Psalm 51:1–13, Luke 15:1–10, 1 Timothy 1:12–17
“Be gracious to me…Against…you alone…have I sinned…Purify me…Turn your face…from my sins…create a clean heart for me…Do not banish me…sustain me…sinners will return to you.”
The (very) abbreviated Psalm 51:1–13 above probably resonates with you. The Psalms are often flowery poems, and when we strip much of that away it hits even deeper. As you read the full and abbreviated Psalm, did you feel gratitude toward God and his grace given to you? If not, I urge you to re-read both again.
After almost 2 millennia of digging in and seeking God’s truth and wisdom, it has almost become the default setting that Jesus is God (though often still hard to fully grasp). Why is that important? Well, if Jesus is God, then Jesus would display God’s nature and character. That being the case, we ought to look at the Gospels as insights into God.
In Luke 15:1–10, we often focus on the parables, which are great. Yet, the whole reason for the parables was to explain, “…[Jesus] welcomes sinners and eats with them.” God WELCOMES sinners and eats WITH them. Pardon the philosophical wanderings things brings to mind, but are we the church—the so-called bride of Jesus—doing that?
Is the church so concerned about purity—and apparent holiness—that it (they, we) doesn’t welcome sinners and eat with them? This is not a new struggle. In the early years of the church, there was a barrier to entry for the literal safety of the church. With Augustine’s official recognition of the church (and its sad becoming a place of worldly power), the barrier became toeing the party line (in both Western and Eastern Christendom).
Perhaps instead of looking at the last few decades as the way things ought to be, perhaps we ought to look to the founding of the Church of the Nazarene. Phineas Bresee—viewed by many as the primary (but not only) founder of the Church of the Nazarene—had his church in (what came to be called) Skid Row. The alcoholics, prostitutes, drug addicts (opium) were all there. They didn’t have it all together. Do you?
Yet the church puts litmus tests on a lot of things. It’s so much easier to say here is the line you must cross. Jesus died while we were yet (and to be) sinners. Jesus crossed the line! Jesus just crossed it the “wrong” direction. Thanks be to God!
A parable: There was a company whose workers were on strike. The strikers’ singular complaint was that the company kept trying to bring in the “wrong” people. Those people were dirty, smelly, believed the wrong things. How DARE the company try to bring them in! They—the striking workers—were the ONLY ones who knew who belonged. A person trying to answer employment ad tried to get in, but the strikers wouldn’t allow it. The company president saw the person being spat on, yelled at, and even struck. The president then went to the person, crossing the picket line. The president grabbed the person’s hand and brought the person in. The person said to the president, “your workers are bad people! Look what they did!” The president responded, sadly, “You see, they think they are on the inside protecting the company, but really, by their actions, they are now on the outside.”
3) Which is more inviting? Telling a person how wrong they are, or telling a person how loved they are? And, then, how do you show either one?