My parents moved to Philadelphia and bought a large beautiful row house in the Logan area. My mother liked everything about the house except the kitchen/breakfast room configuration. The two rooms were separated by a wall with a connecting doorway, and both rooms were small and cramped. The kitchen in particular was difficult – inefficient and poorly laid out. My mother continually lamented that separating wall; she would knock the wall down and join the two rooms if she could.
My husband and I were in the middle of de- and reconstructing our first home. Knocking down walls had become routine for us, and so we determined to “surprise” my mother. We arrived at their home just after both my parents had gone to work. After hanging sheets in the appropriate doorways to catch the dust, we went to work. It took us most of the day to take that wall down. We worked fast, hoping to have the worst of the mess cleaned up by the time my parents arrived home.
We did have the wall down, but the cleanup was not nearly finished when my mother opened the back door and stepped into what had been her tiny kitchen. The look on her face told us that she was, indeed, surprised. “Shocked” would probably be more accurate, but still doesn’t quite describe that look. The fact that she was speechless was probably a greater boon than we knew at the time. To her great credit, though, it did not take my mother long to appreciate the benefits of the mess.
And mess it was. Plaster dust is one of the most insidious,ineradicable, hard-to-clean substances you can encounter. Simple dusting doesn’t get rid of it; nor does washing, vacuuming or sweeping. Or rather—all of these things work, but only with tremendous persistence and oft-repeated efforts…many oft-repeated efforts. Our sheets did notadequately contain the plaster dust our work had raised, and it was many weeks before the white film on everything in the house really began to disappear.
But as I’ve said, my mother did appreciate the benefits. She knew that she and my father would begin to work on her dream kitchen now—very simply, they had no choice. And over the next few months, the two of them found themselves having a wonderful time choosing cabinets, paint colors, sinks, and all the other things that make a kitchen. And my mother loved her new kitchen, loaded with cabinets and counter space, and decorated just as she’d dreamed.
If my husband and I had been older and wiser, I’m fairlycertain we’d never have dared to take that wall down. And if we hadn’t, my parents probably never would have either. The wonderful new kitchen would never have come into being, and the great joy and pure fun of the time they spent together on that project would never have been.
Jesus knew all about this kind of thing. Eating with sinners, getting up close and personal with lepers, being seen publicly talking with Samaritan women, and doing those “in your face” healings on the Sabbath made quite a mess of his life. He deliberately walked into a world that was nowhere near what it was created to be, and began the task of deconstruction. Jesus knew that he would have to challenge, expose, undermine, and eradicate the old systems and habits that were keeping God’s people from God’s kingdom. And I think he knew that the work would never really be finished. But he taught us that the mess is worth the effort if it brings us closer to God and God’s kingdom closer to being our reality. Unlike deconstructing a kitchen wall, once done and over, the work of bringing God’s kingdom nearer just goes on and on.
And so I’d like to thank my parishioners – the people of Christ Church in Xenia—for being willing to live with the mess of deconstruction for the hope of the kingdom. When I look at Jesus’ life, I know that he is right here with us in our work—as he is with all people everywhere who seek the kingdom and aren’t afraid of what can often be messy and smelly and frustrating and exhausting.
Christ Church – you are willing to live with beds all over our parish hall all winter long. You are willing to share Coffee Hour and Breakfast Sunday with the homeless we house every night through the cold winter months. You cook meals for our guests, and you help them through the service when they worship with us. You don’t look down your noses at the people who come to stay with us, but you do as Jesus said we must do. He said: do not judge – that’s God’s province only; and he said: love these people as you love yourselves. (funny how you can’t do one without the other….)
As Paul so often said: “I thank God for you!”. Day in and day out, people of Christ Church, I thank God for you. You give me hope for the church and for the world.