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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

What of the lost sheep who have acted as wolves in sheeps’ clothing? Who have caused us or others harm?

Yesterday a birthday passed for someone who has strayed far from his fold. Someone whose online messages state he is lost but who is not yet willing to turn to the Shepherd. Someone who has committed thefts, large and small, against his closest family members who now must maintain security systems to keep him out. Someone whose words so often turn out to be false. Someone for whom others have taken up the responsibility of raising his children. Someone who was given chance after chance to change his ways and do right, but who, so far, has not chosen to face the truth that much of what he is reaping is what he has sown.

So easy for me (and others more closely) affected by his actions to wish that he eat of the bitter fruits he has planted. To want retribution not resolution.

And, yet, what of those parables of the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, the Workers in the Vineyard, etc. am I choosing to ignore? That nothing is impossible with a God who sent his son to save you, me, men who steal from their grandmothers and mothers, murderers, those who persecute the faithful, those who wish others to lie in the beds they’ve made—anyone who commits crimes against God and fellow humans—which is all of us.

How can I act as if I deserve grace any more than he does? Grace is always undeserved—that is the nature of grace. If God’s grace is sufficient, then it is sufficient for all, not just for those whom we judge to have not strayed quite as far others.

Shame on me for not believing that where there is God there is hope, no matter how much hurt a person has sown in this world. This man is a child of God and a child of his mother, who still longs deeply in her heart for his redemption—with God and with family.

At the same time, there is real reason for creating boundaries. Just because God says all are welcome at His table does not mean we need to extend that welcome to our tables while the actions and hearts have yet to change.

But what of my actions and heart also needs to change to be fully welcome at God’s table? If vengeance is God’s, then isn’t my job instead to pray without ceasing and to open my heart to the possibility that no matter the seeds that have been planted so far, that there is still time for a harvest that will bear good fruit?

Earlier this year Pope Francis declared a Holy Year of Mercy—a Jubilee—reminding us that “no one can be excluded from the mercy of God. . . .” No one—not even the lost sheep who have harmed us. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

You know when the phone rings and you don’t recognize the caller, but for some reason you answer anyway? That’s what happened to me today and maybe it was for a reason. You see, the man was calling to talk about his ministry on and around my daughter’s campus.

She goes to a secular campus populated by many groups trying to evangelize to the students. Boy, do the kids on this campus need some faith or religion. But that’s also why you can’t just approach them by scaring them to Jesus—and that’s what most of the groups there do. I don’t know if this man’s group takes this approach but I asked him if I could give some feedback and he agreed to hear what I had to say. He was a bit quiet after I spoke, but thanked me anyway—I pray he’ll prayerfully consider just a portion of what I shared.

Our faith tradition is based upon grace. We have not earned—and cannot ever earn—our way into heaven no matter how “good” we are or how many good works we do. Grace is a gift that we do not deserve—it just is. Whatever good we do we do because of love.

From what I hear, the pitches most of these groups give do not start with love. I told the man that our kids live in very difficult times for remaining faithful believers. Fewer believers out there mean that more people question just why someone would want to believe. Is a sufficient answer really going to be something guilt-related?

Yes, Jesus gave 100% to save me, but when you start asking me what percent I give back to him, what I hear is that I am not now good enough and not so likely ever to give 100%, as he did for me. Well, duh! That’s why he’s Jesus, both human and God, and I am simply human. Our tradition also asserts that we are all sinners—from birth to death. And sin is more than partying in college anyway—it’s how we don’t consider others in our actions or when we ignore God’s will, even if many of those sins don’t stand out as much as drunkenness or casual sex do.

I also don’t think this Millennial Generation is into being guilted or scared into faith. When so-called Christians yell and call students names in the campus commons, that only promotes the hypocrisy or judging natures of many who claim to follow Christ and does little to promote Christianity itself. Kids today may not expect a Christian to be a perfect person, but they won’t follow someone who publicly sins in such a way and acts as if it is a virtue. That is not loving your neighbor—any neighbor—as yourself—unless, of course, you don’t love yourself at all.

No, the message of Jesus=Love is the beginning, middle, and end. The more we love Jesus, the more we think his rules for living are valuable. But if you start your Jesus sales pitch by telling people they aren’t enough, they’ll never know that Jesus loves us especially when we’re not enough—and no human can ever be enough anyway. Jesus loves the students who sleep with random people, the ones who cheat on tests, the ones who abuse chemicals, and/or the ones who don’t believe in Him just as much as He loves those who dedicate their lives to Him and who want to do all in His name. Plus, he also loves longtime Christians whose behavior continues to fall short of what they think it should be.

His love never ends even when we disappoint Him again and again. Hatred or judging spoken in His name just turns people from His love, but once you personally know He matters and why, then you can get on with the business of loving yourself without worrying about what percentage of you is worthy (none of you and all of you at the same time!) and sharing that love with a world crying for a better way. After all, it’s His love shown through us that shows the world why He mattered.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son . . . for my son, your daughter, the believers, the non-believers, the questioners, and any other person walking across campus. That’s the first thing they all need to know and everything else follows from there.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert