Philip Yancey opens up his book, “What’s so amazing about grace?” with this story he heard from a friend who works with the down and out in Chicago.
A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter -- two years old! -- to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable -- I'm required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say to this woman. At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naive shock that crossed her face. "Church!" she cried. "Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They'd just make me feel worse." p 11.
What struck Philip Yancey is the thought is that women much like this woman went towards Jesus, not away from Jesus, because the worse a woman or a man was, the more likely that person saw Jesus as a refuge and a safe place, and a person of love and grace.
And sometimes I wonder if the church has lost that gift?
What would the church be like it if outdid the whole world in offering grace?
When I was first a minister 38 years ago, it was very common occurrence for people to apologize in my presence. Someone would say something or do something and then, realize that I was a minister. Sorry for swearing. Sorry for saying that. Sorry for acting like jerk.
And usually, I would say. It’s ok. Just be yourself. I am not here to judge you or condemn you.
But I had to say, there was a certain respect from the average every day citizen towards a minister or priest fourty years ago.
About a dozen years ago when I was taking yoga training and took a course to become a yoga instructor, I introduced myself to the rest of the class which was primarily young women. I said I was a minster in a church, and I couldn’t believe the looks on their faces.
This was not respect, but deep suspicion and from a couple of people even a bit of revulsion.
And this is what it was about. It was the sense as a person of the church, I was against gays, I was against abortion, I was against pot, I was against women, I was against freedom. In a yoga group which believes very strongly in non-judgement, it was presumed as a minister I was very much about judging.
Believe me, it took some time for some them to open up to me and see that I was not so religious jerk, pointing fingers and condemning people…
But it is a sad commentary on what some people think about the church.
And the sadder part is that elements of the church have really earned that reputation.
While not all the church practices “ungrace”, and there are those within every congregation who are graceful, I have seen my fair share of “ungrace” in lots of different churches, different denominations, different congregations and different Christians.
Why would I go to church? I already feel bad. They will just make me feel worse?
The Pharisees are almost the caricature now, of those who do not practice grace, but instead were caught up in legalism and pointing fingers
One time, Jesus was doing some celebrating, many of the religious leaders complained that he was a glutton and wino.
Another time Jesus was with some of the less desirable people of the city and the religious leaders complained that Jesus was consorting with sinners.
He even eats with them. He parties with them.
You know they say, “Birds of a feather flock together” they said.
So Jesus tells them a story
Which one of you would not leave the safety of the fold and risk an Edmonton winter, and bandits and lions and bears, to find that one little lost lamb. And when you find that one little lamb, what do you do, you call up all your neighbours and put a raft of steaks on the Barbie and break out the best champagne and celebrate?
And which one of you having a whole roll of loonies and losing one, wouldn’t move all the furniture and check down the drainpipes, and sweep all the floors, and vacuum and check in the central vac, until you find that loonie?
Then you call everybody up using your Telus everywhichway plan and praise God that you found your missing loonie.
Well, actually Jesus. If I had 99 sheep and it was only a little lamb, not worth very much and it was fourty below, and I had to risk my life, I think I would just stay home.
99 sheep in the hand are worth way more than one little lamb in the bush.
And to tell you the truth Jesus, it’s just a loonie. Easy come, Easy go.
We wouldn’t go looking for lambs and coins.
“Precisely” says Jesus. “You wouldn’t go out of the way unless you thought there was something really valuable.”
But God would. God would go looking for the most miserable sinners, because he loves them.
And yet you religious leaders, you keep people out of the kingdom. You keep people out.
You judge them. You wag fingers at them. You say “they’re not good enough.”
Woe to you, religious leaders.
And yet the ideas of the Pharisees are still pretty prevalent today both within the church and without.
Somehow or other, there seems to be this misconception about the church - That what the church is about is wagging its finger in disgust and rejection at people who have failed in life. People seem to feel it's the job of the church to keep away from God the masses of impure people - to check the credentials at the door ... to ensure no one defiles or messes up the Kingdom of God.
There is a powerful word used by the writer of the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts. In Greek the word is "koluo" - In English we would translate It with the word
"stop" or "hinder", or “forbid” or “prevent”
In chapter 9 of Luke, "We saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we "koluoed" him." Jesus said, "Don't you "koluo" him, whoever is not against us, is for us."
Chapter 11 of Luke and Jesus Is pronouncing Woes to the
Scribes and Pharisees.
"Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees. You are so legalistic that you take a tenth of even the herbs and spices you have in your cupboard and give it to God, yet you forget about the love of God and loving others.
Woe to you who are always right. You have so obscured the scriptures that you have koluoed those who would enter the kingdom.
A little later, the women are bringing their babies- Luke- says babies, the other Gospel writers say children - Luke says babies, the women are there with their babies They want to hear Jesus, and there are no babysitters. And they want Jesus to touch the babies.
But you know how babies are at a public gathering - noisy, drop their soothers, have to be fed, have to change the diaper ... a general bother. One of the twelve apostles says to the mothers, "Get the kids out of here, we're trying to have the Kingdom of God ..." ' And Jesus said,
"Permit the children to come, and don't "koluo" them, of such Is the Kingdom."
"Do you mean to say someone who cannot even take care of him or herself, has nothing to offer in labour or gift or anything else, and In fact is a burden on someone else ... do you mean to say they have a place In the Kingdom?"
