In Wright City, Missouri, there used to be the Elvis Is Alive Museum, which was dedicated to the idea (wait for it) that Elvis was alive. It was run by a very eccentric Baptist preacher, who much preferred the questions of my friend Shelle to mine. Shelle was a huge Elvis fan, so we spent hours in this tiny little place that was packed with grainy photographs marked with question marks and circles, diagrams of how they could have switched the body, and a recording of a phone call from 1994 wherein the person on the other side of the line claimed to be Elvis and that the listener was “too smart for your own good.” Incidentally, Shelle and I did not buy into the Elvis is Alive conspiracy, but it was fun to visit. We did not realize how outside of our comfort zone we were, though, until we went into the restaurant next door.
Have you ever seen the old westerns where the strangers walk in and everyone stops? Even the piano player? Although Shelle says I’m conveniently remembering things, I swear even the jukebox cut when we walked in to the restaurant. It was a chilling effect, and very clearly said, “This is not a place for people like you.”
I do not for a second think that our congregation ever does the “Western Welcome,” and I am thankful for that. I hope no churches do the Western Welcome, though I’ve heard stories and they break my heart. If there is one place where there is room at the table, and a seat open for whomever, wherever they come from and wherever they may go, it is in the congregation. And the question becomes, is there a natural limit?
In the reading for this Sunday, the evangelist Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch, sitting in a chariot, trying to figure out the book of Isaiah. So the eunuch is from a different place, of a different race, and of a different sexuality. Of course, we could also gather from the text he’s rich enough (or in a good enough station) to have a chariot, leisure time to read, and literate. So he’s an outsider in many ways and a far-insider in others; what Philip does is live the Gospel to see what happens. This is an important text in the life of the Church, and it’s an important text in the life of our congregation, so I do hope you’ll join us Sunday as we look at things From the Inside Out. Who knows? It might prompt a little less conversation, a little more action, please.