The in-between Sunday

This sermon was preached by Rev Sue on Sunday 16 May. Here it is for you again:

Three years ago, my life changed forever. One morning mending my net he came up and called me to follow him. I dropped everything and left. When someone who sees right through you, pettiness, selfishness included, and who still loves you like a brother, chooses you as one of his best friends you are not going to say no. Such times we had. Crowds applauding, jeering or threatening. Quiet times with just him and those of us closest to him – when he taught, comforted and reprimanded us in equal measures. Partying, going hungry, sleeping rough – while he was there, I was content.

8 weeks ago, we were on a high. He rode into to Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds went wild. By the end of the week, they had turned against him. We, I am ashamed to say, were skulking in the shadows. He was fighting for his breath in excruciating pain nailed to a Roman cross. I felt crushed. To watch someone you love dying in pain, to be able to do nothing to help, to feel the shame of betrayal and then the shock of the realisation he had finally died. To say it was the worst day of my life is a complete understatement. It was like being knifed through the heart.

7 weeks ago, the impossible happened. He was with us again. Risen from the dead. All that pain turned to joy. He was the same, but subtly different. He would suddenly appear from nowhere and our hearts would sing. We no longer quite thought him a man like us – God shone through him with an unmistakable clarity.

3 days ago, the final scene. He was taken into heaven. We rejoiced at this proof that he is indeed the Messiah, the king, the holy one of God. He promised to send us his Holy Spirit very soon. But the fact remains. He is gone. I shall never again see that face except in my dreams. I shall not hear his beloved voice speaking to my very soul. I will never again feel his hand on my shoulder, conveying his empathy, sympathy and love.

We pray, but mostly we wait. Everyday is much the same. Every morning I wake up, remember that he is not here. Then I put on my public face and speak of the good times to come. I know it is true, I am not purveying false hope, but my heart is lead within me. He told us, “Wait in Jerusalem”. But for how long? When will it end?

We often speak about being in the doldrums. It’s a phrase we can use when we don’t choose to say that we are depressed, but nevertheless life has become grey and we feel listless and without energy. Nothing feels right or gives us true pleasure. We may not be a joy to live with. The Doldrums are a region of the Atlantic Ocean near the equator with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds. Sailing ships could be becalmed there for weeks. Grey day followed by grey day, with the occasional unexpected and unhelpful squall and almost imperceptible winds getting the ship slowly moving again. It’s a very good metaphor. Christopher Columbus, on his voyage round the world, found himself stuck surrounded by the ocean. He woke up every morning for days on end to exactly the same view of unending water. His men threatened to mutiny. The maps said “here be dragons”. This was completely uncharted territory. They had no idea what lay ahead and wanted to turn the ships around. Columbus promised that if in three days’ time there was no sighting of land they would give up, admit failure, and return to Spain. On the third day they sighted the Americas. They had been completely unaware that the continent existed.

It is said that for day after day Columbus made the log entry “No land sighted. Kept sailing”. Sometimes that is all you can do. Keep going, go through the motions, wait for something to change.

Anyone with adult children has endured the tension of knowing that they must let them make their own mistakes. Often, they quickly learn and become mature and responsible and make their parents proud.  But for some parents this becomes a heart-breaking experience. Some young people dabble with illegal drugs. Recreational use can spiral into addiction. Sometimes the drugs are used to obliterate the memory of childhood trauma. In other cases, the parents are left in complete bewilderment as to what went wrong. They child they knew becomes buried deep within the addict who lives only for the next fix. They continually wheedle, beg, bully or steal to get the money. The parents’ most precious possessions go missing and are sold for a fraction of their value. The police become involved and public shame adds to the heartbreak. What can the parents do? They can wait, hope and pray and be ready with their arms open in love even if time and time again the child has broken their promises and returned to the drugs. There can be no room for sentimentality – only clear-eyed determination to continue to love keeps them going. Like Columbus, they wake every day to the same scenario, waiting for the day when it will change.

In our own spiritual lives, like the first disciples, there are times when we plod on. We remember the times when we experienced the love of Jesus; we want to know more. We remember days when we were on fire for him, would promise him anything, thought we would help him change the world. The Bible came alive for us, prayer was a joy. And sometimes, somewhere along the way, we have lost that. We say the words we know to be true, but they no longer seem to inspire us. Worship feels flat, prayer pointless. We go through the motions. For fifty-one Sundays of the year, Jesus is with us. This Sunday is the in-between Sunday. The earthly Jesus is gone, the Spirit not yet come. This is a time to acknowledge that there are days when faith is about faithfulness, stubbornly carrying on waiting for the spirit to kindle our hearts once more.

Have you ever wondered about how God feels? What does it mean to say that he loves us? That the creator of the world has our best interests at heart and will look after us like an old-fashioned benevolent employer, providing for us and taking an interest? He surely, who has read the final page of the stories of our lives, cannot know the pain of hoping and waiting? I’m not so sure. As our Father, he too, knows what it is to watch his children coming to maturity, making their own mistakes and protesting that they don’t need his help. He has given us the power to choose, and in doing so he knows the agony of waiting to see where that will lead. The source of perfect love, our broken promises and inattention strike him to the core. Our preference for tawdry pleasures over real joy disappoints him every day. More so, the way we turn against each other. He grieves for the abused child, the victims of war and the people starving in a world of plenty. To love is to suffer and God has shown his willingness to become involved by sharing our earthly life and dying in agony on the cross.

On this in-between Sunday we remember those times when he seems far away. We pray for the coming of the kingdom, and we pray for all whose lives are on hold, who are waiting in the doldrums for something to change. And we ask for God’s grace to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to him.

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