Sunday, May 28, 2017

God Gives Us Some Space

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
May 28, 2017

Year A: The Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

God Gives Us Some Space
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
            You may remember that a couple of weeks ago I mentioned how my oldest friend’s mom, after years of grueling cancer treatments, decided to enter hospice, where over very difficult days, her life drew to a close.
            Obviously, as many of us know only too well, the death of a loved one is a heartbreaking experience.
            And, it can be particularly hard for children who may never have faced death before and now have to grapple with the reality that our lives here on earth don’t go on forever, that people in our lives will die, no matter how much we wish otherwise, no matter how much we love them.
            Not easy.
            In the case of my friend, he and his wife brought their young daughters to the hospice to see their grandmother one last time.
            Their older girl, about 5 ½ years old seems to have understood just enough of the seriousness of the situation to be frightened by what she saw, choosing to stay in the hallway, sneaking an occasional peek into the room where her grandmother would die.
            I had lunch with my friend last Monday when he told me an amazing follow-up to this story.
            Not long after her visit to the hospice, his daughter asked her parents if she could watch again the movie, Inside Out.
            If you haven’t seen it, you really should.
            It’s an extremely clever and deeply moving (you’ll need tissues) animated movie about a little girl named Riley who has an idyllic childhood until her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. After leaving behind almost everything and everyone she knew, Riley struggles to adjust to her strange new surroundings.
            I’m sure quite a few of us can relate to that experience.
            What’s most clever about the movie is that most of it takes place in Riley’s head as five personified emotions – joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust – try to help her adjust to her new reality.
            So, a couple of remarkable things: my friend’s daughter remembered seeing the movie months earlier and recognized that she was going through an experience not so different from young Riley in the movie, trying to make sense of a new reality.
            And, here’s the thing: she asked to see the movie alone.
            When I heard that, I wondered what I would have done as a parent. I suspect I would have said, no, no, let’s watch this movie together as a family, thinking that it we’d better keep an eye on our daughter and make sure she’s OK.
            But, my friends wisely and lovingly allowed her to watch alone, gave her some space to face her own powerful emotions, to take a big step toward growing up.
            And, you know, that choice to give a little girl some space to figure it out on her own reminded me of God.
            You’ve heard me talk about God’s presence.
            I firmly believe that God is present all the time in our lives, especially here in this holy place, in Scripture, in our extended hands of peace, in the Bread and the Wine, in the service we offer to others, in all of it.
            God is present, but God isn’t some “helicopter parent” smothering us with anxious love, solving all of our problems for us, preventing us from ever really growing up.
            No, God gives us some space.
            I think that God must have given us space right from the start.
            Mystics have imagined that right at the moment of creation, God had to withdraw a little bit so that a real universe, a real world could develop - a real world where our choices have consequences, a real world where we’re given the opportunity to use our minds and our emotions to make our way through life, a real world where life is so precious and sweet precisely because it doesn’t last forever.
            God gives us some space.
            God gave us some space at the start of creation and God gives us space when the Risen Christ ascended into heaven, leaving his dazzled friends staring up into the sky with, I always imagine, their mouths hanging open.
            No longer seeing the Risen Christ in the flesh the way the first disciples did, gives us some space to grow up and be who we really are – to be the Body of Christ in the world.
            We have some space to be the Body of Christ in the world, pouring out love to one another, especially the people that the world dismisses as having not much value, the people that the world looks at as nobodies, even the people the world teaches us to fear and hate.
            We have some space to be the Body of Christ in the world, offering a different vision than what’s on the news or on the street, offering a downside-up vision of a world where the most blessed are the poor, those who hunger and thirst, those who mourn.
            We have some space to be the Body of Christ in the world, not judging people based on their looks or their bank account or their politics or their religion or lack thereof or even the worst thing they’ve ever done, not judging people at all.
            Yes, like my friends allowing their daughter to watch the movie alone, God gives us some space.
            But, of course, God doesn’t ever abandon us.
            As that little girl watched that movie, her parents were just down the hall.
            And, in the same way, the Holy Spirit, which we will especially celebrate next week, the Holy Spirit is always with us, pouring out grace, giving us strength and wisdom, helping us as we try to make sense of a real world filled with both sadness and joy, and as we try to make sense of our own hearts bubbling with very real and powerful emotions.
            God gives us some space, but the Holy Spirit is with us, as we, no matter how old we are, do the hard but necessary work of growing up.
            Alleluia! Christ is risen!
            The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!