June 23, 2009

Crossing to the Other Side

The Gospel lesson for this week is the story of Jesus stilling the storm, recounted in Mark 4:35-41. The episode begins with Jesus’ suggestion that they should “go across to the other side.”  In this instance, that meant journeying toward the land of the Gadarenes, a Roman outpost of the Decapolis that would not be sympathetic with the young messiah’s movement. Interpreters who spiritualize this text are quick to note that when one ventures toward an unknown horizon with missional intention, resistance is unleashed by the powers that oppose God (in this narrative, the cataclysmic force of nature.) Surely there is some truth in the reality that when we begin to transgress boundaries, prompted by the Spirit, we will experience the pull of inertia to maintain the status quo.

This past weekend at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, I experienced the vibrancy of a congregation willing to cross to the other side. [No, I was not in town to kick off the Southern Baptist Convention.]  This church has understood its calling to remove barriers so that persons often overlooked by ecclesial bodies can find welcome.

Highland has instituted “Friday Church,” which is scheduled to reach out to the many restaurant and club workers along Bardstown Road, Louisville’s echo of Bourbon Street. When something good is happening, others want to participate. Now, thoroughgoing secularists, homeless persons, and others in various forms of recovery are finding their rightful place in this gathering of lively worship, where acts of redemption and authentic acceptance heal bruised hearts.

For too long, homogeneity of congregational life has been the norm. Yet the body of Christ is all about diversity, and when we create space so that the “other” can fearlessly enter, transformation occurs—for all. Human creatures are not naturally inclined to welcome difference, according to Frances Young in Brokenness and Blessing, but in our day we must recognize how “fundamentally important is the ‘Other’ for our own identity…”  We must follow Jesus in crossing to the other side, for he longs to be in the midst of those neglected by churchly insularity. Ironically, we may find more welcome there than we have been willing to offer along the way.

            Molly T. Marshall


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