By Rev. Karen Fitz La Barge, Pastor North Kent Presbyterian Church
Today as I looked out the back door of our church building, a sparrow came flying right toward me. I was startled as she swooped upward, less than three feet in front of my face to grab the edge of a hole in the roof of the covering over the back door of our church. –A woodpecker had created the original hole in the ceiling, and as I watched, the eager peeping faces of baby sparrows peeked out of the hole as their mama hung below them, upside down and fed her babies their lunch. Those birds didn’t belong in that crawlspace in the church roof, but there they were, trying to survive and even daring to thrive in the environment that they found themselves in.
Beyond the sparrows, out in the parking lot behind our church building, there was a group of young men skateboarding. I had given them permission to skate there in the church parking lot. But I also had gotten a complaint about them. –The boys weren’t members of our church, I didn’t know their names, and there was a concern that if they would hurt themselves on church property that they would sue the church for damages. But the skaters had brought in all of their own equipment, they were being very friendly and respectful of the premises and the agility that they were putting on display with their skateboarding was a lot better than the agility of some of our aging parishioners who try to navigate that same parking lot during our icy Michigan winters!
Jesus was an expert at befriending the folks that the righteous people in the synagogue thought didn’t belong. He hung out with the tax collectors that had a reputation for ripping people off and he ate dinner with the prostitutes who were desperately trying to support themselves by selling their bodies. This did not win Jesus any points with the high priests and the Roman government. But Jesus was the sort of guy who would rather be found having a beer and chili dogs at the Corner Bar with an ex felon than trying to win the approval of the elected officials at a city council meeting. He cared more for one person who, “Didn’t belong” than for all of those who did. –Jesus did not get a single person to ever sign a membership card. He just actively demonstrated God’s radical love to the lost and the forgotten, over and over again. Jesus healed the broken and stood up against injustice. He took one look at the people to whom that others had said, “Hey, you don’t belong here!” and Jesus said, “Hey, I love you, and you belong with me.”
This is the kind of Jesus love that I want more of. I want to be radically inclusive. I want to make space for all of those people who are told that they aren’t welcome anymore. I want to be a safe and welcoming space for skaters and LGTBQ folks and alcoholics and ex-cons and for everyone who has gotten ripped up and banged around by real life. And I don’t want it to just be words that I say out loud on Sunday mornings, but I want to actually live it every day, in good ol’ Rockford, Michigan. So today, I think that means that I am going to start by welcoming the skateboarders to use our church parking lot.
–But I am not at all so sure what I am going to do about those sparrows nesting in the church ceiling.