By Brett Younger  

   

The comedian Emo Philips tells this odd story that will not be in many church newsletters:

 

Once I was in San Francisco, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, when I saw this guy on the bridge about to jump. I thought I'd try to stall him long enough to put the film in.

 

I said, "Don't jump." He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Are you a Christian or a Jew or a Hindu or what?" "A Christian," he said.

 

I said, "Small world! Me too. Protestant or Catholic?" "Protestant," he said.

 

I said, "Me too. What franchise?" "Baptist," he said.

 

I said, "Me too. Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" "Northern Baptist."

 

I said, "Me too. Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?" "Northern Conservative Baptist."

 

I said, "Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist or Northern Conservative Reformed Baptist?" "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist."

 

I said, "Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Eastern Region?" "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region."

 

I said, "Me too. Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879 or Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" "Northern Conservative Fundamentalist Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."

 

I screamed, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

 

For two thousand years, the church has been busy deciding who's enough like us to be acceptable and who's too different to be one of us. The boundaries have been drawn and redrawn in a thousand different ways. It's a shame, because when you read the story of Jesus, it's obvious that we were never meant to be in the business of excluding anyone.

 

We have formed different churches to speak to different people. We have churches for different racial groups, churches for the rich and the poor, churches for liberals and conservatives. In most churches, everyone looks a lot like everyone else.

 

God's church is characterized by a radical inclusivity, a counter-cultural belief in God's family. Doesn't it seem like we are, as a society, growing more distant from one another? Don't you feel separated from the people you pass in the street? I remember my father driving around in our little town in Mississippi and waving to every car that passed just to be friendly. I don't do that. I'm more likely to spot drivers with potential as enemies than as friends.

 

Christians recognize that the Spirit is calling us to see everyone as a potential friend. The measure of our understanding of grace is the measure of grace we give. Are there people we have trouble hearing? Are there people so different from us that it's hard for us to listen to them? Are there people we don't want in our neighborhood? Is it difficult for us to hear that the grace of God is for every stranger-every girl and boy, every woman and man, every sorehead and slob, every saint and sinner?  

 

God has blessed us with a church filled with a variety of people. We have the potential to be a congregation that welcomes everyone who wants to be part of a church where everyone is welcome. To become more like Christ's Church, we need to keep asking: "Who wouldn't feel loved here? Who doesn't feel loved here?" Our prayer should be that Highland Hills is open to all, because grace really is for everybody.