Several decades ago, I had an interesting conversation with an older gentleman who was leaving my church. I respected the fact that he set an appointment with me to give his reasons. I wasn’t prepared for the answer, though.
A young couple had joined the church the Sunday prior. As was our custom, we printed their names and address in the bulletin for people to add them to their church directories. This gentleman was leaving because we allowed them to join. He said that the fact that they had two different last names and one address was an indication that they were “living in sin” and he was shocked that the church allowed them to join. He saw that as the downfall of the church, the denomination, and Western civilization as we know it.
I carefully explained that the church did not have a policy that prevented anyone from joining. I mentioned that everyone who joins comes with some measure of sin, as “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I even tried joking with him that “you have to catch the fish before you clean the fish” and assured him that every member has come to church to be cleansed of their sins and grow closer in their understanding of God.
As I expected, my explanations fell on deaf ears and he and his wife left the church.
Jesus’ teaching is very clear that there is no hierarchy of sin and that the mission of the church is to make disciples of everyone. He had to explain this to the Pharisees at one point:
Matthew 9 (Common English Bible)
10 As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.
11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.”
The Pharisees were well known for making the public sacrifices that their religious rituals called for, but for harboring hate toward others in their heart. Jesus was radicalizing a new idea here: drop the meaningless rituals and offer mercy toward your fellow man instead.
They couldn’t do it.
Look around. There are people in your community who live on the margins who need to be invited to Christ’s table, and maybe even to yours. Christ welcomes all to his table: the immigrants, the homeless, the kings, the addicts, the LGBTQ community, the prostitutes, the CEOs, the unwed mothers, the prisoners … he would not turn a single one of them away.
Neither should we.