A few years ago I attended a Christmas meal at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, home of the Dukes of Devonshire. Not dining with the Duke, unfortunately, nor in the dining room of the great house itself, but in rooms in a converted stables. Still this was a level of luxury that I am not accostomed nor can afford except as a special treat. Imagine if following these instructions I had turned up at a tumble-down house where the only food was stale bread and mouldy cheese.
The Gospel of Matthew is written as a series of six narrative sections, telling the story of Jesus’ life, interspersed with five sections of teaching. The beginning of the Gospel links back into the past of the Old Testament. This, the last of the teaching sections, links forward to the future. Advent is a time when we look forward to the return of Christ.
‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.Matthew 23:13 NIV
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,Matthew 5:3 NIV
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Woe number 1 – They did not love God
“They taught about God but did not love God – they did not enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor did they let others enter also.”
Jesus said that the poor in spirit enter the kingdom of He, but the proud in spirit keep themselves out and even keep others out. It is bad enough to keep yourself out of the kingdom but worse when you stand in the way of others.
And yet we do exclude others. We have buildings with no accessible toilets or steps to the door and no ramps. We make services loud and colourful, which is fine for extroverts, but surveys have shown over 50% of people in the UK are introverts who might not like that approach. Autistic people could have an even greater negative reaction. By all means be loud and brash, but create a chill space.
God’s law is supposed to be about relationships, not rules. The same beautiful historic church buildings we are blessed with can also be our curse. The planning permission needed to update buildings to meet the needs of people now is hard enough, never mind generations yet to come. Not only should we as people serve the people, our buildings must serve them also.