It is early in the morning, the sun rising over the neighborhoods of Tecate, Mexico. Tecate sits about 25 miles due east of Tijuana, and straddles the border between Mexico and the United States.From certain places in town you can see both sides of the border. I’m s driving a van full of kids, eager and nervous for their first day of building a home for a family. As we pulled into the dirt street, a man in silk pajamas suddenly appeared in front of the van. This is unusual to say the least. He is waving his arms, motioning us forward. What is he doing? Then it dawned on me. He is showing us where to park. He is offering a gracious gift of hospitality. For the next three days he did the same thing. A parking attendant in silk pajamas.
Build Lives, Not Walls
We arrived at the site where we would be building a home and begin looking for the tools. AMOR Ministries provides certain tools that are delivered to the work site ahead of time. We couldn’t find them anywhere. Someone suggested that perhaps they were at another house in the neighborhood. A few of us begin walking down the street yelling “martillos.” We thought this was the Spanish word for tools, but it turns out it means hammers. This begins to become apparent when people emerged from their homes holding hammers, offering them to us for our use. The use of hammers for a group and a neighbor in need. They are offering a gracious gift of hospitality. I think about how many of my neighbors in my neighborhood would be so willing to offer such a gift to me if I walked up and down my street yelling “hammers.”
Build Lives, Not Walls
It is the end of the day and the sun is beginning to go down. It gets cold in the desert climate of Tecate, Mexico around sunset in the spring. A man is sitting outside his clapboard home around a fire. The fire is his kitchen for the evening. His makeshift refrigerator is a bucket filled with ice. On the menu for the evening is fish, fish moving from the bucket to the old grill over the fire. I’m fascinated by his resourcefulness. He waves me over and I draw nearer to take a closer look. We exchange a glance and with a quick wave, he invites me for dinner. I’m a complete stranger to him and he is a complete stranger to me. Except that we aren’t really strangers.We are neighbors.A human made border doesn’t change that fact. We are children of God who have been given the gift to break bread together. My neighbor offering a gracious gift of hospitality.
Build Lives, Not Walls
I’m grateful these new friends took an interest in building my life. I’m thankful that building walls was not on their agenda.Grace abounds.
You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.–Exodus 22:21
He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. Deuteronomy 10:18
” and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31
I’ve been thinking about a couple of things today
- Jesus- I’m getting ready to start a new series on the life of Jesus as told in the early chapters of the Gospel of Luke
- New Year’s Resolutions- There is reason devotional sales are high in January. Everyone wants to be a better, more devout, go to religious services type of person in (insert year here)
- Where people see themselves along the spectrum of Christianity.
I had coffee this morning with my buddy Michael McCluskey and we talked about some of these things. I have a gift for having coffee with others. It’s easily some of my best work. I shared that I really believe that the labels we as Christians have given ourselves are changing (Mainline, Evangelical, Conservative, Liberal, etc.) Among the issues are the baggage these labels carry, the way they shortchange the breadth and depth of faith, and the confusion and division they perpetuate.
We use these because we need to use them in order to fit in somewhere. We need to describe our communities and our faith to others. We need to tell our story (God knows we need to do this) so we fall back on old descriptions. How do you describe something that is in many ways indescribable?
I can’t remember which of us said it, but we began to talk about the idea of a line in the sand. The phrase is a metaphor that generally means a point beyond which one will proceed no further and a point in a decision from which one cannot return.
Who do you believe God loves? Who do you believe Jesus loves? Where would you draw the proverbial “line in the sand?” Who’s in and who’s out? That’s some real practical theology there isn’t it? If Jesus is our model for living, a quick read of the Gospels would suggest that Jesus draws his line pretty far out. It made folks uncomfortable then and it makes folks uncomfortable today.
Where would you draw your line in the sand? Could it be that our best resolution for 2017 is to draw that line as far out as God does. I believe being more faithful means paying better attention to who God loves. We should be in communities of faith who love others as Jesus loved others. As leaders, we should call our communities of faith to love others as Jesus loved others. That’s perhaps more critical now than it ever has been.
