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The Kingdom of God is like...

Written by Tod and Ana Gobledale
February 1, 2005

One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts...” Luke 15:1-2 The day has been a scorcher, like an August day in the American south-- the air hot and muggy, the asphalt soft and gooey. But this is an early February day in Australia’s summer. The lawns are burnt brown and the gum trees exude a perfume of eucalyptus oil.

As we finalize preparation for tonight’s workshop, I worry how stuffy the meeting room will be. But my worries are for naught, for as often happens in Melbourne, the weather changes rapidly. In less than an hour, the afternoon’s heat surrenders to a front, which brings cool air, a misting rain and a gentle breeze.

Good thing, for now thirty of us squeeze into the mission’s meeting room, which comfortably accommodates twenty. I’m ecstatic with the turn-out. Deb, one of my colleagues at Urban Neighbours of Hope* (UNOH), exclaims, “In all my time here at UNOH, I’ve never seen so many people gathered in this room!”

Tonight’s gathering kicks off a series of “relevant, exciting and fun!” workshops being offered each Tuesday throughout this year. Designed to be “hands-on” for local folk in the surrounding urban communities, topics will include: community outreach and networking, Bible knowledge, faith development, and pastoral care.

All sorts of people have rocked up... from those in their early twenties to those in their late seventies. One man fled Chile during Pinochet’s regime. One woman comes from Sri Lanka, and another, an asylum seeker, comes from Afghanistan.

We go around the circle introducing ourselves, and sharing what we hope to get out of the workshops:

• “I want to help young people.”
• “I want to do outreach to asylum seekers.”
• “I want to deepen my faith in God and to put my faith into action.”
• "I want to help poor people, ignored and rejected by the ordinary church, to know that God loves them, too.”
• “I want to build community amongst all of you gathered here.”
• “I want to find out what resources are available for my community.”

I look. I listen. Around this circle, we are a blend, a rainbow of humanity. Not a natural mix. Some are mainstream and others are “outcasts.” Some are avid evangelical Christians, others non-church-goers. Several participants struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, or poverty. I recognize several folks from the weekly food pantry. I realize the couple on my right can neither read nor write, while the woman on my left holds a doctorate.

The sharing continues around this circle of humanity...

• “I want to work with people struggling with drugs.”
• “I’m here to extend the love of God to trans-gender people like myself and to be an advocate for them.”

I figure some folks are probably grumbling under their breath. As tolerant as Australian society is of gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and trans-gender people, the church, largely, has not been tolerant. Some of the congregations represented here tonight are not welcoming and loving communities for people on the edge, or at best they might politely welcome the outsider, but then politely ignore them until they go away. In this rainbow circle sit two trans-gender people seeking to bring “affirmation and advocacy” to their marginalized community–two outsiders, maybe not welcomed by all in this circle, but welcomed fully as insiders by Christ.

A common complaint in Australian churches, as in many USA Churches, is that our congregations are dwindling. “Where are all the young people?” members moan. Seeing all these folks eager to grow in their faith and discipleship, reminds me of the story Jesus tells about the wedding banquet (Luke 14:12-24). The status quo guests are too busy or too distracted to rock up, so the invitation is extended to the marginalized—“the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind”(v. 13)-- those usually unwelcome. And God smiles on the crowd at that banquet, for this is like the kingdom of God.

This evening’s rainbow crowd–invited and welcomed-- warms my heart. God must be smiling now, for our circle blends the insider and the outsider, so that all are fully one in Christ. God’s love is withheld from no one. Certainly the eyes of many in this circle are being opened tonight as between and beside each person sit people absent from their churches, and perhaps absent from their hearts. This wide spectrum of God’s people united by faith at this Urban Neighbours of Hope workshop is indeed a sign of hope and love. And a bold reminder that God loves and cares for each and everyone of us.

Surely, the kingdom of God is like this!

*Urban Neighbuors of Hope (UNOH for short) is a Christian urban mission and religious order within the Churches of Christ in Australia. Ana and Tod have been working with the mission team at UNOH since early 2004.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Tod and Ana

(For use in Easter worship, consider #308 in the Chalice Hymnal.)

The Gobledales serve the Common Global Ministries Board at Churches of Christ Theological College (Seminary) in Australia. They are accompanied by their 16-year old son, Mandla, who attends Rowville Secondary College, the local high school. Their 19-year old daughter, Thandiwe, continues her university studies at Pomona College, in Claremont, California.

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