Sunday, July 27, 2008

Latecomers will not be seated

Had an interesting exchange last night at Gospel Mission, which usually comes up when someone who apparently hasn't received Jesus as their Saviour decides to invoke His name.

At GM, we have a schedule: door opens at 6:30, coffee is served until 7, when the Worship starts; door is locked at 7:30, when the sermon starts; supper is served at 8 -- ish (depending on (a) whether the sermon goes overtime, which isn't often, or (b) whether there's been a problem in the kitchen, in which case Amelia appears in the doorway and gives me the "stretch" sign (thank God for our showbiz backgrounds!) and I get this deer-in-the-headlights look and quietly ask the Lord to help me stretch this until I get the "wrap" sign).

Last night, a woman came in long after the sermon was over and the dinner served (I think she got in when someone else went out). I chided her lightly for showing up late, but since John had bought a LOT of ultra-large hot dogs, there was still plenty. But she came back at me with, "Jesus wouldn't have locked me out".

Ah, the old "what would Jesus have done?" approach, and later -- long after it would have done anyone any good -- the Lord gave me a bit of "backstairs wit" (a term coined by Voltaire, I believe, referring to the comebacks you think of as you're leaving the party by the back stairs and that you wish you'd thought of during the party).

The question of whether Jesus would have locked out this woman -- or anyone who misses the sermon but expects to be fed -- is purely academic. People didn't show up late for Jesus.

Nor, in fact, did they show up expecting food. They came to be in the presence of the Word of God, and were willing to starve in the wilderness, if that's what it took.

It's also a question of respect. People who arrive after the start of an opera, movie or play are usually held at the door until an appropriate time, such as in-between scenes: that's a "given". So why in the world do people seem to think nothing of arriving at church once the service has started? Do we expect God to cut us more slack than a disturbed opera-goer?

Of course, He does, because He loves us. But we need to question our attitude: doesn't the opportunity to hear the Word of the Lord merit at least as much respect as Wagner, Shakespeare or Spielberg?

And they don't provide meals.

Which brings us back to the original incident. The people who arrive on time are the ones who are there for the Word of God and for the most part have received Jesus as their Saviour; there are some who haven't yet, but at least they have the respect to follow the rules.

It's reminiscent of the fellow who commented on my piece about marijuana a couple of months ago: there are those who love to invoke the name of Jesus and tell us what He would have done, who really don't know who He is. So we pray for them and love them anyway, because that is what Jesus would do, and keep finding ways to spread the Gospel to them.

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