One Easter I was scheduled to preach the Sunday evening service. I spent some time thinking about how. at the time of Jesus’ death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. What I wondered was what did the Israelite do with the curtain? Did they sew it back up? Put up a new one? Simply act like there wasn’t a tear? That thought led me to a sermon and eventually this story.
A man and his daughter are mistreated when they accidentally go to the “rich” people park. After they are accepted by the people of the park another family of “others” comes to the park and instead of welcoming them, the man who was once mistreated ostracizes the new family.
The only way that we are able to come to God is because God has covered our sin with the blood of the cross. We were all once outcasts and sinners, but through the grace of God we have been made new. So why is it that many times Christians refuse to offer that same grace to others. It is like the temple was torn into when Jesus died and for the past 2000 years the church has been trying to sew it back closed.
Note: Anytime you see the word OURS in all caps like that you are to say the letters O-U-R-S.
Imagine for a moment a town where people who are in different social classes don’t hang out together. I know it is difficult, but stretch your imagination and imagine a town where children are only allowed to play with children who look like them. In this crazy town people are judged by how much money they have and what color their skin is. If you can imagine such a place I want to tell you a story.
Once upon a time in this made up, fairy tale place. There was a town that looked very similar to our town. They had a downtown with a few thriving businesses and a few empty buildings. They had a collection of fast-food restaurants, a Wal-Mart, a grocery store and a church on every corner.
Some years before our story begins the people in this town decided that they needed a park where families could go and play with their children. They argued for weeks about where the park was going to be built. Would it be built in the rich part of town or the poor? What color would the people be who lived around the park? Surely all of those things must be answered before a park could be built.
In the end the town decided to build 4 parks each one of the catering to a different group of people. The prettiest and most prominent of these parks was on the corner of Bellmede and First. It was called the Oasis of Unending Refuge and Sanctuary. But most people called it by its initials OURS. It was a huge place with grass and a playground and a walking track and benches and shade. Anyone driving through this little town would marvel at how pretty it was and think about how good it must feel to play in that park.
But remember this was a town where not everyone welcomed everyone else so only the high society of the town was allowed to play in the OURS park.
So one bright and shining Saturday the OURS park was full of all of the right kind of people. Several mothers were there sitting in the shade on benches while their children played in the grass or hung from monkey bars or climbed up the fake rock wall to the slide. A few senior adults played checkers in the sun enjoying the day and the laughter of children.
Suddenly much to the consternation of the mothers present a man and his daughter walked into the park. That the little girl was a tomboy was apparent immediately. She wore her hair short and her knees were skinned. But she was cute in a precocious sort of way with big brown eyes and freckles too numerous to count. Her father was just an average looking dad. He appeared tired, but happy to be out in the fresh air with his little girl.
As they were walking from the entrance towards the swings a group of mothers met them blocking their path from entering.
“Just where do you think you are going?” asked one of the mothers in a very snooty voice.
“I’m sorry?” the man asked confused.
“Well are you lost or something?” another mother asked.
“I don’t know what is going on here.” The man said putting his arm around his daughter and trying to figure out what was going on.
“This park is OURS.” said the first mother, “The park for your kind is on Bleaker street.”
“OURS” the man said, “ours? yours? are you saying this park is yours?”
“No, OURS, the Oasis of Unending Refuge and Sanctuary.”
“O” said the man, “That sounds like the name of a cemetery.”
“pfft,” said each of the mothers crossing their arms and rolling their eyes.
“So you are saying that we aren’t welcome here.” the dad said again.
“Because it is your park?”
“Yes, we have been here since this park opened. It was our money that built this place. We come here every week. So yeah, I guess you could say it is ours. There are other parks in town for you.”
The father looked at the mothers stunned. He didn’t know what to say, but wanting to avoid more of a scene he turned to start walking back to the car. His daughter, upset by the tension in the air, began to cry. The man stopped and bent down to her. “What’s wrong Jessica?” he asked.
“Why can’t I play here, Daddy?” she said through her tears.
“Well, because these ladies say that we are different.”
“What makes us different?” she asked
But the man never got a chance to answer just then an old man’s voice came from behind him practically yelling as it came.
“Hey now!” the old man yelled. Jessica’s Dad didn’t want anymore trouble so he picked up his daughter and started heading for his car.
