Yesterday, I got locked out of the cathedral. I ate lunch with some of the other participants at the workshop, and then I just needed a shady spot to relax for a few moments. So I went through the doors near Haden Hall, and into the courtyard near the Diocesan offices. It was shady, which was great for my bald head in your stunning Kansas City sunshine, and I stretched out on a bench. All was well with the world, or at least I thought so, until I tried to come back through those same glass doors and realized they were locked tighter than a drum. No problem, I thought. Surely there’s an exit down by the offices. And there was. Also, locked. So there I was. The keynote speaker – and yet, locked out.
There was a centurion – a Roman soldier – who was locked out one midday, too. He and a whole bunch of other characters are the stars of a little mystery play that Luke records for us in the morning’s Gospel. Everybody in this story is locked in a role, and there is no crossing the line. No matter if you were that centurion, or a Jewish elder, if you were a disciple, a member of the crowd, or Jesus himself, there was a role to play, an understood way of doing things, and an order to be guarded and protected. Everyone was locked – to their place, to their expectations, to their own way of thinking.
Except Jesus wasn’t quite so willing to stay where he belonged. He did the sort of thing that Luke just loves to tell us about. Luke, the lover of the outsider, of the person on the margins. Jesus jumped the fence and held up – who!? – the centurion as the model of faithfulness. Those who thought they were all cozied up to Christ went to him with a self-serving request on behalf of their favorite, local centurion. Be good to him, Jesus. He’s been good to us. Don’t lock him out. Then in that typical last-shall-be-first-and-first-shall-be-last Jesus sort of way, Christ holds up this perceived outsider as the example of faithfulness. “Not even in Israel have I found such faith…”
Here’s the thing about getting locked out of the cathedral in the courtyard yesterday. While I was in fact locked out, I was also kind of locked IN at the same time. It’s true. I mean there I was. Locked inside the cathedral fence. All dressed up and no place to go.
It’s an apt parable for what’s going on in church these days, I think. My little fifteen minutes of imprisonment, that is. I mean really –isn’t it so often the case that people get locked OUT of the cathedral because we’re so locked INTO it? Believe me… I’m not picking on you here at Grace and Holy Trinity. The same kind of being locked in to who we are and what we think that keeps others locked out… The same sort of tacit understanding of our roles and how Jesus is at work in the complicated strata of our assumptions and prejudices… That very same locked-in set of presuppositions by which we all operate is likely to be found in any congregation any where, from the mega church down the street to the little brown church in the vale. Since the beginning of time what we are the very best at is locking God in to keep God for ourselves. Or locking God out. God in. Others out. We assume God’s on the inside with us, and Luke of all Evangelists would double dog dare us to think that through again. Because Luke sees God at work among the outsiders, the poor, those on the margins, women, prodigal sons who ditch their loving fathers… And, yep: even centurions and their slaves. Those are the ones for whom God in Christ has a special, open, keyless, welcome.
Were St. Paul among us today, he might challenge us with the same rigors of rethinking as those with which he confronted the Galatians. Paul would likely be astonished – astonished – that we are all locked up, having turned to a different Gospel than the Gospel of freedom and acceptance in Christ. Our Gospel is headed in the right direction. We mean well. But so often our very hearts are locked inside of us. Too locked up to live into the rich, deep place of the death and resurrection of Jesus offered up for ALL people. For ALL people. Everywhere. Christ’s is a Gospel of freedom that unlocks the door for the least, the lost, the lone, the languishing. They are set free, the doors swing open and the fences come down to welcome them when Christ is at hand. And at his gracious hand, we are set free as well. No more fences. No more locks. No more deadbolts, nor deadbeats. All are welcome and every door stands open wide – in and out of the temple of the God who created and sustains all.
It is to this God that Solomon raises his hands in prayer and praise. Solomon does this with an open heart, in the hope that all the peoples of the earth may know God and stand in awe. No more centurions, no more slaves, no more insiders and outsiders, no more assumptions, just God in all and we, like equal brothers and sisters, standing arm in arm with one another on call to serve the world God made, God redeemed, and God continues to endlessly love.
I piled up some benches opposite a perceived soft landing in one of your beautiful flower beds, hoped against hope that I wouldn’t rip the one and only pair of dress pants I brought along to Kansas City, climbed to the top of the spikey fence, made sure my feet weren’t stuck in the narrow openings between the rails, and lunged for all I was worth. It was a soft landing, no bones broken, no pants ripped, no ankles twisted. Being free is a wonderful feeling, It is sweet, and it is real. There is nothing quite like it. I felt like I was born again.
Jesus is here to unlock whatever locks us out. And miracle of miracles, he opens whatever locks us IN as well. And he calls us to use our best gifts and our wildest imaginations to open ourselves so that all might taste and see his boundless love. No locks. No keys. No bars. Just love. Pure love. And beloved children of God set free, everywhere you look. Even us. Even here. Even now.
In the name of the Father and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.