Once upon a time, the churches were commissioned to go out and participate in the mission of God: to bring good news to the poor, to free the captives, to heal the sick, to forgive debts, and to make disciples. Yet much of the church took this as a mandate to accrue wealth and wield power. Some preachers controlled their flocks through fear; some upheld violent nation-states to their own advantage; some wielded proof texts like a weapon. Some religious leaders took advantage of vulnerable people, while others used their power to cover up their colleagues’ acts of abuse. Churches hoarded riches, and locked them away; denominations invested in corporations that denuded the forests and poisoned the rivers. Some congregations became private clubs, and made anyone who was different feel deeply unwelcome; some became places of such vitriolic hatred that all who came into contact with them were burned. All these goings-on in God’s name made God feel totally ripped off. So God decided to leave the churches, and let them fend for themselves.
The churches could read the signs: they sensed the coming disaster, and they were terrified. So some tried to avert it by insisting on purity codes and particular theologies. They preached narrow views of human sexuality, gender roles, and family life; they insisted on particular doctrines around atonement and creation; they demonised other faiths and other forms of spiritual seeking; and they accused those who left the church of a lack of faith and commitment.
But some cheeky churches took another approach. They knew that there were verses in the Bible which say that women should not speak in church, that homosexuality is a sin, that Jesus is the only way. And yet they also had a hunch that God’s heart was big, really big, and more than a little wild. And they suspected that God might not be particularly interested in keeping things tight; maybe other other things were more important to God.
Taking the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coins as their cue, the people of these churches went out and tracked down anyone who had ever been told by a church that they were a sinner for their sexual orientation, or their refusal to adhere to gender norms, or their lack of faith. And when they found the people, they loved them wholeheartedly and then, without seeking any permission, they cancelled those sins. They proclaimed them irrelevant. They said, “These things do not matter,” and they simply crossed them out.
And the people being loved just as they were, and whose tally of sins now looked like everybody else’s, were amazed. People formed new and lasting friendships, and had barbecues on Saturdays. Over sausages and beer, they shared stories about a God who especially loves people on society’s margins: people who are used as political pawns; people who are blocked from participating in social institutions, or even other churches. Together, they experienced a God who gathers people up in a tender and loving embrace. The conversations were enriched by much laughter and many tears; good questions and deep silence; and children shooting through on tricycles. And day by day those churches grew in their expressions of hospitality, and added to their numbers.
Meanwhile, God was watching all the cheeky acts of forgiveness and all the conversations over sausages and all the children on tricycles, and God was delighted. And so God decided not to forsake those churches, but to breathe even more life into their gatherings, and even more hope into the world. And that, my friends, is the beginning of the story. Amen. Ω