Many years ago, when I was a preacher in Scotland, two young women appeared at the manse door on a stormy winter's night. Both were slightly inebriated and had come to make a special request. One of them was a single mum, who doted on her five-year-old daughter. She wanted her only child baptized and was wondering if I would do it. Suddenly she burst into tears and couldn't say another word.
Her friend then continued the conversation. "Minister," she said, "she came here five years ago when the baby was born, but the last minister wouldn't christen her daughter. He told her the church didn't baptize that kind of child here."
I was shocked, but not surprised. My predecessor had a stern reputation for upholding church law and neglecting compassion. I told them I would be delighted to baptize the wee girl and asked if her mum would come to church on Sundays. The young mother stopped weeping, and her whole face brightened. For the first time in years, she felt accepted.
She came to church with her daughter the following Sunday. She soon became a member of the congregation and her daughter was baptized. She became a Sunday School teacher and brought her child up as a Christian. Her whole life changed because she was no longer burdened with shame. Before I left to minister in the United States, she thanked me for helping her and for accepting her daughter.
We have good rules, well thought out regulations, important teachings and holy traditions in our churches, but when we use them to oppress individuals and neglect to show compassion, we're no better than the Pharisees whom Jesus condemned. Justice and love of God are key elements of our faith. We should never forget to practice those things first, instead of hiding behind doctrine and dogma.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, guide us today when we come across other people who need help. Enable us to listen to their requests and empower us with enough love and compassion, mercy and grace to fully support and care for them. In doing so, may we bring them closer to You, their Savior and Lord. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.