Church makes us sleepy.
When asleep in church, a gentle nudge can help. Many churches have coffee bars because church makes us sleepy, but when one church's staff found someone sleeping, they called the police.
They called after discovering the sleeper in an empty building. Before falling asleep, the citizen broke a window and urinated on furniture. A responding officer secured the scene and informed the clergy of their options.
"Would you like to press charges?"
"No, thank you. We just want to make sure the accused is OK and that the building is secure."
"Breaking, entering and destroying property are all crimes. Are you sure about prosecution?"
"Yes. Thank you for coming out officer. Have a good night."
Driving to the next call, a question haunted the officer, 'What Would Jesus Do?' Off-duty, the officer found a Bible and read:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. ~ Romans 13:1-5
Reflecting on the text brought the officer back to the call. Familiarity with the text brought the officer to see the police as "one[s] in authority...God's servant[s] for [the readers'] good. But if [the readers] do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. [Cops] are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on wrongdoers."
Breaking into a church to piss and drool on furniture seemed, to the off-duty officer, a reason to take someone to jail. Yet the same people who called 911 - also God's servants - prevented the "agent of wrath [from] bring[ing] punishment on the wrongdoer."
Would Jesus really let a wrongdoer walk away?
A few shifts later, the officer ran into a chaplain.
"Hey, chaplain. I was on a call that made me think of you." Out comes the outrageous story before the officer says, "I count jail as one of the many ways God speaks to people. Taking people to jail for something like that seems in line with the Bible. What do you think?"
I agreed and said, "Romans 13 is in black letter, but the words we believe to be Jesus' are red. May we consider what Jesus may have to say about your call?"
With permission, the officer allowed another reading:
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. ~ Matthew 18:15-17
"You're a believer and so are the church workers. For giggles, let's say that the accused also has a relationship with the Lord. An intruder fell, as we all fall, short of the mark. Jesus teaches that our pursuit of justice starts one-on-one, then with witnesses and finally before a larger body. If after three attempts, there's no reconciliation, the offender is to be treated as a heathen and tax collector.
"A tax collector was despised in Palestine because of Roman leverage on local purses. Often a Jew, with understanding of local economies, tax collectors enriched themselves by demanding more than Roman taxes required. Though maligned, they were protected by Roman authority and harming a tax collector had dire implications. They were avoided, with cause yet scripture shows Jesus engaging tax collectors.
"Luke 5:27 shows Jesus calling Levi, the tax collector, into a life of discipleship. When he left everything to follow Jesus, the texts show Jesus eating in Levi's house. Finding confiscated furniture and extorted bread in the home of a tax collector would have been no surprise. When I consider Christ reclining on foreclosed furniture and eating extorted bread, I struggle. Elsewhere, the texts show him eating in the home of a different tax collector, who was so convicted by Jesus that he confessed thievery and pledged reparation. Bystanders asked Jesus, "Why do you eat with tax collectors and sinners?" because they expected Jesus to do what was right.
"When you show up with badge, gun and body camera, citizens expect you to do what is right. Your policies and procedures are in place and are to be followed. Some calls, however, present issues beyond the employee handbook. Breaking and entering merits jail time but a pardon - particularly the place of the pardon - drove you to the scriptures. You are still wrestling with the texts and engaging scripture makes you a better officer. I think you've done right by asking what the Lord would have done; your question has brought you to red letters."
We continued dialogue, agreed that Jesus was at work and closed in prayer. Emergency calls and report-writing pulled the officer back onto the road. In the wake of the Holy Spirit's influence, a few takeaways emerge:
- The officer's work brought comfort to traumatized church workers;
- Securing the scene and presenting an option to press charges is the officer's job;
- The Holy Spirit moved the officer to reconsider Jesus and what He would do;
- Dissonance drove an off-duty officer to Romans 13;
- A chaplaincy provided the officer with a listening ear;
- A ministry team sent a listening chaplain with red letters.