Debbie and Caitlyn are notably absent from church this morning, much to the consternation of our beloved Choir director who was hoping to hear Debbie play the flute I am sure. But my over-scheduled daughter and her loving mother flew away from the Sebastopol Apple Blossom Parade where Caitlyn’s school band marched and on to Morgan Hill, no small jaunt you may recognize, to get Caitlyn to the second game of the tournament going on this weekend, rescheduled a few weeks ago, I knew it was too good to be true, having no conflicts this month.
But that left me alone last night. It’s a two hour drive in the best of circumstances and while we tried to impose on family they, inexplicably, demurred and Debbie got the two of them a hotel room for the night.
Her game this morning started at ten, if they win then there is another game at two.
So I will remain alone for a little while. It is odd, but that prospect brings be no happiness whatsoever. You might think that someone who is the public eye a fair bit, who has a congregation of people to tend and to nurture to whatever extent I am able, someone who lives his life up here, in front of you might relish the thought of spending some alone time, some quiet time.
You might think that, but you might be wrong as well.
Perhaps not coincidentally, I played a lot of solitaire yesterday. Neighbors were out and about, visiting other people, one had a bout of sciatica but waved off any offer of assistance from me. Nothing I tried paid off. Of course I could still run across the street and take care of my neighbors chickens, but by virtue of him needing my help, he was necessarily out of town so I was doing a solo there as well.
Some of us really and truly live up to the words from Genesis 2:18 “it is not good for the man to be alone.”
There were things I could have been doing, work around the house, Caitlyn had left me a pair of her boots that needed a little repair work, plants always need watering nowadays since you can’t just leave the sprinklers on anymore because of the drought.
But with no one around me, I found it hard to get up and off of the couch. There was no need for them to help me, I could accomplish everything very well alone but without them there was less of a sense of why I was bothering, who I was laboring for, what the whole point was. Without my wife and daughter there I lacked ground as well as goal, little to stand, less to aim for.
Don’t get me wrong. If they were away at a conference or something, if they were doing something for a week somewhere, I would somehow avoid slipping into Oscar Madison territory, living comfortably with my own detritus. There would never be a Hoarders episode featuring me. Eventually I’d get back to business but in the short term; it was hard for me to summon up the will to get moving yesterday. I wanted the women in my life to come back to me.
That’ll happen later today and in the meanwhile the wallowing will cease and I’ll get the laundry done and a couple of other things and the house will be nice when they return, maybe dinner in the oven, that kind of thing.
But it was debilitating to have them gone, even for half a day, even while I was doing other things.
And it is not need, not the inability to live without them that is at fault. I was a fully functioning human before I married Debbie, before Caitlyn was even the ghost of a notion. I know how to function on my own, I may even be good at it.
It isn’t need. It is love. It is love that makes me worry about the future and work to build a better one. It is love that makes me buy my wife flowers every week. I realized that I had gotten out of the habit there for a while and decided that it was a habit worth resurrecting. It is love that hits me in the stomach every time they are not around. If this were the ancient days, I might carry with me little sculptures of them, little images, photos, paintings, some way to bring them along with me wherever I went.
It was a common thing in the ancient world to carry around a portrait of the beloved when you were to be separated, some little token reminding you that love lived in your life, that this keepsake would be for you a touchstone to that love so that it might remain fresh in your heart.
I like that. I think that in the era of quick photos and snap chats we might have lost touch with the meaning behind carrying a picture around with you, the way men’s wallets were supposed to have pictures of their families in fifties sitcoms.
Their absence makes you aware of the space that they take up in your life, in your heart, you notice the emptiness where they usually are, touch it around the edges, feel it like a wound.
And all of that is only in the realm of faulty and failing human love, the kind we try and celebrate when we do weddings, the capacity of the human heart to open itself to another, to show vulnerability to another.
In Jesus case the vulnerability was not faulty, or failing, it was complete. When Jesus opened his heart to us the place he made was large enough that all that we are and all that we dream and all that we do, the good as well as the evil could fit and so when Christ opened His heart, we fell right in.
Jesus gave us room when we were in distress.
That’s the line from the psalm this morning that caught my eye. It can be read in any number of ways given what we have done to the English language. God either gave us a room to stay in while we were in distress; or God might have given us space, a little leeway, some forbearance while we sinned; or God may just have given us room, made space within the power and the love of God that we might find shelter within God’s heart and, as we say in the church so very often but seldom really look at, we might abide with Christ.
