Expecting the unexpected guest
June 28, 2023 / By Daniel J. Bradley, Pastor at Faith Journey UMC
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so, we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that bit did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”—1 John 3:1-2
It goes without saying that Faith Journey United Methodist Church is an inclusive church. We have all kinds of people in the church, and they all make up a tapestry of faith in God. We may not always agree about everything, but the one constant that we hang our hats on is that Jesus is Lord. That is the common thread that pulls us together in the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. This is grace, not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent Jesus into this world to redeem us from the law of sin and death.
Not too long ago, I was not an inclusive person. I understood scripture and theology to be exclusive as opposed to inclusive of all persons. I have never been so wrong. It took getting out of my comfort zone and hanging out with people that were different than me, and seeing God’s grace in and through them to realize my own fallacies. I am not a perfect person, nor have I arrived at a fully sanctified state. I am human, and I make many mistakes. I thank God that God gives me the grace to make amends with those I hurt and repair relationships. In some cases, throughout my life, making amends has not been possible on this side of heaven. For that, my heart is grieved, but I trust in God that in the twinkling of an eye and the blink of death turning into a new life, all will be set right.
I just finished reading an incredible book about life and faith. It is entitled, On Our Best Behavior: the Seven Deadly Sins and the Price Women Pay to be Good. The book by Elise Loehnen, while written primarily for women, is very instructional for men. If you are a man reading this article, I encourage you to get a copy and read it for yourself and fully understand the culture of patriarchy and the damage it has done to women in this world. Loehnen writes of faith, “Faith revolves around an attachment that there is something bigger than my [our] existence.” For me, that is God and the reality that I am not in charge of this world. There is nothing that is in my control except for how I respond in the face of injustice, oppression, and chaos. This is the cry of the Christian faith. How we respond and how people see us tells a story about the God that we praise on Sunday morning.
The greatest sin committed by humanity is reveling in one’s vanity. This world is not about us or our needs. It is a love story of the God of the universe pouring out God’s blessings on an imperfect world. Thank God for grace and the depths of grace that are unknown. Thank God that God does not hold my sins against me. We must be a people of grace, compassion, and mercy—slow to anger and full of love. If we want the world to know what we know, then we must face the reality that we have an imperfect church run by imperfect people, all needing the grace of God.
At times I can be arrogant and self-centered. I can be the center of my own universe and think that the sun, moon, and stars revolve around me. I can judge people harshly—particularly other clergy and have the impotence to want to correct their perceived errors. This is not helpful or grace-filled behavior; it is a sin. The second I judge someone by my standards, that standard is applied to me. How can I judge someone’s behaviors harshly when I am committing the same perceived sins?
The multitude of errors and sins that I have committed leave me wondering if God can love me. The answer to that question is that God loves you and me no more or less than God does today. God gave this gift in Jesus that we might have the fullness of life and the faith to move mountains. Right now, I’ve got mountains to move and very little faith. What is the essence of faith? “Faith revolves around an attachment that there is something bigger than my [our] existence.” That is the key. All of the stuff that we think is important really isn’t; if we don’t grasp a larger view of the world and all of its splendor, then we will have missed the point of God drawing near when we were far away.
Each week we open the doors of the church to people from all walks of life. There is no litmus test to come to Faith Journey United Methodist Church. There is no magic handshake or creed that must be recited before entering the sanctuary. There is only a desire to meet God on God’s terms and not our own. This thing called faith needs to be exercised each time we greet one another in grace and thanksgiving, knowing that God is working things out.
Faith is touching God through our brokenness, pain, and sin, holding on to the hands of Jesus. It is my hope that as we greet people, we look not to the differences but to the grace and faith that binds us together.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” —1 John 3:2