(reprinted from Ripple-Allentown.com with permission)
by Danilo Sanchez, pastor of Ripple congregation (Allentown)
In recent years there seems to be an increase in the number of churches that have changed their name to include the word “community.” Everyone loves being a “community church” until the community wants to come through their doors. Because it’s one thing to go into the community—you can enter the messiness and leave it behind whenever you want—but it’s entirely different when the community wants to be part of your congregation.
If you claim you want to serve the community, particularly those living on the margins, you have to be ready for when the community shows up at your door and wants to share life with you. Too often the church says, “Okay homeless people, here is your section of the building: don’t touch anything, don’t make a mess, and don’t smoke in the front of the building. If you break any of our rules, you’re gone. I hope you feel the love of Jesus!”
Putting up barriers and devaluing people can’t be the way Jesus wants the church to behave.
Jesus told the parable of man who held a great banquet and sent out a servant to invite many distinguished guests. But each guest declined the invitation with more important matters to attend to. The owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the disabled, and the outcast.”
“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”
Then the owner told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”
God’s kingdom is limitless, abundant, and grace-filled. There is always room for more people to join in the banquet, to experience God’s love and generosity, and to be transformed. In the parable, the invitation to be part of God’s banquet extends beyond the city limits to the roads and country lanes, which were unsafe (talk about a reversal to our thinking that says the city is unsafe!). Jesus is declaring: “My kingdom is so full of goodness that I don’t want anyone to miss out. Everyone is welcome, even the bandits.”
We are not God. We are not the owners of the banquet. We are the servants. We don’t get to decide who is invited. Our role is to invite and welcome everyone into the kingdom of God.
I imagine one of the guests asking Jesus a follow up question: “But Jesus, aren’t you afraid ‘those’ people will ruin your house?! They’re going to eat all your food, steal your toilet paper and dinner plates, and dirty up the house.” Jesus appears not to be threatened by this possibility. He knows the risk and does not qualify his open invitation to enter his father’s house. For when people get a taste of the joy, hope, and grace of God’s kingdom they can’t help but be transformed.
As the church, we must trust in the transforming work and power of Jesus. Will the lying, stealing, and messiness still happen? Yes. Will our boundaries and patience be tested? Yes. But if we stay in relationship with those people, continue to practice generosity, and trust in God, will we see transformation? Absolutely.
At our church and Ripple Community, Inc., time and time again we have found this to be true. We have witnessed lives transformed. We will not let fear stop us from inviting those on the corners, alleys, and tents from being part of our community, sharing our space, and being part of our lives.
Read Danilo’s full blog here and find out more about the ministry of Ripple Allentown and Ripple Community, Inc.