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Exactly Here

Date:5/13/18

Series: Easter

Category: 2018 Sermons

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

There are two kinds of stage directors. There are the ones who want you to hit your mark, that is a fixed place on stage. They stage the details, where the actor will walk to, where they will stand, Exactly where, exactly here…with some tape to mark the spot… when they will turn, pick up the glass, etc. And some directors have the staging in mind before the first rehearsal. And then there are other directors. The ones who allow the actors to explore the stage. The ones who will check in with the actors intention and their motivation asking questions like, what is it your character wants at this moment… why did you cross over to stage left at that moment, what is your motivation for taking that drink, for sitting down in that chair, etc.

And then over time, the play is staged, so the lighting director can do their job and the sound director and the stage manager and set production people etc…

You see where I’m going? Maybe? All the worlds a stage….When we approach our life like the first director, there’s not much room for exploration because it’s already been mapped out for us. And in our culture it usually looks like this; Grow up, stay in school, listen to Nancy Reagan and say no to drugs, go to college, get a job, marry, have two and kids, a car, maybe two cars, a dog, retire, you get the idea…if you’re living like the first director you hit your mark because you’ve been told to so, and there’ s not much reflection around motivation or intention, it’s just what you do. Many of us were raised that way and it never occurred to us that there were other ways our life could go, it was just what you did.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you found yourself content with following the expected stage direction.

But what if you’re not content? What if its been mapped out for you, and you find yourself feeling numb to it?  What if you keep finding yourself crossing stage left but wondering how you got there, why you got there, wishing you were stage right instead? What do you do when wherever you land you end up feeling like you’re not at all where you’re supposed to be?

The disciples in the Acts reading this morning have been following Jesus and learning and growing and following his intention, and their motivation has been his motivation; and  when they asked, “Lord is this the time you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” I imagine it’s a bit like saying, we’re losing the big picture here, moving around, but stuck now. We’ve lived with you through your life, we've seen you're death, witnessed your resurrection, you’ve walked with us for forty days and spoke with us about the kingdom…promised us the spirit….but we’re still waiting…waiting for direction, waiting to hit our mark, to be exactly where we should be so that when the promise is finally fulfilled we will be exactly where we’re supposed to be…

Lord, is this the time? Tell us, be the first kind of director, tell us where to stand, where to be, and we will hit out mark.

But Jesus isn’t that kind of director and tells them this instead;

“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In other words, wait.

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

And there they are, left on stage without a mark, without knowing how the script goes, without knowing what to do…their director being lifted up and away…the disciples stand, gazing up, mouths probably dropped open…

And you can almost hear them asking …now what?

~~~~

They are simply put in an in-between time…When I read this scripture and also look at the scriptures themselves, their placement, with Luke”s Gospel ending and Acts opening with this continuation of the ascension, it hit me this is an Interim time, an intermission…

It’s an uncomfortable place to be…between…

And as God would have it, as I was carrying this word around with me, I see the word, in a magazine publication, just by itself on a page, with a commentary about an article that had been in the previous publication, by a writer and Pastor I’m quite fond of…Debie Tomas writes this

For a while now, I’ve been living in a state of in-between. My daughter has turned 18 and left for college, but I’m still learning to say goodbye to my baby girl. My son has received a chronic migraine diagnosis, but my husband and I have not yet found him effective treatment. I have left the conservative faith of my upbringing, but progressive Chris­tianity doesn’t yet feel like home.

It hasn’t been easy, this in-between time. I’ve wrestled and complained—hungry to arrive, to find closure, to move seamlessly from before to after. It’s a familiar struggle for Christians. Though the life of faith is often described in terms of joyful arrivals and culminations, in reality, we spend a lot of our time in between. Though we know that Good Friday gives way to Easter, we live our lives on Holy Saturday, waiting for the fullness of resurrection’s promise to unfold. Sometimes it feels as if the whole planet is straining with impatience, yearning for something better. Sometimes I wonder if in-betweenness is the quintessential human condition.

Part of the problem is that our culture doesn’t train us to navigate interim time gracefully. I’m primed to expect instant gratification in daily life. I can order just about anything and find it on my doorstep 24 hours later. I can send a message across the ocean almost instantaneously. I have 24/7 access to information, health care, nourishment, and shelter. In this cultural economy, a delay feels like a waste of time. A delay feels like a valid reason to doubt the love of God.

And yet in the Bible interim time is not only the norm, it’s nearly a necessary human vocation. The pattern for God’s people is a pattern of waiting. Adam waits for a partner; Noah waits for the flood waters to recede; Abraham waits for a son; Jacob waits to marry Rachel; Hannah waits for Samuel. The Israelites wait for deliverance. Jesus waits to begin his public ministry.

Maybe what we need is not an end to interim time but a greater willingness to mine its treasures. What can God teach us in the in-between periods of our lives that we can’t learn at other times?

One thing I’m learning is to receive God as God really is. It has taken me years to recognize how my insistence on quick answers and easy resolutions distorts my perception of the divine. Waiting through interim times forces me to consider the possibility that God is wilder, less predictable, and less safe than my short-term needs and hungers dictate. It compels me to seek God’s presence in lonelier, darker places—not merely in the light of arrival and closure. The God of the interim ­doesn’t exist for my comfort; the God of the interim simply is. To accept this is both painful and necessary.

