The morning’s sermon begins about 25 minutes in.
After reading these two texts — one about Abraham, stuck in the wilderness not only geographically but also spiritually – he has been promised an heir but it is so long in coming; and the one about Jesus: he’s testy, heading towards Jerusalem, no longer on the mountain top of revelation but down in the lonesome valley of coming to learn what that revelation really means, and the pressure is building; I couldn’t help wondering, “How did they keep going?”
What first came to mind was a memory of me sitting at my rickety little desk in the living room of our Edinburgh flat working on my dissertation.
Two weeks ago, I shared that story of the professor who told me to pay attention to my academic side. So, I listened to him. And off I went. It was wonderful but for most of my time I was lost, academically speaking, spiritually too.
Many times, I would pray “Lord, I believe you sent me here – but I don’t know what I am doing! I am stuck and lost; is this how it is all going to end?” And, “I don’t want Deanne to think she married a loser!”
And then there was this one day when I caught fire and was typing away – the words were flying on the page and I was so happy and thankful: Yes! Yes! Yes! 5 or 6 hours of non-stop writing – 25-30 pages of text, it would all have to be re-worked but it was good. I caught the glimmer of the promise.
And there was a power surge and I had not saved a single thing. Deanne walked in our flat and saw me, head down, she can verify; it was not good.
In fact, it was devastating.
If I did not have Deanne, my advisor, other students, the church community we had formed or if I did not think that what I was doing was part of some larger connective plan for my life that God had set me upon, I would have quit.
But something kept me tethered – by love and support – from above and below.
And so next morning I started to re-write (saving every five minutes!)
I took that next step into that little pool of light that Rev. Goines told us about.
What keeps you going when you are stuck in the muddle of the middle? I have come to believe that we some powerful spiritual tools in our spiritual tool box that can help, that can save:
- A trust in a higher power,
- A connection with others,
- Being grounded in scripture,
- Disciplined prayer, and
- Having a worldview that you are part of something larger – that you are connected to love through love by love.
What you have to go through may be very particular for you – you may have to walk through that “lonesome valley” all by yourself – but you are not isolated if you are aware of what you have in your faith toolbox.
I echo what Rev. Goines said last Sunday – we have become such an individualistic driven society. I’ll never forget walking home one beautiful summer day and I passed a house where two people were sitting on the front porch – one on each corner, head down looking at their cell phones. To me that captured part of the spiritual malaise of our present time – we may be in the same place but we are isolated and alone. Timothy Carney in the NYT this past week wrote an Op Ed about the “plague of social isolation.”
A person new to the city, visited the local church and she liked it but found it hard to break in to the established groups – nobody meant to exclude – in fact most people were very inviting – but it was hard. And then one Sunday people were invited to stay after church and form new small house groups. If Saturday was a good day – go over there. If midweek was better – go to that corner. These small groups became communities of accountability and acceptance that transformed lives.
I believe that all of us yearn for deep connections that support and define and help us pull through – we are told in scripture “to laugh with those who laugh and cry with those who cry” but if we can’t find anyone to laugh and cry with – it gets hard.
For those of you here today who have such an experience of connection – you know how powerful this is. For you who perhaps are new and seeking ways to connect – it can be pretty lonely. How do you just find some Christian friends to walk the path?
There is a small group right now organizing small house groups – so keep watch!
When you are in the muddle of the middle – you have to be connected.
Things don’t seem so clear any more. Perhaps disappointed with a new job. Figuring out life after the death of a loved one. Perhaps figuring out what it is to live after a divorce.
You set off all on a high, feeling the spirit, with a hope and focus and promise and now you are wondering: is this how it is all going to end?
How many of you know “the deep and terrifying darkness” – the kind that descended on Abram?
The Abraham story is amazing. Wow it takes guts to trust. Remember he was 75 years old when he got the call to move. God promised him a future, a family, a land, a heritage. And Abraham was just fool enough to believe it.
Abraham and Sarah didn’t conceive and Abraham asks God: “Is Eliezer of Damascus my heir?… you have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir?”
God takes him out, shows him the stars: “so shall your descendants be!” And Abraham believed and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
And then, sometime later, when Abraham was 86, he and Sarah were still without an heir – and so like in The Handmaid’s Tale – Hagar, the servant girl, bore Ishmael. And Abraham thought that was it.
But it wasn’t. Abraham was 99 and he heard again the promise. And a year later Isaac was born.
It takes guts to trust when you are muddled in the middle. But Abraham you see, saw his story as part of something larger – when he was down, he looked up at the stars.
Abraham questioned God, argued with God – such was his relationship with the divine. Abraham was part of a large clan family – and so he pressed on, clinging to that tether of trust.
Jesus too has guts – he begins to see what he is walking towards. He is told by Pharisees that Herod is out to kill him and yet he does not turn back. It takes guts to trust. And he grieves: “Jerusalem – all I want to do is gather you under my wing and yet you kill everybody!” And soon Jesus’ body will be hanging from a cross.
Today in our culture – wedge issues driving good people apart – driven by fear of the other – tribal isolation. But God wants to gather folks under her motherly wing of love and connection and community – where we find our identity as beloved children of God: all the children of the world – as we remember our Muslim sisters and brothers especially today.
But like Abraham, Jesus knows God, has his crazy band of disciples, a community of support, he is grounded in prayer and knowledge of scripture – and so he presses on into the muddle of the middle. Oh, it takes great courage to trust.
Today is the second Sunday of Lent – that muddled middle period of the Christian year. Spring is on the way, but….
How much longer, Lord, until Muslims, Jews and Christians worship without fear of being slaughtered? Or we come to our collective sense on gun access and violence?
What wilderness are we in as White Supremacists flaunt and gloat and kill and taunt?
Leonor entered Sanctuary over a year and a half ago – and even though all her papers are good, ICE still won’t recognize her legal right to stay in our country.
It’s not pretty but as a preacher I have to tell the truth. Most of life is in the middle – neither here nor there. It takes guts to trust when you are in the muddle of the middle.
So, our number one task as church is to build community and to be the beloved community; and to witness to all people that love wins. But it’s hard sometimes.
We have to start by equipping people for the living of these days in prayer, keep telling one and all, that we are part of something larger – we are not disconnected, isolated, alone.
We need to witness to one another and to all the deep connection with God that we have – we have to share stories both of wilderness and of mountain top, of crucifixion and resurrection; keeping our eyes on the prize of the upward way of Jesus Christ.
Oh yes, it takes guts to trust while you are in the muddle of the middle.
But the Gospel proclaims that you are not alone, that you are loved and precious in God’s sight. You are I are part of a long story – a narrative of grace and truth and justice – and we have to live it while we can.
Emmanuel – God is with you…and with us!
Hold fast to these things as we continue the journey together through the muddle of the middle.