I once heard a preacher say, "If a drug addict that shows up to your church in blue jeans looking for God offends you, then you are the first one that needs to be at the altar." This might seem harsh, but I would contend that he was correct in his statement! "Think about the children!" You might be shouting at me through your computer. "We want to teach our children to grow up surrounded by good influences. What will they think when they see a drug addict in blue jeans in the pew next to them?" Sure, I might concede that this is correct. We do want our children to grow up surrounded by good influences and after all, Proverbs 22:6 says, "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it." However, let's look at the commandment Jesus gave us in John 13:34:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
The one commandment Jesus gives us in the New Testament is that we should love one another. He doesn't say that we should love one another if we all look the same; and clearly, we will not all look the same – most of us won't even look like Jesus. He doesn't say that we should love each other if we are the same religion or from the same schools or wear the same clothes. He most certainly does not say that we should love each other if we live the same lifestyles or see eye to eye.
Jesus's vision for the church was based on more than what we identify as or what standards we ourselves might hold for our families and the people we choose to spend time with. Jesus's vision for the church was that we must love everyone, regardless of how they might look, act, or think. "What is that love based on then, Jesus?" You might ask.
Quite simply, that love is based on the understanding and appreciation of Christ's love for us – the love that saved us when we too did not look, act or think right – so much so, that we want to now live in the same way He did. Remember, Jesus loved a whole multitude of people from tax collectors and prostitutes to those who did not believe and enthusiastic believers!
We are all called to God's kingdom and for some, this might be hard to reckon with. There are simply people we would rather not see as we get our dose of the Word on Sunday morning... and this is very human of us! Does anyone else remember the story of Jonah and how he would rather run in the opposite direction and be swallowed by a whale than go to prophesy for God to the people of Nineveh? Jonah probably needed to hear the words of this wise preacher who spoke so candidly. Sometimes you and I need to hear it too and that's because, as Jesus's church we have a responsibility to shepherd other's to the cross and it starts with this new commandment that Jesus gave us in the Gospel of John.
The church is not just a building filled with all the people we love and care for. The church is us. It was the disciples in Christ's time and Jonah before that. And in remembering this, we must remember that what is being asked of us is to not throw out the pieces of construction material that we feel we do not need. We must remember this important passage from Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians and said,
"There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ. We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. It didn’t matter whether we were Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free people. We were all given the same Spirit to drink. So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts.
Suppose the foot says, “I am not a hand. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. And suppose the ear says, “I am not an eye. So I don’t belong to the body.” By saying this, it cannot stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.
The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any. In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.
You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it. " – 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27
So, next time you are confronted with the choice to love or be offended by the person sitting next to you as you praise the Lord on High; honor Jesus and choose love.