Last weekend, I went with a group of SLC folks to worship with the Living Stones Prison Congregation in Shelton. It was my first time making the trip and though I had always wanted to go, I have also always been a little scared, too. I wondered if it might be better if my male colleagues led the groups. I wondered about what to wear–should I take off all my jewelry? As we prepared to go, I had lots of what turned out to be silly thoughts go through my mind.
And I think it was because what I wasn’t prepared for was to get there and actually worship.
Living Stones is one of the friendliest congregations I have worshiped with. We met all kinds of men—young and old, who shook our hands and thanked us for coming. Pastor Norm told us later that for some inmates, we might be their only visitors.
And then we started to sing. They had a worship band, all made up of inmates. Guitars, drums, and voices were united in praising God. The singing was by no means perfect, but with eyes closed and hands raised, I saw men who believed in the words they were singing. I’m bringing all my dirt, I’m bringing all my shame. I’m laying them all at the foot of the cross.
I’m much too Nordic to be much of an arm raiser when I’m singing in church, but in spite of myself I found my hands opening up—palms facing heaven, not raised much more than an inch or two, but raised to receive the amazing grace of God.
And then it started to not be about me coming in to worship with these poor, shameful men—it started to be about ALL of us being poor and shameful before Jesus. Because Jesus loves the poor and shameful. He loves the low and the least. And when he told us that we should go and visit those who are in jail, he was pretty smart.
I know I was brought to my knees. Because even though I might not have been dressed in khakis and black shoes, when Jesus smiled down on us Living Stones, he could not see a difference among us.
And that is what grace is. Grace is God saying to you: There is nothing you can do to make me love you, because I love you no matter what. And no matter what you have done or left undone, said or left unsaid, my forgiveness is without end. You are my beloved child.
And so we sang—together. Christ’s body in the world. As Paul writes in I Corinthians 12, one part of us could not say to the other that we were more important, because we all share in Christ. And I thank the members of Living Stones for preaching that truth to me. I pray for those men, that they would heal and be changed and know how precious they are in God’s sight. And I hope they are praying the same prayer for me.