I have been living in Egleston Square for about a year now. During that time, I have met hundreds of people who live around Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. I have learned from them that there are a lot of great churches in this community. Some with legacies that span generations, and some that, much like my congregation, are just getting started. I want to state at the outset, I am thankful for those churches and the people who are a part of them. It is wonderful to benefit from their hard work and the good reputation they are making for Christians in the neighborhood.
That said, despite the many gracious and loving people representing Christ in this area, over the years, we Christians have also done plenty of wrong.
In my interactions throughout the community, I have come across an array of responses when my job as a pastor comes up, but the vast majority of them fall into two categories: 1) Pleasant dismissal. 2) Guilt Avoidance. In the former case, the response is something like, “oh, that’s great!...., (insert subject changing topic here).” Don’t get me wrong; this is a perfectly reasonable and acceptable response. There are few things less comfortable in polite conversation that politics and religion, and when I hear the dismissal, I get the message loud and clear. With the latter response, it usually goes something like “I have not been to church in (x number of weeks, months years, decades) but I know I need to” or “Oh, yeah, I go to (church name).” Meaning, I go to church so please do not make me feel bad for not coming to your church.
This is an overgeneralization, no doubt, but it’s only to bring up this point: I NEVER hear are any of these responses: “Oh, please tell me more about that,” or “I am so glad to hear there is a new church nearby” or “Wow, Christians are wonderful people I’m so glad to learn there will be more of them here.”
I Never hear “Wow, Christians are wonderful people I’m so glad to learn there will be more of them here.”
I think the reason why that never happens is because we Christians have a bad habit of being rule enforcers and guilt inducers. We are often thought of as people who have a particular view of the world with specific morality that we want everyone else to follow. So often, the only exposure people have to Christianity comes from others telling them how they should live.
I am bummed about. This month at Christ the King we are meeting in the evenings to discuss the beatitudes from Matthew 5. The first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It means, the people who Jesus calls blessed are the ones who realize they have nothing to offer God. It’s not the people who have their act together, or those who keep all the rules, and it is certainly not those who think their personal holiness gives them a leg up on everyone else. The prerequisite for coming to Jesus is being willing to say, I am a mess and I cannot do this on my own.
Now, this is not something that just happens once. Jesus is not simply talking about being “born again.” He is saying that the defining characteristic of people who call themselves Christians is that they should know they have nothing to offer spiritually. Christians are not the best rule keepers, I certainly am not. In fact, all that my efforts to keep the rules have taught me is that I am a miserable wretch with no business being a pastor. And yet, in a weird way, that is evidence of Christ at work in my heart. That’s the first step. A willingness to say, if it is up to me to do it all & to live up to God’s standards, I’m doomed.
So why am I posting this on the patch? Because I want to share that message with those who have felt judged or pressured by the church. We are not better than you. In all likelihood we are a lot worse. Seriously, the one of the last things that Paul wrote during his ministry was this “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
We are not better than you.
That’s where Christianity starts, and if that’s the knowledge we wake up with everyday, it should change the way we relate to our neighbors. How can I judge and condemn people, how can I push my standards upon people, how look down on anyone when I already know I am the worst?
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."