Outside the church walls

I read a lot. I read books, articles, blogs, social media postings, letters, etc. I love to read.

I love words too. I love to read, write blog posts, social media posts, tweets about the bible, prayers, etc.

I love to talk too. I love to talk about faith, grace, theology, politics, philosophy — all deep subjects.

Those are all nice and good. Sometimes those are essential. But that’s not all we are called to. We are called to more.

In the January, 2018 issue of Living Lutheran, Frank G. Honeycutt wrote the following words:

To an outsider in much of North America, Christianity might be perceived as an indoor, climate-controlled religion. But so much of the Bible’s story is told outdoors. “If these [disciples] were silent,” Jesus once said famously, “the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40)

Source: Click here for the online version, pg. 5 for Honeycutt’s article

When I read that statement, it struck me. So true. So much of Jesus’ ministry happens out there. He encounters problems when he is in the synagogue. He’s doing ministry out there, beyond the walls.

My question is this — are we doing the same thing? Why or why not?

One of the things that the disciples at St. Stephen are starting to look at are some of the pervasive challenges facing our community just outside the doors of the church. We are situated in a unique location — just two miles down the road from one of the major travel intersections in the country — Interstate 81 and the Pennsylvania turnpike. There’s a mile stretch between these two major travel routes. Commerce is going back and forth all day, every day, all day long, 365 days a year, non-stop.

And with so much traffic and commerce, there are many businesses in that one mile stretch that cater to the traffic. But there are also other populations that reside on this stretch too — populations that no one wants to deal with, let alone talk about, or even think about.

There is homelessness, drug addiction and trafficking, sex trafficking, prostitution, immigration, and more. It’s all there, right outside the doors of the church, just down the road. I pass through this stretch every day on my way to and from the church.

The question is, what are we called to in relation to this? We called to be outside — where the challenges are. We are called to build relationships. We are called to proclaim boldly the good news of God’s loving saving presence. We are called to not only think and talk about these people just down the road, but to do something. We are called to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to bring Jesus’ very presence to populations that I think Jesus would want to be present in — the outcast, the forgotten, the imprisoned.

It starts with an acknowledgement — there are people who are homeless, who have big challenges, who are trapped in things they have no control over. It starts with an acknowledgement — that Jesus has encountered us and changed our lives, but Jesus isn’t done yet. It’s only the beginning. It starts with an acknowledgement — taking the first step is really scary because we have no idea what will happen or where this will go. That’s just were it starts though. It’s only the beginning.

Hold on tight, we’re in for a ride. Jesus is driving. He’s taking us to places we don’t want to go. He’s telling us to keep the doors unlocked as we travel through these places. Not only that, he’s inviting us to get out of the car and be with people. That’s scary. But is there really another option? We could keep staying inside the walls of the church, where it’s comfortable and clean and neat. Where the facade of our lives makes us look good to those around us. Or we can acknowledge what exists around us, acknowledge that Jesus won’t turn a blind eye and won’t let us sit in comfort. Faith isn’t about being comfortable, it should make us uncomfortable enough to get moving.

John 6:68 quotes Simon Peter as saying:

Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Yes, indeed Peter, Jesus does have the words of eternal life. And not only that, Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable and cause us to react, respond, and get moving.

You have the words of eternal life Jesus, where else are we going to go?

What’s that?!? You want us to go out from these walls because of the words you have breathed into us? You want us to venture to places we would rather not go because of the holy food that nourishes us? You want us to get up and carry out the words that you speak to us? You call on us to respond in trust to the faith that you give us?

The answer is yes. I hear you calling me, us, and more, together. To travel just down the road. Outside the church walls. Where most of the Bible happened. I hear you calling us to not just read the Bible and hear the stories of a distant place and time, but to live the Bible and our faith. Thank God we aren’t doing this on our own, but that you walk with us in this journey, that the Spirit is infused in us and empowers us to go, and that the Father is listening and continually creating a path set before us.

Originally published at laceduplutheran.com on January 9, 2018.



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Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.