Christians were never really supposed to only have Christian friends. But how easy it is for us to find ourselves surrounded by other Jesus followers. How easy it is for us to slip into comfortable church life and busy ourselves with all the rotas we’re on – putting the chairs out, Sunday School, preaching, PCC or trustees, worship band, serving the teas and coffees, making meals for new parents – on and on it goes.
For some who have been Christians all their lives and then gone onto be heavily involved in their Christian Union at university, it becomes harder and harder for us to have close relationships with those who do not know Jesus or have never set foot inside church.
And the longer we do it, the easier it becomes – the world inside the church is what we know; the world out there seems vast, unknown and scary. It was never meant to be this way. The early Church apostles – their world turned upside down by the good news – made it their mission to reach the rest of the world with the gospel. And the rest of the world was full of non-believers. What an amazing challenge. Did they sit around and make quiche? Or did they travel to the ends of the earth, playing their part in God’s Great Commission?
Jesus himself wasn’t one to sit around only spending time with those who believed in him. He was constantly on the move, travelling to different places, speaking to people of all backgrounds. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus,” we read. “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered: ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” Jesus was never comfortable – never hung out with the people he was supposed to. And was criticised for it, by pious men and women who thought that hanging out in God’s house with God’s people was what they were supposed to do.
But the good news of Jesus is that we’re all God’s people. The sinner who Jesus welcomes is us – you and I. For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory and while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us and brought us into relationship with him. Through him we are welcomed home – like the lost son who comes back to his father’s house, despite it all, to arms wide open.
I love how the Luke 15 stories place such an emphasis on the lengths God goes to in order for the lost to be found, for the prodigals to come home.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them,” Jesus says. “Doesn’t he leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
We, the Church are the 99. So let’s each of us go out and find the one. And welcome them home.