The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
– Mark 8:14-21
“As my class in Chicago read the Gospels and watched movies about Jesus’ life, we noticed a striking pattern: the more unsavory the characters, the more at ease they seemed to feel around Jesus. People like these found Jesus appealing: a Samaritan social outcast, a military officer of the tyrant Herod, a quisling tax collector, a recent hostess to seven demons.
“In contrast, Jesus got a chilly response from more respectable types. Pious Pharisees thought him uncouth and worldly, a rich young ruler walked away shaking his head, and even the open-minded Nicodemus sought a meeting under the cover of darkness.
“I remarked to the class how strange this pattern seemed, since the Christian church now attracts respectable types who closely resemble the people most suspicious of Jesus on earth. What has happened to reverse the pattern of Jesus’ day? Why don’t sinners like being around us?”
– Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (emphasis the author’s)
This is the second installment of “Getting Over Myself”. After the quote from Yancey, he talks about a prostitute that was at her wit’s end. She turned to a friend of Yancey’s who suggested a church. The prostitute’s response stopped him in his tracks. She said that there was no way she would go to a church. They’d just make her feel worse!
Yancey’s next story returned to his class in Chicago. The class laughed about new rules at the Moody Bible Institute a few blocks away from their church. They were banning male students with beards, moustaches, and hair below the ear with a painting of Moody in the hallway that violated all three rules. Only one man in the class was offended by their joking. He called the class and Yancey, “Pharisees.” In talking to the young man, Yancey learned that the young man had been saved because of the Moody church.
Then another person in class talked about how he had gone to the church where he attended AA meetings. While the other people at church were dressed to the nines, he wore his best T-shirt and best pair of jeans. He thought they would shun him, but he kept going to the church, even to week day Bible studies. They did not shun him. It was there where he met Jesus.
When I studied Yancey’s book, this chapter “on Grace” disturbed me. I was always taught to wear my best. As my wife continues to say, “We are going to meet the King. Earthly kings are nothing in comparison, but you don’t go see an earthly king dressed in your coveralls.” Or words to that effect.
My tie collection has over 100 ties in it. I think my record at work was going 109 days without repeating a tie, and there are several ties in my collection that I would not wear to work. Why so many? Both of my boys found wearing neckties to be a problem – not their kind of fashion statement. Can you say that you inherited neckties from your children? Also, a few work buddies gave me their neckties when they retired. Now that I am retired, I could go over two years to church without repeating a necktie. Should I retire them altogether and just wear a shirt without a tie? Does the tie scare off some people who are seeking a new church home? I no longer wear a suit, except on rare occasions in the Spring and Fall when the temperature is just right for a suit coat.
Doctors don’t wear ties anymore because they have found that they collect germs as they go from one sick person to the next in their office or at the hospital. Should I sanitize my neckties?
But we are all sick. All have sinned and fallen short of the bar set by God.
Why do we then pretend to be perfect, even looking down on those who don’t measure up to our standards?
Many years ago, I was on a team that greeted first-time visitors to the church. We would catch them before they got out of their pew and start a conversation. If they were willing to talk, we’d go to the Welcome Center (in the Narthex), share a beverage (lemonade or coffee and cookies or donut holes), and introduce them to other people. On one Sunday, I sat in my usual pew (Sorry, Matthew Winter, but at least I don’t kick people out if they get there first), and I started smelling something really bad behind me. We did not pass the peace that Sunday, so I had no reason to turn around, but as they passed the offering plate, I turned to the usher and got a glance of the man behind me. He looked like he had not bathed in a while. His hair was in disarray as was his beard. He wore a thin hooded jacket, but not a heavy jacket needed for the weather outside. He was probably a construction worker from the South, where it did not get this cold. When the service was over, I turned, but the guy had slipped out before the service ended. It was not my assigned Sunday to greet visitors. I asked the assigned greeter if he talked to the guy. He said that he didn’t know who I was talking about, but after I gave a vivid description, the greeter said that he had not – The guy smelled! I thought that the greeter’s reason for not welcoming him ‘smelled.’ He wasn’t the kind of guy, in the greeter’s opinion, that we wanted at the church. On my way home, we saw the guy from a distance walking toward the cheap hotel (no longer there now) where I had stayed when I first moved to the area one cold winter’s day a few years before.
The next Sunday, the guy came back. I got up and went to the back during the last verse of the final hymn, determined to talk to the guy. He had already left, and he never returned. His face haunts me all these years later. I have to trust that our sovereign God led the man to a church who would accept a stranger.
And even as I carry the burden of one omission of something the church should have done (and me – because I thought about it), I hear others in that same church brag that when they get to Heaven, they will simply tell Jesus that they belong in Heaven, because they were members at _____. I think that is the reasoning the Pharisees used when they got there.
As Yancey asks in the last paragraph of the quote above, “What has happened to reverse the pattern of Jesus’ day? Why don’t sinners like being around us?” These questions are the reason for the post’s title. If our church, and ‘the church’ as a whole, has reversed the pattern, whose side are we on?
My wife and I will still dress as we were taught by our parents. We are still worshipping God, but this idea of welcoming others that ‘don’t measure up to our church’s standards’ still bothers me. (Yes, we have heard those words, but no church is perfect.) What was Jesus’ reaction when confronted about who He hung out with? Jesus said that He stayed with people who needed Him. In other words, those who knew that they were sinners. Maybe that is the answer to Yancey’s question. Maybe, the people going to church have lost touch with that point in their lives when they were confronted by their own sinfulness and knew they needed Jesus in their life.
But as a true believer, I would never forget that point in my life, because I still need Jesus. But when it comes to my timidity regarding greeting strangers, especially the smelly ones, I need to Get Over Myself. God has work for me to do.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.