By Patrick Gahan

My assistant, Anna Jewell, just bought a new pair of bright purple roller skates. That may not sound monumental to you, or much less a proper way to begin a sermon, but I should add that she has been married 39 years and has four grandchildren — one who just turned 15.

So what’s she doing buying a pair of $200, purple, lace-up roller skates? Well, she and her professor husband, Rich, met at a roller rink in Clovis, New Mexico, 40 years ago. They remember what it was like to spend Friday nights skating, laughing, falling, loving, while circling about in a sea of people they knew and many they did not know.

So now on Wednesdays, they both dash home from work, change into play clothes, drive clear across town to the Rollercade, where they enjoy Adult Skate Night. Certainly, it is good exercise and a concrete remembrance of their long romance.

What’s more, on Thursday mornings Anna has a colorful assembly of stories about the array of people they are getting to know at the skating rink. There’s a squadron of very athletic African American skaters who race at breakneck speed along the outside of the rink, the artistic Latino couples who demonstrate as many moves as those contestants on Dance with the Stars. Best of all, she tells of a grandfather, well into his 70s, who escorts a different granddaughter to the rink every Wednesday. Imagine the memories those young ladies will have of granddad!

Mainly, we should imagine how Anna and Rich’s lives have changed since they gathered the courage to leave their well-appointed home, drive across town, don their new skates, and get back out on the rink. Anna will tell you that it was not the thought of skating that was daunting; it was encountering an entire new array of people. She had no idea that she would come to like them so much.

The new kingdom into which Christ invites us looks more like that skating rink than a lot of churches. According to Jesus, kingdom living is to be experienced in communion with all walks and varieties of people, whom we would never know except for our shared love for him. Love drives us into the arms of God’s kingdom, not blood, clan, class, or neighborhood.

The Bible is clear about that truth. The Acts of the Apostles, which is the story of the infant Church right after Jesus leaves the disciples and ascends to the Father, is clear those first fellowships were no homogeneous groupings. There were Greeks, Romans, Asians, Europeans, Galileans, Judeans, and more, all gathered together through the power of the Holy Spirit. They had a lot less in common than these folks flying around the Rollercade.

Note, however, that they did more than tolerate each other. They shared their lives generously, even sacrificially. We should be less amazed at the wealth they gave away than the barriers they let down. The math of Jesus’ death and resurrection is clear: He brings those who submit to his love close to God, with whom we could not be more different on account of our sinfulness, selfishness, and self-absorption. In return, we must draw close to one another and let our love for Christ bridge our differences.

The Church and the roller rink are two of the only places this is happening. In 2,000, Harvard professor Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone, which reported how the majority of Americans are isolated, hypnotized by their televisions and computers.

Eight years later, journalist Bill Bishop wrote The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded Communities Is Tearing Us Apart. Increasingly we are living in communities that are inhabited with folks just like us; so when we do finally step out from the blue light of our computers and TVs, we are swimming in small ponds with people just like us.

Jesus invites us into a more colorful, multihued, exhilarating existence. And if we step out, we may just make some memories and rediscover the fire of our first love. After all, we can either hobble or skate through the rest of our life.

The Rev. Patrick Gahan is rector of Christ Episcopal Church, San Antonio.


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