By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (January 31, 2012) – The lives of people considered “not good church material” can be transformed if the church will build bridges across troubled waters to reach whosoever, wheresoever, howsoever and whensoever, Bishop Vashti McKenzie told the gathering at the opening worship service of the Midwinter Conference Monday night.
“Jesus came preaching a whosoever message at the time when everyone had a me-so-ever attitude,” McKenzie said. Unfortunately, the church too often reflects the latter. Christians are just interested in the whosoevers who are just like them, and the rest are outsiders who the church keeps that way, she added.
McKenzie drew on the text from Matthew 15:21-28, in which a Canaanite woman begged Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter.
“Girlfriend was not church material,” McKenzie said. “She was on the fringe of humanity, helpless and homeless.” She was an outsider of outsiders.
The disciples were as eager to get rid of the annoying and unclean woman as were the religious leaders, she observed. “There seemed to be more interest in building barriers than bridges,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie, who is the first woman to be elected bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, acknowledged the text has often troubled Christians because of Jesus’ seemingly cold-hearted and bigoted response to the woman’s pleas. But Jesus was setting up the disciples and others who thought they were righteous, she suggested.
McKenzie noted that Jesus spoke of the unclean woman’s great faith as opposed to that of those who considered themselves clean. That reading would fit with the rest of Jesus’ mission.
“Jesus makes it plain to all the witnesses who are present that the gospel is for every person on the earth,” McKenzie said. That, she declared, includes the “whosoever.”
“God’s grace is given worldwide without our permission or input,” McKenzie reminded the audience.
Aside from obviously broken individuals who are outside the church, Christians must remember the whosoever also means those who agree with my opinions theologically or politically. “When we go to church, we are looking for confirmation, not confrontation,” McKenzie said, quoting author Peter Gomes.
The lives of people who fall through the social safety nets depend on the church’s united mission to reach the whosever before the broken die, not just spiritually, but also physically, McKenzie said.
“Maybe if we stop waiting for a tragedy to occur, we will realize there is more uniting us than divides us,” she said. “Let’s build bridges over troubled waters.”
Unity is built on the memory of the love God has shown each of us, “remembering always there was a time when you weren’t church material. There was no search party looking for you to bring you in.
“Yes, for all of us, there was a time when we were not church material, but thank God we have always been Christ material.”
Editor’s note: Photo courtesy of Mike Nyman