A few years ago, a friend assembled a weekend work party to lay sod in his yard. The sun was shining. He had fresh coffee and cinnamon buns. And the crew he'd called together were all good friends. We liked each other immensely.
Then Al said, "Guys, do you realize something? This is it! This is it!" We stopped.
"Al, this is what?"
"This is community."
We all murmured our assent and congratulated one another. Yes. This is it.
But then I said, "Al, this is great, but I don't think this is it. I like you all too much. Add a person or two to this company who lacks social graces, who looks different, who's needy, smelly, and irritating. If we truly loved a person like that, then that would be it."
Silence. Then one of guys said, "Uh, Mark. We've accepted you, haven't we?"
We all laughed, but they granted my point.
We're always tempted to turn the church into a club. With our kind of people. With a strict decorum designed to keep up appearances and keep out the, shall we say, undesirables. But Jesus said it's no credit to us if we love those who love us—our kind of people. We don't need God to love them; natural affinities are sufficient. But you, Jesus said, are to love the least of these and the worst of these—losers, enemies. That takes God: a supernatural subversion of our own prejudices, and a heaven-borne infusion of God's prodigal love.
I preach that. I try to live that.
A year or so after our sod-laying party, Wanda arrived. Wanda was not our kind of people. She was thirsty alright, for beer, port, rum, vanilla extract, whatever. She had only one way to pay for that. I'll let you guess.
But she was desperate, and thirsty for something else. She called the church one day, wondering if she could see a pastor, and now! Two of us met with her. She told us her troubled story. I told her about the woman at the well whose life, like Wanda's, wasn't going well. But she met Jesus and he offered her living water. I explained what living water was, and asked Wanda if she'd like some.
"Oh yeah!" she said. We prayed. She confessed, repented, surrendered. Drank deep.
The other pastor said, "Now, Wanda, this Sunday will be your first time in church. Don't feel you have to fit in right away. You can sit at the back if you like, come late, leave early. Whatever is comfortable."
Wanda looked at him sideways. "Why would I do that?" she said. "I've been waiting for this all my life."
That Sunday, Wanda was the first to arrive. She sat at the front, and loudly agreed with everything I said. She was the last to leave. The next Sunday, same thing, except she brought a friend, one of her kind of people. I preached on servanthood. My main point: if you've tasted the love of Jesus, you'll want to serve. It was Communion Sunday. In those days, we called our elders The Servant Leadership Team. I asked the Servant Leaders to come and help with Communion. That day only two of our team were in church. They straggled to the front.
All Wanda heard was the word servant. And she had been listening intently to my sermon: if you've tasted the love of Jesus, you'll want to serve.
She walked straight up to serve Communion with the other two "servants."
Then I remembered Luke 7, Jesus' words to Simon the Pharisee as a woman, not unlike Wanda, washed Jesus' feet: "Do you see this woman?"
Do you see her?
I leaned over to Wanda and said, "Since this is your very first time doing this, do you mind if I help?"
So Wanda and I served Communion. The best part was watching the faces of the people I love and serve and pray for and preach to.
Not one flinched. They saw her.
This is it.
This article originally appeared in our sister publication, Leadership journal © 2008 by the author or Christianity Today International. For more articles like this one, visit www.Leadershipjournal.net.