Who is invited to the party?

February 10th, 2015

One of my favorite descriptions of God that Jesus shared was as a God who loves to throw parties. As a matter of fact Jesus was criticized by the religiously correct for eating with sinners and allowing “unclean” folks to have intimate accessibility to his fellowship. What was Jesus thinking when he left Peter with the responsibility of leading his church? Even Peter recognized his own incorrect religious qualifications when Jesus called him to join his movement, saying: “Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Jesus told the parable of The Great Banquet while eating at the table of a religious and doctrinally correct, prominent Pharisee (see Luke 14). The moral of the story? It is the religiously correct who refuse to come to the party. So whom does God invite? “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and lame … go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.” God invites the ones on the outside deemed unacceptable by those on the inside.

Ginghamsburg Church, where I have pastored for almost 36 years, can best be described as evangelical in theology and progressive in social mission. It is a megachurch on multiple campuses that is racially, economically and politically diverse. We are deeply rooted in biblical faith, which becomes the foundation for our actions. “Jesus is Lord!” … which means his agenda must be our agenda. His charge our charge. His invitation our invitation.

Carolyn and I began to ask ourselves, what groups in our faith community might be feeling not fully welcomed at the party? We decided to invite any folks from our fellowship who were part of the LGBTQ community into our home for an evening of conversation, Bible study and prayer. I announced this from the pulpit, acknowledging that while we didn’t all agree on homosexuality, we could all agree that the church should be a safe space where all were welcomed to participate. This was an email response that I received from one young woman:

“Hello, Pastor Mike, I read in the bulletin this weekend that you were hosting a gathering of the LGBTQ community from the church. I am very interested in this especially in the church. As an out lesbian, single mom and a Christian, I have struggled with finding a church home. So many times I have encountered judgment and persecution in the church setting. I have even experienced this at Ginghamsburg, but certainly much less than most congregations. I guess all that is to say, I would love to attend the meeting and engage in some dialogue. Thank you for the opportunity.”

As I wrote in "Renegade Gospel: The Rebel Jesus (The Radical Road to The Cross)," most of us have taken the Jesus of history and recreated him in our own cultural, political, ideological, theological and denominational bubbles. Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples through our Christlike sacrificial love. But if we are really honest, we don’t even know how to love one another! Many in my own denomination (the United Methodist Church) are advocating for amicable separation over the issue of homosexuality. We have at times been guilty of mimicking the same mean-spiritedness and divisiveness that has been demonstrated by the immobilized U.S. Congress.

How do we live as a community within the paradox of both grace and truth? We don’t all have to agree on the issues; but, if we have been born in the Spirit of Jesus, we will demonstrate the limitless, transforming love of Jesus.

Watch our interview with Mike Slaughter.

Mike Slaughter is the author of “Renegade Gospel.” He blogs at MikeSlaughter.com.

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