Acts 3: 12-19; Psalm 4;1 John 3: 1-7; Luke 24: 36b-48
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
For most of my life, I have been a Christian. What that means, is that for most of my life, though I have claimed belief in Jesus, I have nevertheless failed in a myriad of ways in which the action of my faith was paired with the action of my words. What that also means is that in several ways though I claimed Christianity as a belief, I struggled with its teachings – I struggled to understand, I struggled to believe. And finally, what I think I mean when I say that I have been a Christian most of my life is that I have tended to be uncomfortable around most people in church environments.
The reason I have felt uncomfortable around many church going Christians, is not because I either agreed or disagreed with their beliefs or their theology – that doesn’t matter to me. What mattered was that I felt was that many of us, including myself, were lying to each other for that one hour of the week on a Sunday morning. We go to church, we plaster smiles on our faces, we show up for the charade and pretend that everything in our lives is perfect and fine, and then we leave, and then we become honest again once we have returned to our homes.
For many years I have been guilty of this – I have covered up my real feelings for a few hours on a Sundaymorning, I’ve dressed up my anxieties, I have presented false images of confidence, and then go home and remove it as I do my plastic clerical collar, put it all back on the shelf, to pick up another day. I was rewarded for it externally – people would praise my false self for what I said in the pulpit, I would receive that admiration of parishioners – and while it felt good in the moment, it didn’t in the long run.
Because where it led me to was not a place of spiritual wholeness, but rather a place of spiritual dis-ease. I was like a cake that looked beautiful on the outside, the frosting was perfect, it looked pretty, but on the inside, it was garbage.
I felt that way for a long time, like I could get by as long as I kept fooling everyone, as long as they believed the false image I portrayed as a superficial Christian. But then Jesus showed up, again. And for me, at least, Jesus did what Jesus does best – he ruined the charade for me. That’s what Jesus does in our lives – he shows up unexpectedly and sees right through the lies we are all living, calls us on it, and then invites us to live in a different way.
I don’t know why, and I can’t explain it well – but I have felt more close to Jesus recently than I have in years. And I have been thinking repeatedly, why now? What has changed? What am I doing differently? Nothing earth shattering. I pray and I read the Bible. That is leading me to surrender my life to God in a scary way (at least to me) that I don’t think I have done before. I am becoming more honest with myself, and with others. I am letting people see the garbage hiding behind the neat frosting on the cake.
And in all that, I can’t explain, but Jesus has shown up. Like he did with the disciples this morning. They were together a few days after the resurrection, and Jesus just shows up in their midst, and says “You got anything to eat around here?” Were the disciples doing anything different? I don’t know. But that’s what Jesus does in our lives.
Jesus walks through the front door of our heart, finds a comfortable chair to sit in, and says “What do you have to eat?” It sounds so ordinary – like an annoying friend that comes to our home uninvited and asks us what hospitality we might offer. It is ordinary, but that is what Jesus does.
One of the many great ironies of my life is that it was when I was studying to become a priest in seminary, that was where I felt I was furthest from God on my spiritual journey. I couldn’t find Jesus in any of the classes I took on the Bible, I didn’t find Jesus in either the Greek or Hebrew language classes I took, and I certainly did not find Jesus in the seminary library. What a boring place! I believe I felt most distant from God during that time because I was fixated on trying to find the answers, trying to prove God’s existence. I couldn’t. Now I’ve stopped that foolishness. And once I gave up trying to understand God, once I gave up trying to explain God – that’s when I believe Jesus showed up, again.
So, Jesus is sitting on the couch of my spiritual living room. He doesn’t seem to mind that it’s a mess, that my spiritual, emotional, and psychological baggage is strewn all over the floor and that there is left over Chinese Food from two days ago on the living room table.
He’s there. And that is the power of resurrection for me this Easter Season, that Jesus shows up in our lives when we least expect it, and probably least deserve it. I think that is what Jesus prefers – our honesty over our piety, our progress over our perfection, our humility over our pride.
Is your spiritual living room as messy as mine? Is it littered with the clutter of arrogance, pride, and selfishness, as mine is? Because what I’ve learned is that I don’t need to clean it up for Jesus to be there. Jesus is cool with the mess. Because the mess is honest – it is who we really are. We don’t need to pretend we have it all together on a Sunday, because God knows, none of us do.
And we are fine with messiness at St. Andrew’s. In our Rhythms of Grace service a few weeks ago a parent expressed regret that their child with autism was dysregulated, screaming during the service and breaking a musical instrument. Our response to that parent who was feeling shameful and embarrassed about her child’s behavior, was, God is a dysregulated God who creates dysregulated people. It’s okay. Because every Sunday Jesus shows up at Rhythms of Grace, because that is a place were every parent gets what it means to raise a child or adult with developmental challenges. There’s no hiding, there’s no dressing up. There’ no pretending. It’s real.
Our lives are a mess, and that is okay. Because it is in the mess, it is in the dysregulation, it is in the honest surrender, when Jesus shows up and says, “what are we having for dinner?” AMEN.