I’d like to get to know you

My Column for the Elgin Review June 5, 2019

“Cross Man” was a novelty to my sons. We moved back to Nebraska fifteen years ago and the boys were the perfect “drop them off at the movie theater and pick them up when the show’s over” age. Often, I’d hear more laughter and conversation in the minivan after the movie about “Cross Man” than I did about whatever movie they’d seen. “Cross Man” stationed himself on a downtown corner near the theater most weekend evenings. He held a heavy, large wooden cross, and intrusively asked passersby if they’d repented of their sins and if they knew where they would spend eternity.

I cringe a little remembering “Cross Man.” His intentions were probably pure. He must have believed he was doing God’s work. But I think he was missing the point, and caused others to miss the point, too.

Missing the point when it comes to our relationship with God is, in its essence, the very definition of “sin.” The word we translate as “sin” means “to miss the mark” like shooting an arrow and missing the target.

When Jesus was asked about the most important thing to live by, he said “there are two things, love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus didn’t accost people and issue dire warnings to them about the ways they were sinning. Jesus met people where they were, just as they were and established relationships with them. Jesus spent his days loving people into relationships with God. When people were loved, they learned love, and as a result, they turned their lives around so they could live in the same kind of love they’d experienced through Jesus.

Do you remember the Bible story of the despicable little tax collector named Zacchaeus? Jesus saw him in a tree where he’d climbed to be able to see and Jesus hollered up at him. He didn’t say, “Short man, do you know where you’re spending eternity?” He didn’t demand to know if he would repent of his sins. Jesus said, “I’d like to get to know you better. How about I come to your house for dinner tonight?” It was a life-changing thing for Zacchaeus having someone of note paying attention to him. He was used to bullying and being bullied. Being seen, accepted and loved was like flipping a switch for him. By the end of his evening with Jesus, Zacchaeus was a changed man–not because Jesus convinced him of the error of his ways, but because Jesus loved him. And, because Jesus loved him, Zacchaeus was moved to love others. Which was, exactly the point of Jesus’ ministry.

Love is the power through which God draws us close to each other and close to God. Love is the way–not judgement, not dire warnings, not shame.

At Park Center United Church of Christ, it’s not that we are unaware of the ways we have “missed the mark” but, our aim, our focus, is on loving all of our neighbors and loving God.

You are always welcome at Park UCC ten miles west of Elgin and 1/2 mile south.

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