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Jesus – Friend of Sinners, and Others

November 20, 2007

Years ago I was in Monterey California having breakfast with a good friend at a diner on Cannery Row. We sat at a table next to the big front window and had a great view up and down the street. As our omelets were being delivered to the table a large van pulled up in front of our window and began to disgorge all manner of young people that looked to be between 18 to 26 years old. At first, trendy, sharp dressed and well kept beautiful people stepped out onto the sidewalk. they had been sitting in the front of the van. They were attractive and athletic young men and women.

Then, a different sort of person began to emerge. They were either skinny or overweight and ran the spectrum of humanity between being nerdy and geeky to even a bit weird. Their behavior showed that they were socially and personally inept. By dress and mannerism you could tell they did not belong in the front of the van, or even in the same van, with the beautiful people. One guy had the worst bed-head I had ever seen, to which I said to my friend, “Couldn’t that guy at least have stuck his head under a faucet this morning?”

After about twelve people had spilled out onto the sidewalk I remarked, “Well, this is either a field trip of inmates from the asylum with their handlers, or a van load of Christians.” Just then a mouth-breather with coke-bottle glasses stepped out of the van with an “I Love Jesus” shirt on. Of course the shirt was way too tight.

The church also has its share of arrogant, imperious, self-centered jerks. I had the misfortune to have dealt with one such wretch who was the founder and president-for-life of the ‘Future Cult Leaders of America’. Many have aspired to his position, their name is legion. This teenager had the audacity to command me to submit to his direction concerning what I should preach about on Sundays! I have not always behaved with good Christian charity toward these kinds of people.

Though we avoid people like this, it is not so hard to be friends with other believers, and sinners, who are like us. There are people who we naturally gravitate to in any situation, even at church. Though this is fine in itself, there are also posers in church – people who hang with and want to be seen with the popular and respected people who seem to have it all together.

We stay away from weirdos, jerks, the less popular, less vibrant – the losers, even in Church. You know what I mean, there are people you don’t want to be seen with on Sunday morning. People who you can say ‘Hi’ to and greet briefly, but you sure don’t want to be seen talking to them for five or ten minutes – the kind of people you don’t want first time visitors to meet. The kind of people who make you feel uncomfortable at church. This is true of people in all kinds of churches, from traditional to cutting edge emergent and beyond. For many people, their church might as well be empty on Sunday morning.

I don’t like this. It is wearying. It is particularly loathsome and sinful in church leadership. It is cruel and prideful and unloving. It is a kind of fear of man and a desire for approval and it is arrogant. It results in posturing and posing and distance and superficiality in church. An easy way to test if this is true in your situation is to listen to the prayer requests at your next meeting. They are usually lame and superficial and when a request of substance is made people are uncomfortable until you move on. This is because of a lack of genuine relationships.

Much is said about how “cool” Jesus was and about His counter cultural message and life and about His love and concern and compassion. Jesus was all that and certainly He and His message still are counter cultural – even to our church cultures. But, being counter-cultural like Jesus is not loving like Jesus did. If you love people like Jesus did you will be truly counter-cultural.

Jesus spent time with people who gave him a bad reputation. He spent time with people that made others feel uncomfortable. He spent time with people others did not want to be seen with, and they loved Him for it. We also need to spend time with people so that they will love Jesus too.

It is not so hard to be a friend of people who are like us, both Christians and unbelievers. But, an over emphasis on culture and relating to the world and an aversion to exposing personal struggles has marginalized the weak and failing and personally and socially inept in our churches. I think it is harder than ever for some people to find friends and acceptance in church. The pressure to be relevant and cool and to have it all together has made it hard to be a friend to those in church that we are embarrassed to be seen with.

Jesus – friend of sinners, weirdos, jerks and losers.

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