~~~

One door has closed but the other has not yet opened…

A friend recently reminded me of the Buddhist saying we are the mountain, not the wind….that even as the winds of change surround us, winds of turmoil, of transition, winds that can carry us to new ground, winds we will experience next Sunday at Pentecost… we are not the wind, we are not the turmoil itself, that is if we over-identify with the wind, we will lose our sense of grounding, only to find ourselves nowhere at all…But if we are the mountain, we are always where we are supposed to be, and while the wind affects us, changes and moves that which we grow into, we are still exactly where we are supposed to be…exactly here…

And the more we can approach our lives as though the here, exactly here is exactly where we’re supposed to be, the more room, the more space there is for God to love us into becoming.

That space, that interim time, that in-between place is God doing what God does…

There is no other place we need to be during that time, there is no other church we need to be…there is no other you to need to be…and perhaps  the greatest paradox of our faith and life, is that once we accept that where we are is exactly where we’re supposed to be, that’s when growth and thus change occurs. (Out of acceptance) Acceptance is not a passive act. To breathe through the interim time is to expand the space that becomes fertile ground for God to do what God does- and lead us to unimaginable places.

Being guided and led is not passive at all. Active listening, active awareness, seeing, and watching and noticing what God is already doing all around us individually and as a church, requires what John O Donahue, in his Book “Blessing the Space between us” writes-

“You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
The more faithfully you can endure here, (in this place of interim)
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.

A refined heart requires you to get back in touch with your intention, your motivation, which as Christians lives in the mission of Jesus Christ. It’s not a blind obedience like standing stage right because you’re told to, but creating a heart that trusts why you’re being led there, to begin with. The more we can open ourselves up to that place, the more God can do what God does best, the more available we will be for God to use us, not the other way around.

When the disciples were left there, watching Jesus being lifted up, when they were stuck there, for who knows how long asking what now…

Two men in white robes asked; Why are you looking up? Why do you stand to look up towards the heavens? That is to say, why keep your head in the clouds when he is now everywhere? Get back to your life and find him there. Find him in all the ways he taught you while he was alive. Serving others. The very kingdom you imagine up there, is not up there, its here on this earth and you’ve, we’ve all been called into getting out of the clouds and refining our hearts for the arrival of a new dawn.

That’s the mission of the church…And it will become even clearer as we move into the season of Pentecost...But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Today he’s been lifted up. It's an in-between time. Don't rush back into the doing quite yet. Stay in this pause….don’t go opening up new doors just yet. Refine your heart in the waiting for God to open them for you….just wait, just be, and the winds of Pentecost will arrive soon enough.