In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
St. Peter is sitting at the Pearly Gates one day, when a group of Baptists arrive. "Welcome to heaven" he tells them. "We are glad that you're here! Let me check my register to see what room your in. Ah, your in room three, follow me." So the Baptists dutifully follow St. Peter to room three. As he opens the door, he tell's them, "enjoy the bounty of God's house and the heavenly banquet provided for you, but whatever you do, please do not disturb the people in room five." "Great", the Baptists say and they enter room three.
A few days later a group of Roman Catholics arrive before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. "Welcome to heaven" he tells them. "We are glad that you're here! Let me check my register to see what room your in. Ah, your in room two, follow me." So the Roman Catholics dutifully follow St. Peter to room two. As he opens the door, he tell's them, "enjoy the bounty of God's house and the heavenly banquet prepared for you, but whatever you do, please do not disturb the people in room five." "Great", the Catholics say and they enter room two.
A little while later a group of Unitarians arrive at the Pearly Gates. "Welcome to heaven. We are glad that you're here! " St. Peter tells them. "Let me check my register to see what room your in. Ah, your in room four, follow me." So the Unitarians follow St. Peter to room four. As he opens the door, he tell's them, "enjoy the bounty of God's house and the heavenly banquet prepared for you. But whatever you do, please do not disturb the people in room five." Well, Unitarians being a very inquisitive bunch, are not going to go into room four before inquiring about this request to not disturb the folks in room five. "Why, who's in room five?", they ask St. Peter.
"Oh, room five is where the Episcopalians are", he replies, and they think they're the only ones up here!"
This self-deprecating joke is humorous, yet it also speaks to a painful reality in the Church, when held up to the light of the Gospel. "Jesus said, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?'"
In this passage Jesus offers a clear message of God's radical hospitality and inclusion for all people- telling us that God's house has many rooms, and that he, Jesus himself, is going to go and turn down the sheets and put a chocolate mint on the pillow of the bed for each and everyone of us.
So why do so many Christians persist in formulating doctrines and scriptural interpretations contrary to that gospel proclamation? Why do many Christians instead say that God's house is a single room occupancy, where only one category of people can live?
As people of faith this is a question truly worthy of our consideration. It is a question that seems especially poignant in the context of recent current events.
Our Roman Catholic brethren have been given a new pope this week. I celebrate with them as they receive Benedict XVI as their new leader, just as I mourned with them when John Paul II died. But there is also cause for concern as Benedict XVI assumes the papacy. It was only a few short years ago, in the year 2000, that then Cardinal Ratzinger heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a document titled "Dominus Jesus". In that document he stated that the Roman Catholic Church was the only true path to salvation and called other faiths like Judaism and Islam, as well as other Christian denominations, "gravely deficient."
The new pope is not likely to yield on his belief of the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church. It is a serious concern for other Christians, people of other faiths, and not a few Catholics, when the leader of the worlds largest Christian denomination believes that other expressions of faith - both Christian and other - are deficient and do not lead to salvation. There is room in God's house for more than one particular expression of faith.
The wall separating Church and state developed another fissure this week in our nation, as some of our political leaders lead by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, continued to entangle themselves into matters of faith to promote their own political agendas. In order to garner support among certain Christians, these leaders are saying that if you are not supportive of their political beliefs then you are, "against people of faith." Here the authenticity of one's faith is being defined by a politicians partisan positions. Regardless of your personal political persuasion, it should be of serious concern to us all that the underlying message of this statement is that there is only one room in God's house - a room for those who support a specific political agenda.
Both of these messages are in contradiction to the Gospel. To say that some particular group of Christians - whether based on their doctrines, practices, or political viewpoint - has a monopoly on faith and God over and above other people - Christian or otherwise - is an outrage. It is outrageous because this belief has been the source of innumerable divisions that have ignited the worlds most painful and destructive conflicts and wars: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the forced conversions to Christianity, or death, of native people during colonialism, the pogroms against the Jews in Europe, which sowed the seeds of the holocaust, Northern Ireland, Bosnia. And it fuels the current dissent in the Anglican Communion over human sexuality. All of this is outrageous because it is not the way of Jesus Christ.
(BTW It is equally outrageous when other faiths engage in this belief of supremacy as well. Think of the Israeli/Jewish and Arab/Muslim conflict, the current genocide in Darfur, Sudan, the civil war in Nigeria, 9//11, to name but a few atrocities.)
Some people may wonder, isn't this just some relativistic, wishy-washy interpretation of the scriptures: all this talk about radical inclusion and hospitality for the other? Isn't this just some segment of the Church caving into the demands of the secular society, diluting the "orthodoxy" of the Christian faith? The answer to those concerns lies within the scripture itself.
When Jesus tells his disciples that there are many rooms in his Father's house, it is the night before he dies - the first Maundy Thursday. In the passage just preceding this statement, Jesus tells the disciples something which becomes the context in which his next statement about his Father's house having many rooms is fully revealed. And this revelation undergirds this message of radical hospitality and infinite inclusion. "I give you a new commandment that you love one another" he says, " Love one another, as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (Jn. 13: 34,35)
The Gospel of Jesus speaks for itself.
Jesus tells us: Love one another as I have loved the Samaritans, the children, the lepers, the Gentiles, the sick, the women, the rich, the poor, the other, the outcast. Love one another as I have loved you. Do not love one another as you have in the past - love based on exclusionary practices of faith, belief, gender, socio-economic status, partisanship. That kind of love - if we can call it love at all - has caused untold pain and death in the world, and it will only continue to do so if you persist in believing it is what I desire. Instead, love one another radically, as I have loved you. That's the kind of love that will heal the world. And let me assure you the truth is that in God's economy there is room for all God's people: regardless of what others may tell you to believe.
God's house is a mansion in heaven with unlimited rooms and infinite hospitality. No if's. No and's. No but's. No litmus tests on orthodoxy. No human doctrines. No magic number of 144,000 saved. None of that! There will never be a no vacancy sign on God's house as long as you love one another, as I have loved you, Jesus says.
Jesus promises to make room, to make hospitable, livable, and welcome, the realm of God in heaven. He also gave us his personal example of how to do likewise here on earth. Jesus prepares a place for us and we are called, like him, to make a place for all others in this world, a place which is welcoming and warm here on earth. We are called to sow the seeds of God's Gospel of love - nurturing a foretaste of that heavenly house where the sign only blinks vacancy, and St. Peter proclaims, "Welcome to heaven. We are glad that you are here!"
Amen.Back to the top