Where does God draw that line? Farther out than you can begin to imagine.
Who does God love? All of us, even you and me.
Is your congregation liberal or conservative? The man asked me the dreaded question right there in the middle of the coffee shop. This conversation got serious fast. We had only been chatting for a bit after I told him I was a pastor. I know he was trying to get a feel for the church and my brand of theology. I told him we were an open table church. So, is your church liberal or conservative?
Brian McLaren writes that we “have intelligence on ice and ignorance on fire” in today’s religious landscape and by and large he is correct. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly we begin defining ourselves and more importantly God with neat lines and definitions. We don’t dare venture outside those boxes we put ourselves into for fear of being labeled. You love and are passionate about Jesus,you must be an evangelical. You believe its okay to read the Bible with a critical eye towards context. You must be a progressive. Where is the line? I suspect that the terms that us “insiders” cling to like a life raft mean very little to those outside of our institutions, except to serve as a turn off. Are we more in love with our theology than we are with God and God’s mission and call upon us?
It’s a futile act to try and reduce this beautiful, wonderful, life-giving and even terrifying mystery we call faith to a simple term or two. In doing so, we are closing off so many possibilities for ourselves and our communities. One of the roles of pastor is that of public theologian. For me, a large portion of this calling is helping people to do their own theology (God-talk) on a daily basis. Could it be that we do our best theological work while also doing our best to follow the way of Jesus? Why are we afraid to let God’s movement of love and grace in our lives and churches stand on its own? Why can’t justice for all, compassion, and working together towards God’s shalom speak for itself?
It’s what Jesus would do, I told him. Best I can tell, God welcomes us all. An open table means that all are welcomed and there are no litmus tests of faith or labels. God meets us where we are on our journey and continues that journey with us. There is room enough for me and there is room enough for you. There is room for everyone.
“Oh, I’m not that kind of Christian.” I have uttered those words more times than I can count. As a child, playing with neighbors, in the halls of middle and high school, in social gatherings in college, in offices I’ve worked in, and now, as an ordained minister, seemingly to most every person I meet. I’ve grown weary of apologizing for my faith. Maybe you have as well. Continue reading “No More Apologies (or Labels)”
One of the favorite holiday traditions in our family has been a Christmas Open House in December. We’ve enjoyed hosting new members in our home here in Atlanta the last few years. We moved to Indiana in November of 2008 and thought that an Open House would be a great way to get to know people in the church and in the neighborhood. So, we cleaned the house (actually, it gave us motivation to unpack most everything), prepared food, made sure the Christmas decorations were up, prepared food, set up extra chairs and prepared more food. We were ready for a large group of people who we either barely knew or didn’t know at all to show up at our house. Continue reading “From Danny- What If God Threw a Party and No One Showed Up?”
Today’s post is by Katie Gibson, Director of Youth and Children’s Ministry. Katie continues our Stories That Changed the World series this Sunday with her message, “Salt,Light, and the Good Life.”
Dr. Fred Craddock tells about the time he was to give two lectures in mid-October at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. He gave the first one on a Friday night, but, by the next morning, there was two feet of snow covering the area. His host couldn’t get to him so he suggested that Dr. Craddock walk down the block to a bus depot, which had a café. He made it to the café where other stranded strangers were gathered. He asked for a menu and a man in a greasy apron said, “What do you want a menu for? We have soup – that’s all.” Continue reading “From Katie- Salt, Light and the Good Life”
When I was in college, the Dave Matthews Band had just become the biggest band in the country.They were coming to the Omni in Atlanta (the arena before Philips Arena) on their first major concert tour and some friends and I decided that we would make the trip over to see them. Tickets for the show went on sale about three months before the actual show. We wanted good seats and also wanted to ensure that we got tickets in general, as the show was sure to sell out in quick fashion. Continue reading “From Danny- God Is Not Fair!”