There’s a strange little sentence in 2 Samuel 14:14 that has changed my life. Here it is:
“For we will certainly die and are like water that is spilled on the ground and cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not [simply] take away life, but devises plans so that the one who is banished is not driven away from Him.”
In the context of the story, David had become estranged from his son, but is being reminded here that God is into the reconciliation business. He devises plans to make sure it happens! Further: David is reminded of a wonderful truth: Nothing is set in stone. Nothing is finished. Well,you might say, the future is pretty clear enough, in that we will certainly die. And water that is spilled cannot be gathered up. No use crying over spilt etc. But until then, we live in what a pastor friend of mine calls “the possibility arena”. Anything can happen. And God is planning for restoration… and he wants us to join in.
So… what ways can you devise to “bring the banished home”?
The famous cricketer/ missionary C.T. Studd wrote a famous verse:
“Some want to live within the sound
Of church or chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop,
Within a yard of hell.”
But what does a “rescue shop” look like? It might look like anything. We have a lovely friend who runs a hairdressing salon in a tough district of West London. She offers kindness, grace and counsel with every blow dry and trim, and is happy to pray with any and all, in a way that is loving, inclusive and non-judgmental. She has devised a way to break through to the “exiles.”
How do you bring the banished home?
We know these guys who operate as “street pastors” in Suffolk UK. They spend their Saturday nights and Sunday early hours negotiating some tricky conflict-resolution situations, forking out taxi fares to drunk teenagers, sitting on the kerbside with people in crises, whatever it takes.
I think that they have discovered the answer to the question; “What would Jesus do?”
What I don’t think that Jesus would be so concerned about is making new church members as a thing in itself. Indeed, he criticized the Pharisees (in Matthew 23:14) for precisely that: “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”
Isaiah was also tough on “religious practices” such as fasting, that somehow prevented ground-level compassion. He said: ‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
And Jesus told story after story to make the same point. In the familiar parable of “the Good Samaritan” he gave the model: recognize the need, respond to it; take the burden on yourself, move on.
That’s bringing the banished home.
On another occasion (Matthew 25 35,36) Jesus was even more explicit:
“I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.”
Who are the banished? How can I bring them home?
I guess the answer is that you have to find the answer for yourself. I have to find ways of “sharing my bread with the hungry“, or of “listening to the voice of the refugees.” Val and I found a way, through fostering children, especially young Muslim kids from war-torn places.
There’s a really important principle here. Jesus didn’t mean us to just love those who fit into our idea of “lovable.” He meant those that are broken, scarred. He meant those that no one else will touch. Jesus meant to love them all.
We don’t get to pick and choose. Our choice is to open the door. Or not.
(The photo is a close-up of the Reconciliation statue outside Coventry Cathedral with its twin in the Hiroshima Peace Park)