Oct 22 2013

Pastoral Reflections

“Jesus’ new reality is affirmed and announced on the margins,
where people are ready to understand and ask questions.”

— Richard Rohr

I’ve been pondering Richard Rohr’s astute observation. The Jesus of the gospels brings the living, breathing, good news of God’s saving love to the “harassed and helpless”; to those who have not been accepted; to the dislocated, the bleeding, the untouchable, the grieving, the anxious, the lost. Folks in these outposts of life welcome him eagerly, and move toward him with deep intention. His crazy, wonderful gospel makes particular sense in these parched and longing places. Conversely, there is little welcome for Jesus in the established religious center, where the proclamation of the God of immeasurable grace, the God who breathes forgiveness1, can only disrupt the status quo of an institution that has come to reflect the world’s protected order. There, Jesus’ message makes little practical sense.

So, here is an insight that will probably sound odd at first: It strikes me that “church” may be one of the hardest places for some of us to hear Jesus! I’m guessing that the truth of that will correlate with whether or not we come assuming we already know all of what Jesus is going to say to us. And maybe how hungry and thirsty for God’s life-changing love we find ourselves to be! Consider yourself blessed as you ponder how your life experience informs such queries.

For me, the church has long been a place of comfort and belonging. But even as I celebrate those gifts, I am reminded that the new community born of Jesus’ resurrection was characterized by bold experiments in the love of Jesus and radical trust in the God who promises transformation and new life! I know that such qualities must characterize the church that bears Jesus’ name today. The missionary E. Stanley Jones was once asked if he became a Christian because he wanted God to hold his hand and give him comfort. Jones replied: “I don’t want God to hold my hand but I want him to strengthen my arm that I might reach out … to others.” Personally, I believe that singing, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, as a prayer from the bottom of our hearts might open us graciously to both experiences.

The Gospel writers tell us that the One whom we proclaim as Lord, Sovereign, and Savior spends much of his time in the places where we don’t want to be, among people whose lives we would prefer not to share. But it is in these locations, among these brothers and sisters, that we will hear him most clearly, and where his crazy, wonderful gospel will make the most sense.

Recently, our friend Carl Yusavitz came back to us to offer a two-part series on grief and on reckoning with our own mortality (entitled, respectively, Good Grief and Death, Where is Thy Sting?). The conversations were vulnerable and wonderful. The folks who attended listened deeply and asked poignant, searching questions. I am reminded of Rohr’s quote above. Dealing with grief and facing our mortality are difficult for us, yet unavoidable. In our culture, such experiences are marginalized, avoided – yet, paradoxically, all of us will have to reckon with both. To do so in faith opens us to God’s gracious presence and promise in the most trying of circumstances, and (in the spirit of L. Stanley Jones) makes us more available to one another.

Maybe we don’t have to travel great distances to meet and hear this Jesus! If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have any idea what they’re talking about, then we know that Jesus lives in the margins of our own lives: the places we ignore; the needs we deny; the humanity we refuse to recognize; our fault-lines and fractures. Honestly, wouldn’t it be a relief to acknowledge that the “harassed and helpless, those who have not been accepted, the dislocated, the bleeding, the untouchable, the grieving, the anxious, and the lost” are us as well as others? And that the good news of God’s astounding love that raises us from mere coping and resignation and exhaustion and bitterness and emptiness and speechlessness to authentically new, God-breathed life, really is for us!!? I love the promise that “church” might be the setting, the community, where we can risk such radical trust and encounter. In that event, maybe “church” will become the place where we can hear Jesus most clearly. And where his gospel makes wonderful sense.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Scott's Signature

1 Richard Rohr says: “It is interesting that Jesus identifies forgiveness with breathing, the one thing we have done constantly since we were born and until we die. He says God’s forgiveness is like breathing.”

Pastor Scott’s Archived Messages