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I get worried that when I stand up here you all will think I am a good Christian. That there is something about this space and the robes and whatnot that would lead you to believe that I am prayerful, thoughtful, always considering God’s will for me and trying to carry it out. I fear that you look at the person up here and think “She’s got it together because she totally trusts in God, walks with Jesus and prays without ceasing.”
I am here to set the record straight.
I am struggling right now. I have been for months, on and off for years. My prayer life is changing. I don’t do the office regularly anymore, I pray “on the fly” – when I am hiking, or lying in bed, or sitting with a client. I read the news with a mix of horror and amazement – sometimes the stories are so awful I stop after the headline. Sometimes I can’t tear my eyes away from the sickening details. There are times when I feel inert with despair, with grief, with loneliness. Luckily our new dog gets me out of bed, because often I don’t want to. It feels like everywhere I look there is loss and sadness and sometimes hopelessness. Life feels chaotic and out of control and I just want everything to be still for a moment! Stop all the change!
The answer to my suffering lies in the Gospel from this morning; “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Jesus is abiding in me, and me in him. That is how and why I can find peace in this unpeaceful world.
I think we can agree that Jesus’ references to “eating” and “drinking” his flesh and blood are not meant to be taken literally. He was talking about a much more profound “abiding in” – a spiritual truth.
This is not an easy, breezy, feel good truth. This is not light and airy. Jesus inviting us to abide in him, and he in us, is a deep, and basic truth. It is intimate and profound and very powerful. So that’s my good news! I don’t need to be super-pious-woman. I don’t need to worry about my struggles and try to force things to never change. I just need to abide in Jesus. My power comes from him, comes from both an internal core of truth and an external source that is vast beyond my wildest understanding.
There is a very basic rule to the way our brain works – what we focus on grows stronger. If we focus on the ice cream we are not supposed to eat, all we want to do is eat ice cream, right? If I say “Don’t think about a pink elephant in the room” – well, you are all thinking of pink elephants, aren’t you? If we spend too much time considering how tired and overwhelmed we are, we remain tired and overwhelmed.
I think the same is true for our spiritual life – what we focus on grows stronger. That is why we repeat prayers and why we take communion each Sunday. The repetition, the reiteration, makes the words and beliefs stronger, and allows them to dig into and rest in our subconscious. When we are in prayer, especially for me contemplative prayer, we are building up our relationship with God so that no matter what is happening we can return to Jesus.
We are creating a core – a center – a spiritual home – where we can go and be refreshed and renewed. It is not a place, or a person that we can return to for security and guidance. Places and people are unreliable.
Jesus set up a way for us to create an everlasting spiritual core – the outward and visible signs in Holy Communion, the consecrated bread and wine, become inward and spiritual grace that can never be taken away.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”. Jesus is making us a promise – he is with us always because we are partaking in the physical communion, and because we have agreed to enter a spiritual communion with him. When we allow Jesus to abide in us, we will always carry our safe, spiritual place with us. We can always access him through prayer and meditation. We always have Jesus with us and can “tap in” at any time.
I don’t suggest getting spiritually lazy, but rest assured that once we allow the relationship with God to begin, it only gets stronger, so you will never lose it. You can choose to ignore it, or walk away, but it is always there for you to return to.
And each Sunday when we gather here we are focusing on that indwelling of the spirit, and strengthening our relationship with God, Jesus and each other. Each time we share bread and wine we are connected in a more profound way to God, Jesus and each other.
Other things, says Jesus, will come and go. That is the nature of life – change is the norm, not the exception. So much of our pain and suffering is a result of something changing that we wanted to stay the same. We don’t want relationships to end, jobs to change, variations on our financial security or any sort of un-asked for modification of our life. We attach to people and things and believe those keep us happy, and so never want them to change. But they will. That is the one thing we can be sure of – people, things, places will change. And because we have held onto them and assumed they would always be there, we suffer.
But this relationship with Jesus is forever. It is the one and only thing in our life that will never change. Jesus will always abide in us, and we in him. Thanks be to God!