Saturday, September 27, 2014

Making Room for Others

RCL Proper 26A
28 September 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         Shortly after Owen’s birth in 1990 Paula and I realized that our Subaru station wagon had reached the end of its usefulness to our family.  Three children, all under the age of four, meant three children’s car seats.  No matter how I tried to arrange the space, there was simply not enough room.  Paula and I drove to the Chrysler dealership and we left the proud owners of our first of two mini-vans.

         One of the advantages of the mini-van was that we were able to put two car seats in the very back with a space between them and one seat in middle bench leaving a space just behind the front passenger seat.  Not only did this mean that the seats could remain in the car permanently with room for storage such as groceries and other shopping, but there was an even more important gift.

         How many of you have travelled with young children for any long distance?  How many of you have had to intervene at the sound of outraged voices saying things like ‘He’s crowding me!’ or ‘I don’t have enough room!’ or ‘She touched me!’?

         With the mini-van each child had space!  Even as they graduated from the car seat to a booster seat then to sitting without any additional apparatus, each one had room around them.  Many a long road trip was saved by this generosity of space.  I even felt that I was a better father when, upon arriving at some event or location, my children left the van in good spirits.

         There is much to be said in favour of making room for others.  Although I cannot remember where I heard or read this, I can remember God’s act of creating the kosmos being described as a divine act of making room for all that is.  Think about this for a moment.  One of the hallmarks of traditional theology is the concept of God’s self-sufficiency; in other words, God does not need anything. While it may be true that God is self-sufficient, God chooses not to be.  God chooses to create, an act of love in which God makes space for all things, visible and invisible, to come into being.  God chooses to set aside self-sufficiency in favour of being in relationship with us.

         For Christians we celebrate God’s choice of relationship rather than self-sufficiency in our belief that in Jesus of Nazareth we meet this God.  In today’s reading from Philippians Paul quotes an early Christian hymn that proclaims that Jesus, whom we proclaim the Christ, ‘did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.’ (Philippians 2.6-7, NRSV)  Jesus sets aside the prerogatives of being God’s Anointed One and chooses to make room for compassion, for suffering, for pain and for death.  All this Jesus does to create a space for you and for me and for all humanity to discover our true identity as beloved of God and to reclaim our right minds.

         The history of the Christian movement is a series of choices made by various communities over the centuries to follow the exhortation of Paul to do nothing ‘from selfish ambition or conceit, but humility to regard others as better than yourselves’, looking ‘not to [our] own interests, but to the interests of others’. (Philippians 2.3-4, NRSV).  Each of these choices was the choice to make room and to create a space in which the ‘other’, whoever the ‘other’ might be, could work out their salvation, their discovery of wholeness, with awe for the love of God and with uncertainty as to where such love might lead them.

         You and I have experienced some of these choices to make room.  I was still a boy when the Anglican churches in North America made room for divorced people to remarry in the church.  I was a teenager when the bishops on both sides of the 49th parallel opened communion to all baptized persons regardless of age or denominational affiliation.  I was just out of university when North American Anglicans realized that the ordained ministries of bishop, presbyter and deacon were incomplete without the gifts of women.  I was a young professor when I discovered that the gift of marriage could not be restricted only to heterosexual couples.

         Each of these choices were not without controversy and some of these choices continue to disrupt our participation in God’s mission of re-creation, reconciliation and renewal.  Sometimes these disagreements remind me of children arguing in the back of the car about how much space they have.  My belief is that the only way forward to give every one room, room to welcome the choices we have made and room to express concern and even dissent.  But with each choice to create space for the ‘other’, we discovered one more dimension of who we are as beings created in the image of God and striving to live in God’s likeness.

         But sharing in God’s work of creating space for others is rooted in the day to day choices of communities such as ours at Saint Faith’s.  Our commitment to the Community Pastoral Resource Centre is a generous expression of our willingness to create an environment of compassion in which those whose human dignity has not been honoured will know that they are precious in God’s sight and in ours.  Even so, we still have work to do.  We know, for example, that we are surrounded by neighbours who have no religious affiliation or identity.  How do we create a space in which they can explore the possibility of faith?  How do we create space for young families for whom the weekend is filled with activities other than worship with a Christian community?  How do we create space for teenagers and young adults whose worlds do not always include space for the Christian way?

         I have no immediate answers for these questions and others like them.  What I do know is that making room for those who are not with us is a gospel imperative.  As the old hymn puts it, “There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea; there's a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty. . . . For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.  If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word; and our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.”

         May God give us all the grace to make room and create spaces in which we and all God’s children may discover our true identities and reclaim our rightful minds.  Amen.

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