We couldn’t help but be moved just by being here, seeing a way of Jesus lived out that is equally challenging as it is compelling.
These are not the Christians that you see in the news or in the media. Certainly not in the latest and greatest of Christianity superstars. They won’t make the headlines or trend on Instagram. And yet, what a beautiful thing to see a community living out the welcome and love of the gospel in such a simple and yet powerful way. I wish that more people could see Christians like this. Not the hateful, narrow-minded, judgmental, moral-policing types that have given so many reason to walk away from the church. But the sacrificial and extravagant love that embraces and includes everyone. All those at the margins of society. The immigrant, the undocumented, the prisoner, those living with disabilities or mental illness and those without homes or resources. This is whom Jesus came for. This is whom Jesus embraces. This is whom Jesus loves. This, right here, is what it means to follow Jesus. Forget what you’ve heard and what you think you know about so called “Christianity”. Jesus came to show us what God is like. And it turns out God is not angry or demanding as depicted by many. In fact, it is just the opposite. God is the most wonderfully inclusive, extravagantly gracious and relentlessly forgiving One far beyond the capacities of the human heart.
This is why we need to be grounded in the love of God. Cause our fickle human love only lasts for an hour or two if we are lucky, ‘til we’re mad and offended and inconvenienced. And yet Jesus said that the world would know Him because of our love for one another. Simply put, that we as followers of Jesus are to live a way of love together so that our neighbors can see what God is like. And as Paul talked about this Sunday, the gospel compels us to move outside of our own individual interests and singular families into the wide and expansive invitation of Jesus that includes everything and everyone. We are called into a new family that is not at all exclusive in regards to race, skin color, religion, gender, class or social status. In fact, this new community is radically inclusive. The good news is for all of us.
Now this sounds great. Most of us would nod our heads and even pontificate about how this is truly a wonderful vision for our communities. We are good people. Nice people. We’re for love and world peace and healthcare and ice cream for everyone.
BUT [And mind you, this is a big but]…
How many of us are willing to live out this way of love? To make choices to be faithfully present in a world that continually pulls us away from being present. To choose to invest and to be present to a particular place in a highly mobile culture that largely lives above place. To choose to live in community in a world that says that our individual rights and privilege are king. To choose jobs, homes and lifestyles that enable us to be present in the neighborhoods God has placed us. To choose to be in solidarity with others suffering in our place so that we too are affected. To live on less or go without so that others who have nothing would have something. To be inconvenienced for the sake of relationship. To experience discomfort so that others may be comforted. To face our fears to experience the gift of those very different from us. This is a hard gospel, I know. But what a compelling one. What lies beneath the many facades of the American dream, the corporate rat race, the injustices of those who have and those who have not, and the emptiness and the slavery of stuff, are loneliness, addiction and hopelessness.
What if we could live into another vision? A vision of living our lives together in our neighborhoods in such a way that would show those around us what God is like. No, it’s not flashy. Not glorious. Not prestigious. There will be no headlines here. No celebrities in the making. No reality TV stars. And yet I can’t imagine anything more achingly beautiful and compelling than to live into a way of love and community in our neighborhoods so that everyone - rich and poor, black, brown and white, Muslim or Christian, left or right has a place at the expansive and bountiful table of God.
Paul Sparks is co-founder of Parish Collective and co-author of The New Parish. He and his co-conspiring partner Elizabeth Sparks serve in a Catholic Worker Community in downtown, Tacoma, WA.
by Jessica Ketola