Into God’s Marvelous Light
By Rev. Dr. Louise Westfall
Ready for a pop quiz to test your knowledge of church? I’m going to ask a question and offer three choices, a, b, or c. Raise your hand on the choice you believe is correct. Okay, let’s do this!
First question: The Roman numeral embedded in the cornerstone representing the year this church was built is A) MDDDCDXII, B) MDCCCXCII, or C) MDCCCLX. The correct answer is B, 1892.
Next: The word “narthex” means A) the north part of the church, spoken with a Scottish accent, B) an architectural term meaning “church entrance,” or C) a lobby gathering place. And it’s C, a space between the entrance and the sanctuary, where people gather before and after worship.
A “doxology” is A) a praise song to God, B) an expression of gratitude for the overflowing offering plates that precede it, or C) the study of German wiener dogs.
And finally, the “priesthood of all believers,” is A) a secret organization of very spiritual elders, B) a special designation for those who understand the Bible, or C) a Reformed theological perspective that all believers have direct access to God and don’t need anyone to make that connection on their behalf. Correct answer is C — believers are all equal in God’s sight.
So how’d you do? If you answered correctly on most or all, congratulations! You’re a church insider. The rest of you? Well, don’t be too hasty in your judgment. The morning text uses a lot of insider language to make a bold claim about outsiders. The original audience would have recognized references to Hebrew Scripture and poetic imagery from the Psalms. Yet they themselves had experienced outsider status in their communities and culture. Though we may be light-years away from these ancient prophecies and biblical syntax, they offer a good word for any here today who wonder whether you belong . . . whether God is living and active in the world. They offer guidance for confirmands struggling with their faith statements, and to Jessica and Zach as they make promises to help their daughter grow in faith. They are a good word to any who are suffering and wonder why. . . to all of us as we seek to reconcile the isolated act of deadly violence in New Genesis this week with its identity as a place of security and dignity for men who are rebuilding their lives. A reading from the first letter of Peter in the second chapter at the second verse. Listen… for God’s Word to the Church. [I Peter 2:2-10]
The arc of this text is the opposite of conventional religious thinking. All too often, the path seems conditional: IF you believe such and such, and/or do these things, THEN you will be blessed, you’ll be one of the insiders, and on your way to a heavenly reward. Here, however, your identity is a given. You are already precious and chosen. You are a member of the family, part of a spiritual house being built to provide shelter, nurture, and peace. Set-backs, failures, missteps and rejections cannot destroy it, because its cornerstone endured all that and prevailed. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.
So, God’s dear people, seems to me we should join baby Madison in growing into our identity, becoming who we are.
To do that, I offer three ideas:
The first is Get to know your people. Branch out from your circle of friends and approach someone at fellowship hour you don’t know; maybe someone of another generation from you, someone who is a stranger to you, maybe that solitary person edging toward the front door. Can you give them a reason to stay a bit longer?
Don’t think for a minute that the only reason we rent our space to the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra and other music groups is for revenue. Since building use has increased, so have requests for conversation and information about our ministries. Some people have been so deeply damaged by judgmental and narrow church messages that they have pulled away from anything that seems like organized religion. Yet their spiritual hunger —and need for an accepting community – remain. Their experiences here have re-ignited hope that they could find a home here.
By now you’ve learned about the altercation inside New Genesis on Thursday, between two clients, resulting in the death of one of them. Among the calls and emails I received, there’s one I’d like to share. Many of you know that before she became a Presbyterian minister, Erica MacCreaigh worked as a librarian in an Arapahoe County Correctional Facility. She was moved to write out of a similar incident that had happened in the jail that shook everyone to the core:
I suspect that under the mildest of circumstances, many people at Central who like the idea of a transitional housing shelter in Central’s basement also feel anxious about interacting with the men who live there. . . Please let me assure you, right now the residents of New Genesis are experiencing a level of disorientation and fearfulness that most of us cannot fully grasp. Fatal violence is always the exception, not the rule. I say this not to excuse perpetrators of such acts, but to encourage the congregation to show courageous compassion toward the clients and staff of New Genesis. In fact, I pray that Central’s members and friends would throw their arms around those men (figuratively and literally) in solidarity, empathy, and reassurance. Some at New Genesis are wondering, “Is it safe to live here? And if the answer is no, where in the world will I go?” Some will act extra tough as a way of protecting themselves. Some will withdraw socially and emotionally. Some will simply leave. Some will step up to help in any way they can. Central has an extraordinary opportunity here to embrace people the rest of the world would prefer to not think about. . . I miss you guys and wish I could be there with you. Affectionately, gratefully and with prayers for Christ’s peace,
There is no entrance exam to determine who will be admitted into the company of God’s people. We are all here by God’s grace, every last one of us (and “them” too) chosen and precious in God’s sight.
Stay woke. This phrase, which originated in African-American vernacular, means to be socially aware, mindful of reality beyond appearance, and active in seeking something better, more just and right. Friends, Christian faith is not an either/or, but an ongoing conversation about the things that really matter. We remind our young people that confirmation is not the end of their faith journey, but a milestone, one of many over a lifetime of exploration, questioning, struggling, worshiping, serving, being together, and learning all it means to love God and love neighbor as oneself. I won’t dispute that you can be a Christian without going to church. But why would you want to? This community of God’s people provides material to build a life that will stand under stress and withstand heartbreak, a place of purpose and joy that lights up the world and your own precious soul.
Finally, go in peace. Trust that you are equipped with all you need to proclaim the mighty acts of God who calls us out of darkness into the light. No stereotype can define us, because we are God’s people. No rejection can undo us, because we are God’s people. We go into a world of chaos and brokenness as a people who know none of that has the last word. We go into a world empowered with a singular thrilling truth that counters our fear: Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. A trustworthy foundation upon which to build our lives.