Last Sunday the pastor at my church preached on the prayers of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10) and Zaccheus (Luke 19:1). He talked about how there are stories Jesus told, that sound like nice stories, but we don’t expect them to really play out in real life. “God loves the sinners! He will forgive them and welcome them back!” Well the Jews at the time considered tax collectors as just about the lowest of the low and people to avoid having any contact with. Jesus seemed to have a thing for spending time with people the religious leaders avoided like the plague (see Luke 5:31). Our church wants to be like Jesus and care about those who society or even some religious people would want to avoid or just simply ignore. We want to share God’s love with people who may have been rejected or hurt by religious people before. This is an idea I’m totally on board with, but when it becomes more than a nice story, sometimes it’s hard to believe.
The community group I’m in meets in the Railroad Ave. area. We meet at either All Saints Cafe or Fermentation Lounge. For any one not familiar with the area it’s a lot of art students, grad students and faculty from FSU, homeless, and other various people, mostly ones that aren’t the type you expect to find in a church. The reason we meet here instead of just at someone’s house is we want to impact the area. We want to provide opportunities to build relationships in the area and hopefully have a chance to talk about God and Jesus with some people in the area. We also want to support businesses and the community in this area. We’d like to one day have a church in the area. I believe God is real, that Jesus’s death provides a way for us to have a relationship with God, and that this relationship, and knowing God’s love will change one’s life and is so much better than going through life without a relationship with God.
Somehow, when it comes to people in this area, and the idea of their lives changing, it’s hard to believe it’s more than just a nice story we’d like to tell. Sure I believe God can change anyone’s life, but these people, they want nothing to do with God. Everyone of them would never even consider going to a church. I mean sure, God can change people’s lives, but these people, well it just won’t happen here.
Why is it so unbelievable that God would do something in this part of town? Why do I assume everyone in this part of town will now and always reject God?
I was thinking over some of the conversation we had in my community group meeting tonight. One thing we didn’t talk about is the real reason we’re down there to begin with. God loves us. He loves the punks, hipsters, boring office workers, weird art students, homosexuals, atheists, and who ever else we might encounter in the area. Saying “Jesus loves you” has become cliché, but in those moments where I really get a sense of God’s love, it’s so far beyond some cheesy bumper sticker or t-shirt. The verse comes to mind ” And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19) God loves these people who hang out at All Saints, Railroad Square, Fermentation Lounge, and elsewhere. I think if I could grasp what this love is like, and see these people as God does, all my worries about if anyone here would ever accept God, would fade to the background. I think I would be filled with a sense that this is so important that we have to pursue it. It’s not just about getting people to go to church because I like it. It’s not even about trying to get people to go to church because I think it would benefit them. It’s about knowing how crazy, how ridiculous, God’s love is, and wanting to do something about it.
God I pray that you will help me a passion for people like you have. Help me to not to see stories about people like Zacchaeus as just nice stories, but as an example of how you change people’s lives, no matter what what group they belong to.