Good morning and happy Wednesday! Today our guest blogger is a dear friend and colleague, Jim Fellers. Jim is the pastor at Gresham United Methodist Church. Jim and I worked together for four years in Corvallis. I have learned soooo much about ministry and journeying from this man. Jim and I still chat often, challenge each other and joke a lot. He loves a good pastry with a good cup of coffee. He has a passion for travel and for social justice…enjoy.
Luke 15:2 (CEB) The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
In recent weeks, Gresham has received national attention over the refusal of a local bakery to make a cake for a same sex marriage. The owners claim that their Christian faith instructs them not to support a homosexual union.
My response to them is this: You believe homosexuality to be a sin; I do not. However, doesn’t it seem like Jesus’ actions should be powerfully instructive for you? He welcomed and ate with sinners, those whom his religion considered to be unclean and unholy.
Wait a minute. Is that right? Welcomed? Ate? Table fellowship with sinners?
During the season of Lent many scriptural texts emphasize this radical understanding of God’s love for those considered ‘out of bounds, illegal, or illegitimate.’
I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not consider the LGBTQ community to be in that group. Instead, I want to turn the question about ‘welcoming and eating with sinners’ inward on me and, perhaps, on you.
Followers of Jesus don’t spend time separating themselves from the ‘unclean’—that was the way of Pharisees.
Instead, Christians find ways to infuse a tired, pessimistic world with an elixir of unconditional love
They take the wedding cake to the party and, perhaps, a bottle of their best wine.
Now, the honest part. For me, and other clergy, it is sometimes just as difficult to eat with sinners as it seems to be for the Gresham bakers. Let me blog as a clergy person with the assumption that lay readers will find similar challenges in their own sphere.
We mainline clergy have a special aversion to fellowship with conservative, evangelical pastors. Yes, I have suffered the narrow theological, substitutionary view of atonement: God demands a sacrifice for human sin and Jesus offers his life, pays the price for me. Yes, I believe my conservative colleagues sin when they exclude women from ministry. Yes, I tire of hearing that our president is probably a socialist Muslim who is out to destroy America—a message that is often proclaimed by fundamentalist Christian ‘sinners.’ Yes, I tire of planning a community Good Friday service with my evangelical colleagues who insist on having a resurrection service.
Lent challenges me to leave my comfortable, ‘clean, theologically correct’ friendship circle and venture out to establish redemptive relationships with those whom I consider to be ‘sinners’ – those who miss the mark of Jesus’ radical grace.
Every month I receive an email invitation to join the local pastors’ prayer lunch. So far, I have resisted because it is not fun to spend time with those whose Christian paradigm is so different from my own.
So, Lent invites me to struggle with the same issues that the Pharisees had. Who are those groups or individuals that cause inner terror at the thought of welcoming or, worse yet, sharing a meal?
Perhaps it is time for some of us to call our neighbor at the church of Christ and, at least, meet for coffee. I can’t be too critical of a Gresham baker if I am unwilling to examine the same flaw in my own life.
What action are you contemplating to welcome and eat with sinners?