“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Jesus is using the imagery of branches and a vine to illustrate His desire—God’s desire—to be intimately connected to humanity. The passage in which this takes place has always felt different to me than it does now. The difference is the first line of this paragraph. It changes everything for me. It changes the language from a rigid set of moral expectations to a deep invitation to truly be in communion with the Creator of all life. It no longer sounds frightening as if I am trying to prove myself to an angry judge. Instead it feels warm. It feels loving. It feels safe.
Nicholas decided to stay and talk after Teen Group. We had talked about God, which can be a dangerous conversation for some of our kids. Nicholas, an openly queer young man, told me that he couldn’t believe in God because he wasn’t willing to do the things necessary to get God to be ok with him. He had learned from his family and church that God was always standing with open arms, but would only embrace him if he aligned himself with a specific set of morals.
My heart broke that night. Nicholas wasn’t telling me that he didn’t believe in God. He did believe in a god—a god who couldn’t stomach the idea of loving him unless he stopped being attracted to men. This god had been used as a sort of weapon against Nicholas, and he was letting me see—though just for a moment—how much that god scared him. Whatever word Jesus had spoken to His listeners had clearly not been heard by Nicholas.
We talked for over an hour about what I believed God was saying to him that night. I could tell that he wanted to believe me, but the message of the small god ran so deep that he just couldn’t. I spent the next several months reminding him that God already loved him. That phrase never felt quite as necessary as it did for Nicholas.
At Joshua Station I have learned the importance of invitation. Kids like Nicholas are not in need of being told how far they have to go in order to be acceptable. They are in need of an invitation; an invitation that meets them where they are. The invitation from Jesus is to realize how we are already deeply connected to Him—and to remain there. Nicholas desperately needed to hear the voice of the God who says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”
That word isn’t telling us how disappointing we are, but rather how loved we are. That word is extending an invitation to realize how we are deeply and unconditionally connected, as a branch connects to a vine—here and now.
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