“The Space between Us” 09/15/2019 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Sept 15, 2019

“The Space Between Us”

Will you pray with me:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our lives be acceptable to you O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen

 The poet T.S. Eliot wrote as the opening line of his poem the Waste Land that “April is the cruelest month.”  As much as I love Eliot’s poetry, I have to take issue with that line.  I don’t think April is the cruelest month at all.  April is full of new growth possibility, Easter even!

 So what is the cruelest month? It is the one we are in, September!

 September is the cruelest month because the ease of summer is over and we are now have to face the start of another year.  As we stand gazing out over the expanse of the year ahead, I don’t know about you but I can tend to feel rather overwhelmed, insecure, anxious even.  What’s the year going to bring?  Am I going to be able to tackle all that is going to be asked of me?   Will I make the grade, meet my performance goals, be a success?  Or will this be the year when I end up falling flat on my face?  Will this be the year when everything falls apart?

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 Part of the burden that we carry not just in September but rather chronically in our culture throughout the year is the messaging that we are on our own.  Our lives are what we make of them. It’s up to us.  We revere this narrative of the “self-made man”, the rugged individualist, the pull yourself up by your boot strap mentality (does anyone even know what that means really?)  Feeling like we are on our own in an increasingly charged and challenging time can make us feel anxious for sure, but it also leaves us feeling lonely.

 According to the Health Resource and Service Administration American today is experiencing a “Loneliness Epidemic” that has real consequences for us as individuals and for us as a society.  According to the HRSA “‘Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

 Two in five Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated.  And this number climbs to 1 in 3 for older adults.

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 And so as we stand in this cruelest month of the year and stare out over the months ahead, I find it very helpful to be reminded by modern science and the biblical witness that despite what messaging our culture may be broadcasting, the truth of the matter is that it is not all up to each of us to somehow find our own individual way in this world.   It is helpful to be reminded that we are actually not isolated individuals destined for loneliness.

 Instead, what science and the biblical witness proclaim loud and clear is that our lives are actually deeply interconnected and that we are part of a larger whole.  Our faith speaks of being children of God, dwellers of the garden, the body of Christ. Science and sociology talks about eco systems and systems theories. What we are being told that instead of figuring out how we are to go it alone, what we need to be thinking about is how best to tend and cultivate connection.  For it is through the health of the network of relationship that we come home to our fullness of thriving.

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 We are being challenged, with heightened urgency, I believe, to really make this shift in the conceptual framework we have of ourselves in the world from that of the rugged individualist that pulls herself up by her own boot straps to that of participants in community where how we live and what we do has direct consequences and impact on how others live and what others are able to do.

 What would it feel like to look out over this year with the knowledge that all that will come will arise not from our own individual strivings but through the degree that we honor and tend to the connection between us one to another and to the wider world?   What would that feel like to not feel alone and lonely but really experience being part of a beloved community of life?

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 Friday afternoon, I headed up to New Hampshire for the wedding of Mark’s cousin.  It was truly an Eden-like spot.  A farm on the top of a hill, beautiful fields of flowers, soaring trees, birds and dragonflies, gentle breeze, warm sun.  It was a gorgeous place and as I got out of the car and headed across the field I was met by ripples and ripples of the Smith family clan many of who I had not seen for years and years.  I was caught up by the beauty of the place and the warmth such a place of peace, love, abundance and blessing.

 And then yesterday afternoon when the time of the ceremony came, we all gathered around to witness the couple pledging themselves to one another, but not just that, we too, the crowd that gathered, we too pledged ourselves to them and to each other that we would do all that we could to support and bless the love that filled the space between us.

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 So how are we to find our way out of the anxiety and loneliness of our day and into the communion that is to be who and how we are?  How do we find our way back to that gathering of such blessed unity?

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 In our Gospel passage today, Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep as a way to explain to those who are criticizing him why he is seeking out and spending time with those who the powerful consider to be not worth his attention.   Jesus tells them this parable to help them see that while they may choose to ignore some among them, the divine does not.  The divine is paying attention not just to those who are present, but also to the one who is missing.  In fact, the divine is so concerned with the one who is missing that she drops to her knees and peers into every nook and cranny until she finds that precious one and that the divine has left the barn and has pulled on his wellingtons and is headed out across the moor not resting until he pulls that one lost sheep from the bramble thicket and brings it home.

