The biblical scholars of the Jesus Seminar voted that its very unlikely that Jesus actually said these words – but they wished he had! The writer of Matthew expresses the intent of Jesus’ ministry of radical hospitality here, in such an evocative way. This passage calls us to see the Christ in the face of everyone in need. Which is to say, as poet Tanya Jacobs put it – in everyone.
As Christians we have long declared ourselves all parts of one Body in Christ. In today’s quantum consciousness our spirituality calls us beyond any artificial boundaries such as religion, and even humanity. Today, I hear the living Christ calling us to live in loving recognition that all are one and all is one. That everything on earth and in the cosmos is intimately interconnected, interdependent and yearns toward loving harmony. And that we each play a part in creating that harmony.
I think most Christians have ‘got it’ that Jesus wants us to feed the hungry, not abandon the imprisoned and welcome foreigner in his name. Sometimes it takes a stretch of our imagination and compassion to make common cause with these ‘others’, but our conscience calls us to this. Through Mission & Service, Trinity Outreach, Church in Society and Trinity Jubillee Foundation, lots of us try to ‘live with the Christ in others.’
But spirituality is all about growth in our connectedness with the Holy, so there is always a place we can stretch our compassion to be more inclusive of some group of others who need to belong – and indeed, whom we now understand that we need to belong…to be more whole as a community and more meaningfully connected within all who come here.
This past year, the question has been raised, whether Trinity is an Affirming Church? Or should become one? So far in Ottawa, only First United, and last Spring Glebe St James, have undertaken the process of becoming Affirming congregations. The challenge of becoming an Affirming Church among United Churches is not just about welcoming gays. This process involves education and exploration of much more than the face of Christ in differing sexual orientations. It invites congregations to look for any and all conscious and unconscious barriers to full participation to any kind of ‘others,’ from the physically disabled and elderly to the differently coloured and mentally ill. Who might feel less than fully valued, included and welcomed? And how can the community stretch to embrace that diversity?
We haven’t decided here to become an Affirming Church, but some of us felt that it wouldn’t hurt to have a look at who the ‘others’ might be, among us and around us in our neighbourhood. Who might experience barriers to a full sense of belonging here at Trinity? Is there diversity we are missing out on? Who are we failing to recognize as the Christ among us and how can we get to know them – eye to eye?
Last year, we got a little better connected with people of other religions, by listening to individuals in or close to our community, who were graciously willing to share their practices. Personal encounters with them stretched our sense of commonality and complementarity with Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam. Lots of you were enthusiastic about that series.
So for this winter, we’ve planned another intermittent series, to help all of us once again stretch our boundaries of belonging, together all in God, human as the face of Christ.
I’ve been asking people who might feel themselves as ‘other’ amongst us, to share their experiences and feelings and advice for us, so that we might support and enjoy more people like them, among us at Trinity. Because February is Black History Month, we begin this exploration next week, with the ‘otherness’ of race. Our children’s Sunday School lesson will celebrate the willpower of black activist Harriet Tubman and we’ll hear a poem on race by Maya Angelou. And I am being entrusted to share, some reflections from those few among us who are visibly of African descent. I’m asking them, where might we stretch our welcome into belonging, for people who share your ‘otherness?’ Next week, we can face our own, perhaps unconscious, vestiges of racism….and open our eyes to see the Christ shining more clearly in dark skinned faces. Do we offer them more than a glass of water? Do we offer full hospitality – as to Christ?
Next month we’ll ask similar questions of ourselves, in relation to those with mental illness and parents with especially challenged and challenging kids. We can also look at differing sexual identities and orientations, and at our ageism – whether we are elders who may feel sidelined or teens who are inadvertently patronised. You can suggest the stretches you suspect we need to make as a community – with the intention of learning together how to meet the eyes Christ in everyone – “even the least of these.”
Those who know today’s passage from Matthew from years of biblical readings, are aware that I chose to leave off the last verses, which reflect the Gospel writer’s theology of last judgement. I did not have Sheila read Matthew’s threat of everlasting punishment for those who fail to see the face of Christ in the other in need. It is too easily read as afterlife of eternal firey punishment in hell, that neither Jesus nor we subscribe to. Rather than punishment, though, we might cautiously include the end of Matthew’s story, interpreting it metaphorically, as a natural consequence of any form of exclusion or prejudice. When we fail to be radically welcoming like Jesus, to all those ‘others,’ we all suffer. We are smaller and we are less connected and supported on our journeys, in a world of expanding diversity and beauty.
May each one of us live more deeply from our Christ within, as we stretch our capacity to see and meet the loving gaze of the Christ in every other’s eyes. May we experience the truth that all are one in Christ, by making more room for all – here (in our hearts) and here (in our congregation.)
Let us sing it so, with the words of Psalm 91. In More Voices #62 There Is Room For All.