Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Third Floor

Here's a first draft of my sermon for Sunday, June 6.  The scriptures for the day can be found by clicking here.  There is a link for the audio at No Other Aid.

Most of us... or at least many of us who are together enough to get together in church today... most of us are getting by pretty well.  Honestly.  If our lives were falling apart chances are we wouldn't be getting together with a group of well behaved people like this.  Many times I've heard about how hard it is for some to come to church because they're afraid that they might cry, or because they might stand out from the crowd.  I long for us to be a church where it's okay to be real.  Because when we're real, and when we do cry out to God or fall apart or plead for mercy, that's when we will truly know the reality of God.

Today we're having an open house over at the parsonage.  You're all invited over this afternoon between 3:30 and 8:00.  It's a celebration for Jonathan and Nga Sin and Haneul,  Our graduates.  Congratulations to them and to each one.

But you know something about our open house?  It's not really an open house.  There are some parts of the house that you won't see.  It's the first floor that's open.  Oh, and you can go down and play ping pong.  The second floor and the third floor, they're not really part of the deal.  Especially the third floor, our room, the attic.  I don't even think I picked up my socks.

So what does all this have to do with the "supernatural"?  And what does our open house have to do with the scriptures?  Let me try to explain.  These things really do fit together.

What we usually do at church, and what we usually do in our every day lives, at least what we do out in public, it's like our open house on the first floor.  The place is pretty clean.  We'll greet you with a smile.  There's food and punch and they're be lots of smiles.  It's a great house and we're very thankful to live in it.  But please don't look in the closed rooms!  And don't go up to the third floor.

The first floor of our house, and most of what happens here at church on any given Sunday, it's what we might call the public or the "physical" world.  Most of what you learn about in school is first floor stuff.  Stuff you can see.  Math, reading, science, music, art--there may be deeper meanings to these things, but most of what we deal with everyday is in the physical world.  And, in order to get along well in this world, we try to behave ourselves.  We ask "how are you" and expect people to say "fine."  That's the first floor.

But there's a second floor to life.  It's stuff you can't see.  You can't see what I'm thinking right now.  You can guess, but you don't know.  The second floor is what is going on in your brain and mine.  It's our feelings--our real feelings--our thoughts--our real thoughts--not just what we SAY we're thinking or feeling.  The second floor is a more personal place.  It's not open, usually, to just anyone.  Some of us are more open with our second floor than others.  Some of us have an easier time letting it out.  I'm an extrovert.  Pretty much, with me, what you see is what you get.  Others have themselves more together than me.  Sometimes, I'm kind of a mess.

That's the second floor.  That's the area of psychology and counseling and psychiatry.  That's the place for deeper personal relationships.  It's not always clean and not always quiet.  It's often a place we go when we just can't keep it together.  I would hope and pray that you know the church is a safe place for you to fall apart--but you may not be able to do that here when everyone is all together.  That's why we've got a prayer room set aside.  That's why Nate and I have our offices--often, those are places of tears.  The second floor.

And from that floor there's a doorway to another place.  The first floor is the physical universe, the second floor is the place of thinking and feeling, and the third floor--that's the place of the spirit--the place where there's not usually a direct connection with the physical--it's the place beyond the physical and intellectual and emotional--it's the place described in Second Corinthians 4:18--We fix our attention, not on the things we can see but on the things we cannot see--for the things we can see are temporary--but the things we cannot see--they last forever.

In the beginning--before the beginning actually--all there was was the third floor.  I know that's a strange thought, but it was from the spiritual place, from the place beyond the physical, it was from that place that God--God is the original inhabitant of the third floor--it was from the spiritual that God spoke "LET THERE BE LIGHT!"  It was from the third floor that God created all the stars and planets and our earth.  It's from the third floor that God breathed into you the breath of life.  And it is that third floor that hears us when we cry out to God in Jesus' name.

In our two desperate Bible stories--in our two desperate Bible stories from First Kings 17 (17-24) and Luke 7 (11-17) we have widows--one probably in her 20s and the other in her 40s--we have widows who have had such devastating losses that they can no longer behave themselves.  The first woman, in First Kings 17--she says--probably yells--or cries--What have you got against me, o "man of God" (that's sacrasm)... What are you doing?  Are you just here to tell God about all my sins and to make my son die???--and... in Luke 7--there's a funeral going on and people are not being quiet.  There is weeping--deep, heart rending cries--this woman has lost her only son.

These women--centuries apart in time--they are the same.  They have left the first floor of the facts--there sons are just dead and nothing can be done--and they have moved up to the second floor--crying--angry--devastated.  They would not fit any more in our church service--I wish our church was a place where people could cry without shame--right here... because when people move from the first floor where everything is organized and sensible--and when they move up desperately to the place where they just can't handle it anymore--then there seems to be access--access to the third floor--access to God--from whom all good things come--and for whom NOTHING is too hard.

So what happens in these stories?  In these stories God hears!  Elijah carries the boy in the first story.  He carries the boy literally to the second floor of the house where he was staying--to a private place--and he CRIES to God--"O LORD MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS?  Have you brought disaster even upon the widow I'm staying with?  KILLING HER SON?"  In desperation he lays himself down on the boy's dead body.  I don't know why.  What people do when they are desperate and in tears doesn't often make sense.  He lays himself down on the body three times and cries "O Lord, O my God, LET THIS CHILD'S LIFE RETURN!  Let him LIVE!"  And, listen--listen what happens as Elijah is up there on the second floor of the house:  The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived...  Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother.

My friends, for some reason it seems necessary to leave the first floor of propriety and "put togetherness" in order to get desperate--and when we do that's when we can see God--or at least see God at work--at least know the power of the Most High.  But as long as we're down here, on the first floor, where everyone is put together, where we're handling things on our own, is it any wonder that we wonder about the reality of God?  Truly, it's when we're desperate, when we know that we can't handle things on our own, that's when God, the highest of all higher powers, that's when God can be seen.

I don't think we should ever be ashamed of moving from the first to the second floor.  There are plenty of reasons to do that.  There are so many who still do not know God.  There are so many who, instead of crying out to God, are just going down in the basement to be entertained, or who are crying down there all alone.  We have a task to carry people, to carry them in prayer, to carry them in love, to bring them to the Lord and to never give up, even, and especially when it looks like everything is desperate, even when it seems everything is lost.

But you know what is the most amazing thing?  God hasn't been content to stay up there on the third floor, listening for our cries.  He has chosen, through his Son Jesus, to come down to the first floor, to live with us in our every day lives, to party with us and to share life with us.  And, through his Holy Spirit, to live in with us in our private moments of tears and joys and thinking, revealing God's truth.  God doesn't wait for us to come to him, he comes to us.

That's what we experience today in the Lord's Supper and through God's Word.  God comes down to us through these physical forms, in the bread and wine, in the physical sounds that reach our ears, and he comes to us to touch us and let us know that even when we are holding it together, even when we are able to hang onto our composure, even if we never fall apart or see a miracle, that he is still with us, that he still loves us, that he gave his life for us at our worst, that he will never abandon us, even at the moment of our death.

Truly, God is faithful.  Truly, God is love.  We do not need to be afraid.  Go ahead.  Collapse in God's arms.  He will carry you.  And, in the end, he will raise you from the dead, in Jesus' name.

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