1st Reading: Acts 9:36-43 Psalm 23
Family members and friends of martyrs receive a vision of comfort they have been longing for. A woman dies and is raised to new life. Some who have not heard Jesus' voice are given another chance to follow their shepherd. In this morning's readings we have a gap between what is, the current reality people are living in, and the Kingdom of God that God has promised, the vision that God lays out for the people to look forward to. The gap is between the experience and suffering of the martyrs and the vision Revelation offers in which every tear will wiped away, between the death of Tabitha and her resurrection, and between the voice of the shepherd and the lost sheep who can't hear his voice. But Jesus isn't going to leave us in the gap and tension between the two, but instead leads us through to new and abundant life.
We recently experienced a closing of the gap here at King of Kings, in Kamryn's Tea Party. One of the gaps it helped close is that children at Milwaukie Elementary have been going hungry, but God's vision is that we will all have enough food. Like the vision in Revelation where the saints and martyrs are all dressed in white, Kamryn as well had a vision for how the saints would be dressed for the tea party which would close that gap and feed hungry children—we were to dress fancy. There was a sense of beauty she was reaching for, that everyone would dress their best and that somehow that might bring out the best in us. I knew that Kamryn was also trying to bridge a gap between her church friends and family members and friends who might not be connected with a congregation or faith community. The tea party became a place these two groups could mix, like the vision of Diversity in Revelation in which people from nations, trives, peoples, and languages would be gathered. And finally, the tea party bridged a gap between the generations. It became a conversation about traditions of the past--what is a tea party? What did that teapot mean to grandma who passed it down to us?
I was personally linked to memories of my past, as I was able to use a teacup from my mom's piano teacher Sybil who also played piano for my wedding. I have never used that cup. It sat in my sideboard for 20 years. I shared with my mom that we used it at the party and she and I talked about Sybil and what she meant to us. The tea party allowed me to get out the cup, to wash it carefully and dry it, all the while going over 100 little memories of weeding in Sybil's garden, which is how my mom earned her piano lessons since she couldn't afford them, of visiting Sybil in the nursing home after so much had changed, of listening to my mom practice piano as I fell asleep each night, since that was the only time she had to practice, and how meaningful the sound of the piano still is to my ears.
Kamryn didn't know she was helping to close gaps or bring in God's Kingdom. She had a vision of what could be, people coming together from the various corners of her life and meeting each other, good food, and children being fed from Milwaukie Elementary. Jesus said a little child shall lead them. Thankfully, the congregation caught the vision and her family caught the vision and for a while we lived the vision, we lived in the Kingdom of God.
We all experience gaps in our individual lives. At my retreat week before last, we looked at how we balance work and prayer and play. I had a taste of the Kingdom of God, here, too, when I went on Sabbatical. But I haven't entirely been able to incorporate my sabbatical learnings into my life now that I am back serving you. I am keenly aware that at this point in my life, I am never alone--or almost never. This is very difficult for me, an introvert. This is very hard on my prayer life. So, I'm learning to close that gap, to use the little alone time I have, about 30 minutes in the morning after I wake up, when no one else is awake. This week I began using that as devotion time. But I also am going to work out a possible childcare exchange that can give me an hour or two during the week to myself. There is a gap between how I am currently allocating my time and the Kingdom of God, and I just can't keep up the current pattern--it isn't healthy for me to keep up the current pattern. But it is going to mean taking a risk to bridge that gap, to try something new, to ask for help. I'll keep you posted.
We all feel the gaps in congregational life. You tell me about them. You each see them in different places. I felt them especially during our congregational meeting this year. I didn't feel like I communicated well. We didn't communicate especially well with each other. We got a bit riled up and then we ended the meeting without accomplishing a couple of things that were on the agenda. What this tells me as I have reflected on it over the past few months, is that there is a gap between us as people. We don't really know each others' concerns and passions. Some people who have been here a long time don't know some of the newer people and vice versa. Some of us stick to our comfortable group and might not take the risk to talk to someone we don't know as well. Our relationships aren't as deep and strong as we might like to think so that we can take the risk together have difficult conversations and come through that to a fuller experience of God's Kingdom. We've had difficult conversations before and done beautifully, but building relationships is an ongoing discipline that we have an opportunity to work on. Please pray for those on your council who will be meeting in retreat this Saturday to develop a plan to do just that. We don't know exactly what that will lead to, except that as we grow closer and know one another more deeply, God's Kingdom will be revealed. We each have a piece of the puzzle, part of the vision of the Kingdom. We will be able to risk sharing it with one another if we trust one another, if we really know one another.
Psalm 23 has been a favorite of many people, whether they believed in God or not. As I reflected on it this week, maybe part of the reason is that it helps to close the gaps. We are most familiar with it as a comfort to those in times of mourning. When our lives are in turmoil, when someone that we love is gone from us, it can feel like chaos. All we can picture is their suffering. All we can feel is their absence, this huge gulf. But when we say the 23rd Psalm, it brings a sense of peace. It paints a picture of our loved one cared for and sheltered and being led. It gives a sense that we are being led by our kind shepherd. And we do get vision of the Kingdom, an empty cup being filled, a table set with good food, the sound of water moving over rocks, protection, dwelling in God's house forever--being in God's presence. This Psalm is good for bridging any kind of gap. It is a Psalm about a journey--it takes us from one place to another, from whatever place we are right now, past fields, through mud, along streams, through the valley of the shadow of death--whether that is actual death or dying daily to temptation or letting go of something or fear or taking a risk. But the implication is, we are not alone. The one who loved us and made us cares about our journey and is with us and the outcome is assured--every tear will be wiped away, no one will hunger or thirst, there will be community, we will be at peace, God will help us cross that gap. The Kingdom will come to this earth through people like us and it will mean the well-being of all creatures.
The gap was never so clear and wide to anyone like it was to Jesus. He knew God's vision for the Kingdom so well. He had actually seen it. So Jesus' heart was broken when he saw people hungry and hurting, blaming each other for their diseases, living in fear. He walked in this world, in the gaps with ordinary people, in ordinary struggles. But he lived the Kingdom reality, he brought the Kingdom everywhere he went when he bridged those gaps, when he talked to people in need, on the fringes, when he ate with people in need, when he hung next to criminals on the cross, when he forgave those who betrayed him, who betrayed God's vision. And today, he's eating with us. He's relating to us. He's showing us his vision of a table where everyone is welcome. He's showing us the vision of a wide diversity of people coming together to sing praises and experience community. He's looking to enter the gaps with us, help us to name them, and then live the Kingdom vision through us.
Let us pray. Help us God to name the gaps between our reality and your Kingdom. Help us to see your vision of what will be. Live in us and give us hope and walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death until with you we experience and share that Kingdom reality with all your creatures. Amen.