Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…
Jesus said to the religious people, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you.” Matthew 21:31
The question comes up from time to time: a question born in pain, rooted in personal experience, an apprehensive question which reveals the fear of being known, known by those who may not be compassionate or trustworthy. The question: “Am I safe? Will I be judged?” Broken people walk into our church every week. They are looking for sanctuary, a safe place. They long for words of hope as they carry more than their share of shame, guilt, and regret. Those who are mostly likely to ask the question are people whose families are dealing with addiction, divorce, or some form of mental illness.
Broken people walk into a church that bears the name of Jesus and they wonder if they will be shunned, judged, or excluded. It has been said that “the church is the only army that shoots its wounded.” Of course, that is not true. Those of you who have been in the corporate world, politics, or professional sports know that the wounded are discarded every day.
My father was a highly functional alcoholic. He was never absent from work, never had a DWI, never missed a beat during the day. He poured his life into his corporate work for 30 years, and he poured a lot of drinks at the end of the day. When his family had an intervention to help him back to health, he swallowed his pride and headed off to Hazelton for 30 days of in-patient rehab. His boss gave him the time off, but when he returned to work, it was clear that his days were numbered, and soon the company that he had given his life to, had retired him.
The church too, is not always very understanding or patient with those who are damaged, broken, non-conforming, or high maintenance. We praise high achievers; we are intoxicated by wealth and power, we imply that God has blessed the faithful with success, at the same time implying that others are suffering the just fruits of their behavior. The cancer of self-righteousness is always close to the surface among religious people like us. We take ourselves too seriously, we claim favored status with God, we somehow believe that we are better than the broken. We show up on Sunday, we say the right prayers, we wear the right clothes, we make offerings of time and money, and we do good deeds.
But we too are hiding, hiding behind a mask, hoping that others won’t discover the secrets of our families or the secrets of our lives. And if the mask were to come off, “Am I safe? Will I be judged?” “Will the Harper Valley PTA or the Country Club toss me aside?” One of the most freeing moments of my life came when I realized that I am not called to bear the burden of judging others. I am your pastor, not your judge. I set the table for communion, but I let Jesus determine the guest list. I am not responsible for what you believe, I am only responsible for what I teach.
“My child is gay, am I safe?” “My husband is in prison; will I be judged?” “I am an addict in need of recovery, am I safe?” “I am an undocumented immigrant; will I be welcome at TLC?” “I am not sure that I even believe in God, will I be judged here?”
She sat in my office, she told me her story, the courage she displayed inspired me, the pain she carried saddened me, and then she said it, “Am I safe? Will I be judged here?”
We can do better. We must do better.