What We Place Between Ourselves and God, Sermon 07.24.11.

What We Place Between Ourselves and God, Sermon 07.24.11.

1 Kings 3:5-12 & Romans 8:26-39

You know the UCC’s slogan? “Never put a period where God has placed a comma.”

Gracie Allen’s wrote the line in a note she left for her husband, George Burns, to find after her death. It reminds us that where we see finality and no new possibilities, God can see more. God still has another day, another season, another opportunity ahead for us. …Maybe that’s the way to understand the Christian faith that death doesn’t have the last word.

‘No periods where God puts commas’ also warns against the ways we try and confine, curtail, contain God… cubby hole the Divine, when God’s too big for any our boxes. God, by definition, is the One who always has much more to say and to do, the One who’s always changing.

“Never place a period where God has put a comma” echoes the Pilgrim pastor, the Rev. John Robinson, who bequeathed the UCC a prophecy “God hath yet more truth and light to break forth from his holy Word.”

That faith in on-going revelation is important, because the UCC isn’t the “God said it; we believe it; that settles it” sort of church. We’re more willing to live in a gray area, more comfortable there actually, because our faith says God is still with us, present here today in all the changed and changing circumstances, real, and speaking in our time and to our situations, a living partner for our lives.

The Gospel, as we in the UCC see it– like the world it speaks to– is an on-going, unfolding process. Even Scripture, pressed into the pages between the covers of this great big book, even a closed canon isn’t finite. By the wonder of the Spirit, in a mysterious mix of what the tradition has bequeathed us, where we are in our own lives, and God’s keeping stirring it all up– Scripture is continually opening up new challenges and unearthing new meanings for us.

That’s why we believe women can talk in church; why we believe women can be ordained;
~why we believe people can get divorced and remarried, or live together, and
~why we accept gay folks can be Christians, but Christians can’t be slaveholders.

Wherever we are on life’s journey, God’s love can find us, come to us there, reach us, and take hold of any and all situations and conditions, and carry us forward, getting us where we are supposed to go.

That’s what the promise in the Romans 8 passage is about:
that nothing–

~ not the present nor the past nor anything yet to come,
~ not trouble, hard times, hatred, hunger, or homelessness,
~ not bullying, nor backstabbing,
~ not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.

Nothing living or dead,
nothing high or low,
nothing thinkable nor even the unimaginable–
absolutely nothing can drive a wedge between us and God.

I imagine, at least some of us, when we hear this promise about nothing being able to separate us, some of us must ask ourselves:

Does Paul really mean absolutely nothing can come between me and God?”

It’s a question that believers like you and I have wrestled with since the first days of the church… one that many of us continue to wrestle with today. 

We know separation.
From enemies and strangers, that’s easier to admit.
And from colleagues and neighbors– even as we wish it weren’t so.
But also from parents and children and spouses.
And from God.
Even sometimes from ourselves.

Some painful, incomprehensible, even self-destructive separations…

Just how far then can God’s love really go?
And if God can go all the way for us,
why then sometimes do we end up so disconnected, at odds, broken?
…and why does even God feel so far away sometimes?

That’s what I was trying to write about in this week’s e-pistle.
And what I’ve been thinking a lot about in these last few sermons
on our families…

And it’s brought me to a renewed trust that no matter what we do,
or fail to do,
we can’t really stop God from loving us;
we can count on that love;
that’s the Gospel in a nutshell.

But I’ve also become more aware of some of the roadblocks and barriers and walls
we throw up,
put in place between ourselves and other people,
between ourselves and God…

Beloved, we do a pretty good job of cutting ourselves off, leaving ourselves out in the cold, feeling alone and on our own.

Why would we do this?

I bet there are as many reasons as we have stories.
But it seems to me there are some common ones, or recurrent ones.

Who, after all, wants to feel dependent or even admit his or her dependence. We are the country of the Marlborough Man and the self-made millionaire. We idolize freedom and self-reliance.

Another occasion I see people often holding God at bay is when we don’t really like ourselves all that much– fairly or unfairly– and we assume that God probably feels pretty much the same way about us. How could God feel better about me than I feel about myself?

A slight variation of this one is being not so sure of ourselves, or are pretty sure that we’re not quite right… and therefore not wanting to have to face God. Trying to hide from God is, as I told the kids last week, as old as Adam and Eve, and still as useless…

Then there’s the case of keeping God at arm’s length because we know deep in our hearts that God won’t dislike the same people we dislike. Oh, though we sometimes pretend otherwise in church, we all have our enemies, and those folks we like to blame things on, and people we just plain don’t like.

And it’s more fun, or at least makes for a sort of built-in camaraderie if the people we keep close and spend time with don’t like the same people as we do… But, beloved, God’s not willing to join any of our cliques. So we end up cold shouldering God like one more person we dislike.

And what about when we know God wants us to do something or go someplace we don’t want to go. This gives us another reason to throw up a wall, create a roadblock so God can’t come walking right up to our door to see what we are doing (or not doing), or where we are… Remember Jonah!

Then, finally, there’s the case when you have been so hurt by someone, perhaps even more difficult when that someone was supposed to take care of you, that it’s pretty much impossible to ever really trust anyone else ever again, even God.

As long as we are willful, independent, self-doubting, imperfect, opinionated and vulnerable… in other words, as long as we are human, we’re going to keep fashioning and deploying these “spacers” — our own devices to make sure there’s room between us and between us and God.

And God’s going to keep loving us nonetheless.

But maybe our job, holding up our end of the relationship is to become more aware of the barriers, roadblocks and walls we erect. And then try taking them down, and see what happens…

Beloved, I was nurtured by life, raised up to be sort of an emotionally self-sufficient person, which can have it’s own blessings. But if i don’t make room in my life for the ways I am dependent, for needing others, I might miss God coming close to me.

Beloved, I’m not always sure of myself– if I’m really loving enough, or willing to forgive as far as God expects, or ironically for a minister even religious enough. But if I don’t make room in my life for the ways God could appreciate and love me better and more than i love myself, I might miss God coming close to me.

Beloved, I know that God can embrace the whole church, when I’d rather consider my kind of Christians more faithful, even the faithful remnant, and pray that all those others– the wrong-headed, cold-hearted, judgmental ones who I often dismiss as missing the essence of the our faith– pray that they’ll catch up spiritually. But if I don’t open myself to them, and work on how we are part of one body, of one Lord, one baptism, the same church, I might just miss God coming close to me.

Beloved, when I know that God wants me to do something. Or go to sit with someone. You know those sorts or errands and conversations that you dread and put off, and your dread only grows bigger. And I don’t do it. And it weighs more on me. And gets harder to do. Sometimes putting it off for a long time, and making it a much bigger deal than it needs to be… But if I don’t face up to my assignment, what’s needed of me, then I might just miss God coming close to me.

Beloved, when I let the hurts and slights fester and become resentments or feuds, I might just miss God coming close to me.

When I let what’s in me get out, and get in between, I run the risk of missing God. I mean, God could walk right by, flash me a smile, or offer me a word, throw open those Divine arms to give me a hug, offer me a hand to help me along, but caught up in my own stuff, I won’t even notice.

And who loses? Both God and me and everyone else. Amen.