Today’s Word from Pastor Jim…

I have appeared in courtrooms many times over the past 40 years. Only once was I on trial. I suppose that is a bit dramatic, somewhat of an overstatement, but I was the defendant in that case. Someone had used the Trinity Lutheran Church van and upon returning it to our parking lot, they left it in a handicapped parking spot. When I came to work the next day I noticed it there, and I could not help but notice that there was a ticket on the van. The ticket was issued with a fine of $250. That was standard in Washington for illegally parking in a handicapped spot, but it was a little more than I wanted to shell out, so I asked for a day in court. I appeared alone before the judge, and I pled guilty on behalf of the church. I admitted that someone had negligently parked in a handicapped spot. I then asked the judge if the community would benefit from fining the church $250, a church that gave ten of thousands of dollars a year to non-profits on Whidbey Island. The Judge then offered a swift verdict: “Consistent with your plea I find you to be guilty, and I waive all fines.”

I have appeared in courtrooms many times over the past 40 years. I have been summoned as a juror, appeared as a character witness for church members on trial, showed up in courtrooms to support those who took part in Civil Disobedience, been called to testify, and I joined dozens of TLC members when the church was sued in the 1990’s. Most recently, I appeared in Judge Carolyn Cliff’s courtroom, and I could not have been prouder as she conducted herself with professionalism, clarity, and grace.

The courtroom for judges, lawyers, police officers and clerks is a place to live out their vocational calling, serving the people of our nation, seeking truth and justice, maintaining civil order. I have appeared in courtrooms many times, regardless I never feel particularly comfortable in that environment.

I have been planning a funeral with a family from our community. The family member in charge made it very clear that the funeral was to be a celebration of life, “no proselytizing, no judgement.” This conversation got me thinking a lot about the place where we gather, a place that we call a sanctuary. Sanctuary means “safe place.” A bird sanctuary is a safe place for birds. An animal sanctuary does not allow hunters to roam protected acres that have been set aside for the safe migration or habitation of God’s creatures.

Even though Jesus repeatedly warned his followers not to judge others, through the centuries the Christian Church has often felt more like a courtroom than a sanctuary. There are many in our community today who fear coming in our doors, suspecting that the church and church people will be quick to judge them. Their lives like ours, are fraught with broken relationships, fractured families, addiction, and depression. The last thing they need on a Sunday morning is to show up in a courtroom to be told by arrogant preachers or self-righteous religious people that they sinners, they are guilty, and they don’t measure up to God’s standards.

Courtroom or Sanctuary? Which will it be? Who will we be? Remember Jesus not only cautioned his followers against judging others, he also hung out with “the last, the lost, the little and the dead.” And when the table was set, when the meal was to be served, Jesus ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, known sinners and with those who were about to betray him.

When they finally get up the nerve to walk into our sanctuary, when desperation leads them to take a chance on Jesus, let us make sure that our worship space lives up to its title. Let us be a sanctuary, a safe place for all, a safe place to experience God’s grace. Either all are welcome, or all will be excluded.

One beggar, telling another beggar where to find bread, I am your

Pastor Jim

“The last, the lost, the little and the dead.” A quote from the late Father Robert Farrar Capon.

Contact Pastor Jim if you have questions at [email protected]