Let’s face it our republic has been tested in a way not seen since the Great Depression. There have been rumors that 20% of mainline congregations face closure. That’s just sad and flabergasting to me because it shows that we the church haven’t flexed to the new heaven and earth that has been created from our recent apocalypse.
To grow disciples in this new plot of the garden it will require we once again adopt and adapt to an upside-down model of viewing the world. To understand this new earth it’s critical that we understand the parable of the 5000 because it’s absolutely critical to our mission now.
Jesus tried to get his disciples to come away with him to pray and rest. But the multitude found them and Jesus taught them. As the sun went down the disciples implored Jesus to send these people into the villages so that they may get something to eat…(Read: THEY were hungry). Jesus said to give them something to eat. The disciples said they only had a few small loaves and a couple of fish. Jesus said to have everyone sit down…and they all ate. Jesus then had them collect the scraps and there were more than 12 baskets left because there is much wealth among the poor if we only can see the bounty.
Now our cultural pundits have been guilty of creating a culture of scarcity. Scarcity of food, security, housing, money, even love, and acceptance! It seems crazy to me how comfortable we have become at projecting poverty as means of avoiding dealing with any actual structural issues facing our culture. And whoa to the person, institution, or writer who demands anything. One side will cancel them for being a socialist, and the other for not being progressive enough!!
I have grown used to all of this save for one thing…a genuine lack of love! We are all so focused on being right, winning the battle that we ignore all the casualties we leave behind rotting in our wake. It’s not that we don’t see them. We do. They’re just viewed as casualties in some just war.
But what if we’re all wrong? What if we got it all wrong? Let me be so bold as to suggest that when America killed love as a virtue our collective soul died. Our heart was ripped out from us. We stopped being a unified country and started being zones of influence.
Let’s consider though a few scenarios. If you are a Patriots fan as I was until recently what mattered was winning the Super Bowl. What if the best QB on the board the one who could help win it all was a transgender woman named Margot. Margot went to Minnesota and led them to a Rose Bowl win…which is less likely than the second coming but hear me out. Would you take her if you owned the team? Would you accept her and cheer for her if she was the starter? Most of us would. Some of us would never cheer for her if she was on the team because they can’t see past her shell to the competitor within. But most of us would. Winning the Super Bowl is more important than something as petty as a person’s outward appearance.
So how come we can’t in the workplace or school? The path of being transgender may not be YOUR path and that’s ok! But there are others for whom it is.
Let me ask you this. Is God’s unmerited favor enough to cover that person? Does infinite love and mercy have limits? Is love in limited supply?
For too many Americans these days the answer is that our God is too small, too petty, too angry, to extend grace to all, unless they…whoever they are…comports to THEIR standards of conduct, beliefs, and attitudes.
But there is much wealth among the poor! I have learned in my walk that the people we reject are the ones most likely to extend unmerited favor and love to others. That oddball family that doesn’t live up to expectations? Yeah, they tend to be the normal ones.
As Americans we are ALL guilty of defining the other whom we just can’t manage to find love and mercy for and this is wrong and it needs to stop because it’s killing our society from the inside out.
We all cheer for the same team of America under the same loving God. I am not asking you to become trans, or gay, or BIPOC, or a woman. I am not asking you to change you! I am asking, begging you to see that other person that other American as a member of the same dang team worthy of existing, a being that matters, someone on the same team! I am asking that you love them with your whole heart! Because they are on team USA. They are a starter on our national team and are worthy of respect.
God’s grace is limitless. When Jesus died on the cross he didn’t qualify it. He didn’t place a list above or below his body that qualified who got the favor and who didn’t. He just gave his love! He sacrificed himself for everyone's sin. All of us sin, some much more than others, and God realizes this. So God made one final sacrifice to tie up all the loose ends, to permanently wipe the slate clean. Your faith tradition, your political persuasion, your skin color, your sexuality don’t make you more than in the Kingdom of God.
So let me challenge you to turn and go a different way in the next few weeks. Go out of your way to love everyone especially those you don’t agree with. Have mercy on them and the whole of creation. Because God had mercy on you. When you look upon God’s creation and reject it out of hand you are literally looking in God’s face and rejecting God. Love first. Be love first. Do all the good you can to all the people you can. Why? Because God gave all to you first and loves you because a piece of God is in each of us. Stop rejecting and start loving. Remember we are all fans and starters on the same team.
So how can we help! How can the Church regain her relevance in a world dominated by YouTube and Twitter? We help. For the past 100 plus years, the church has grown by pushing people in through the front door via threats of eternal damnation. It worked for as long as the church entertained the masses with sermons, clubs, and music. But that doesn’t work anymore, does it? You see, the people need shepherds now out in the wilderness. People who will lay in front of the sheep pen, who will lay down their lives for them, who will chase every sheep and every lamb because all sheep matter to God.
Folks! Our youth desire justice and seek out to love all people. They went to the streets for imperfect people because they felt something was wrong with how their lives were thrown away. Millions of young people went to the streets, continue to go to the streets. Where’s the church? Why are our parishioners at home while their communities burn? With technologies available today why aren’t we writing, giving, and drawing attention to what is happening out there?
The good news begins with simple acts of love. Homemade masks for people who need them, meals for the hungry regardless of their circumstances, milk for kid's eyes, and skin burning from tear gas. Little acts of love over time bring people into the Jesus movement. Remember the church is a movement. It exists to wander the Earth to places of injustice. To bring salt and light to dark places. And it begins by asking the question how can we help?
Our goal should be to throw water of unmerited favor as far as love can reach. Who wants to be part of a movement that helps and doesn’t judge? Whose interested in a movement that is driven by meeting the needs of others? Who is interested in a movement that unapologetically loves people no matter what? In the Jesus movement, the church should be leading this charge not backing down. In the Jesus movement, we should spend our time out in the trenches with those society has rejected and who need our love and our help. So if you wanna see your church survive, if you want to be in the 80%, focus on love, live love, go outside your doors and get into trouble in places of darkness! But live love, be frivolous with it! And see if God doesn’t expand the Church’s reach!