As long as I live I will never forget my elementary school PE teacher. That woman was a force! She was one of the oldest teachers at the school and she wore her age like a badge of honor. Her small tanned lips were formed into a permanent frown, telegraphing to students and faculty alike that she had no patience for foolishness.
She didn’t so much walk through the school as she stormed through it. In my memory, she wore the same outfit every day—a sleeveless white button-down shirt, dark-colored culottes, highly practical thick-soled black shoes with short black socks, a silver whistle at the end of a black strap, and always her sunglasses.
It is likely that one of the reasons I remember her so well is that I never managed to win her over. I was a chubby little girl and I much preferred the library to PE. To the extent she liked anyone, she liked only the athletic students. Especially Curt M. and Michael R.
Over and over again we played out the same ritual as we experimented with different team sports.
She’d march us to the big field, the basketball court, or the kickball diamond and crown Curt M. and Michael R. team captains. If she was feeling especially egalitarian (or Curt or Michael happened to be absent) she’d let Audra B. serve as a team captain, but that was the exception rather than the rule. In seven years as her student (Kindergarten thru 6th grade), I was never the team captain. Not once.
The team captain’s first responsibility was to choose his or her players.
I was always one of the last players chosen. Honestly, I never minded waiting. Each precious second the captains spent agonizing over their teams was one less second we had to spend playing that day’s sport.
I bring all of this up because sometimes churches operate this way. Like a 1980-something elementary school team captain, they look for the players who are most likely to score a lot of points in the game of life. There are even some churches where membership can be good for your secular career or your standing in the community.
This is not how Jesus works.
Jesus says, “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13). In other words, when you choose your team, go to the people others wouldn’t choose.
We hear the same thing when Jesus tells us to care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus says to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit those in prison (Matthew 25:35-36).
Jesus seeks out people on the periphery.
This truth became especially precious to me when I understood my own poverty, limitations, and blindness. Confronted with my own inadequacies, I worried for a time that they made me unworthy of God’s love. But Scripture affirms again and again that my brokenness doesn’t keep Jesus from me.
Jesus, God’s love incarnate, says he wants me on his team.
This is one of the reasons I love the open Communion table in The United Methodist Church. There is no membership requirement or test of worthiness that you have to pass to receive the elements. All you have to do is want Communion. We recognize that God is behind that urge and so we welcome you to the table. In fact, we allow children to receive Communion at any age because we never want God’s table to be a place where they experience exclusion.
Church should be a place where everyone feels chosen and included.
Church isn’t at its best when it’s operating like my 1980-something elementary school PE class. Church should be a place where everyone knows they’ve made the team. That’s how it is when Jesus is the team captain.
What’s your experience with feeling chosen? Is church a place where you have always felt welcome? How does your church experience compare with your God experience? Tell me about it in the comments, in an email, or on Facebook.
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