Bruce told me I preached an entire sermon to myself this morning.
He may have a point.
Here you go!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 20, 2015
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8
Creating Space In Our Lives For God
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8a, NRSV)
This sounds like such a simple concept, does it not? If we move ourselves closer to God, then God will – in turn – move closer to us.
But how do we do this? How do we clear a path through the craziness of this world and the busyness of our lives to move closer to God?
When Bruce and I moved to Massachusetts, we essentially moved from our 800 square foot apartment in Atlanta to the parsonage. We did not have a lot of “stuff” – we just did not have room for it in our apartment. So when we started to pack ourselves up for the move and the unpack everything in Rehoboth, I started thinking about how we were going to fill a house without spending a lot of money. I was, after all, coming off of seven years of school and a subsequent job search (neither of which pays particularly well).
Knowing that we were moving into a bigger space with a smaller budget, it did not take long for people to start offering us some of their “stuff”.
Do you want a bed? How about my couch set?
Look at this really nice coffee table that someone is getting rid of! You could paint it and it would look adorable!
This dining room set did not sell at the yard sale; don’t you think it would look great at the parsonage?
We all think you need this old desk!
So I have this piano that a 911 widow gave me after she moved out of the house she and her husband lived in. Do you want it? I think it would be so special if the memory of her husband lived on in the house of a pastor! (I mean, really – how can I say no to that?)
These are only a few of the many-orphaned pieces of furniture that Bruce and I have taken in over the past four years. And this went on and on until this past summer, when we found ourselves tripping over one another and our “stuff” and I finally had a minor meltdown about the fact that we could not move in our own house. I then told Bruce that we had to start getting rid of things before I had a nervous breakdown.
Though in fairness to him, Bruce did not think that we should have taken most of the stuff in the first place.
The thing is: I wanted to be able to bring stuff into my house that brought me joy. I wanted there to be room for things like my treadmill, my beautiful antique bar, different craft supplies and fun kitchen appliances. I wanted Bruce to have room for his fishing gear. I wanted us to have room for things in our lives that would make us feel like more complete and fulfilled people.
I did not want to feel weighed down by the clutter and chaos and stress of the stuff that I did not need or want.
I think that sometimes the same can be true when it comes to whether or not we have space for God in our lives. As human beings who live in a very hectic and fast-paced society, so often we inadvertently fill our days and our schedules and our families’ lives with “stuff”. But this “stuff” does not always bring us joy; it does not make us feel like complete and fulfilled people; it sometimes make us feel cluttered and chaotic and stressed.
God is always with us; at the core of my faith and what I understand to be true in the Christian faith and in this world, I believe that God has never and will never abandon us. That being said; if our lives are full of clutter and chaos and stress, then how is God supposed to find room to work within us?
This is a two way street; and God is trying to get through and into our lives.
But we have to clear that path.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from the book of James; a letter written to a group of Jewish Christians who had been displaced and were being persecuted because of their faith. As it often happens when groups of people come together, there was some spatting among members of this community; nothing that unusual and very similar to conflicts we face in our own churches and organizations today. But in his writing, James encouraged this church to find peace – in their community and in their lives – by turning away from earthly things and focusing on divine things.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (James 3:17, NRSV)
James’ 2,000-year-old words of wisdom are so relevant to us today. We live in a world that is too often inundated with hustle and bustle, activity and stress. We move from one activity to the next without giving ourselves time to breathe. This is our normal; it is part of who we are. This is what the world is telling us to do.
And this is precisely why we need to look to God for our wisdom and not to the things in our earthly lives. Life has a tendency to move fast and just sweep us up along its path. But we can and should resist this tendency. We should spend more time thinking about what God is calling us to do and not what our culture is telling us we need to do. The word “no” should be used often and without guilt. We do not need to fill our lives with every activity available in an attempt to make our lives more whole; we need to spend time with God and cultivating our faith so that our lives will be made more whole.
What would our lives look like if we did these things?
Full disclosure: I am the worst offender at everything that I am talking about right now. I do not like to say “no” and I cannot pass up a request to volunteer at something; I tend to go-go-go-go-go until I crash and then wonder why I feel disconnected to God.
Well duh; I feel disconnected to God because I have filled my life with so much other “stuff” that there is no room for God to connect with me.
Now is the time when we all need to clear up the congestion in our lives so that God has the space to come and dwell within us.
I am not saying that this will be easy; in fact, I know that it will be extremely challenging. This is completely countercultural to the world that we are living in.
But I also think that it will feel amazing to take that first step. It will feel life-giving; it will feel restorative. We will all have room to breathe.
It may not always be easy, but we do not have to do what everyone else it doing just because they are doing it; we have the freedom to do what God is calling us to do.
Submit yourselves therefor to God. (James 4:7, NRSV)
We have the freedom; we have the freedom to submit ourselves to God and not to our crazy society. We have the freedom to go where God is calling us and not where everyone else in our circle of friends is going. We do not have to worry about what other people say or think or do; because ultimately creating space for God – while it may be countercultural – will give our lives meaning.
James wrote that we are conflict with ourselves:
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? (James 4:1, NRSV)
By saying, “yes” to everything, we are constantly at war with ourselves. We want to find balance in our lives, but we also feel the need to please people and keep up with what everyone around us is doing. And when we cannot do this, our lives are impacted; our relationships suffer, the work we do is not as good and we feel stressed.
Let that go.
The most life-fulfilling thing we can do for ourselves is to make space for God in our lives.
That may mean saying “no” sometimes. That may mean stepping away from something. This may mean putting our technology down and being a little bit less connected. This may mean reprioritizing and letting some things go.
But this is all going to create space for God to come into our lives.
I finally got to the point last summer where I looked around my house and felt like there was no place for me to move, let alone live with any sort of purpose or meaning.
I wonder if God ever feels that way about our lives?
We need to create space for God in our lives.
We need to set a place at the table for the Holy Spirit to pull up a chair and break bread with us.
We need to turn down the noise in our lives so that we can hear the voice of God speaking to us.
We need to clear a space in our lives for God to come and dwell and work within us. This will be life-giving. This will be redeeming. This will be restorative. This will be peaceful. This will be holy.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. (James 4:8a, NRSV)
Thanks be to God!