“Wait right there!” the old man yelled. Looking over her father’s shoulder Jessica saw a man shuffling towards them with a cane in one hand. His other hand was raised in a fist. When he reached the mothers he began swinging at them with his cane.
“You miserable bunch of snobs,” the old man said, “Fighting over this patch of land like a bunch of old crows. Shoo! Shoo! Get on back to your shade before your plastic surgery starts to melt!”
The old man took a few more shuffling steps and caught up to Jessica and her father. He was breathing hard when he stuck his hand under Jessica’s Dad’s astonished face. “Sam Taylor is my name” The old man said, “What’s yours?”
“Jim, Jim Blaine, and this is my daughter Jessica”
“Nice to meet you Jessica,” Sam said, “And you too Jim,”
“What was that all about?” Jim asked still stunned by the whole ordeal.
“They just have their priorities out of whack sometimes. I don’t think I know you Jim, are you from around here”
“I just moved into town. My Daughter and I have been on our own for a couple of years now. I am a new engineer over at the mill and the new job has meant I haven’t had much time to spend with Jess. I just really wanted a chance to spend the day with her today. But…” Jim trailed off looking back at the women who were sulking beneath the shade of the trees.
“Don’t you pay them any mind,” Sam said, “If I say you can come into this park you can come in.”
“Are you sure, because those women seemed very determined to keep me out?”
“Of course I’m sure, because as much as they like to act like they own this place. I put up most of the money for it. This land here belonged to my family too. I gave it to the city to make a park for everyone, but those old crows make it hard for anyone but them to have a fun here.”
“Sam, I don’t want to make trouble for you” Jim said.
“Nonsense!” Sam said with a twinkle in his eye, “I want you to stay because it will cause trouble. I like getting them all riled up.”
Jim laughed and Sam grabbed him around the shoulders like they were old friends. After a little encouragement from her father and from Sam, Jessica ran off to play with the other children.
A few months passed by and the women in the park took the time to get to know Jim and his daughter. They found out that though he was new–he wasn’t that different from the rest of them. On top of that his status as a bachelor, and even better a bachelor with money made him a welcome addition to their Saturday’s in the park.
One day when Jim and Jessica were at the park two boys came running into OURS park with their mother walking wearily behind them. They were obviously not very well off. The kid’s clothes looked worn, and their mother’s clothes looked practically threadbare. No one saw them get out of their car because they didn’t have one. They had walked to the only park that was close to their house. The mother’s jaw was set. She knew the way her town worked, but she was determined to fight to let her boys play.
The gaggle of mothers stood up to confront her, but Sam slammed his cane down on his checker board. Pieces flew everywhere and the startled mothers sat down again, but they called their children to them saying, “Don’t play with those boys, they are dirty.” Making sure they said it loud enough for the interlopers to hear.
But the boys didn’t really notice they were being shunned and went on happily playing on the merry-go-round. Jessica joined them sitting down while one of the boys began to push.
“Jessica!” Jim yelled when one of the mothers pointed out what she was doing. “Come here right this instant!”
“What is it, Daddy,” Jessica asked when she got to him.
“I don’t want you playing with those boys.” Jim said.
“Why not?” Jessica asked.
“Well,” her father said, looking for the right words, “they’re just different that’s all.”
“O” Jessica said. She stood there at her father’s feet for a while obviously deep in thought. Then she looked up and said, “Daddy?”
“When did we stop being different?”
Jim didn’t know what to say, so he just said, “It is hard to explain. You will understand when you get older. Now run along and play with the other kids.”
Jessica didn’t want to play with the other kids. She wandered over towards Sam who was still trying to find all of his checkers.
“What’s wrong, little one?” Sam asked.
“Daddy won’t let me play with the new boys”
“Oh, he won’t will he” Sam asked eying her father.
“No, he says they are different and that I’m not suppose to play with them.”
“And what did you say that?” Sam asked
“I asked when we stopped being different.”
Sam chuckled a bit and said, “Did your dad give you an answer to that?”
“He just said I will understand when I get older”
“I always hate that answer don’t you” Sam said tousling her hair with his hand.
“What do you think, Mr. Sam?” Jessica asked.
“Do you think I will understand when I get older?”
Sam looked at her and said very slowly “I hope not, little one, I hope not” Then he took her by the hand and together they walked over and began to play with the new boys.