May 20, 2014

It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:31, 32

As you’ve probably heard, the Washington Monument reopened last week, almost three years after a 2011 earthquake left nearly 670 feet of cracks in the granite and marble edifice.

The most interesting tidbit I learned from all the media coverage was that it’s no longer possible to ascend or descend the 897 steps to and from the observation deck—you have to take the elevator. There’s a small museum below the deck, which you can walk down to if you wish, but that’s the extent of foot traffic allowed.

And that’s too bad. The interior walls are lined with commemorative stones from individuals, civic groups, cities, states and countries who wanted to honor George Washington’s memory. While some of them are visible when you go down in the elevator, the ride is too fast to get a good look. Then there’s the loss of fun and bragging rights from walking up and down those 500 feet of stairs, which I did when I was a teenager. And I made my mother do it, too (you’re a trooper, Mom!).

But lost in the hoopla of the monument’s reopening was another refurbishment, also on the National Mall, the tract of parkland encompassing many of the capital’s memorials (perhaps the most well-known image of this National Park site is that of the Reflecting Pool, situated between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument—go here and click on the Lincoln Memorial Aerial Photo for an overview). The Mall’s grass has been in bad shape for years, due to the wear and tear of countless marches, presidential inaugurations, fireworks displays, and millions of people who play games or picnic on it. Now the Park Service has installed new turf on about half of the Mall, part of a continuing $40 million restoration project.

And therein lies the problem. Tell visitors to stay off the grass, or let it be used as it was intended?

Here’s how the New York Times put it: “Should the mall remain a utilitarian gathering place, welcoming to all? Or should it be a more pristine landscape, a monument to the nation’s commitment to parks and preservation?”

That’s a question the church of Christ continually must ask itself as well. Are we welcoming to all—or do we want to keep ourselves “pristine?”

The answer, to me, is a no brainer. That would be like asking a hospital whether they would admit sick people. And that’s just how Jesus put it—it’s not people who think they’re already “fixed up” who need to hear the good news that He came to reconcile us to God—it’s the “messed up.”

And guess what? That’s ALL of us, at one time or another, whether we want to admit it or not.

In God’s eyes, we all sin and fall short of His glory—that is, we fail to live up to His standards (Romans 3:23). Our default mode is to do what we want and what we think is right, rather than what Our Creator says is right (Romans 8:5-8). Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (among other passages) mention ways in which this manifests itself.

So we all started out the same way, and we all must come to a decision at some point about whether to keep going our own way or to go God’s way. But if Christ followers only hang with those like them, how will others even know they have a choice to make? “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe whom they have not heard?” the apostle Paul asks (Romans 10:14). Christians should expect and welcome sinners of all kinds to show up at church, because we used to be them (1 Corinthians 6:11). God is alive and at work (John 5:17)! Heaven forbid His church should ever turn into a monument to the dead.

I’m not suggesting that the Christian church change or compromise its doctrine. The Times article quotes a letter Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa wrote to National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis about the grass: “While it is important to preserve the ground of this national treasure, we must ensure that its spirit is not diminished.” The church has the same tension—to espouse Biblical truth while remaining open to the Holy Spirit’s work of salvation (John 16:8-11) in the lives of anyone who walks through its doors.

The Old Testament is rife with the stories of hotheads, adulterers and outcasts (you do know Moses was a murderer, right?) whom God transformed to accomplish His plans. Jesus continued that ministry to society’s lowest (Matthew 25:31-40) and lost (Luke 15). He didn’t merely bump into them—He sought them out (Luke 14:21-23, 19:10). But He loved them too much to leave them—or us—that way (Matthew 22:11- 14). “Such were some of you,” Paul reminded the Corinthian believers), “but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11).

The Park Service is going to have to figure out how to keep the Mall’s new grass in shape while keeping the space people-friendly. Already there are new rules and regulations in place. But it’s definitely still open for business.

Let’s make sure the church is, too.


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