Thank you, Chris (Rob’s Dad).
In a comment regarding yesterday’s post, Chris writes, “What happens if one of the 99 is really not safe? Everything looks good on the outside but they are broken and hurt on the inside.”
Something happened in our Small Group Sunday night that hit me in the face like a Kenny Rogers uppercut. I’ve been thinking about it and talking it about for the past two and a half days. But I’ve been double-clutching like Dirk at the buzzer, apprehensive about sharing it on the blog. (OK, no more sports references.) Chris’ comment has pushed me now to share this. If you’re impacted by it half as much as I was, it’ll radically change the way you see things. And hopefully the way we act.
In looking at Luke 15 again, our group was exploring the subtle forms of “muttering” (Luke 15:2) that take place in the Church today against “tax collectors and sinners.” We discussed the hard-hitting question of whether Legacy attracts or repels those who are lost. Do the way we act and the things we do reach out to those marginalized by society or drive them away?
And Virginia is right there in the middle of us, sitting at my dining room table.
Virginia and Bobby were spending the night in their car in the Walgreen’s parking lot down the street from our church building when they showed up here looking for some help six weeks ago. Tatoos on their arms and necks. Smoking. Out of work and out of luck. Pregnant. Again. And carrying with them, in addition to all their wordly possessions in the back of their car, a history of alcohol and drug abuse, physical abuse, prison time, rejection, dejection, and all the physical and emotional scars that come from a life most of us reading this blog can never imagine.
And she’s crying.
She’s been coming to our Small Group for the past four or five weeks. (We still can’t get Bobby there, but we’re not giving up.) She’s been helped and encouraged and loved by everybody in our group for over a month.
And she’s crying.
And so I just asked her. Virginia, you know what it’s like to be an outsider. You know what it’s like to be left out. Pushed aside. Ignored. Please tell us what it’s like. What’s it like when you and Bobby walk into our church building on Sundays and Wednesdays. What’s it like to walk our halls and sit in the auditorium and share the Wednesday meal with us? How do people treat you? Look at you? Make you feel? Help us understand what it’s like to be an outsider, the very kind of person Jesus came to seek and save.
She told us everything, I guess, most of us expected to hear. She gets the looks from a lot of us. People are polite and kind, but they keep their distance. Bobby, especially, she said, feels singled-out. He feels like people treat him as if he’s about to steal their wallets. However, she also said that she’s never felt as warmly received by any church family in her whole life as she has here at Legacy. She’s overwhelmed by the love and acceptance that she does feel. And she told us that being invited to our homes as part of our Small Group is the nicest thing anyone’s done for her in her entire life.
And she kept crying.
And then Matt said, “I know exactly how she feels.”
And I did a double-take.
Matt and Rechele are upper-middle class white people like the rest of us in our group, like most of us in our church. Matt’s a highly-decorated police officer. Rechele’s a respected school teacher. Theirs is a “blended” family due to divorce and remarriage, again, not unlike nearly half of our church families. On the surface they don’t stick out in any discernible way. And I called him on it. Out loud. In front of the whole group. Boldly and confidently.
“Matt, that’s not what we’re talking about. You’re just like everybody else. Bobby and Virginia stick out. They’re outsiders. They’re the ones Jesus is talking about in Luke 15.”
And then Matt and Rechele explained. Because of their divorces and the circumstances surrounding their divorces, they had suffered the pain and rejection of their own Christian brothers and sisters. They had been told by church leaders over the past 13 or 14 months at two or three different churches that they weren’t welcome. They were told they could drop their children off at the front door on Sundays and Wednesdays but that they would have to keep driving. They themselves would have to go somewhere else. They were told they were sinners, living in sin. They were kicked to the curb by their own best friends. They asked God to forgive them. They wrote letters and made phone calls asking for forgiveness from the Church. They’ve humbly confessed. They’ve done everything they know how to do. But they were still rejected. Singled out. Pushed away.
And Matt said being invited into our homes as part of our Small Group was the nicest thing anyone’s done for Rechele and him in over a year. They live in Carrollton. It takes them 40-minutes to get to church. But he said he’d drive all day and night to be with the family at Legacy. Because they finally feel loved and accepted.
By this time he’s crying, Rechele’s crying, Virginia’s crying, Carrie-Anne’s crying, Tim’s crying, Beth’s crying, everybody’s crying. And I’m just sitting there soaking in the amazing revelation that is dramatically changing the way I see people.
Bobby & Virginia and Matt & Rechelle couldn’t be more different. I don’t have the time or the space here to adequately tell you how different they are. And they both told the same story. They both have experienced the same things. They’ve shared the same feelings and thoughts. They’ve both been outsiders. Marginalized. One is way outside our flock and very obvious. The other is part of our 99.
May our God bless us with his eyes and his vision to see the people around us who are dying for love and acceptance and relationships. And may we better understand that some of the people buried under the dirt in the dark corners of our messy world or wandering desperately in the vast wilderness of rejection are on our church rolls and in our classrooms and pews.