Once in a while – writing an article for a magazine, commentary for a paper, a feature for a website, or even just a regular post for this space – I realize I have said something possibly important (yes, that does happen sometimes!). It’s an interesting feeling, like taking photographs I know have the potential to be good but then – almost inadvertently – seeing something on the “roll” that makes me catch my breath.
It’s what I hope for as a writer. I read, I study, I explore, I practice my craft, I hone my skills and apply them to my work… but then at the same time I surrender, I pull back from forcing it, and I want – I ask – God to speak through me.
So a couple of days ago, in the middle of writing about the fact that Christmas – the birth of Jesus – is at its heart God’s loving invitation to come home, I expressed the following simple thought:
This a good place to pause and take in the truth of it; because there are still so many angry and ungracious voices in much of what is presented as Christian faith, people who are much more interested in being gatekeepers of religion than representatives of Jesus.
This tendency was one of the things that upset Jesus when he encountered similar inhospitality in Jerusalem. “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” he said.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to!”Jesus. Matthew 23:13
Hence my observation: Exclusions are human inventions, and not the way of Jesus.
I guess you could organize a religion created from a hybrid of Old Testament Judaism, early Christianity, and certain contemporary cultural preferences, wrap it in overtones of strident nationalism, attach a slate of partisan political ideologies – and then slam the door of the kingdom of heaven in the faces of all those you have prejudged as worthy of exclusion.
But that is not Christianity, that is something else entirely.
- Jesus was born into an unwelcoming world and he said, “Come to me if you are carrying heavy burdens.”
- Jesus was raised in a religious system that judged and excluded, and he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; you can come to the Father through me.”
- Jesus stood outside a temple where only one priest could enter the holy of holies, where women could not get as close as men, where the Court of the Gentiles kept non-Jews at a distance, and where believers like the Ethiopian Eunuch (with no clear gender identity) were excluded altogether, and he said, “There’s room for all of you! In my Father’s house are many mansions.”
- Jesus stood by a well and chatted with an outcast woman (the disciples were shocked) and he offered her living water! “Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and I won’t send away anyone who comes to me,” he said a little later.
- Eventually, Jesus stood on a mountainside, with nail marks in his hands and his feet, and charged his followers with the responsibility of inviting everyone in the world to walk in the way of love.
I could go on, but the message is clear. The message of Jesus is clear. God’s message through Christmas is clear: “I won’t send anyone away who comes to me.”