Bob and Muriel are real people. They are in their early fifties, the parents of several adult children. There are a number of grand children one of whom died recently after alleged physical abuse by a de facto son-in-law. There is a daughter in her early twenties living at home. She is an unmarried mother with three high energy children born to different fathers. Bob and Muriel care for this daughter and are bringing up the children.
This couple generally look as if they have just emerged from World War Three. The pain of their lives is etched on their faces. Muriel rarely wears shoes even in the coldest of weather. They share the same set of false teeth. Tidiness and cleanliness are not among their principles for living. They are known for their short fuses and the extraordinary battles which result. It is a mystery to many that they are still together after a life time of stormy relational weather. They have enough problems to keep a therapist in high gear for years. They live on the other side of the tracks. Their Christian background is zero. They are not highly educated.
Just in case you are wondering, this unlikely couple have become Christians. Their faith is real and vibrant. They love praising Jesus. Their daughter has become a Christian too and the grand children go to church with them. Their huge reservoir of difficulties has begun to reduce. The old toughness and roughness is mellowing but the battles still rage away at times. They are still regarded as oddities by many who have known them for a long time. In case you were wondering, it was not the local Baptist Church which introduced them to friendship with Jesus.
In fact Bob and Muriel’s pathway to faith was not exactly the norm, you might say. One of the town’s charismatic congregations ran a competition in the local paper. It was a cross word puzzle with all the answers being found in Bible passages which were added to the clues. So Bob and Muriel got themselves a Bible and then set about completing the puzzle. They won one of the major prizes put up by the church: a couple of bikes. A relationship was established; the faith was shared; Bob and Muriel met Jesus for themselves. They never miss a service and talk about the Lord on the basis that He is right there with them. Theirs is not a sophisticated faith because Bob and Muriel are not sophisticated people.
Did the local Baptist Church stand a chance of winning this unusual couple for Christ, you ask? Not really. Some of the people there regarded them as difficult people with more problems than you could poke a stick at. An eminently correct assessment. But this led to inaction. Bob and Muriel were, therefore, unwinnable. Beyond help. Too much trouble. Besides, they would never fit in here. Haven’t you seen the way they dress? They were in the church’s too hard basket. One wonders if ever anybody even prayed for them. But the local charismatic pastor had a different view of life; he found a point of contact and built on it. The congregation was big enough to make room for this noisy, untidy couple, their less than circumspect daughter and their unruly grandchildren.
The Bob and Muriel saga raises a number of crucial questions for us about the plentiful harvest which Jesus talked about:
* Are we in danger of seeking to win only those who are like us?
* Or those who will fit easily into our own context?
* Do we cultivate a sense of anticipation with regard to the winning of the “tough” cases or do we filter them out of our sights?
* Do we have the gifts and the skills to build common ground for the Bobs and the Muriels so they can get to know us and vice versa thereby allowing the possibility of sharing the faith?
* Do our worship services have anything to offer to folks who may not be articulate, do not know the Bible and do not understand any of our music?
* How many of our people actually have Bobs and Muriels as close friends?
* Do we really care about the people on the other side of the tracks and how do we show this concern?
* What does it mean to really love people who are lost sufficient to engage with them on behalf of Jesus?
Our great danger is that we have unwittingly placed constraints on the work of the Holy Spirit so that we do not really expect Him to work outside our framework of who should be in the Kingdom and who should be outside it. At best this is arrogance; at worst it is a sheer denial of the power of the Gospel. In too many of our churches Zacchaeus would not even make it onto the prospect list today. He was, after all, a slippery tax collector happily ripping everybody off. He was not exactly a candidate for the church treasurer’s role.
Do you know any Bobs and Muriels who need Jesus? The world is full of them actually. They might be as rough as bags but they respond very warmly when they realize that there is a God Who loves them just as they are. Let’s quit our sanitized evangelism. Let’s lift our sights. Let’s remember the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Now who did you say was in your too hard basket? Jesus has great plans for them. Why not you?
Rev. John Simpson