Hell and Heaven.
Whether we believe in them or not, the ideas, the images, the language is part of who we are.
A bad place, a bad situation, pain, punishment, the experience and idea of hell usually involves these things, a place where there is no room, crowded, packed tight, powerless restriction.
A good place, a place with lots of room, bountiful skies, and horizons, freedom to move, heaven.
The images for heaven involve room, crowded with those we love, but where we have room for each other, crowded with God, overflowing with God’s freedom, swimming in the glory of God’s unconstrained liveliness.
We all know experiences of both.
Those times when there is no room, chained down by someone else’s words or actions. Then those times when we build walls rather than adding chairs to the table.
Then those times where there is room, those people who make room for others, spaciousness, like children running out the door at recess, whee!!! Free at last, free at last!
Many people experience God as hell, the opposite of freedom, the builder of walls and prisons and chains, sending people to torment. No wonder so many hate religion!
Then many experience God as heaven, the one who breaks the chains, who sets the captives free, who breaks down the gates of hell, who empties out the tomb. No wonder faith has built and brought so much beauty and healing to the world.
I think back on those times when I felt imprisoned by those around me.
I think back on those times when I felt like I was set free.
The readings this morning depict both experiences of God.
Stephen was executed, stoned, by those who thought God was all about control, exclusion, and punishment. Murder in God’s name. That is how many of us are taught to live our faith.
Stephen answers those who use stones for throwing with a prayer of forgiveness, a vision of God as spacious.
Then, First Peter, the stones are used for building rather than throwing.
And then John’s Gospel, where Jesus builds and prepares room, lots of room.
John’s Gospel was written by those who were cast out by those who had no room, and they lived a Gospel where Jesus is the roominess of God. God’s roominess, God’s spaciousness is paying us a visit.
Meet Jesus, the vast freedom of God, the great playground and recess of God. Whee!
Jesus is a paradox, an exclusive universalism, a narrow wideness, a particular freedom.
So do we cast stones and build walls and prisons?
Or do we make room?
That is the challenge of the Gospel. That is the question that we are asked over and over again in how we live, the Gospel challenge.
I believe Grace Church lives a vision of God’s spaciousness, where the narrow way is a way of making room in a world trapped in the wide way of making walls and casting stones.
I hope and pray that this is how you experience God here, that this is how you choose to live your faith.
Make room, make lots of room, be that vision of God in the world.
Make room where there is no room, open doors that are closed, invite and welcome when all are caught up in tight exclusive circles of me and mine, pull up chairs, add a leaf to the table, push out the walls.
The Gospel challenge and choice. Walls or lots of room?
We have inherited the family business of making room.
Jesus is the spaciousness of God in the world.
See it, live it, be it.