This Is No Utopia

A few weeks ago, while closing his sermon, John prayed a prayer that I hope will change our church forever. Tucked inconspicuously in his prayer was this statement: “Father, send us the people no one else wants.” I mean, it sounds good. We are the church, and we should be a refuge for the broken and abandoned in our city. Our doors should be wide open to receive whoever comes, or more so, we should be out in the city trying our hardest to find them.

Since then, I’ve probably heard Dhati quote John’s prayer in every meeting I’ve been in and every time I’ve heard him speak. But I don’t think that it has penetrated his heart because it is a prayer that sounds good to champion. Quite the opposite, actually. I think this prayer hits home so hard, because, quite simply, we are not ready for this.

More than anything, such a prayer brings a lot of conviction. For instance, I’ve always wondered why there are very few, if any, young, single mothers in our church. Perhaps it’s a good thing and points to the uncommon number of strong men and strong families. Perhaps. But, part of me can’t help think it has more to do with the way single mothers would, or wouldn’t, fit into the social circles of our church. Small example, but it breaks my heart nonetheless, and makes me wonder: Are we even the people who would want the people no one else wants? And If God answered that prayer and started sending us the people that no one else wants, what in the world would we do?

I’m convinced that we have a habit of romanticizing everything. We sing songs of the beautiful flowing blood of Jesus. We write bars about being martyred. We hype up community, “getting it in” and “chopping it up”(as the young folks say). Ministry in the city is the sexiest thing happening right now and our favorite rappers are finally getting recognition for being legitimate artists. Life is good. Well, life is good if romantic ideals are good enough for you. And we want them to be good enough. Even in our passion for the city, I think we’ve created a romanticized expectation. It’s as if we mean that by successfully impacting Atlanta, there will be an end to sex trafficking, an end to homelessness, an end to abortion, an end to socio-economic disparity, an end to homosexuality, an end to divorce, an end to rape and molestation, an end to addictions, and an end to pain altogether. But, to be quite honest, our worldview makes no room for such shallow notions of utopia. The vices of our city are going nowhere. At least, not in this life. There is no romance in our mission. There is grace and there is darkness. We live in the paradox. We embrace, as good news, a faith that promises pain and suffering here. But that’s the whole point: This is not my home! This is no utopia. Yes, Jesus promises comfort. Yes, he promises peace and joy. But in those promises, there is the inherent assumption of discomfort, persecution, pain and sadness. Jesus, our hero, will indeed make it all right eventually. But here, now, we live in the thick of the wrong. We hurt. We weep. We are the people that no one else wants! And our call is to join together, constantly reminding one another of the hope we have in Jesus’s return.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

We are beginning a new sermon series this week called utopia and our hope is that God would break our hearts to the point where we are, as a united church, willing to live in eager anticipation of being used to answer John’s prayer: To welcome into the body the people in our city that no one else wants. But that means taking care of some in-house issues and opening our eyes to the deep need for grace in our family right now. We hope that a new spirit of confession and vulnerability would define our community. We pray that we would stand firm in one Spirit, ministering grace amidst the deepest, darkest and most genuine pains of our family. It is our desire that we would strive side by side for this faith we cling to, carrying each other’s burdens. We pray that we would live knee-deep, together, in this beautiful mess we call life. We hope that grace would define everything about us, our current relationships with one another and the new relationships that God brings when He answers our prayer.

Father, give us the people no one else wants!