My mind feels kind of jumbled with lots of thoughts. This is a longer message than I usually send, and longer to read than most of us are used to doing any more. There are many things we do that take longer than the 4-½ minutes this is estimated to take so I hope you will fit it in. Regardless, I remind you again as always, that God loves you exactly as and who you are. I am grateful we hold each up in prayer.
(I have links at the end to more information on the people I write about below.)
First, all week I’ve been thinking about Rachel Held Evans. When she died I felt shock and more grief than I would have imagined I would feel about someone I haven’t met. It seemed weird to cry and feel sad all day, and for days after, about someone I only knew through reading books, following on social media. hearing on podcasts and at festivals. Maybe it did seem a little closer because I had just been to a conference in San Francisco where she was a main speaker, along with Nadia Bolz-Weber. I saw her close up there, and heard her speak several times.
As I’ve been reading and thinking about Rachel, it’s become clearer than ever that one of the reasons Rachel has made such a difference to people is that she accepts -- and not just accepts, loves -- people as they are. She did not say that you had to stop being or doing whatever sinful thing you were or did before God loves you. That may be what we hear all the time -- God loves everyone -- but somehow it’s not what we see.
I think of a sermon our pastor gave recently where he talked about Jesus having dinner with people who were “current sinners.” They were “sinners and tax collectors,” people who were cheating the Jewish people of their money. They weren’t repentant sinners and tax collectors, or ex-sinners and tax collectors. They were current sinners and tax collectors.
This can be hard. It comes up in many ways. In some churches in the past, when a young woman got pregnant before marriage, she was required to ask forgiveness in public at the church. I heard not long ago of a church council struggling with what to do when a young unmarried couple wanted their baby to be baptized. Should they baptize a child of a couple they felt was not obeying God’s commands? Once a fellow church member mused, “What if a prostitute walked into our church? Do we just ignore what she’s doing?” In the past, our church tried to welcome a gay couple, but the men in that couple were not allowed to lead, there were some members who made sure never to talk to or sit near them, and some people were unhappy with them even serving coffee during the fellowship time after church. And I’m not innocent in all this. The church did seem like a place of repentant sinners to me, too. I am confused, too. What does it mean to accept and love current sinners into the church? How does that work? What does that look like?
Rachel Held Evans was known for loving people the church did not welcome. She encouraged many people who were questioning their faith, who felt like the church was telling them God did not love them, who made them feel shame rather than love. Even though I don’t know exactly how to make church a loving place for all, including current sinners, I pray that I can show God’s love to all -- current or repentant or ex-sinners. May God help me. May he do the work for me, because I cannot do it myself.
Another thing that happened this week is the death of Jean Vanier. I have not read as much of Jean Vanier’s writings, but I have admired him for many years. He saw lonely, despairing people in a psychiatric hospital and decided to be their friend. He bought a house and invited two of them to live with him. From that small beginning, grew a huge network of group homes for intellectually disabled people called L’Arche. What an amazing person. He did not have a plan to start a big, worldwide ministry. He felt like he had to be a friend to two disabled, lonely people.
Jean Vanier’s life and sayings made me think of Mother Teresa, who I have also been thinking about a lot lately. I went to a retreat called “The Three Teresas” last weekend, and one of the three was Mother Teresa. Jean Vanier said about the first two people he lived with, “Essentially, they wanted a friend They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.” Mother Teresa said, “You see, I always feel like this, many years back when I picked up the first person, if I didn’t do it that time, I would have never picked up the 42,000 in Calcutta -- 42,000 from the streets. So, I think, one at a time.” One at a time. One at a time. What are we called to do, one at a time?
In one review of a biography of Jean Vanier, Anne Sophie-Constant writes, “Where we see only failure, disgrace, impossibility, limit, weakness, ugliness, and suffering, Jean Vanier sees beauty.” Mother Teresa, too, saw beauty where we see ugliness. She looked at an emaciated, spastic, bony little boy, unable to speak or control his body and said, “Lovely child. Lovely child.”
God’s love is incredible.
Rachel Held Evans
- Her blog. https://rachelheldevans.com.
- Includes links to her books and the health updates with the final one from her husband on May 4th.
“Rachel was slowly weaned from the coma medication. Her seizures returned but at a reduced rate. There were periods of time where she didn’t have seizures at all. Rachel did not return to an alert state during this process. The hospital team worked to diagnose the primary cause of her seizures and proactively treated for some known possible causes for which diagnostics were not immediately available due to physical limitations.
Early Thursday morning, May 2, Rachel experienced sudden and extreme changes in her vitals. The team at the hospital discovered extensive swelling of her brain and took emergency action to stabilize her. The team worked until Friday afternoon to the best of their ability to save her. This swelling event caused severe damage and ultimately was not survivable.
Rachel died early Saturday morning, May 4, 2019.
This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story. I cannot express how much the support means to me and our kids. To everyone who has prayed, called, texted, driven, flown, given of themselves physically and financially to help ease this burden: Thank you. We are privileged. Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.” -Dan
- If you want to see something showing the way technology can be used as a way to show God’s love, search on Twitter for #PrayforRHE and #BecauseofRHE.
- Many obituaries and articles available with a Google search.
Rev. Trent Elders’ sermon about current sinners in the church
The sermon titled “Meal Church” on this page. http://www.sjcrc.org/sermons-2019
- “The Three Teresas” retreat notes, including an amazing documentary about Mother Teresa
- Many articles available with a Google search.
- His website: https://www.jean-vanier.org/en
- Includes links to his books and publications
- L’Arche website: https://www.larche.org/en/web/jeanvanier
- Krista Tippett’s interview with Jean Vanier on “On Being.” https://onbeing.org/programs/jean-vanier-the-wisdom-of-tenderness/
- Many obituaries and articles available with a Google search.