One of my favorite Bible verses is from the gospel of John. The setting is the Upper Room and Jesus is preparing the disciples for His imminent departure. It is often read at Christian funerals and memorial services, but it contains a much wider interpretation.
“In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you I go to prepare a place for you?” John 14:2
A church member and I were discussing the theological differences he had with other people in the congregation. He had tried to convince them of his opposing views, but his conduct was upsetting them. Eventually he didn’t think he could in good conscience remain in the church and he decided to leave. I wished him well as we said goodbye. Then I said to him, “You may be surprised when you get to heaven!” I hope all of us are surprised when we get there.
We have a small island with a lot of room. I don’t mean geographically. I know about concerns for overdevelopment. They are far too numerous to mention. I am talking about the many dwelling places in God’s creation for different people with various talents and abilities and interests that all combine to enhance the beauty of the place we call home. Just this past weekend, I sang along with songs until I was hoarse at the Fernandina Beach Pride fundraising event. Everyone was having so much fun that my friend’s watch sounded a “you are in a loud noise environment” warning! Then I spent Saturday at the Wild Amelia Eco-Expo. So many families and children and neighbors all together learning about various aspects of our environment, enjoying music and food and greeting each other. Then I attended a beautiful worship service combining several religious organizations all celebrating hospitality and welcome, led by talented musicians who performed original music both chorally and instrumentally.
If you like music or theater or poetry, there is a place for you here. If you like the visual arts or dining out, there is a place for you here. If you like walking in the woods or riding your bike on a path, there is a place for you here. If you like to sunbathe on the beach or swim laps in the pool or work out in the gym, there is a place for you here. If you like history or genealogy, there is a place for you here. If you want to volunteer your time and talent with a church or nonprofit group, there is a place for you here. If you love who you love, there is a place for you here. And the list goes on.
I will be humbly grateful for any space I am given in God’s house of many dwelling places. I object to distortion of the faith that I hold dear that implies there is less room in God’s house than there is. That sentiment is contained in this short poem by Edwin Markham, which was read at the worship service I attended last Sunday.
“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”
Let’s continue to do everything thing we can to be a small island with a lot of room.
Linda Hart Green is Pastor Emeritus of Emmanuel Church, Ridgewood, N.J. and co-owner of Shady Ladies Art Studios and Gallery in Fernandina Beach. She holds an M.Div. and a Certificate in Pastoral Leadership Development from Princeton Theological Seminary.