Radical Acceptance - 2 of 3

Jon, our vicar, is infamous for his 'catch-phrases' - a recent example is 'radical acceptance; profound transformation.' Unless you've heard any of his sermons, that may not mean much, but we'll begin to 'unpack' what it means by looking at the 'radical acceptance' part.

In my previous post, I touched upon the church's problem with homosexuals. I realise, as I think about it, that this particular problem is just one symptom of a wider issue particularly prevalent in the 'evangelical wing' of the church. It is a problem connected with what I might call 'legalism', with our subconscious 'refusal' to think in a 'New Covenant' way, but rather to act like the Pharisees. We expect certain standards of behaviour from Christians. Some of them are linked to things we see in scripture (some aren't and are, when you analyse them, plainly ridiculous - I'm not going to consider the latter here!), and then seek to apply to everyone's lives.

In Jewish, Old Covenant, thought, in order to 'belong' you believe, obey and act. Believe in God. Obey the Scriptures. Do the right things (get circumcised and follow what the Law and the Prophets command, as interpreted by the rabbis). And we Christians can be very like that - we expect people to 'behave' in certain ways - even before they join us - so we place limits on what is minimum acceptable behaviour for a Christian. That attitude is quite judgemental. Remember what Jesus said about judgment:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." Luke 6: 37-42

So how can I, or anyone else on this earth, dare to set 'preconditions' on whether someone can join the church?

Jesus, I believe, may well have turned the whole 'believe, obey, belong' thing on its head. There's another passage in Luke's gospel, which should be very familiar to anyone who ever attended Sunday school. It's probably too familiar in fact - we don't really think about it carefully, because we believe we know it backwards (andquite possibly we do, which is part of the problem…):

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19: 1-9

It's a charming story, and seems so simple as to bealmostsuperficial. But consider the order of events closely:

Zaccheus hears that Jesus is coming, and wants to see who he is, so he positions himself so he can see (and, coincidentally, be seen);

Jesus sees him, and 'invites himself' to Zaccheus' house;

Zaccheus sees the error of his ways and offers to repay those he has cheated;

Jesus tells Zaccheus that he has saved him from his sins.

So, the order of events has changed so thatbelonging(Jesus acceptance of Zaccheus, implied by coming to his house and accepting his hospitality),comes first- before any thought ofobedience(doing the right thing)or of salvation.

Zaccheus is not a nice man, not at all. And yet Jesus accepts him, just as he is, with his greed and his cheating. He's probably cheating everyone - given the way the Roman taxation system worked, Zaccheus was expected to collect the taxes for Rome (marking him out as a traitor in people's eyes), plus a (smallish?) cut for himself. He was almost certainly collecting far more than the Romans expected from the people and pocketing it (and people probably knew that too). If Jesus, in the prevailing culture in Palestine in the first century AD, could love and accept Zaccheus unconditionally, then we in the church should also welcome anyone and everyone with open arms, whatever we perceive their 'sin' to be, without question or judgement.

In my next post, we'll consider the second part of Jon's 'catchphrase' - profound transformation - and briefly look at how God offers fresh hope to all.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022