worthy" of having parties "thrown" for them--postmodern equivalents of Jesus’ table of table companions (Adulterers, swindlers, prostitutes, peddlers, tax-collectors, donkey divers, shepherds, tanners, excise men, etc.).
This brings us to the third participant and it’s us, the Church, the Body of Christ, the religious people. As much as these stories tell of God’s grace they also serve as a warning to those who thought they were too good to be part of Jesus’ party. The Pharisees complain "He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends." The Message. And they were right. What they missed what that this is where they should have been too if they were doing the tasks that God’s work demanded of them.
There is an intereting contrast going on here between the sinners who “listen” to Jesus and the Pharisees who “grumble”. It’s made more interesting when one realizes that the word is purposely used to link these religious people with those who grumbled against God in the desert in the Old Testament Exodus from Egypt. Things hadn’t really changed all that much.
One writer commented on the church by sharing, “I think that this is a very important question for churches today. More than one congregational member has not rejoiced over the influx of new members in the congregation. The non-rejoicing criticism seems especially prevalent when the "found" are somehow different from the mainstream members. The difference could be: