I’d talk about acceptance. As we in Springfield join in the emerging reality of post-Christian America, where Christian faith is no longer an assumed fact and no longer enjoys its preferred status, we who are people of Christian tradition and faith need to explore new ways of expressing our ethics and convictions. “I believe” is a statement that rests solely in our own experience and existential reality. We cannot expect anyone to respect or join our truth simply because we believe it.
At The Community Church, we have been working through the book of James for the last several weeks. I believe that this letter is James’ attempt to bring the teachings of Jesus to a livable level when dealing with persecutions and trials that serving Christ in the 1st century entailed. James’ central theme is that faith is best expressed through external behaviors. In other words, if you claim to follow Jesus, do good things and don’t be a jerk.
One of the ways we can do good things is to accept people. James used the example of favoring the rich over the poor to illustrate this point. If we extrapolate the truth to a 21st century context, who do we give a favored seat to? The wealthy, the influential, those in agreement? James echoes the teachings of his half-brother, reminding his readers that Christianity’s acceptance of others is based on “whosoever will.” Anyone, ANYONE, who wants to come to the Kingdom is invited. For our church, we hope that anyone who is seeking truth and is safe to the community has a place.
I’ve been taught great lessons on acceptance since coming to Springfield. Acceptance only exists in diversity. Acceptance is not the same as compliance. Acceptance means staying different and existing together. Acceptance requires listening and learning, not talking and teaching. Acceptance is a grace given and a grace received.
I may never convince someone of my truth, but I can demonstrate that, just like me, God accepts them for no other reason than that they exist.
I was in an Anglican church in Oxford a few years ago. One of the staff members told us a story of a homeless man and his dog who had wandered into the sanctuary of this stunning, centuries-old church. A worker moved quickly to get the man and his dog out of this hallowed, sacred space. The pastor stopped them, saying, “I love the smell of dogs in church.” Whosoever will.