The pastor of the church we regularly attend told a story of when he first arrived at the church. He looked around the neighborhood and asked God who around the church needed to know God's grace. The first place he noticed was a huge low income apartment complex right behind the church. The church and the complex were separated by a hill going down to the apartments and a large fence around the church property. The decision was made to tear down the fence and build a sidewalk. The kids in the apartments were invited to play basketball on our courts. People from the church began to reach out to the families. This one act forever changed the landscape of our church. Now it is home to a food distribution center for needy families, a last chance school that not only helps kids finish high school and learn life skills, but gives them a chance to experience unconditional love for the first time and many other places where people can come to know Jesus in very real ways.
On the day this story was told, a light went on for me. This was the picture of what I am to be in the world, a tearer down of fences and a builder of sidewalks. In 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, we are told that we are reconciled to God through Christ, now we are given the ministry of reconciliation. What does this mean? In its simplest form, this means to live in such a way as to draw people closer to God. It means to show through our lives what God is like and how much He loves us. It is our privilege to pass the message to a world that needs to know that God loved them so much He gave His Son to reconcile them back to himself. This is the ministry of taking down fences and building sidewalks.
What does that really look like? For us that means time spent in biker bars, poker runs, and places where homeless people gather. It means opening our home to people who need a safe place to go and a place where they can experience love that doesn't come with a debt. It is so much more than all these things. For us it means holding what we believe with an open hand, knowing that we don't have a corner on all the right answers. All we can pass on is what we understand so far of what God is saying through His Word and imitate Jesus as best we can. The gospels are full of stories of Jesus and what he did. He did not build fences between himself and those who didn't agree with him. He chose rather to reach out to them, to tell them truth. When the division came between theologies, they parted company with Jesus. He continued to reach out to them. He never rejected a person because of their mess or their past. He spoke to sinful women, tax collectors, thieves and anyone else who came his way. He did not withhold his grace based on theological, gender, racial, denominational or any other lines that, in our humanness, tend to divide. He did not walk wide around the cemetery for fear of the demoniac. He walked right in, tore down the fence and built a sidewalk to the man's real need, a need for Jesus himself.
Jesus' message has always been a dividing point, he knew it would be because people want to get to God their way. I don't think he ever intended it to be a battle over the "right" theology. There are many friends of mine that have differing ideas about what the Bible has to say. These seem to be calls to division in places where I am called to grace, but I am unwilling to put being right ahead of the relationship. It takes an enormous amount of work to hold what I believe loose enough to be challenged without severing a relationship to prove I am right. Jesus is the one who saves all who call on him not just those who have it all right. Why should I have to be divided from people who are different, when the same grace is offered to me and them alike? I am not accepted because of my theology, but because of Jesus blood covering my sins. If I am not accepted by others because of my theology, Jesus blood still covers my sins. It always has been and always will be so.
Having said all that, how do we begin to tear down fences of division and build sidewalks of reconciliation? For me, it begins with a choice not to divide. When others may choose to part ways with me, my heart breaks every time it happens, but they choose the separation not me and I will pray and hope for a restored relationship. For me, there is freedom in not having to be right. My eyes are opened to the beauty and diversity different kinds of people have to offer. In many ways, the challenges they bring to my life have made my faith in Jesus so much stronger as I have to examine my own beliefs based on evidence and not just based on "well that is what I believe, so there" or "that is what I was always taught". I am able to love people right where they are and not as I would make them to be. Isn't that what Jesus did for us in the first place?
This post is part of the April 2014 Synchroblog "Healing the Divides". Please check out the other authors that contributed to this months topic.
The Virtual Abbess – Abi and April’s Synchroblog – Bridging the Divides