Without walls.

Below is a sermon I was privileged to share at St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville, FL, on Thanksgiving Day.  I share it here because it helps describe and capture the spirit of new urban ministry as we strive to “build a church without walls.”  Thanks be to God for the opportunity to attempt, though limited in scope and vision, to do his will. To love God and neighbor. To welcome all.

Joel 2:21-27; Ps 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

May only your word be spoken here, O Lord.

May only your word be heard.

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Later on today each of us will likely enjoy

some kind of wonderful meal.

We will sit down and break bread with family or friends,

and relax and enjoy the fruit of God’s abundance.

Themes of food and hospitality run

throughout holy scripture.

My mother’s first denomination – the Moravian Church –

regularly celebrates a Love Feast—

the usual order of worship is interrupted as

people enter the sanctuary with baskets of  warm rolls

and trays full of mugs of coffee with cream.

Everyone partakes in this shared meal, which

in its simplicity is holy and life-giving.

Food is important.

Jesus thinks so.

When he walked among us, he frequently

invited himself to supper!

One blogger described Jesus’ earthly ministry this way:

“Jesus shared lots of dinners with bad people.”

Jesus’ practice of seeking out liars,

cheats, prostitutes, and thieves —

His practicing of loving and fellowshipping

With folks just as they are –

just where they find themselves –

flies in the face of the theology

most prevalent in our culture.

It flies in the face of the idea that those of us

who are incredibly blessed must somehow

have God’s favor in a way that others do not.

We must be living right.

We must be doing something to deserve this favor.

And, of course, what comes along with that thinking

is the idea that folks who are struggling.

who are down and out,

who are losing their jobs or are upside down

in their homes if they still have one –

these folks must somehow be doing something wrong.

This theology is so pervasive that most folks don’t

think consciously about it.

There is nothing wrong with prospering and doing well.

But we make a mistake when we draw a

direct correlation between worldly success and

the unmerited gift that is Jesus Christ.

Over and over, we get sucked back into “works righteousness,”

this idea that we earn our blessings —

we earn our salvation, even —

rather than the truth that we all sin and fall short.

The good news is the incredible mercy and generosity

of Christ who poured himself out for all.

For ALL.

Imagine this:

Imagine living a life defined by chronic instability.

Imagine being a teenager, who has grown up in

a volatile environment.

Maybe dad walked out.

Or your parents struggle to find work.

Imagine going without food some days.

Sleeping at grandma’s one week,

then at an aunt’s the next and

on a friend’s couch another, and so on.

Imagine trying to do school work while

constantly worrying about wearing out

the welcome of family or friends.

And then imagine hearing today’s gospel.

Don’t worry about what to wear or what you’ll eat.

            God has your back.

Wouldn’t it be easy under those circumstances –

to conclude that God had somehow abandoned you?

The text from Matthew is beautiful and poetic,

but it needs the balance of First Timothy,

which urges us to pray for everyone, but in particular

for those in high places, with power and influence.

Why single them out?

Because they are in a position to help us move

toward a more just society.

I want to tell you a little about this concept

of a “church without walls.”

It is a call for the Body of Christ to go out

into the world where the people are.

First and foremost, it is a ministry of presence.

It is something akin to Jesus inviting himself

to dinner in the most unlikely places.

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs

model this radical hospitality well

when they describe themselves as a society of

people who ordinarily would not mix.

This “church without walls” is not just about

ministry with street folks or people in shelters.

It is attracting some, who are regular church goers but

who are looking to engage with a world of hurt,

to find a way of living out their faith that

feels urgent and real.

Others are among the fastest growing segment in our culture:

those who identify as “spiritual but not religious.”

Many struggle to see the relevance of what

we do within the parish walls.

Some of these folks are being drawn to

a “church without walls” and

some who come will eventually find their way

to our “churches with walls.”

One of the things I’ve been doing is to walk around and

talk to people: on the street, in parks,

wherever daily life happens.

Anyone who is curious has an open invitation

to come with me.

So far, all takers have been folks

who are completely unchurched.

But they are hungry for authentic connection

and meaning.

Next month we hope to launch regular outdoor worship.

One of our parish youth groups is among those

who have expressed an interest, not just in helping , one-off —

but in forming meaningful community.

Jesus calls us to come together with those who are like us and

with those who may seem quite different.

When we take the risk to move out of our comfort zone,

we place ourselves in a position to be transformed by God.

Let me tell you a little story about how

the Holy Spirit is creating community.

Just 6 weeks ago we started offering coffee fellowship

and Morning Prayer on Wednesdays at Clara White Mission.

We serve around 400 cups of coffee to more than

300 folks who are lined up outside.

Around 9:30, a group of us gathers in a small circle

to reflect on scripture and to pray.

We are beginning to know folks — and to be known.

Yesterday morning, as I was setting up outside,

a man called me over, by name.

“I need to talk to you, Mother Beth.

I need to tell you what’s going on with James.”

He proceeded to tell me about how one of

our regulars, had reinjured his hand but

would not go to the hospital.

This man and his friends were worried.

“I know James confides in you,” he said, “so maybe you can help.”

Later when I saw James and spoke with him about

his friends’ concern, he was blown away.

“Really, somebody came to you about this?” he asked.

“Wow, they really care about me.”

I told him he has some good friends.

Can you believe what has developed quite organically

in our little community in just 6 weeks?

The most fundamental things we all long for:

community, connection, meaning, hope –

these are springing up.

Jesus tells us:

Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Strive for a just, merciful society where

all people are valued and included.

When we shut out those who are different,

when we shun those who make us feel uncomfortable,

we are saying “no” to the kingdom of God.

We all do this.

It’s a symptom of our flawed humanity.

We need not try to force ourselves to move

from our protective “no” straight to an open and vulnerable “yes”,

If we are willing to open the door just a crack,

we make way for the Grace of God to gently bring us

from “no” toward the possibility of “maybe.”

Just maybe.

And that, my friends, is enough to begin.


(For updates on this ministry, go to http://www.facebook.com/churchwithoutwalls.Jacksonville.FL and click the “like” button at the top of the page.)

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
This entry was posted in 12-step spirituality, Christianity, congregational development, Diocese of Florida, Episcopal church, faith, Interfaith, Ministry, peace, Recovery, unity and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Without walls.

  1. Kathy says:

    Beth, in my opinion you knocked the ball out of the park, cleared the bases. Excellent message of hope, one that fills me with gratitude. Thank you x 2.

  2. Erin Dupree says:

    What a beautiful message… Your posts… Your love… continue to inspire me.


    Erin Dupree >`·.¸.·´¯`·…¸>¸. ·´¯`·.¸. , ..>

    Sent from my iPhone

  3. Kevin Gay says:

    Great message at a great time! The world is hungry for hope! Keep up the great momentum!!

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