Stepping Away to Connect with God
The Rev. Laurel Hart, Deacon
Scripture: John 17:6-19
What was the best vacation you ever had? Maybe this vacation was a wonderful solo trip, like the journey I took when I traveled to the Abby on the Island of Iona. To get to that location required a rather long overseas flight to Scotland, a train trip from Glasgow to Oban, a ferry from Oban to the Island of Craignure. Then a bus ride to another ferry ride which finally delivered me and numerous other pilgrims to the Island. Then after a brisk walk I finally arrived at the Abby. Maybe you and your family took that famous trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland, or an adventure in one of our National Park’s say the Grand Canyon. Or maybe, after years of promising, you chose to take that trip to a Middle American state to visit family - your Great Aunt Elsie and a third cousin once removed. I hope and pray that during this time of respite your spirit and body was refreshed and renewed. Whatever it was; wasn’t it good to get away from the pressures and sameness of life at home?
I’m guessing that about 99% of the community present would be more than happy to fly the coop right now - to get away from all this pandemic stuff. I want my old life back – sooner not later please. We’ve been thru one of darkest times most of us have ever known; heavily ladened with isolation, fear, and death. Not to forget to mention facemasks, and online school and toilet paper shortages. I can only imagine that the followers of Jesus might have been feeling something similar in the days before the Holy Spirit descended on them. They were hiding out. However, it’s conceivable that some of them just wanted to run away to a cave and be alone. But few of us are called to a life of ascetic solitude living like a silent monk. We must live and cope as best we are able in our daily ordinary and mundane lives. Sometimes this means living and trying to cope during a time of darkness – be it a “only me” time of darkness like an illness, or maybe an event like the death of a loved one. Or it could be a worldwide period of terror like a war or pandemic.
As citizens of the Kingdom of God, how are we called to respond to darkness? After all we members of the worldwide community of Christians are not attached to our Savior, Jesus, by our passports or personal ID’s but by the waters of our Baptisms. Our greatest honor - and perhaps our greatest challenge - is to bear the light of Christ when we are so often surrounded by darkness. As Christians we can make a difference in the world during periods of darkness by our prayers and the love we share with others.
We can’t escape the world, but we don’t have to be control or contained by it. Jesus’ disciples “do not belong to the world” as the gospel states, please understand the world's claims didn’t shape their essential identity, their faith in God, and their values. Yes, we need things - those inanimate objects which make our living more comfortable or convenient, but we don’t have to be controlled by our possessions. Surprise, we can step away from the internet anytime we wish. After all the third commandment is our instruction from God to keep a Sabbath and take rest including all things electronic.
We must recognize these times of darkness and sometimes that’s not easy. It can take work to live among all the complexities of the world without getting entangled. Ever had a day when just getting out of bed took all the energy you could muster? The day you didn’t want to take a shower or get dressed. Ever called your boss and said you had the stomach flu? I might have done that once or twice during my working years. Forgive yourself when you want to hide or run away – that feeling happens to all human beings on occasion.
When a time like this occurs, as individuals, each of us needs to begin to figure out how to create a space to connect with God which will work for us (and this may change time and again) so that the veil of darkness can begin to lighten or lift from our souls. For me that connection time might be a walk outside, breathing some fresh air. I could wheel my trusty bike outside for a ride and have a conversation with God. There is nothing like the rhythm of the turning wheels of a bike to release the pain resting on my heart and in my mind. Some people can release these feelings with a pen and paper – telling their journal what is troubling them. There are as many ways to connect with God as there are people.
We can’t escape this world and it’s trouble but must engage in the work we are challenged to do as Christians with intention “as Jesus says, ‘they may have my joy made complete in themselves’.” We don’t find holiness thru escape but thru engagement with the Holy. Remember, we have something at hand daily which is more than just a few days of a good vacation: we have Christ’s presence allowing us to live vitally and faithfully in the world, not owned by it but fully engaged with its needs and wounds. Remember, we have the care and protection of God – and coming next week with (let’s have a big “drum roll”) with tongues of fire - we again celebrate the arrival of our constant companion the Holy Spirit. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Jesus didn’t want or try to escape but he was fully and completely engaged with and in the world. Connection with Jesus and his words will help us unite and participate with ourselves and each other. To use a modern phrase “Jesus has our backs”. We have his words – we have his examples of being and living in the world – when we choose to follow him we can have life more abundantly here and now. Amen