Creating Space For God

Oh, for crying out loud.  I went into a massive coughing fit at the end of my sermon this morning and barely made it to the end.  The annoying thing about it was not the coughing itself – it was the fact that it totally killed my momentum!  I was building and building and wanted to be loud and excited at the end of the sermon and instead I was coughing and everyone was wondering if I was going to make it.

Not exactly the mood I was going for.

Oh well. :) Here’s the sermon. Skip to the end if you want a good laugh.

Psalm 4
Luke 24: 36-48

Creating Space For God

I was watching a television show on NBC this week and when the show went to commercial I heard the most spectacular sound.

{Play John Williams Olympic Fanfare and Theme}

The Olympics are coming! I do not know what that means in your household, but in ours it means three weeks of watching coverage late into the night, getting choked up every time I hear the Star Spangled Banner and cheering for the underdog. It also means three weeks me prancing around the house (yes, I said prancing), endlessly obsessing over the fact that I missed my calling in figure skating, gymnastics, pole vaulting, the luge or – as I discovered two years ago in Vancouver – curling! (This one actually tends to last longer than three weeks.) I cannot even begin to describe the energy that I waste every two years (1) stopping whatever I am doing every time I hear John Williams ‘Olympic Fanfare and Theme’ so I can conduct along, (2) whining about the fact that I am not talented enough to be an Olympic athlete and (3) calling my parents and asking them why they did not push me harder as a child.

So, you might ask, does my obsession ever get me anywhere? Does it ever inspire me to do anything after the torch is extinguished? Well – no. Eventually I am either threatened by the people around me or I lose interest until two years have gone by and the whole cycle starts all over again.

However, the thought has recently crossed my mind that maybe – just maybe – you cannot become an Olympic athlete if you do not actually play an Olympic sport. And, as it turns out, I do not actually play an Olympic sport.

One of my favorite books-turned-movies, Eat Pray Love, chronicles a woman’s crisis of life and faith as she travels through Italy, India and Bali. Upon arrival in Italy, the main character, Liz, contemplates her trip by saying the following:

There is a wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, ‘Dear Saint, Please, please, please let me win the lottery.’ Finally, the exasperated statue comes to life and looks down at the begging man and says, ‘My Son, Please, please, please buy a ticket.’

Now, just so it is clear, I am not telling y’all to go out and buy a lottery ticket. I am also not saying that I will not spend three weeks this summer distraught over the fact that I may never stand on that gold medal platform. But this morning’s Gospel does remind us that if we want to do something great, if we want to reap the rewards of a challenge and if we want to see a difference in ourselves and in our communities and in the world, then we need to actually create a space for that to happen.

Let me set the scene: The disciples had gathered in Jerusalem and were still trying to figure out what, in the world, had actually happened over the past few days and weeks. Jesus had been put to death, his body was nowhere to be found, he appeared to the women and they told people that God raised him from the dead. The disciples were confused; they were terrified. So while they huddled together and tried to make some sense out of what was happening, Jesus walked in.

‘Peace be with you.’ {Jesus said} {The disciples} were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

So in the middle of utter chaos and confusion, Jesus casually meandered into the room and nonchalantly said to the disciples, “Hey guys, I’m here – what’s for dinner?” Then he sat down with them to share a meal. And in an instant things changed – the mood was calm and even in their wondering everyone felt joy.

Have you ever felt like the disciples did before Jesus walked in? Have you ever felt confused, frustrated, terrified, overwhelmed or unsure of what was going on around you? Yes, the crucifixion was a dramatic tragedy in the lives of the people that witnessed it, but sometimes we forget that they were people, like every single one of us, just trying to make sense of this crazy and hectic world that we live in. Like the disciples did 2,000 years ago, we experience turmoil and tragedy. Terrorists strike when nations least expect, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes destroy communities, economic downturn burdens families and violence permeates throughout our world. And we – like the disciples – huddle together and try to make sense out of the things that are happening around us.

Wouldn’t it be great if, while we were trying to sort everything out, Jesus just kind of casually meandered into the room and nonchalantly said to us, “Hey guys, I’m here – what’s for dinner?”

Perhaps he does. But perhaps we are just not ready to see him yet.

I will never have the opportunity to ‘go for the gold’ if I do not actually try to play an Olympic sport. A poor man will never win the lottery if he does not actually buy a ticket. And none of us will ever see the face of the risen of Christ if we do create a space for him to walk through the door.

We will never feel God’s grace in our lives if we do not create a space for that to happen.

When Jesus did walk through the door that evening and appeared to the disciples, he commissioned them. He said, “These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you.” He opened their minds so that they would understand the scriptures and then said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” “You,” Jesus said, “are witnesses of these things.”

You are witnesses of these things. We are witnesses to these things.

I read a commentary this week that I would like to share this morning. Author and speaker Barbara Essex says the following about this text:

Today’s text challenges us: What in our communities needs the presence of the risen Christ? What kinds of experiences and understandings do we need so that we can be credible witnesses to God’s aims in the world? What is our communal response to God’s presence and work in the world? How do we participate in God’s work on earth?

No matter how we answer these questions, Jesus commissions us to declare the presence and power of God in the midst of tragedy, despair, and death. They are not ultimate—God is. And God aims to redeem creation and us. The risen Christ makes himself known to us in ways large and small. As people of faith, we are to be witnesses to Christ’s presence among us, in our words and in our deeds; our faith demands nothing less. {Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Page 429}

So maybe that is the real power in the resurrection story. It is not just that Jesus was raised from the dead – or even that the disciples saw him and recognized him. There is more to the story and we are writing it right now. In the middle of the chaos and confusion of our lives, we need to create a space for God to appear so that we can go out into the world and proclaim the good news that the Gospel is worth living out, that faith is real and that God is still speaking and working in all of our lives.

The Easter lilies have been put away and the leftover ham has long been eaten. But here at church we are still in the season of Eastertide. And this season is not just a way to try to keep everyone excited until Pentecost. It is a reminder that the Christian story did not end at the resurrection; that is only where it began.

But the story only continues to be written if we decide that we want to be a part of it. The Gospel will only be spread if we actually commit to spreading it. And so we are now called to make a space in our lives for God so that we can be given the strength to go out into the world and be witnesses to what we see and to what we know.

Christ is risen! God is good! This is the good news that brings us new life.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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