Rev. Stacy Swain
When I was in my early teens, there was a commercial that aired frequently on TV. It opened with a woman who was clearly distraught. She through up her hands while exclaiming with increasing agitation: “the traffic,” “the boss,” “the crying kids,” “the barking dog!”
And then finally when she could take it no longer, she would cry out “Calgon take me away!”
Then the scene shifted and this same woman was at peace. She was luxuriating in a bath full of bubbles in someplace that looked like the temple at Delphi.
She had a serene smile on her face. The columns behind her spoke of timelessness and of wisdom, the expanse of the beautiful landscape behind her connoted calm, peace, perfection.. The commercial ends then with the tag line “Loose yourself in luxury.”
I know that this scene of the woman lounging in the suds was supposed to be alluring and compelling. But I tell you, as a young teen, I remember being troubled by the ad. I remember thinking, “if that woman has gone to take a bath, who is watching the kids? And what about that poor dog!”
But before we go any further let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our creator, our redeemer and our sustainer. Amen.
As confusing as that commercial may have been to my teenage sensibility, the marketing team that crafted it was clearly quite savvy. For who, faced with the overwhelming needs and pains of the world has not felt a desire to escape from it? Honestly, I know I have. In my adult years, there have been periods when I could not bring myself to pick up the morning paper, when I could not bring myself to hear the news of the world. There is an old adage that says “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” But really? Who are the tough? For most of us, the adage would be better read “when the going gets tough, we start looking for a way out.
And this spills over into religion. How many of us see our spiritual lives as a kind of “time out” from the world? I for one spent quite a bit of time yesterday afternoon recreating my prayer space in my home, marking it off with screens a place apart. A place that is off limits to the chaos of family life. A place that is wholly my own. It is peaceful. It is full of beauty.
And there is a deep and compelling current in all of the Abrahamic faiths that speak of a desire to leave the pushes and pulls of the world behind in order to seek and find communion with the divine. God is in the world, yes! but God is not of the world and our souls hunger for the later, the expansive, meaning drenched, love filled experience of being gathered up into the Holy. Augustine said it this way “Our souls are restless until they rest in you, O God.”
Yesterday, some of us gathered for a retreat led by Ann Williams who is a new member among us. Ann led us into the teachings and life of Henri Nouwen and in our retreat, our time out from the world, she led us to contemplate a painting from Rembrandt called “The Prodigal Son.” It showed that moment when the son who had gone of and squandered the father’s inheritance returns bereft. But the son is to be not shamed, not blamed, not judged but instead is welcomed into the parent’s embrace. I could not keep my eye off the luminescent image of the parents hand, one masculine, one feminine, drawing the wayward child into an embrace of wholly, and perfect love, of belonging, of forgiveness.
And that is this moment of wholly embrace that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel today. His hands are on the disciples in blessing, drawing them to him and offering them to God in all of their imperfections and doubts, in all of their confusion and consternation. Jesus’ hands are upon us like the luminescent hands of the parent in that Rembrandt painting, Blessing us because even in our imperfection we are blessed.
But what can happen, the danger in this deep longing to feel the peace of God’s hand upon us in the intimacy of a holy time apart is that our faith can become an escape – it can become a “Calgon, take me away kind of Christianity,” that when we get overwhelmed by the world we call upon God to take us out of it. We may not subscribe to that belief that this world is only to be endured until our reward is sought in heaven, but we may see this hour together in this sanctuary as a time apart, unrelated to, distinct from the other hours of our week that demands so much of us.
But that is not what Jesus has in mind here in this passage from John. Jesus hands are upon the disciples, blessing them. Holding them. But his prayer is as much a commissioning as it is a blessing. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”
We abide in God, so that we may be sent. The purpose of our living in faith is not to escape the world but to be of service to it. We are loved and forgiven and accepted as God’s own so that we may love and forgive and accept.
There is a teaching in Judaism called Tikkun Olam to which there is something in my heart that thrills. Tikkun Olam means the healing or the repair of the world and is the idea that humans are welcomed, forgiven accepted into communion with the divine not for our own sakes but so that we can be commissioned, sent out with the love and blessing of God upon us for the soul purpose of healing the world. Rabbi Greenberg in The Jewish Way, puts it this way “The final perfection will come through humanity, not by rejection of or total transcendence of humanness. It follows that humans are the carriers of the divine message; the secular is the theatre of religious action.” The life of faith is not escape but service.
Doesn’t that sound a bit like us?
We love being together. We love our times of fellowship, of sharing and caring and tending to each other. That is the starting place of our live together. But there is more. When we are sharing, and caring and tending to each other, we catch glimpses of the divine. Our hands and our feet are suddenly not our own but are of the God who sent us. The words we speak and fullness of our hearts are not our own solely but of the God of love that fills us. And it does not stop there does it? There is something in this body of Christ –in this church compels us outside of the confines of these walls. We are drawn out into the world to bless and be blessed, to love and be loved.
That is why we pledge our time and our money to this gathered community. “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”, is Jesus prayer for us. Let us abide, yes but let us go. Let us go into the world as Partners in Christ’s service, Partners in the healing of the world. Let us go as breech repairers, wound healers, life givers, hope makers. Wholly beloved, wholly forgiven, wholly sent. Amen.
 Rabbi Irving Greenberg. The Jewish Way, Living the Holidays. ( Simon and Schuster: New York, 1988). P. 121