And Jesus says, “You got it”
A little later, Simon Peter goes to the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, very reluctantly. It took a vision three times to get him to go ...because Cornelius is not a Jew. He is a gentile and very unclean…
but Peter goes. And while he's speaking the Holy Spirit falls on the gentiles, as the Spirit had fallen on the Jews at Pentecost.
And Simon Peter says, "Can anyone here "koluo" the baptism of these gentiles?" Sort of like at a wedding: "Does anyone know of just cause why these two may not be joined In holy wedlock ...?"
"Can anyone "kaluo" the baptism of these
gentiles?" There were some Jews there and maybe they could have koluoed it, because after all they were unclean Gentiles who didn’t believe or know the covenant or the law, but nobody said anything, So Peter baptized them.
Peter was called up on the carpet when he got back home to Jerusalem. They said, "We understand you went In and ate with some gentiles." He said, "Look, I did ... I did" But, he told them the whole story, and when he got through It all he said, "Who am I to "koluo" God”
And there was an Ethiopian eunuch. He'd been up to Jerusalem to worship and he was on his way home.
Philip comes along, "Do you understand what you are reading?"
"How can I with no one to show me I" '
And Philip got up there and started explaining all those
passages In Isaiah, and the chariot was stopped, and the Ethiopian said,
"What Is to "kaluo" my being baptized?"
This foreigner, this man of indeterminate sexuality, the man who had a darker skin colour. This man who wouldn’t even be allowed into worship in Jerusalem says: what is to prevent me being baptized.
Philip might have said: Hey, your skin is a different colour, you’re a foreigner, you don’t have all the bits to be a proper man, and you are not allowed into the temple. I can think of lots of reason why you shouldn’t be baptized.
But Philip says. I can’t think of a reason why you cannot be baptized.
So many people in our world have a peculiar notion about the church ... about Christianity ... about God. Our world is filled with people who will not come to the church for fear of rejection and condemnation ... that they will be "koluoed".
Fred Craddock tells about the time he was invited to say a pray at some civic meeting
And there was an empty chair next to him, and the man who called the meeting said to one of the secretaries, "Go get John, we've got to start." And In came John ... and It was John Ehrlichman - one of the Watergate people. He'd been In prison ... a convicted felon."
Fred said, "I shook hands with him, and he said to me, "What do you do?" And Fred said, "I teach in a seminary in the preparation of ministers for the church." And John Ehrlichman said, "I suppose you know what I did?" And Fred said, "Yes, Mr Ehrlichman, I do."
The meeting went on for a couple of hours and they discussed some big campaign. When It was over, John Ehrlichman said to Fred, "Dr. Craddock, were you embarrassed sitting next to me?"
Fred said, "No, why should I be embarrassed?"
He said, "You know what I did."
Fred said, "Yes."
Ehrlichman said, "I destroyed my family and my life and harmed my country."
"Yes, I know, but why would I be embarrassed?"
"Well," he said, "You represent religion."
And Fred said, "Since I represent religion, I'm the one
person In this room who Is not embarrassed, because we also believe people can start again, quite fresh."
Ehrlichman said, "I've never heard It that way." And left.
The man who called the meeting saw Fred and John talking, but didn't know what they were talking about, so when Fred started to leave, the man said, "I'll see you to the elevator." He rode down the elevator, with Fred and said, "Did I offend you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Having you in a meeting with him."
Fred said, "Why would I be offended?"
"Well, you know, you're a minister ..."
Fred said, "You don't understand what this Is about, do you?"
And Fred went on, "We believe people have forgiveness and new beginnings, and some of the great people in the Christian church had new beginnings.
The church is not about keeping the sinners out. It is about letting people in and celebrating the fact that God loves everyone.
Jesus, why are you consorting with drunkards and prostitutes and cheats? Why are you not koluoing them?
Because those who are sick need help, they need a doctor they need care. They need acceptance, they need forgiveness.
Today is Good Friday and we are proclaiming the message of the cross. This is what Good Friday is all about.
It is about the gospel. It is about the fact that you are loved by God, no ifs buts or maybe.
It is about the fact of Jesus dying to prove he loves you.
Jesus said "Come to me all you that labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest."
Jesus said "For God sent not his son into the world to condemn people, losers that they are, but to save people."
Jesus said, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing."
Jesus said: Go out into the highways and the byways and bring them all into the wedding feast, the good and the bad.
And Jesus said: Suffer the little children to come unto me and do not Koluo them.
Listen to the words of Paul: “Because of his love God had already decided that through Jesus Christ he would make us his sons and daughters—this was his pleasure and purpose. Let us praise God for his glorious grace, for the free gift he gave us in his dear Son! For by the blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, which he gave to us in such large measure!”
You are a prodigal child and God runs out to meet you and kisses you and throws his arms around you when you returned home.
You are a lost sheep and the good shepherd left the safety of heaven and made his way all the way to earth to find you who were lost and bring you home.
You are a homeless street urchin and the King of Kings found you in poverty and squalor and adopted you into his family.
In Jesus all these things happen to us, because Jesus doesn’t koluo you.
Instead, Jesus is koluoed to save you and me.
This is the gospel, the reason Jesus died on Good Friday: We are all God's children and Jesus always has open arms and these words on his lips. "I love you.”