Thursday, January 18, 2007

Recognizing People

Restless and fidgeting, my thoughts drifted away to the Disney movie I was missing as my body prepared for another long sermon. The pastor stood to welcome our visiting evangelist. He proudly exclaimed that we were honored to have such a man speaking at our church and preceded to list off a wide range of accomplishments. Even then, I resisted the praise and silently wondered, “Why is every evangelist that comes to our church the greatest one that has ever come?”

Sometimes I find it difficult to recognize people.

I recognize faces. Sometimes I even remember names. But recognizing the person poses a challenge. Douglas Knight suggests that an essential part of our human calling requires us to give recognition and honor to one another.

Created in the image of God, we enter and leave this world dependent on other people to care for us and sustain us. These fragile states reveal our true condition, our true nature. Even when we feel strongest and most self-reliant, we really never become independent. Humans need other humans to survive.

Or as the Lord says in Genesis, “It is not good that man should be alone.”

In our fragile condition, we desperately need to be recognized, to be acknowledged, to be confirmed, to be validated. In spite of our personal flaws, we still need to be received. John Eldridge compares the delight of heaven to the delight we feel when we walk into a room and someone jumps up with excitement to welcome us. We put welcome mats outside our front door, and we would do well to keep welcome mats inside our hearts.

Each person we encounter, whether they acknowledge it or not, needs to be welcomed. Jesus welcomes marginal people from shifty tax-collectors to the scorned Samaritans to morally questionable women. Jesus intentionally honors the dis-honored. He doesn’t deny their flaws. In fact, he challenges their sinful actions, but he also speaks value and worth to the heart.

Each of us, like the Samaritan woman, encounters Jesus at our weakest point. He meets us in our desperate need for forgiveness and acceptance, for redemption. When we read the words of Scriptures about God’s love for us, or when other people speak those same healing words of love and affirmation, we feel welcomed, we feel valued, we feel recognized.

Yet this same treasure that heals and renews us is sometimes difficult to give back out. I realize that I want to pick and chose the people I recognize. If someone is selfish or prideful or too busy magnifying himself, I want to deny him recognition. I want to refuse him value. I withdraw the welcome mat and immediately resist him.

But grace compels us to love. Those who hype their own accomplishments (whether they’re a visiting evangelist or a proud co-worker) may be the people in the greatest need of a good welcoming. They may be the very ones who struggle at the margins (even while they put up a good front). St. Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees, and yet he needed redemption. When he encountered the love of God in Christ, he abandoned everything to pursue the lover of his soul.

I rejoice that Christ has welcomed me to the marriage feast: in spite of my endless flaws. Expressing my deep gratitude for his welcoming and redeeming Spirit, compels me to go and welcome others.

And so I pray, “Lord grant me grace to recognize and honor all the people around me as humans created in your image. May my words and actions reveal the welcoming and restoring love of Calvary.”

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