Sentness: Safe Places

We are in a series called Sentness which is based off of the book by the same name. You can go to to listen to sermons (when they record). Below is my manuscript which is written to help me preach- not to be a literary document.

One of the most nerve racking experiences I’ve had was asking a girl out on a date- especially Andrea. My palms got sweaty. I probably had sweat stains through my shirt; I fumbled over my words and it’s a wonder that she ever said “yes!”

My nervousness was evident because even though we had been talking all semester and hanging out in little ways, you really put yourself out there when you ask someone out. So I had a plan. I waited until there were about 3-4 weeks left in the semester figuring that if she said “no” that the semester would soon end and I’d just go home and wallow in self-pity.

When you ask someone out or ask someone to marry you there is a moment of vulnerability as you share how you feel and hope to God that they feel the same way. All relationships require vulnerability and trust. Intimacy requires vulnerability and trust that the other doesn’t just rip out the heart of the other person. The healthiest relationships create safe places for disagreements, expression of opinions, the sharing of dreams, and the expression of feelings.

Jesus encounters a leper in Luke 5. Leprosy was a skin disease that , according to the Levitical law, required the person with leprosy to leave their family, their children, and their community and move to the outskirts of town where they live with other lepers and those marginalized by society. In their day-to-day living, they were to shout “unclean” if anyone came near them to ensure that no physical contact occurred enabling the passerby to maintain ritual purity.

In our passage, Jesus comes into the town where this leper lived and we are told that when the leper saw Jesus that he fell at Jesus’ feet with his face to the ground and begged, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

In that moment, the man with leprosy lays everything out before Jesus. He makes jimself completely vulnerable. I imagine he was filled with fear and hope at the same time. Fear that Jesus would reject him or that someone would treat him harshly for not following the law. He had hope that Jesus would be everything he had heard about and would heal him, restoring him back to health and to the community.

In hearing the leper beg for healing, Jesus does something totally remarkable, something so amazing that it would take everyone by surprise. Jesus reaches out and touches the man. We don’t know how long the man has had leprosy- maybe weeks or years, but since he contracted the disease he has been without human contact. People would avoid him, well, like the plague.

Jesus puts compassion ahead of ritual purity in touching the man. This must have been shocking to everyone observing including the man. Jesus speaks, “I am willing, be clean.” Luke says that immediately the leprosy left him. After telling the man not to say anything, the man went and told everyone what happened and it let to more people seeking out Jesus’ teaching and to bring their sick for healing.

Over the last several weeks, we have been talking about what it means to live as sent people in our families, workplaces, and communities. In the past few weeks we discussed living our everyday lives in the name of Jesus, living as vital parts of our communities, and that we are to join in God’s ongoing work through Jesus to restore and redeem, bringing a hope and a future to those who seek God with all their hearts.

The question the series is asking is what kind of posture we will assume- a posture of consuming church or a posture of being sent into the world. As we consider the scripture from Luke 5, what sort of posture will we as individuals and as a church assume for the marginalized in our society; for those who may be seeking God, but their lives are a mess? How about those who are seeking answers to questions about life and faith? What posture will we assume with those who we might consider unclean or sinners?

In the scripture lesson, the man with leprosy was unclean and marginalize- and Jesus created a safe place where the man could experience healing where the religious elite would have passed him by.

As Christians and as the church, we must create safe places for people to come as they are in order to experience the Jesus and leaving forever changed. We need to create safe places for exploration of faith, wrestling with doubts, and seeking answers to questions.

This does not mean we live devoid of conviction or an understanding of right and wrong. It does not mean that our communities become a place where anything goes. It means that we assume a posture and an attitude where those who need God the most can find a safe place to encounter God.

In John 5, Jesus heals a paralytic who has been paralyzed for 38 years. After Jesus does this- he tells the man to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Jesus was addresses not that a disaster would happen, but that there is an eternal consequence for sin.

Another, and perhaps best known example, comes from John 8:1-11 when a woman caught in the act of adultery is brought before Jesus. The religious elite are ready to stone her according to the law. The leaders are also looking to trap Jesus- so this woman is no more than a pawn. But Jesus stoops down and begins to write in the sand. Finally, Jesus speaks saying, “Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, from oldest to the youngest, the men begin to drop their stones and walk away. When they are all gone, Jesus asks:

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir” the woman replied

“The neither do I.”

Jesus acted in compassion, creating safe space for this woman while maintaining the call to life apart from sin. He says, “Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

Authors Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw write:

“Jesus is not into the sloppy acceptance of anything goes, as if there were no boundaries on human behavior. He doesn’t condemn the woman, but still has her well-being in mind when he challenges her to a higher life and calling.”

The woman receives mercy from Jesus where others condemn. She receives a future and a hope that the religious elite did not want to offer her.

We are living in a culture and world that is increasingly non-Christian or post-Christian. Many of the people who are coming into College and in college and the work force have no reference point when it comes to the bible or with Jesus other than what they might hear or read on the Internet. According to recent surveys, the fastest growing religious affiliation are the “nones,” meaning those who have no religious connection. This means that we have immense opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus. But it also means that we have to be aware that there is no reference point for how a Christian should act or what the Bible is all about.

One such area that I think of are young people who are wrestling with issues of sexual identity. Too often they encounter judgment rather than an openness that listens and walks beside. Too often we hear of a young person taking their life because of their struggle with sexual identity and feeling like they have no one to turn to. This is not a question of whether homosexuality is right or wrong, that is another discussion- this is the need for the church (and Christian) to provide safe places for young people (all people)to be able to ask questions and find people who will walk beside them. How can we be the church to them, or to anyone, if we close the door and fail to offer safe places for dialogue. How can anyone experience transformation if there is not the space to encounter God?

We must create space for these people to seek, to doubt, to be skeptical, to ask questions, and to be invited to live in the presence of God- to go and sin no more. But if these nones, our children, co-workers, and neighbors don’t feel safe enough in exploring faith or asking questions, then they will not come to you or come to our church.

Safe places become transforming spaces

How do we do this?

  1. We must learn to ask good questions. Getting my hair cut is a favorite place to talk. When the person cutting my hair knows that I’m a pastor and they ask questions about church- it allows me to ask them if they are involved in a church- or to share about their own spiritual journey.
  2. Tell Your Story: More than doctrine or information, people seeking God will connect with your story. Let your story invite others to pursue Jesus. Our adoption story has opened the door on multiple occaisons to tell the story of God’s grace at work in Malachi’s life. As you tell the story, we don’t look to invite someone to church- but we look for our words and our actions to be the church.

Safe Places become transforming spaces.

This morning, if you are a skeptic, a seeker, or someone with questions about life, faith, God, and the church- my prayer is that this community would be safe space for you to ask difficult questions and that there would be compassion and grace available to walk through those questions together. I believe that when we seek Jesus with all our hearts that God will transform our lives. Keep seeking. Keep asking.

If you are a person of faith, a follower/disciple of Jesus consider your ministry to the skeptics and seekers of the world. How do you assume a posture of safe space so that those who seek might encounter God’s presence? Or does our posture turn people away? As we consider our sentness to a world looking for God, let us create safe places where God can transform our lives, our churches, and our communities. Amen.

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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