Not just carrying a small pouch with two small statues, like Russell Crowe did in Gladiator when he portrayed Maximus. Imagine carrying the whole of humanity, each and every one of us, being with Christ, abiding in Christ, at least from Jesus point of view, and loving every one of them the same, as the absent lover, as the wife, the mother, the child the family, the beloved.
Such is the heart of God in Christ Jesus; an open heart with each of us inside, Jesus gives us room when we are in distress.
Little wonder He keeps coming back.
Didn’t you notice? This is the second Sunday in a row with Jesus returning to check in with the disciples; the second time Jesus invites them into the knowledge of His resurrection by having them touch His wounds, but sharing a meal with them, by leaving them with some visceral knowledge that It is the Christ, and He is Risen.
Again and again pastor like me all over the country have laid this constant revolving-door activity of Jesus on the relative doofus qualities of the disciples, how they are thick of head and slow of brain and how they make a lot of mistakes so Jesus, even after his death must return time and time again to fill in the blanks for them.
But in one of those joyous days when the makers of the lectionary, whether intentionally or not I cannot say, stumble upon a link between the scriptures that forces you to think of it another way, I had something of an epiphany while reading this earlier in the week.
It was not need that brought Jesus to earth, at least not any need of God’s. On balance, nothing in the world could have dragged God to earth and certainly not to the cross, God is not subject to external compulsion and if the whole human experiment were to unravel and combust leaving nothing in its wake, God would still be God.
Except for the one thing that does seem to compel God in this case, and also hints at why it is that Jesus, after effecting their salvation, continues to come and “stop by” for coffee, for broiled fish, for the chance to see and be seen.
Having opened his heart to the whole of the world, all the people, plants, animals and the entirety of creation; once Jesus left us, smashing the wall between life and death on his way like the proverbial bull in the china shop, Jesus may have found that there was an absence, a familiarity that was unfulfilled. Jesus missed the disciples because Jesus loved them so much.
Imagine the journey if you can from Heavens high palace to the dust and misery of Palestine and then try and imagine what aside from love could draw you into such a journey, to lay aside the ability to create from nothing, to set aside the power to shape the stars and to cast your lot with the dwellers in the dust, stepping into their sin and their incomprehensible brokenness just as Jesus did when He stepped into the Jordan to be baptized alongside us.
Dwell with them, learn all that it means to be them, love them enough that the very thought of abandoning them to their fate is worse than the thought of suffering terribly, enduring the ridicule and shame and outright pain of the crucifixion for the sake of the ones who swing the hammer and drive the nails and mock and jeer and turn away.
Know that you have given them the way, thrown upon the gates to blessedness and then try and imagine being satisfied with simply observing them from afar, with watching them struggle with what you have done for them, seeing them in fear.
Try and imagine staying away. It didn’t work the first time, before the incarnation, Jesus could not just stand idly by and watch us wallow in sin and depravity and it doesn’t work after the resurrection either.
Jesus returns as often as needed to get the message across, to bring the peace that only the knowledge of Him can truly bring, to touch and eat and be touched again by the ones who have walked the roads and spoken in the synagogues and borne the scorn of the authorities in his name.
It is not good for the man to be alone and Christ, having taken upon Himself the entirety of Human existence may have felt the pull of community, fractured and broken and stupid and fearful though it may be, such was the love of God shown in Christ Jesus that the journey was made not once for all time, but time and time again that fear might be banished and life might thrive, healing might be real in the name of Jesus.
The healing of the world, mind you, might become real in Jesus name.
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. Says John in a reading with which I have some issues. But in tat John is right, we are the children of a God so passionate about us and so dedicated to the notion that we are not just available for salvation but worth the effort as well, of such a God we ought be proud to declare ourselves children.
If Jesus crossed all barriers and suffered and died and rose and came to give us comfort, then we ought to know that we are never truly alone, that the community that the disciples lived endures to this day in this fellowship, the community the Lord returned to again and again to bring peace and freedom from fear.
Debbie and Caitlyn will come home later today and I will at some point remember what it is to be a part of this family and I will tend to my chores and restoration will be at hand. So let it be that we, the children of God, might live in the sure knowledge that in our darkness, Jesus is there, in our joys, Jesus is there, that no barrier will hold Him apart from us, that we forever abide within the love of God so that we might be bold and change the world in his name.