I find Jesus message incredibly comforting.  I find it comforting to know that we are not left alone on our own, but that the divine has her eye on us and that he will not rest until we are brought home.

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 What it would look like for us to do the same?  What if when we pass the peace we were to notice not just who is gathered but who is missing?  I once learned that our Puritan forebearers took attendance on Sunday morning and that it was the job of the elders of the church to make a house call that very afternoon to find out why?

 Now don’t be alarmed, I am not suggesting that we start to take attendance.  And be assured if you do not make it to church one Sunday, you are not going to find one of our church council members at your door.

 But what I am wondering about is how can be like the woman and the shepherd in the parable that Jesus speaks?  How can we too have an eye out and a heart open for those who are not here, those who may be being overlooked?  And I am not just talking about church membership here.

 Because the truth of the matter is that none of us will be home until all of us are. None of us will be whole until all of us are.  It does not matter that 99 are safe in the coral if one is still left out in the cold.  Or conversely, we cannot rest while 1% are making it and 99% are not. Our liberation is inextricably bound up with the liberation of not only our human siblings but with all of creation.  Because our true humanity is expressed not when we act as rugged individualist but instead when we embrace and are embraced in divine communion.

 Now I assured you that we would not be making house calls, but it turns out that is exactly what the divine is doing today in our scripture from the Old Testament.

 Abraham and Sarah may very well have been feeling a bit lost that day.  They had left their home in what is now Iraq to journey across the wilderness to what is now Israel.  But they have been journeying for a while now and they have met many hardships and the future that God has promised has not yet materialized for them.  In ancient times, ones future was all tied up with one’s offspring and at this time in the story, Abraham and Sarah are getting up there in years and yet they still do not have a child.

That is where we find them today, sitting in their tent waiting out the noonday sun.  I wonder what they were thinking.  I wonder what was their hearts longing?

 And then a trinity of visitors show up.  The divine finds them.

 But that is just the beginning right? All that transpires floods out of what comes next.  And what comes next in both the Gospel story and this passage from the Old Testament is hospitality.

 Hospitality not of the hospitality industry type of hospitality that is what we tend to equate hospitality with these days, where how you are treated depends on how much money you have.

 We are talking of a radically different type of hospitality here.    This hospitality that is to be at the center of who and how we are to be is just the opposite. It is not something expected but freely given.  It is not based on worth but on the joy of encounter.  It is also full of vulnerability of giving freely out of an exuberance of love simply because it is impossible to do any but that.  It is a hospitality is expressed by the hitching up ones robe and running down the road as the father figure does in the prodigal son parable that Jesus tells just after these two today these two of the coin and the sheep.

 We are found and we are to find, but then most importantly we are to fill the space between us with hospitality, with a love and a care that become the glue that holds us together.  Hospitality that is what the ancients called “hessed” that is translated as steadfast love.  The glue that binds all that is together as one and that seeks and finds and throws a party in the space between us.

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 Because, and here’s the kicker! — when hospitality fills the space between us something more arises.  Something more happens.  The paradigm shift we are being challenged to engage is not just a realization that we are parts of a connected whole, but the hospitality between us is actually the generative space where something more can arise.  It is where we come to realize that we are actually more than the “sum of its parts.”  When hospitality fills the space between us the latent potential that is seeded in the very fabric of creation, “the divine more” that is yearning to arise is able to find expression and come into being to work transformative grace in our lives.

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 It is this more that rises in Sarah’s laugh and the miracle of a future that is born to her.

 So whenever we may be feeling, alone, overwhelmed or anxious may we come home to this community which seeks to embody and live out the manifestation of the communion that is our deepest reality.  May we find and be found. May we drop to our knees and may we be pulled from the brambles and may we always fill the space between us with such generative hospitality that the more of the divine that is longing to emerge may arise.

 This is my deepest wish and most profound joy for us as we set out this year.

Amen .