Sunday, August 24, 2008

Reverence - A Sermon

For just a moment, I’d like you to close your eyes and listen.  Imagine you’re with the disciples.  Maybe they’re sitting around a fire one night.  You’re all sitting in a circle.  The fire crackles, and someone throws a stick on it.  Jesus sits with you, and -- even in a circle -- he is the focus of everyone’s attention.

He asks, “Who do people say I am?”  (Eyes still closed?)

One says, “Elijah.”  Another says, “One of the prophets.”  

Jesus waits a moment, takes a deep breath and asks, “But who do you say that I am?”

There’s a long silence.  They all look at each other wondering what to say.  You look around, too and notice that the only person not looking around is Peter.  He’s staring at Jesus.  Hard.  You turn and look at him, too.  Look hard.  Look beyond the long hair and the beard.  Peer into his eyes.  What do you see?  Whom do you see?

You can feel their tension, but Peter and you remain focussed on Jesus.  You focus on his eyes.  The silence stretches on, but only one question nags you: Who is this, after all?  Finally, you decide and open your mouth to speak when Peter clears his throat and says, “You are the Christ, the son of God.”  

Keep your eyes closed.  Leave Jesus and the disciples and draw up another image.  Draw up the face you see when I say the word, “God.”  Sit there and look into the eyes of God.  Take your time.  What do you see?  Is it a kind face?  Angry?  Sad?  Joyful beyond words?  Or is all you see just those eyes?  Does God look happy to see you?  

You want to speak but can’t find any words.  You find it’s not necessary to speak, either.  You just feel.  How do you feel in the presence of God?  

Now, slowly, bow to God and bid farewell.  Slowly open your eyes.

What we’ve just done is an abreviated form of something called guided meditation.  Really, all it is is slowing down, shutting out the world around you, and focusing in on God.  It can be as simple as closing your eyes and being quiet for a few moments.

I wanted to give you that moment because the story of Jesus asking the disciples who he is requires it.  They sat in silence and wondered, “Who is this man?”  It was in silence that Peter finally understood and in silence that he was able to find the courage to speak.

We have a word for letting the world go so that we might sit in the presence of God.  Reverence.

It’s in reverence -- that quiet time with God -- that we can see God’s face, that we can hear God’s voice.  It is only in that intentional quiet space of reverence where we can recognize God and, like Peter, find the courage to speak and act.

Yesterday, we had a wedding here, and while everone was filled with happy and anxious electricity, I asked them to put down their cameras for a bit and remember that they were sitting in sacred space, involved in sacred time because everything we do is first and foremost worship of God.  It was a curveball for a lot of the attendees, and the mood shifted rather dramatically.  It went from being just a wedding to a sacrament.

We live in a fast-paced society.  Too fast.  We run around so frantically that we too often have no opportunity to sit in silence and look into the face of God.

Which is why this sacred space is so important.  It transports us away from all that.  It looks different and feels different.  That’s why we have this sacred time together.  It’s different from regular time.  Here is a place and time where you are free to sit and yes, close your eyes, in order to see the face of God.  Sit and luxuriate in his presence.

But to enjoy that, we need the space and time to remain sacred.  One of the more common complaints I get from people about worship here is that it’s just so busy.  Not noisy but busy.  We’re talking about budgets or boilers even as we’re sitting in the pew.  Sometimes before we ever get out of the parking lot.  At the passing of the peace, we’re chatting happily (saying things like, “Oh, how ARE you? I haven’t see you in ages!” which usually means someone hasn’t been to church for awhile).

These are all important things -- doing the business that keeps these buildings standing and checking in on each other to see how we’re doing.  All good.  But in their proper time and place.  Coffee hour, for example.

Here, before worship begins, give yourself the gift of sacred time and sacred space.  Close your eyes, sit in silence, slip into that place where you can sit with God.  Perhaps you will see Jesus, and he will turn to you and say, “You never got a chance to tell me before.  Who do you say that I am?”  Amen.