I was at work the other day and the topic of my wife training to become a vicar came up. We were discussing life in the Church and I was describing how it can be the most amazing place and yet at the same time it can be such a challenging place. I’m not talking about the occasional boring sermon or sitting on a hard pew for too long each Sunday. I mean, I’ve never been anywhere that has such an eclectic mix of people each and every week…
When I stand and look at our church on a Sunday morning before or after the service I look at the mass of people chatting to each other, catching up, looking out for each or just passing the time until the roast is ready… I find it fascinating watching the interaction between high flying executives chatting to the guys who are getting themselves back on their feet through the local homeless shelter. The elder statesmen in the church having a laugh with the slightly awkward teenager who isn’t sure of their place in the family; from the criminal barrister chatting to the guy who hasn’t been out of prison that long… The quirky; the unusual. The middle class ‘normal’ to those who have learned life’s lessons over a lifetime of training. What a place. What a family. What a challenge!
There are days when I love it and other days when it’s just plain draining…
But you know what? Jesus designed it this way for a reason.
“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Mark 2:13-17 NIV)
There are two things that I want to pick out this passage as we continue to consider what it is to be a disciple of Jesus.
Firstly, it’s sometimes easy to see that other people in the congregation could be termed the ‘sinners’ or the ‘sick’ (I bet you can think of 5 or 6 without trying!). Some people’s brokenness lies very close to the surface whereas others who may appear ‘normal enough’ soon display their dysfunction as you get to know them. But the truth is that you and I are in the Church not because we are righteous or whole but because we too fall into that category. It’s important to realise as we look at others in the Family who appear slightly more weird or needy than ourselves that we’re not the finished article and we rely upon the Great Physician just as much as they do to sort our ‘stuff’ out.
Secondly, what can sometimes appear to be a problem is often actually God’s solution. Are the weird ones actually the needy ones or are we? It is by getting to know and love people that are completely different to ourselves and learning to get along and genuinely care for others even though we have nothing in common but Him that we start to notice how He begins to smooth those rough edges of prejudice, insecurity, pride, jealousy, a need to be noticed and recognised as better than others… The impatience and selfishness start to disappear and after a while, although sometimes it requires taking a deep breath and just deciding to take the time to chat to those we find really difficult or boring, we notice that actually they become the instrument of God’s healing in us. We start to notice a love for the ‘unloveable’ that we read about in the pages of the Book. We start to look a little bit more like our Teacher and in doing so, we see both ourselves and that awkward other becoming more of the people we were created to be.
God’s a funny one and He doesn’t work in the way that we do. We like to chat to people like us. People we feel comfortable around. But you know what – when that’s all we do, we miss out. We’re not doing someone else a favour when we talk to the strange chap who’s stood on his own in the corner. Through that interaction, God’s healing US.