I went to the ballgame with a group from a couple of area churches and ended up getting schooled!
By that, I mean that once again it was powerfully reinforced to me that 'church' is sharing life together anytime, anywhere. I truly believe that wherever there are two or three Jesus-followers gathered together, he is in their midst. And therefore it is an ideal opportunity for the Holy Spirit to do some teaching...
In this case, I was reminded about the following:
- "He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker..." Proverbs 17:5
- "[Let your] love be sincere (a real thing)..." Rom. 12:9
- "and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other." I Cor. 12:23-25
- "...so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart." I Peter 1:22
Actually "reminded" is not entirely accurate. In truth, I got schooled! God exposed my heart in a very telling way, and I was convicted of my hypocrisy and duplicity with regard to loving my brethren. Here's how it played out...
As I said, it was a group outing, and I only knew a couple of the people that were going. Since it was a group thing, the tickets were distributed in a fairly random way but I got to sit next to the friend that invited me, which was awesome. His brother sat in the row below us and next to him, directly below me, sat a guy that none of us knew. And after a very few minutes we were pretty sure we didn't want to know him. And after he threw his arm around my friend's brother and heartily belted out, "Take me out to the ball game..." we were convinced of it.
I think you've probably been introduced to, or had occasion to be in a group with, one of those people. You know the kind...the ones that are socially inept, and completely oblivious to it. They are overly chatty, invade your space, don't take your unresponsiveness as a signal to cease and desist, and seem determined to 'ruin' the time for you and everyone around you. They are one of those unpresentable, unseemly, unpopular folks we read about in I Corinthians 12 that just happen to be part of the body of Christ!
Now my natural response to people like this is to withdraw. I have always felt totally inadequate when it comes to people with mental, physical or social challenges. So I try and shut down a potential conversation and hope that if I just ignore them, they will leave me alone and go away.
Well, there is no 'going away' when you're wedged into the cheap seats with 20+ other people. So the second line of defence is to begin subtly, and covertly, to mock them. This begins with the shared eye rolls, progresses to frowns or grimaces and then culminates in whispered demeaning, derisive and sarcastic comments. Guys are particularly adept at this and I have to admit I engaged in all of it...all the while the Holy Spirit was trying to get my attention.
Here was the first lesson of the evening for me -- when the Spirit of God is speaking, pay attention! From the moment this guy first started to make me feel uneasy, there was a still small voice in the back of my head trying to point out that I was trundling down the path of my natural reaction to uncomfortable situations. Nothing profound or alarming, just a quiet voice of reminder that I didn't have to respond that way. As my discomfort began to escalate and I flowed more and more into that river of mockery and disdain, that little voice was becoming more urgent and convicting. But by the end of the evening I had pretty much squelched all of those Holy Spirit warnings and reminders.
The second lesson came the next morning during my time with the Lord. It came across in the question, "What is the brokenness in you that compels you to reject and ostracize your brother?" This is where the soul searching began, and I started to see that it is fear that drives me in these situations. I am afraid of the implications or 'consequences' of letting someone like that into my life, and subsequently being willing to share life with them.
I think at the bottom of that fear is the awareness that I can't 'fix' them. I can't make them more socially acceptable. I can't make them more popular. I can't make them more presentable. And as a consequence, I am afraid of how it will appear to others if I engage with them. The stone cold facts are I am ashamed of my brother and I really don't want to be associated with him. And those feelings are exacerbated when I am part of a group and longing to fit in and be accepted. So bottom line, I am willing to reject another to increase the possibility of being accepted. And in the mocking of the 'poor' I show contempt for their maker!
Not a very pretty picture, but a powerful and valuable lesson.
The third lesson came in the form of the encouragement, "It can be different next time." We don't get any do-overs in life. But we do get the opportunity to respond differently in the future. This is the wonderful truth of his life in us...we are constantly given the opportunity to grow as a result of paying attention to God's life-lessons. That's the wonderful thing about the walk of faith -- God grants us a 'next time.'
The next time, I can open my heart to that needy individual. The next time, I can change seats with someone that is really having a hard time dealing with the situation. The next time, I can intentionally let down my guard and invite that person into my life. The next time, I can honor that person by being genuinely interested in their story. The next time, I can love them as Christ has loved me!