What Elaine and I saw the other night was an astonishing and wonderful sight: a roomful of people abandoned in life but now abandoned to God.
For the last few years, we have been in contact with the remarkable ministry of Junction 42 as it reaches out into the prisons of northern England. Our interaction has been with one of the groups established for those released from prison and their friends and partners.
Most of the men and women in the room were known to the police. More importantly, as it turned out, they were known also to God.
I shared some of my personal testimony, and then spoke briefly from Romans 8 about the Father heart of God.
The sad fact is very few of those present had ever known the love of a human father, which is one of the reasons they landed in the predicaments they did.
Being abandoned by your earthly father is one of the worst and most enduring forms of pain, and creates incredible damage in a person’s life. Why? Because earthly fathers are designed to reflect the image and love of God our heavenly Father. Being disconnected from an earthly father is not only devastating in itself, it makes it all the harder to relate to the love of God as Father.
What we saw in that church building was one of the most raucous and passionate demonstrations of worship you could find anywhere. The people who had been abandoned on earth, having found the love of their heavenly Father, were now abandoned in worship to him.
Their open display of love and adoration for God would put many of us to shame for the complacency and lukewarmness we all too often bring to church with us Sunday morning.
I came away with a couple of thoughts.
Here’s the first. Though I had spent three days teaching eschatology in a leadership school the week before, the true test of my ability and gifting was in communicating the text of Scripture in a setting like this. My dad taught me that Scripture contains the most profound truth, but should be able to be understood by the simplest person. The joy of seeing the hearts of the people responding to God’s Word that night brought me enormous joy. And it reminded me again that the Bible, in one sense, needs no defence. It speaks for itself as the unique instrument by which God shapes and changes our lives as the Spirit applies it to our hearts.
The other thought was this. Jesus spent a lot of time around people like this - criminals, prostitutes, the drug dealers of the day, the lost, the lonely, the abandoned. He came to rescue them.
Christianity is not a self-improvement therapy. It is a rescue mission.
And not just for the outwardly poor. Many years ago in Toronto, I heard Mother Teresa say the poor are everywhere, for true poverty is inward not outward. In that sense, during that service I was in the presence of rich people, though they would have laughed had I said it.
And just one last thought to close. Maybe it’s harder for those of us who were never abandoned on earth to abandon ourselves fully in the way the folk of Junction 42 did the other night. After all, Jesus said those who have been forgiven much, love much.
Maybe something we can learn from these men and women. And who knows, maybe we can learn more.