In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Lost Sheep?

Today, I was at a workshop type meeting, called "Deepening the Welcome". It was an opportunity for Lutheran congregations who have declared themselves to be "Reconciling In Christ" (RIC). RIC congregations have made a formal statement of welcome that will include (but is not limited to) GLBT persons. This workshop day was called "Deepening the Welcome" so that congregations who have the designation can find proactive ways to seek out and include more folks out there. The workshop had the feeling of a mix between a Human Rights Campaign meeting and an evangelism conference.

I was invited to be there to be a resource person in a conversation about including and communciating with children and youth about matters of sexuality, welcoming and the RIC process. I was invited because of my work with GLBT youth in a faith-based context. The other resource people talked about their work with young children in their congregations.

One pastor described an activity they did with the kids that made me take a new look at a great biblical text. She said that they hid 100 paper cut-outs of sheep around the church. They then read Luke 15:1-6.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.'

They talked about the need to have every person included in the family of Christ. They then sent the kids off on a hunt for the 100 sheep. The kids took to it immediately. At one point, the pastor said, "I think you've gotten the point after about 85 sheep. Let's stop looking." The kids went bizerk on her. They couldn't leave a single sheep behind. After that parable, it was unthinkable.

I have often thought of the work of RIC as evangelism. As congregations shared what they did with their RIC status, I realized that they they were targeting a specific population to which to share the good news. They are reaching out those sheep that are still trying to navigate this world by themselves. It is part of our evanglical imperative to try to gather in everyone. It is a departure from this present world's values to only try to attract the middle-class white folks. We are supposed to reach out to all. This story made that reality alive for me again.

Of course, those who are against welcoming GLBT people into the life of the church would not stop reading at verse six. They would continue:

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

These detractors would probably focus on the word "repentance." For them, that is what this is all about. It is not about reaching out to individuals. It's about forcing people to pretend to be something they are not, and labeling it "repentance." It is about laying a burden on GLBT people that most people are not able to bear.

You know what? I don't care. The weight of the first six verses is enough to convince me that we are called to reach out in love to one another. It means that we are to celebrate when someone walks in our door. We are not called to deny membership to those who desire to be a part of our church family. We are not called to put restrictions on who is a part of the "fold". We are not even called to asses someone's vocational gifts based on something as perifery as sexual orientation. We are only called to seek for those out in the world. Then we celebrate when they are with us.


Blogger Karen said...

I just wanted to extend to you my best this holiday season. May you enjoy a joyous holiday season with family and friends. I have enjoyed reading your posts from time to time and while I cannot afford to send Christmas cards to everyone, I wanted at least to wish you happy holidays through your blog.

7:16 AM  
Blogger PJ said...

Well said my friend. Each of us is a lost sheep in need of the warmth and love of God's fold. It is not right for us to declare some sheep worthy of being included and put an undue "price" upon the other sheep. There is no sin greater than another--and certainly being fully who one was created to be is no sin at all. I wish we could fully and truly embrace our God as beyond boundaries and inclusive of every lost sheep. There is a song by Patty Griffin called "Poor Mans House" and one of the lines is "God never loses sight of even one skinny little sheep, so say your prayers, count your ribs and go to sleep." The song is about the plight of a poor family--but I think that line speaks to our situation as skinny sheep.

3:57 PM  

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