Church can be plastic and judgmental, and we end up getting it wrong a lot. Even worse, it can be a dull and comfortable place where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens. This makes me both embarrassed and sad.
But there are moments when we are beautiful.
One of my most profound church experiences happened about fifteen years ago. A man with polio, cystic fibrosis, and a thick southern accent was speaking. Really he was yelling, but not in that obnoxious, preachery way. He was yelling from a subterranean place where his deep loneliness had met radical acceptance.
He was preaching out of Matthew 20:29-34. It’s a layered story, one that arrests you if you let it.
First of all, it’s about beggars.
Two blind beggars, to be exact. They’re sitting by the side of the road, and they find out that Jesus is coming their way, so they began shouting.
This is where it gets uncomfortable. They’re yelling at the top of their lungs, trying to get noticed. This is what desperate people do. They break the rules and don’t even know it. Most of us would be embarrassed by this display of neediness, and if we had kids with us, we’d pull them close and cover their eyes.
“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us,” they shouted.
And then the crowd did what crowds do: they tried to shut the beggars up. It’s uncomfortable to have desperate people screaming for help. It’s uncomfortable to have people with such obvious needs, being so obviously needy.
But these were desperate beggars, and so they just shouted louder. I like these guys. They know they have an empty pit that needs to be filled, and they are going for broke. If they ever cared about what other people thought, they don’t anymore.
And then we read the two most beautiful words in all of Scripture: Jesus stopped.
And he did something that you and I probably wouldn’t do. We’d have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made, or we’d offer to take these beggars to lunch. Maybe we’d give them some money.
Jesus asked them a dangerous question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
These two men knew exactly what they wanted, and it wasn’t all that spiritual. “Lord,” they said (maybe they whispered it). “We want to see.”
Jesus felt compassion for them, touched their eyes, and suddenly they could see.
The speaker then asked us which of us might be a candidate to receive a touch from Jesus that day. I still remember the hush in the room and the pounding in my chest. He asked us to imagine that Jesus was asking us that same question, right then and there: What do you want me to do for you?
He told us that in order to be a candidate for a touch from Jesus, we’d just need to be honest about our need; in the deepest way possible, we’re just as needy as those blind men. Then, we’d need to be out loud about our need. Finally, we’d need to be out loud about our need, to Jesus.
The room was packed, and there were people standing along the walls, ready to pray for anyone who needed to be out loud about their need to another human being, and also to Jesus. So I went up to a very tall man with white hair, and I just wept. And he held me in his arms, while I ugly cried my pain all over both of us.
There was no band that day, no coffee bars. There was just a preacher who was convinced that Jesus still stops for people like me, and there were people to help me pray when I did not know what do to.
Hey church, let’s get back to doing that. Let’s get more comfortable with uncomfortable.
I just got a glossy card in my mailbox yesterday about a new church starting. I love that. I love new expressions of the old community of faith.
Here’s what I’d want to say to that new church, all shiny and excited and bursting with life:
What really matters is this: Everybody is desperate to know that Jesus still stops, and that Jesus stops for them, no matter what. Everybody is desperate and needy, especially the ones who look like they aren’t. Everybody is teetering on the edge. Everybody needs to know this story is for them.
You are the crowd, and you are the beggar. You are sometimes even the one who stops.
Stay in touch with that, I’d want to say to this new church. Stay in touch with the fact that you are the blind man sitting by the side of the road. Stay in touch with the blindness in your church. Stay in touch with the Jesus who stops. Create opportunities for uncomfortable things to happen. Don’t worry so much about the band and the lights and the cool and the coffee. Those things are fine but they’re not the thing.
Jesus stopping? That’s the thing.
And it’s a beautiful thing, every time it happens to blind beggars like me and like you.