Sentness – Safe Places
Earlier in the week as part of our Soup, Salad, and Scripture class we listened as a pastor on the DVD Bible study compared church to a gym where he works out regularly. He views both the church and the gym as places where we can be surrounded by people who will encourage, motivate, and keep us accountable. He painted a beautiful picture in my mind of what that type of community could be like.
Now, I’ve been a gym member for almost all of my adult life, and I simply cannot point out a single experience that matches what this pastor talked about. For me, gyms are places where my biggest insecurities are laid bare. Because of my insecurities, just about everyone around me in a gym feels like a threat. I feel like I am being judged and made fun of because of my comparable weakness or lack of endurance.
I do believe that at its best a gym can be a safe place where people can develop emotional as well as physical health; and I know people who claim this to be true, based on their experiences. I just have not really experienced that.
Similarly, I believe that at its best a church can be a safe place; and I know people who claim this to be true, based on their experiences. But that truth is so easily hidden from so many people.
Too many people feel the same way about church as I feel about the gym. You’ve probably heard, or have yourself, stories about insincere people, fake smiles, sermons that seem to have no accessible or practical meaning, customs that seem awkward, and pressure to fit into the homogeneous culture where everyone looks, dresses, and acts the same, and has the same political persuasion. You’ll hear stories about people who catch sideways glances from strangers and ask themselves “Are they judging me? Are they making fun of me because I’m different or because I’m unsure about my faith?”
Changing the culture of a gym to make it more of a safe place for even the most insecure exerciser is a difficult task; so too is the task of changing the culture of a church to make it more of a safe place. And certainly we should all take an honest look at our thoughts and actions to make sure we are truly doing our best to welcome all people here, so that anyone who walks in can enjoy the grace that flows as freely as the coffee. That’s what it means to be a safe place.
In addition, we are called to an even bigger and more challenging task – changing the culture of our families, neighborhoods, businesses, are larger communities to create more safe places for the most vulnerable.
The authors of Sentness write,
We are sent people, sent into the everyday ordinariness of life to take steps towards justice and reconciliation and hope for all people: the poor, the executives, the housewives, the veterans, the sexually exploited, the criminals, the lost, the addicted, the immigrant, the successful, the elderly, the gay, the straight, the young, the sinners, the saints, and even the weak and insecure guy at the gym.
In today’s gospel we hear the story of Jesus coming to the aid of a woman who was in an adulterous affair and sentenced to death by a jury of her peers. Although, truth be told, a jury of her peers at that time was a mob of men with a lust for killing backed up by a warped understanding of religion who felt free to take the law into their own hands.
There were a lot of reasons for Jesus not to help the woman: He would be breaking a religious law; he would be forever associated with a woman of ill repute; his entire ministry and reputation could be discredited; and he would be putting his own safety at risk by challenging the mob.
But there was only one reason for Jesus to help the woman: His belief that God loved the woman and wanted her to live.
Jesus knew that God had sent him into the everyday ordinariness of life to take steps towards justice and reconciliation and hope for all people. So he bravely and peacefully steps in, speaks truth, disperses the mob, and brings hope and the promise of life to the woman.
It’s a beautifully simple yet profound example for us to follow. As God’s redeemed people, we are sent to speak up for the people in our neighborhoods and our world who need our voices.
We are fortunate to be a part of a church family where this is being done, regularly. Here are just a few examples that might inspire and encourage you:
There’s the woman who noticed that there were no sports opportunities for girls and decided to run for school board, becoming the first female ever elected to the Hancock County school board. Still today if you go to a girls sport event, you’ll probably see her cheering from the sidelines.
There’s a young man who volunteers with medical vaccine agencies to fund vaccine initiatives across the world, ensuring that millions of preventable illnesses and deaths are actually prevented.
There are several people here who have taken on the task of working with and for at-risk youth who desperately need to know that someone is looking out for them and that the structures of the world will not keep them in the gutter.
There are the faithful volunteers at the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen in Greenfield.
There are countless others who see their jobs and family roles, however mundane they may often seem, as opportunities to honor God and be a presence of peace and hope for those who can’t seem to find it anywhere else.
That’s just a small sample of what a few people are doing on their own accord. Just think what will be possible as this congregation continues to discern where God is at work and how we can use our gifts and resources to join in God’s work.
What would it look like for this congregation to stand up to the bloodthirsty angry mobs demanding religious justification for their oppression of different genders, races, ethnicities, incomes, and any other label we attach to a group in order to dehumanize the flesh and blood people whose lives God has charged us to protect?
There are a lot of reasons for us not to speak up on behalf of those with no voice.
But there is only one reason for us to speak up: Our belief that God loves all and wants us to live.
May you realize that God sends you into the everyday ordinariness of life to take the necessary steps towards justice and reconciliation and hope for all people. May you bravely and peacefully step in, disperse the mob, and speak a word of hope and the promise of life to those who won’t hear it anywhere else.