One of the good things about being old (there aren’t many) is that you don’t have to do what you don’t want to do, eat what you don’t want to eat, or go places you don’t want to go. All you have to do is groan, tell them you don’t feel well, and they “understand.” So I don’t eat okra or liver anymore. (Okra was the cause of the fall. Everybody thinks it was an apple. It wasn’t. It was okra. Eve said to Adam, “Hey, taste this. It’s hairy and slimy.” He did, and that’s the reason we’re in such trouble. And I don’t eat liver under the general policy of not eating anything that’s done something else before I eat it.) And while we’re at it, I don’t go to church meetings either.  (If God calls a meeting when I get to heaven, I’m in the other place.) 

I certainly don’t speak at fundraising banquets.

As I said, though, this one was different. It was at All Saints Church (a fairly large Episcopal church here in Orlando) and the purpose was to gather food and raise money for another church, St. Margaret Mary Church (a fairly large Roman Catholic church in the area), and their ministry to people in need. What’s with that? Don’t those Episcopalians know there are significant doctrinal differences between the two churches, they are in competition with Catholics, and there are some needy Episcopalians to which they could have given the food and money?

So I decided to go and find out what was going on.

Just as an aside, All Saints Church is out of the box anyway. I went there a few years ago to speak for another banquet. They were kicking off a revival. Again, I was intrigued and told them they needed someone to teach them that Episcopalians don’t have “revivals.” That’s what Baptists do. They should call it a “preaching mission” or something else, certainly not a “revival.”

Do you know what I discovered both times I went to speak for those Episcopalians?

To use the proper fork?

Well, there’s that…but I learned something more important.

First, I discovered a bunch of people who knew they were loved and knew they didn’t deserve it.

Paul said, “At the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Jesus said that he came for the sick (Mark 2:17).

Let me give you a principle: The only people who get to heaven are people who, when they get there, are surprised. Well, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. However, if you don’t sometimes sit in church, a Bible study or a Christian group and think that it’s absolutely insane you’re there, you probably haven’t understood the Gospel. 

I discovered another thing at the banquet.

I discovered a group of people who, when they found out they were loved and didn’t deserve it, then went out and loved others who didn’t deserve it.

John said that we love because Christ first loved us (1 John 4).

Every once in a while I encounter unbelievers who help the poor. They are quite proud of it and quick to tell those of us who are Christians. I always think and sometimes even say, “You don’t know nothin’! You don’t give a rip about the poor. We Christians raise more money for the poor every minute of every day than you do in a lifetime. How many schools and hospitals have you built? And where were you when Ebola (and every other plague mankind has experienced) broke out? We were there staying, loving, caring and making a difference; and by the way, we didn’t see you.”

Now when I think about it, that’s a bit harsh. The only reason we fed the hungry, built the hospitals and schools, and ministered to the diseased was that we couldn’t help it.  It is…well, it sort of comes naturally when you’ve been loved and didn’t deserve it. There are so many who have never been loved the way Jesus has loved us and I suppose they are doing the best they can.

There was one other thing I learned at the banquet.

I learned that Christians who are loved when they don’t deserve it not only learn to love others, they also find they can—and this is harder—love one another.

That’s what Jesus prayed for in John 17, that we would love one another “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21). Frankly, the only way you can get there from here is to be loved when you don’t deserve it. 

A friend of mine told me recently about a man who lost his electricity. He had no TV, no DVR, and no music. Not only that, his cell phone was dead. He went to the kitchen to make some coffee and remembered that, without electricity, he couldn’t do that either. The man noticed his wife in the kitchen so he sat down and talked to her. “You know,” he said later, “she seemed like a really nice lady.”

If you’ve been a part of the church for very long, you’ve discovered that Christians are not always nice men and women. When we get together, it’s like—as someone has said—porcupines trying to hug each other in a storm. But nevertheless, I find myself loving the church and the people who are a part of it.  Augustine said that the church was a prostitute, but his mother. That is, of course, true; but it’s more than that. When people who don’t have to pretend anymore, who don’t have to be right anymore, and who don’t have to prove themselves anymore, get together, it’s called church…or it ought to be. 

I sensed that at the banquet.

When Episcopalians raise money for Catholics, Calvinists love Wesleyans, Pentecostals love Dispensationalists, black and white Christians walk and stand together, uptight Pharisees and antinomians dance together, gay sinners and straight sinners run to Jesus together, and Republican and Democratic Christians get that their Christian family is more important than their politics…

…Jesus is coming back soon.