How many of you used the idea of time out with your kids or grandkids? I used it when I taught and with Kate and Matt. It not only offered a space for reflection for the kids it also offered me an opportunity to think of something besides choking them. It was a place of breathing space. A place to count to ten or more if need be! There were times when teaching or parenting I gave myself a time out so that I might not act in an unsuitable manner. Once I went into my kiln room at the back of the art room and screamed, when I came back out, low and behold I had the kids attention.
In the snippet of scripture from Joshua we see God giving the Hebrew people a serious time out! 40 years in the wilderness is a very long in-between place. They had been rescued from captivity in Egypt and now were on their way to the land God had promised them. On the way God realized that they were just going to bring all the old ways into this new place and beginning and so they wandered about for an entire lifespan. The people that entered the Promised Land were the descendants and had a completely different view of what life was about.
Pretty extreme and whether we literally believe that they wandered for 40 years it is the message that is important. It is hard to start a new thing with all the old stuff still clinging to us.
In love relationships we call it baggage. I don’t want to date someone that has a lot of baggage or hasn’t’ dealt with their baggage or even worse yet doesn’t even know that they are schlepping around much more than a carry on size bag of old problems.
The in-between time is an opportunity for a fresh start. It enables us to examine what is important and what really isn’t.
Have you heard of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? It is all the rage right now and it is about deciding if the things you own bring you joy or are just taking up space. She actually instructs people to pick up that pair of jeans that you haven’t worn and no longer fits and ask yourself do they bring me joy? If it doesn’t bring me joy, then I will give it away. Of course her book is about examine all the stuff in our home, office wherever we keep things
Even though the church doesn’t examine pieces of clothing to see if they bring us joy, there are some similarities and the time of in-between is the right time to ask the question. What in the church brings me joy? The church has stuff and we have activities that we could look at in the same light. We might look at our old windows and say are these windows giving the most joy to our sanctuary. Or does the way we celebrate Christmas Eve bring us the most joy it could?
This in-between time is also a safe one for examining new ways. My habits and routines will cease and you and Pastor Vette can dream or imagine new ways. It is a time that is open to creativity and experimentation. What needs a little tweaking and what is best left alone?
We as a people have lost our appreciation for this gap in the continuity of existence. For us, emptiness, even quiet represents the absence of something. So we try to fill the space as quickly as possible. We understand too well that “puritan work ethic” that we should always be busy doing something productive. Most of you came to retire here and yet look how busy you stay! This in-between time is meant to be a break from the regular, the normal so that we can do the important inner business of self-transformation.
I don’t know many people who aren’t into some type of self-improvement. More exercise, learning something new, greater time of prayer and meditation, traveling, remodeling the list goes on and on. This in-between time can also be viewed as self-improvement but you don’t have to take on a new activity. There is no to do list. Instead there is a new way of being present for the ordinary things that happen, to really be aware of what hymns we sing, or how good the coffee tastes, or how meaningful someone’s prayer request is. It is about making all the things around us relevant, to be able to see, what here is really important, what brings us joy and what might be good to do differently.
Not nearly as tough as 40 years in the wilderness!
How do we navigate this wilderness? First we have to do is surrender. Seriously surrendering is not in most of our DNA, yet if we give into the emptiness and stop struggling to escape it or hurry though it we will understand why it is essential. If it feels chaotic it should because it is out of chaos that new things are created. Think of the Big Bang , think of building a new skyscraper,vthink of making decorated cookies with your grandkids. There is chaos and mess, there are broken pieces of concrete and piles of dirt, there are icing and sprinkles all over the floor. There is chaos before there is clarity.
Part of surrendering is believing that this time is important. We often get so trapped by fast forward and reverse. We believe that we always have to be moving in one direction or another, but actually we don’t. Individually we need alone time. Time to give ourselves permission to just be, and when we are still and quiet what might we hear, yep, that still small voice of god. God may not have a profound message other than I am present and rest with comfort in this quiet place.
So collectively and individually sitting in the silence and allows the presence to inform us of what gives us joy and what do we want to release. Look around you is there one thing you would like to change about our sanctuary? Look at the bulletin is there something you would rather hear, or sing or say?
The in-between time is when we ask the question who are we and what do we really want? Neither Pastor Vette nor I can answer that for you. You are the church and we just move into and out of your lives. Of course we both have and will have ideas about leading, and listening, and creating aspects of church, but you must be the main part of the mix!
Bridges suggests writing a biography of who we are. How does each of us interact in the life of the church? Are we presently doing what brings us joy or is there something more. Are we cradle Methodists or new to this denomination. Are searchers or we certain? What does the church need to do to help each of us grow in our relationship with God?
I have been using this in-between time to examine my relationship with all my stuff. I actually have used Marie Kondo’s verbiage; does this crystal candlestick bring me joy? How about these antique dishes? As you will see from the many boxes in my truck I am deciding that no, my joy comes from other things and places.
I included just the first part of the scripture where Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days. Most often this passage is used to discuss temptation, but I would like for us to view it as Jesus real in-between time. Temptation is a part of it. It is for all of us when we have open available time. Do we go the easy path and do it like we always have, give into what is offered to solve all of our problems. Or do we have the courage to embrace this scary place and do the work of inner and outer examination?
We are on a journey, and as the author of Ecclesiastics says we will encounter all things, in the proper time. The Hebrew people trusted God, Jesus trusted God and the message of Ecclesiastics is all about trusting God. Trusting, knowing God is so much a part of this present time for all of us. In my leaving and Pastor Vette coming. Let us bless this in-between time as God blesses each of us with creativity, with examination, with intuition. As we know as certain as we breathe. God is good, all the time, all the time God is good. Amen.