That’s the question Anna Carter Florence, an associate professor of preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary, posed during opening worship of the Big Tent gathering Thursday night (June 11). Big Tent is a “come-all” confab packing 10 Presbyterian conferences into three days in one hotel in Georgia. (Some say it’s like the General Assembly, complete with name tags and tote bags, minus messy controversy or any need to vote.)
Preaching from the second chapter of Mark’s gospel, Florence told of a crowd that grew so large that friends bringing a paralyzed man to see Jesus could not get through, so they climbed onto the roof, tore out a hole and dropped the man down. Seeing their faith, Jesus declared the man healed, much to the consternation of the scribes already inside the house.
But when a crowd gathers around Jesus, and someone suggests there’s not enough room, or not enough food (think: loaves and fishes), that’s a sign things are about to get interesting — “it is an invitation to a miracle,” Florence said.
So how big a tent does the PC(USA) need to have room for everyone who wants to see Jesus? “I’m not talking about six extra pews at the back of the sanctuary,” so folks don’t have to share, Florence said.
Some would say “big enough for everyone” or “big enough to include me.”
Some, like the scribes already in the tent, might worry about what rules were being broken or rewritten to let more folks in. Jesus redrew the lines of orthodoxy, she said, by praising the faith of those willing to scale the walls and hack out a new door into the room.
And the paralyzed man’s friends probably would say what matters most is desire — “how much you want to get in” to see Jesus, what you’re willing to do.
When Jesus rewards the faith of those who will break the rules to get to him –those who cut holes in the roofs of what had been a safe shelter, “it means our big tent is suddenly bigger or soggier or just different,” Florence said. “Plus there are people rappelling down on ropes all over the sanctuary.”
Jesus would have us look at the crowded places where there isn’t enough room and where there’s conflict — where people are jostling to get in to see him, and have the faith and the courage and the creativity to keep trying.
Those are the places, Florence said, to watch for miracles.