My son and daughter-in-law are avid hikers. They put a dog sized back pack on their dear mongrel and go. But as we were with them the other day my daughter-in-law was telling me that there are rules that hikers know and are supposed to follow, don’t leave trash, clean up after your dog, and this one: people ascending have the right of way on the path.
It was Memorial Day weekend, a sunny, hot, rare day in Washington State when we decided to climb Rattlesnake Ledge Trail, we and an enormous part (it seemed) of humanity. We heard languages from across the world, Spanish, French, German, Romanian (I think), Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, all out to huff and puff their way up to the ledge with a glorious view. All these people, they did not know the rules of hiking. Many were completely unprepared for the struggle up. (As it happened, we, too were a little unprepared with one forgotten backpack with the extra water bottles! But that’s a different tale.)
These others, the foreign ones and the ones who never hiked and were trying it for the first time, they did not know the rules, especially this one: people ascending have the right of way on the path. Whether it was momentum or thoughtlessness people coming down skittered on pebbles making us step out of the way for them, even as we ascenders were breathing heavy to keep going
Rules can exist for very good reasons (although some are just dumb). These were good rules, helpful. But suddenly a vast group of humanity who does not know the rules is pressing to see the wonderful thing, the view, and is willing to plod and struggle to see it. This struggle to the wonderful thing is far more important than every beneficial rule. It gets messy and tries the patience of those who know these rules, yet, YET we are all heading to the top of the mountain.
How very confusing it must have been for the first ‘churchers,’ when first Samaritans, those incongruous half breeds, and then the Greeks and Romans began flooding the ranks, hearts called to the Wonderful Thing, the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Messiah. They were not following the rules, more, did not even know the rules to follow, they just pressed in because they were invited “further up and further in.” I thought about those first ‘churchers’ as I stood out of the way of those coming down, my breathing trying to catch up with my effort. This was what it was like when those well-intentioned, Torah loving Jews tried to hold back the flood of converts by preaching to them the Rules. What alarm they felt, “no, no, no, no, no! They must be instructed, they must be changed first. Someone’s got to tell them!” But the Gospel had blasted through Torah’s door, the culmination of God’s Word in Jesus. ‘All who are thirsty, all who are hungry, all who are weak, come buy without money,’ was the Word that went out. And they came and overran the synagogues and swallowed up the original faithful. How must that have felt? Perhaps a little like knowing the rules on a mountain hike when hundreds of others do not. One had to step out of the way or risk being trampled.
If you know the book of Acts at all, you’ll know that the first church fathers responded to the flood of rule breakers with simple instructions suggested by Peter based on the promise of God in Amos 9:11-12. You can find the whole controversy in Acts 15. Peter says this, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”
“We should not make it difficult.” But we do. We can put layer on layer of nicety and even beneficial rules in front of those struggling to come to Christ. It can be as simple as “act this way and you’ll be accepted.” But it isn’t that way at all. “Come!” says Jesus and the masses come. The masses come with hate and hurt, dreads and piercings, hijab and robe, jeans and flannel and guns, bad grammar and poor education, prison sentences and welfare, motherless, fatherless, country-less, sad, addicted, depressed, Republican, Democrat, Green Party, anarchist.
“Let the little ones come to Me and forbid them not.”
“We should not make it difficult.”
The minimal instruction that came to the new believers only came after the Gospel of Jesus had flooded into their lives. There is no clean up committee prior to conversion. Preach the Gospel. The masses are coming. They may overwhelm us like a flood. May it be so. May the joy of it carry us away.
At last we stood on top of that ledge and looked around on green Washington. In that one spot we heard languages from the world over and happy faces of every color. People smiled and good cheer was everywhere. We had all made it. The trail up had made us one.
Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Messiah Jesus. And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:28-29