When we say that we are the sacred spaces to where the innocent can run for refuge, that doesn't mean exactly what the world thinks it means.
See, the world thinks that if we say we are a refuge, then everyone ought to be "safe" here. Everyone ought to be able to come and to be protected, exactly as they are. We ought to wrap our arms - and our walls - around anyone who would come to seek refuge in our sacred space.
And, indeed, the history of the church is that she has been a refuge in the world.
But that doesn't mean that we just take everyone in.
If a man was guilty of whatever crime he was accused, he could not find safety in a city of refuge. If he was guilty, the city was required to hand him over to those who would come after him. There were no walls that would keep him in. That's not the way that the sanctuary of God works.
So, too, then, we must be discerning about what we're willing to wrap our arms around. We have to be just as willing to say what we are not a refuge for as we are about what we are a refuge for. We have to be willing to say what is not going to be safe in our sacred space.
This is...tricky. I know it is. We are a people of both mercy and grace, and above all, we are a people of love. There is such a fine line between saying that we will provide refuge and knowing what love really looks like. There is such a fine line between creating a safe space for the innocent (and, we might add, for the repentant) and knowing when to cast someone out. There is such a fine line between the mercy we are called to offer and the sacredness of the space we are called to steward.
The world wants us to just "accept" everyone and everything. Not only accept, but affirm. Not only affirm, but celebrate. The world says that if there is even one person who is not safe here, then we are no refuge. We are no sacred space. We are not, they say, who we claim we are. We aren't a people of love.
But God's instructions are clear: we are a refuge for the innocent, not for the guilty. We are a refuge for those who need protection from consequences that are not due them, not a refuge for those who don't want to be honest about the life they are living.
As such, we have to draw some hard lines. We have to take some firm stands. We have to be willing to say what we will and won't tolerate, what is and is not welcome in our sacred space. And I know - hear me, I know - the world condemns us for that, but God doesn't.
Rather, that's exactly what God has called us to do.
The hard truth is this: if you just let murderers live in your sacred space, it's not long before it's not sacred any more. It's not long until what lurks in their hearts comes living in your streets. If you want to be a safe space, a sacred space, a true refuge, you have to be clear about what kind of person is allowed to live here. Otherwise, you're no refuge at all. Your streets are filled with the same garbage that everyone runs to you trying to get away from. And what good does that do?
Be mindful, then, of who you welcome into your refuge. Of who you take in.
Do not let the guilty dwell within your walls. Offer mercy, yes, always, but never forget God's call on you to be a refuge. You can't do that if you let the guilty in.