When I was around 12 years old, there was a troublemaker at my church, around my age. He was a mischief maker, pulling pranks on others and doing stupid things. He once exposed his genitalia to one of the Sunday School teachers. Nothing sadistic or evil, just stupid.
But it was enough to earn the ire of the adults. I remember once he came up in conversation, and one of the adults said “That kid is trash.”
What does that mean? Does that mean this kid, this child, will never amount to anything, that he will always be garbage? He was behaving badly, to be sure, but it struck me as a strong pronouncement of his lack of worth.
But to call someone garbage is the easy route. There’s no need to empathize with them, connect with them, understand them. If I dehumanize you, I don’t need to engage with you. I can throw you out as not worth my time.
What upsets me most about this is that it was someone in the church who said this. Now, people in the church are not perfect, God knows. Yet it is for that very reason that the church should be a sanctuary for everyone. For those that the world calls garbage, the church can embrace, to believe that every person is an image bearer of God, a unique expression of His glory.
Consider the example of the book of 1 Corinthians. Paul wrote this letter to a church with all manner of problems. Divisions, in-fighting, immaturity, immorality, disorderliness. Yet Paul started his letter by saying “I always thank God for you.” How Paul be so thankful for such a church? “Because of God’s grace given to you in Christ Jesus.” He knew that their current bad behavior was not the last word. “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; you were called by Him into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
What I pray is that God teach me to be thankful for those whom I would rather throw away, to believe that God’s grace is always at work.