[Adapted from correspondence]
At my church this morning, our associate pastor gave a really moving (well, it moved me) sermon about...
OK. To be honest, I was not paying attention during a massive portion of the sermon, because I got like 4 hours of sleep last night during a sleepover at Adam Y-V's house (4 Christian brothers = hallelujah, a Godly confraternity!). I did gather, in between desperate attempts to at least appear attentive, that, in general, the pastor was talking about the salvific power of Christ: how He can reach anybody, regardless of where they are coming from or located at in their lives. A good topic, one with which I'm sure we are all more or less generally familiar. Good stuff, good stuff... but not really one (at least when broadly approached) likely to be provoking a lot of introspection for me (this is a sad truth, and more likely just about my own foolishness than the weightiness of the topic).
But, towards the end of the sermon, the preacher started talking about how the depths of sin from which God had saved him. He is an ex-gangster/drug dealer/adulterer/etc. He's been jailed multiple times. But the point that he kept hammering home was that God had always walked there beside him and before him (that is why we call Him a God that is previous). When he was dealing drugs, God was there with him. When he was sleeping with whoever, God was with him. When he was putting a needle in his arm for drugs, God was there with him. Kanye West might say that Jesus walks... but the truth is, He does so in such thorough ways that we got no clue.
And then the pastor drew a parallel between Jesus' always being with us (even to the end of the age) and Jesus going to be in tax collectors' houses, down to be with them after - and while - they partied. Tax collectors, prostitutes, these were basically the two sides of the "immoral" coin: few men could be more despised than a tax collector, and few women regarded as more shameful or less worthy of respect in that culture. (And of course, we could talk on and on about gender roles in 1st-century Israel/Judea and what it means and signifies that a man would become a tax collector or a woman a prostitute.)
Now, as he started talking about these people with whom Jesus associated himself, my mind started wandering again... but, this time, I think it was a Godly wandering; less a loss of focus than a purposeful redirection of it.
I began recollecting how, so often, I have held a sanitized view of Jesus. About how I intellectually assent to the fact that Jesus hung out with "bad people", but I somehow disengage those "bad people" from their "bad acts" while Jesus was with them. As though He existed in a little bubble of goodness and moral rectitude that somehow charmed the corrupt moral fibre of those around Himself into marginal and temporary sanitation.
But the thing that I realized today was... nope. Basically: the parties to which Jesus went to were not saintly affairs. Jesus hung out with tax collectors. And prostitutes. Let's run over that again:
-Tax collectors (i.e. men who, by virtue of their corruption or/and low moral standards, had a lot of money).
-And prostitutes (i.e. women who, for whatever reason, did... things... in exchange for money).
And ummm... I'm sure that those tax collectors and prostitutes were not just getting together to chill and read the news. While I'm sure that they might have felt ashamed by His presence there - or, more likely, odd and a little weirded out (all ay yo who is that dude hanging out outside talking to everybody but not coming into the party? why isnt he gettin down with the ladies; he shy or gay or somethin?) - but I'm also fairly sure that His presence didn't change all that much of their behavior, and certainly all their behaviors (Isaiah 53:3 - "He was despised, and we esteemed him not").
So this is our God. Going back to a devotional I wrote a little while back, this is our real Hosea: our Christ. He loved each and every one of those people in those parties more than anyone we have ever loved, and he was there to watch them forsake Him for cheap, quick, objectifying lustiness. And He was, so much, Loving Grace, that, instead of fleeing from the scene, unable to handle it, He remained with those people, utterly in love with them.
Can we do this?? I can still remember the dread heartache I felt this one time in high school, when I was dating some girl and she basically started falling for this other guy. I could see it coming, I could hear it on the phone; and she probably could, too. I can still recall so vividly well the sinking emptiness of love taken and rejected; or worse, a love accepted but left without reciprocation.
To use a gross term: love abused.
It's the same feeling you get (well, I do anyhow) when you see that girl (or guy, though I wouldn't know about that.... im guessing it's the same) you have a crush on, or even just sort of fancy, talking a little too closely with some other person, or coming to the party with them, or (ha ha here do I give too much away?) going back and forth avidly from facebook wall to wall with a few too many ;)'s and =)'s for comfort (yeah that was a little of a stalker-ish example. I don't actually do that, promise).
You know that feeling? That hollowness which shakes you in your very heart and to the pit of your stomach? Your very essence of being?
Now imagine Christ - Lover and Husband and Knower of every individual person - not only not avoiding that feeling (magnified by an infinity of comprehension, I'm sure), but seeking it out.
Desiring to give us grace so much that, instead of fleeing when we adulterers approach Him, instead of simply standing still and waiting for us to come to Him, loving these sinners - we prostitutes and we tax collectors - so much that He actually sought them (us!) out, even in the midst of their (our!!) very moment of consummated adultery?
That's a God I can cry out to. That the God whose grace can (and did) bring me to my knees during worship after the sermon, literally crying out for His Cross to be mine. And I hope - I think - that my tears might be the same as those of Mary Magdalene (also a woman with a sordid past... as are we all [not women. Having sordid pasts.]), which watered His sore feet.
This is the God who is seeking me out, to embrace me, as I go to Internet sites that I shouldn't go to, or talk to girls that I don't really need to be talking to, in ways that I don't really need to be talking, about things that don't really deserve discussion.
This is the God who is desiring me, when I'm obsessing over clothes, or money, or sneakers, or any of a thousand other things which could be good but are too-often idols.
This is the God who loves me when I commit adultery with the manifold succubi of my own creation;
and one day, one day soon, one day already, this is the God whose love will be so greatly and obviously revealed to me that I will finally turn back and fall in love with that God once and for all.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
[Adapted from correspondence]