Bishop Mark Hanson: There's Always Room with God

Securing shelter, safety, belonging works two ways

There was no place for them in the inn." No place.

There was no place for Mary and Joseph when they went to Bethlehem. Was it because of the crowds or was it because they didn't count for much that they needed to settle for a cattle stall to give birth?

No place for them. Have you had such an experience?

As I write, super storm Sandy is battering the East Coast. I wonder about those searching for safety. Did all those who are homeless find shelter?

Most who read The Lutheran are blessed with a place to call home. But others walk for miles on dusty roads seeking refuge from war, from famine, from the environmental devastation where they live. What is it like to be confronted with the realization that there is no place for me?

Perhaps you have a place to call home, and yet you struggle with not having a place where you belong. You have childhood memories of being teased, bullied, excluded. The constant message has been: you are not acceptable; there is no place for you.

That kind of exclusion occurs for all too many today. I wonder how many people join congregations but then gradually become inactive because they do not experience a feeling of belonging. Increasing numbers of young adults chose "none" to describe their religious affiliation (page 10). Many go on to describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. Is that a statement about communities of faith where many can find no place?

How often do we reflect together about how we convey to others that "There is no place for you here"? How are the new immigrants in our land told "There is no room for you here"? And the person who lives daily with the challenges of depression or bipolar disease? How many in your congregation or community feel they must hide part of who they are in order to experience acceptance?

There is another side to this matter of having no place. What happens when you come to a place in life where you no longer have room in your life for what is new? A life can be closed off by accumulated things and by attitudes and actions that result in others experiencing no room in your life, our community or congregation (page 22).

Sometimes people think or talk that way about "making room" in their lives for others - even God! - as if it were a space or time management issue of clearing out a corner or a couple of hours. But even if God has a place in our lives, is that how it is meant to be - a space, a corner, some designated times here and there?

That is not how it has happened with you and God. Even though Jesus was born in a stable, because there was no room in the inn, and even though when Jesus "came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him" (John 1:11), God found a way to come to you and "dwell" or "make a home with you." 

What kind of home is this? It is the place where Jesus lives, the same one who went to the homes of sinners and met the homeless where they were, in places of abandonment.

What kind of home is this? It is a temple of God's dwelling, a place sanctified - made holy - by Christ's resurrection, a life for bold and daring living. Yes, when Christ dwells in us and we in Christ there is generous mercy for all who have need of it. There is courageous companionship for all who have been abandoned or betrayed, who search for shelter, safety and belonging.

What kind of home is this? It is full. The home God makes in our lives is not just a corner, a room, a couple hours a week. It is a full life, full of promise, full of grace and truth, full of God's life (John 1:14).

What kind of home is this? It is the home that God will make when, in the new creation, God wipes away all tears and makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).


Taken with permission from the December issue of The Lutheran magazine.