Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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Law and Gospel in the Church Parking Lot

The Monday of Holy Week, I got a church products catalog in my mailbox. I get these sorts of things all the time. Most often, I immediately throw them away. But, for whatever reason, I sat down and flipped through this one.

On page 118 of the Peachtree Business Products Church Catalog (Spring 2008), I saw something that made me both laugh and want to throw up. A full page of church parking tickets. As in, parking tickets pre-printed with your church name. Don't believe me, here they are.

So, imagine you are in a church parking lot and you get one of these. "Parking Violation" it says in orange or red. WARNING it says. Then, the name of the church, perhaps with a logo of a dove or a cross. And then the notice of your particular "violation." Parked in a reserved space, perhaps. "You parked in pastor's spot, you violator!" Or, my personal favorite, "vehicle not in acceptable condition." "I'm sorry, sir, but you must have all four hubcaps to park at Grace Church."

The catalog leads off this page with this choice expression: "Everyone's Sure to Get the Message with these Versatile Personalized Duplicate Parking Violation Tags." Yes, I'm sure everyone is sure to get "the Message." Not the Gospel Message, but the message nonetheless.

There is another page with violation stickers, like those large stickers the police put on someone's windshield when their car is going to be towed. Once again, the catalog puts it so well: "Parking Violation Stickers are Tough on Parking Violations and Easy on Your Budget." Must be sure to be tough on those darn "violations." The stickers can be ordered with two types of adhesive, mild and STRONG. Check them out for yourself.

The on-line catalog also sells The Boot, just in case the violator really needs to stick around church and hear the sermon again. And, of course, there are pages of Church Parking Permits, with special designations for Visitor, Staff, and Member. There are signs for the parking lot. My favorite example is "Ebenezer Outreach Ministries: Pastor Parking" I love the idea of an Outreach Ministry having a special parking space for the person who is in least need of outreach.

Now, I recognize that there are churches who have serious parking issues. Megachurches who need guys to direct people in the parking lot, for instance. And there are downtown churches who need to make sure that their parking lot isn't being used mid-week by folks parking for nearby jobs and thereby preventing others from coming to appointments, Bible studies, and worship.

Here is what I want to communicate. The Gospel is about relationship, not about law. And when a church begins to communicate with others, whether members, visitors, or just members of the community through means associated with the Law rather than through loving relationship, I believe we have violated the Gospel and conformed ourselves to this world. When a church that supposed to teach Grace instead resorts to Law . . . well, the Medium is the Message.

If we see an able bodied person parked in a handicapped space, can't we find that person and ask them to move for the sake of those who need it? And, if we can't find the person, do we need to treat them as a "violator"? Can't we write a note that asks them to move, and can't we sign our own name on it so that they can come and speak to us if they want? Not the name of the "business," but the name of a person who cares about both them and those that their decisions might impact?

Further, is there any reason on earth that staff members should have their own reserved space close to the door? Rather, shouldn't we park in the furthest spots so that we can serve others as Christ served us?

On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he said some really important things. I think these ideas should govern the way we treat one another, even in areas of parking.

"By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
--John 13:35

"Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
--Matthew 20:25-28



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