By Pr. Colin Griffiths
When Meri and I were looking for a church home after we both retired one of the key things we wanted to know was “what is this church all about?” and we loved it when we walked into OAC and the mission and vision statements were posted clearly for all to see.
- We will boldly invite people on a journey toward an abundant life in Jesus.
- We will warmly include people by extending God’s love and grace.
- We will intentionally involve people in serving as Jesus did.
I see something intriguing and appealing here: the verbs all start with “in” but to do the in things requires focusing out
Almost like out is the new in.
Last Sabbath was a perfect example of that. Hearing Ben speak about his experience with being included reminded me of my daughter’s experience in a wheel chair – I remember pushing her around the sea wall and some friends walked up to us and with Keri sitting in the chair between us they looked right over her head and said, “hi, how is Keri?” It was such a tangible expression of how people can become almost invisible, incapable and maybe even insignificant when they are no longer like us.
On the other hand, people would often call Keri to the front to pray over her and, as well intentioned as that was, it was extremely uncomfortable and disconcerting for her. It made he feel even more isolated and different, and she started doing all she could to avoid going to places where that could happen. It made me realize that sometimes we put our faith into action in ways that disrespect people instead of actually loving them.
But more than that, hearing Ben describe his experience from a different theological perspective was in itself an act of inclusion. It is great to be part of a community that does things like that- this is our mission statement in action and putting a good mission statement into action will always stretch us to go beyond what may be comfortable with because God’s love knows no bounds and doesn’t fit into any boxes
All this reminds me of an event in the life of Jesus.
In Mark 8 Jesus heals a blind man and the man says he can see but people look like trees walking. I see him squinting like we do when we are trying to read the smallest print on the vision test chart.
Then Jesus touches him again and we are told “He saw everything clearly.” He could see actual people.
It’s so easy for our vision to be blurred by things that make people different from us. We use things like stereotyping and categorizing people into groups to help us process these differences and it may be helpful from a sociological perspective but way too often doing this denies individuals and people groups their essential humanity, in other words, they become like trees walking. However, when we listen to people and discover their stories then our categorizations and stereotypes fall apart.
Jesus made it possible for this blind man to leave the world of lists and categories and step into the world of stories, instead of objects he saw real people with real names, real faces and real-life experiences. What a huge gift! As I read this story again, I pray for a change of heart, to break away from the convenience of categories and step into the deep waters of stories
The 3 verbs are designed to move us as individuals and as a community toward being what theologian Walter Brueggemann calls “a congregation (that) is a preserver of human worth, an enhancer of human dignity, and a custodian of human possibility.”
As this sounds like a perfect description of what the 3 verbs are wanting to accomplish .