Thursday, January 25, 2018

Behind Stone and Stained Glass

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark the 1st Chapter

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. 

“I bet you can think of something that matters to you, that you WISH mattered to more people.”  That’s how Nina Simon, the director of the MAH, the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, California, opens her TED talk.  When she arrived as it’s new director they were out of money.  But actually, that wasn’t their biggest problem.  More people in town knew the building that housed the MAH was the former jail, than knew it was now a museum… and it had been a museum for 20 years!  They had to find a way to make their museum matter to those on the outside.  But you can’t just scream, “WE MATTER!” and expect those on the outside to come piling in, can you?  Those on the outside have to DECIDE you matter and to do that, they have to find a way inside.

In the synagogue, the things Jesus was teaching, mattered!  People were ASTOUNDED, after all!  In Corinth, what Paul had to say also mattered.  And right here behind our own stone and stained glass, what we have to offer really matters!  We have a radical welcome here, in a world that spins people apart instead of pulling them together.  In here everyone has a place.  In here there’s a deep and genuine caring for one another which is very unique.  In here everyone matters and that’s ASTOUNDING! 

The trouble in that synagogue where Jesus was teaching, was that unclean spirit with all of it’s drama, was in effect, slamming the door shut on what Jesus had to say.  In Corinth too, the door to people being able to hear and experience God’s infinite love was being slammed shut as well.  The Christians were buying meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  To Paul and the Christian insiders, they knew idols weren’t real.  To the insiders, this was just meat!  But to the outsiders, Christians saying, “There is only one God” and then eating this meat sacrificed to idols was confusing.  That confusion kept the outsiders outside.  

You and I… we’re insiders here.  We KNOW the astoundingly good stuff here behind our stone and stained glass!  We KNOW we’re welcome… we KNOW we have a place… we KNOW we’re loved and cared for here just as we are!  But as outsiders drive by every day, they’re asking themselves, “Is what happens in there… behind that stone and stained glass… Is it worth the effort to try to find a way inside?”  We KNOW it is!  But they can’t see past the stone and stained glass any more than the people could hear Jesus over the rantings of that demon or the Corinthians could see past their confusion about the meat sacrificed to idols.  Casting out that demon opened a new door that let in the outsiders.  Choosing to avoid meat sacrificed to idols opened a new door which let Corinthian outsiders inside that Christian community.  At the MAH they brought their museum out to a bar so those who had always driven by before, might find a new doorway to get inside.

But demons, change and new doors are't easy.  Demons always promise to be quiet if we just do things the way we’ve always done them.  Change is easier to swallow if it’s those on the outside who do the changing and it’s always easier to open old doors wider than it is to knock a hole in a wall and put in some strange, new door.  But God sent Jesus, not more commandments and Paul asked the insiders to change for the sake of those on the outside.  

It’s true, the old, familiar ways work for insiders, but “insiders” aren’t EVERYONE and God is obsessed with including everyone!  So, demons need to be confronted, comfortable ways need to change and new doors need to be opened so that those folks who have always just driven by might now see a way to come inside and see what’s going on in here behind the stone and stained glass.  

What’s that look like?  THAT’S a good question!  I’m not sure, but I suspect, it will feel a little itchy.  At the MAH, Nina Simon did a VERY provocative pop-up museum, not at the museum, but in a bar.  People who had never been inside the MAH before, suddenly had a way to experience it!  But their museum in a bar made the MAH insiders a little itchy.   She had, in effect, blasted a hole in the wall of the museum and installed a crazy, new, neon-pink door to get inside.  “Why do we need this crazy new, neon-pink way in to our museum?  The regular door's always worked fine for us!”  The the insiders asked.  To which Nina Simon replied, “Because the outsiders never used that door and we needed to find a way to let them in so they could see! 

Jesus did just that.  He opened new doors.  It’s not that the old doors were bad or broken or obsolete.  It’s just that there were still too many of God’s children stuck on the other side, who, for one reason or another, couldn’t find a way inside.  A new door needed to be opened so that ALL of God’s children could find their way in!  

What we’ve got in here, behind our stone and stained glass, isn’t meant to be a secret.  It’s WAY too good to be kept a secret!  May we trust Jesus to sweep away and cast out the things that get in the way of people finding their way to this side of our stone and stained glass.  May we trust God to get us through the itchiness that always happens when you open new doors.  And may the people of Sheffield, who have always driven by the outside of our stone and stained glass… may they discover a new door through each one of us, so that they too, might come in and be ASTOUNDED.  Amen.  

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