Wednesday , 6 July 2022

One leap of faith after another

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The familiar perception of Jesus being born in a lonely stable is completely false

During Christmas we recall the familiar story of Joseph and a very-pregnant Mary returning to his hometown of Bethlehem, where Mary gives birth to Jesus and ‘laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the upper guest room,’ according to Luke 2:7. The Greek word kataluma, meaning ‘upper room’ or ‘guest room,’ is correctly translated in Luke 22:11-12. This up-close reading of the Biblical text combined with the grand view of Biblical hospitality moves us to understand that Jesus was born in a home overflowing with guests!

Like any other Jewish family, Mary and Joseph would have been readily welcomed into their extended families’ homes. Biblical archaeology reveals that such first-century Palestinian peasant family houses were typically built around a common courtyard area, with each dwelling comprised of one or two rooms on the ground floor and loft space or an extra room above. The senior family members had the ‘highest’ and cleanest area of the main room, opposite the ‘low’ corner where animals were kept at night and where bodily functions happened – including the birthing of babies. Cooking took place outside in the courtyard area, where communal meals were prepared. Other adults stayed in the second room (if there was one) or another corner of the main room.

Children were consigned to the loft or upper room. As occurs today, when guests arrived they would be given the children’s space, and the children had to either double-up or make do elsewhere.

Thus according to the Gospel birth narratives, Mary gave birth to Jesus in a house – in the corner of the main room where any other Palestinian peasant baby would be born:
• where bodily functions happened,
• where there was fresh, clean straw and water
• where a manger (animal feeding trough) served as a make-shift crib
• with many relatives to assist in the birth
Why? Because there was no more room in the upper guest room – there were so many guests!

So what does this mean for us? Jesus was born into hospitality. And even though rejection became part of Jesus’ story, God did not allow rejection to have the last word.

I serve an Affirming Congregation in Scotland that is overflowing with guests. Measured by our size alone, we are very small, with less than 50 members and a part-time locum minister (me). Yet as we know, health is not determined by weight but by body-mass index. And the great height to which this light-weight church goes to practice Biblical hospitality – that is, welcome strangers as well as neighbours – not only calculates us to be ‘healthy’ but keeps us continually ‘dying to new life.’

Anderston Kelvingrove Church is one of over a dozen Affirming Congregations in Scotland which strive to enact their statements of inclusion. In addition to our congregational activities, we rent office space to several para-church organizations and an education organization; a half dozen other congregations (Chinese, Georgian Orthodox, Indian, Nigerian, Russian Orthodox, Salvation Army) use our building for worship and programmes; many types of 12-step groups meet; dance classes and martial arts classes are held; we serve as the community center for a Sudanese Muslim group, the local community council, a few housing organizations, and various community programmes serving mothers-and-infants, self-reliant-groups of women, and individuals and families facing homelessness or poverty; a dozen men seeking asylum in the U.K. and a few volunteers with the Glasgow Destitution Network reside in our building each night of the year from dinner-time to breakfast-time; and our church and the neighboring Catholic Church sponsor a programme that serves up a hot lunch every Wednesday in our building for folks in the community.

The Clerk of Session figures that our building is used 160 hours per week.

Meanwhile The Church of Scotland denomination is finally making it possible—not perfect, but possible—for its congregations to employ a minister or deacon who is in a Civil Partnership (or married, thanks to Scotland’s new Equal Marriage legislation). It’s not perfect because it requires LGBT-affirming Kirk Sessions to vote to ‘depart’ from the ‘traditional’ view of scripture—the ‘traditional’ view defined as that which claims marriage is only between a man and a woman.

For we Christians who believe that lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and transgender people are created by God and their relationships have always been blessed by God and thus we do not want or need to ‘depart’ from scripture, ‘traditional’ or otherwise, this new rule erects an unjust and discriminatory hoop to jump through.

I’m thankful that Affirming Congregations —which have a healthy body-mass index—are willing and able to jump through all kinds of hoops in order to do all kinds of justice and welcome all kinds of people. It’s one leap of faith after another.

 

About Lindsay Louise Biddle

Lindsay Louise Biddle
Rev. Lindsay Louise Biddle is a minister from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who lives in Glasgow and works as a minister locum at Anderston Kelvingrove Parish Church. Born in the segregated Southern United States, Lindsay attended state schools before and after racial integration—which so upset the members of her father’s all-white Presbyterian church in Mississippi that he was fired for supporting Civil Rights for blacks. Lindsay is Chaplain of Affirmation Scotland, which supports LGBT folks in the Church of Scotland and churches in Scotland. She is the author of a novel “The V-words” as well as inclusive hymns and a blog. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) allows its ministers to conduct same-gender weddings wherever they are legal.

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