Imperfect people belong here
ROSEVILLE – Inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty are these words by Emma Lazarus. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” These words sound so inviting, so noble, so beautiful. Reality is a bit different.
One day at the gym I watched an older man (probably about my age) get more and more frustrated because a younger guy was on a treadmill longer than the older guy thought he should be. Finally, the older guy had enough and pulled the plug on the machine. When the younger guy (middle eastern descent – maybe?) asked him what his problem was, the older guy told him to, “Go back to the country you came from.” Apparently, he hadn’t heard of Emma Lazarus or knew much about the Statue of Liberty.
It is so easy to get an image of the kind of people we want to be around us whether that be our country or our church. Typically, they are people who appear to be what we are, or what we want to be perceived as. But, when we view the life of the church this way, we sadly miss one of the primary purposes of the church. Isn’t the gospel sticky enough to make natural born enemies, and people of different groups one body who love one another?
Years ago, I was frustrated that several wheelchairs were near the front doors of our building. I thought this made us look like a Nursing Home. I feared that it would not be attractive or inviting to younger people. People in wheelchairs are generally not the demographic church growth strategists tell us to aim for. But doesn’t Jesus love people who are in wheelchairs too? Do I only want a congregation made up of people who don’t need assistance, who are strong, self-sufficient, etc.?
My frustration was no different than the reaction of the guy at the gym. I was thinking in my heart that if you need a wheelchair, we really don’t want to make it easy for you here. You can go back to where you came from. But that is not what the gospel is about is it?
It is the weak, the broken, the sick, the lame, the poor and the tired who are most drawn to Christ. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2.17)
The perverted prosperity gospel would have us buy into the notion that we can have a church without needy people, and that the weak only get in our way and slow us down. But what is supernatural about loving people who are strong, sufficient and successful? How is the power of the gospel displayed by making room only for people who are what we want to be like? Wasn’t that one of the big problems of the early church? Remember that Jew and Gentile thing? Isn’t the church to be the people who give space in their lives to one another, no matter what?
I’ve learned a bit since then. We still have wheelchairs near our front door and now I like it because it says if you aren’t perfect, you belong here. The fact is, only imperfect people belong in the church, right? And that is good because we have a perfect Savior.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Johnson has been serving as the Senior Pastor of Cornerstone since 1989. He has a Masters of Divinity degree from the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary (1997).