Reading: Mark 2:17 -- Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners."
Niceness can kill the church.
Or at least, keep it from being the kind of church that we and other people sometimes need it to be.
One Sunday maybe 45 or 50 years ago, Richard -- a minister at my family's church in Winnipeg, was preaching about anger. He had our rapt attention. In the few years he had been serving our church, we had come to know, love and respect his gentleness of spirit, his honesty and openness, and his amazingly deep biblical and theological understanding.
He was preaching about what it means to feel and face anger, to confess it and to find a faithful way through it, and he fleshed out the message with a story of his own life. It was one Saturday night and early Sunday morning a few years before when both he and his wife had reached the end of their resources in trying to comfort their chronically cholicly daughter. Around 3 am his wife -- completely exhausted, tried to sleep, while he -- with sermon still not quite finished because of a horrendous week he had, tried to quiet the little girl in his arms. But she would not be quieted. Her crying continued, and in one brilliantly flashing moment, Richard confessed, he found himself lost in total anger and imagining himself throwing his daughter against the wall just to make her be quiet.
I think at that moment I loved and respected Richard as my minister -- and just as a person, more than I have ever loved and respected any other. All these years later, I still remember that sermon. And I probably still cannot fathom how deeply it has shaped everything I really believe about God, life, love, faith and the meaning of church.
Others in the church felt differently, though. Within days a number of people -- some of the elders included, made it clear how inappropriate they thought it was to hear such a thing in church, and from the minister of all people. They never wanted to hear such a thing again. It wasn't the kind of thing to talk about -- let alone preach about, at church.
It makes we wonder what church is for.
It makes me thankful for the times and ways the church has been what I needed it to be. When and where it was a place to be able to talk about and deal with what I needed to talk about and deal with.
It makes me want the church to be that kind of place for others as well.