September 09, 2015

House for All Sinners and Saints

Mark 2:13-17

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

—  1 Corinthians 12:21

The poet Carl Sandburg was asked what he thought was the ugliest word. He said, “The ­ugliest word is exclusive.”

Most people don’t think that exclusive is ugly. In fact, many of us like exclusive neighborhoods, exclusive cars, and exclusive clothing. We like being with our “own kind,” separated from people who are different and “undesirable.” The Pharisees hated Jesus’ inclusiveness.

Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber planted a church, House for All Sinners and Saints, in a “grungy, hipster neighborhood” in Denver, Colorado. This church attracted people whom much of society rejects: people with low incomes, homosexuals, and people addicted to various substances. Outgrowing their facilities, the church moved to a new building in a “stately, historic” neighborhood. At the very next Sunday service, the usual crowd showed up—and people who were embraced by society, wearing their nice clothing. After the worship service, Bolz-Weber was upset and complained to her friends, “We’re attracting entirely the wrong element.”

She confesses in her book Pastrix that she had an exclusive attitude, rejecting people whom society tends to embrace. She had to learn to welcome “bankers­ wearing Dockers” in her congregation! The people of God is a house for all sinners and saints.

God, forgive me. Surprise me with how wonderfully different you have made your people. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

About the author — Mark Stephenson

Rev. Mark Stephenson is the Director of Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Previously he served in two congregations in Michigan. He and his wife have four children.

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