A Sermon on Exhaustion, Simplicity and What Matters

Acts 2:1-21

This last week or so has been a bit dizzying.

Around two weeks ago, I embarked on a journey to the Hudson Valley, where I attended an intense workshop on making a difference and then, from there, I drove down to New York City and took a flight directly to St. Louis, literally not knowing where I would be staying when I landed. I was flying to St. Louis to attend a pilgrimage of trust; the pilgrimage coordinator told me they would assign me a host family when I arrived, but my flight was delayed, so I was not entirely sure that I would have a place to sleep when I arrived.  It was truly a pilgrimage of trust.

When I landed, the person coordinating the event, texted me the number of the strangers who were my host family and they promised to wait for me on the porch as I took a cab over at 11 p.m. at night.  I arrived, welcomed by this gracious family and as I entered their house, my eyes fell on a large square tiles that spelled out J-O-Y in Scrabble letters.  My host mother’s name was Joyce, but her family called her Joy.  I immediately felt at home.  I had a full, beautiful weekend of praying, relationship building and learning and when I finally pulled into my driveway on Tuesday morning at 1:13 a.m. I was grateful.  Grateful but exhausted.

I found myself thinking of you all, because I wondered about all the ways that you too feel tired.  What are the ways that you also pull long hours?  What are the ways that you find yourselves having more to do than possibly can be done?  What are the ways that you too find yourselves wondering how things will all work out?

In light of the questions, I find Jesus’ words particularly striking when Jesus says, “Come to me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus doesn’t say to us, “Come to me, you who are tired, and I will give you more work.”

No, Jesus says to us, “Come to me, you who are tired, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus gives us not more work to do, but rest.

Do we really believe that?

I have been thinking a lot this week about what we need in order for ministry to occur.  What do you think … what do we need to do or achieve to share the Good News with others?

What do we need … time, patience, kindness, money, wisdom?

Sure those things are helpful, but what if we didn’t have any of those things

… could ministry still occur?

I have been thinking about those questions in regard to our church worship service … what do we need to have during our worship time in order for ministry to occur?  I typically wear a robe to preach but in the summer it gets too hot so I preach without it.  Is that still ministry?  Or what about the stole?  Clergy typically wear a stole to preside at worship.  Yet, what it I removed the stole and just came before you as a human being, would that still be ministry?  [I removed my stole here.] Or what if instead of hearing the preached word, we just sat in silence for a while, resting in God’s love, is that ministry?  Or what if one of you came up and shared your story, could ministry occur then?  Or what if we went out into the streets to help our neighbors on a given Sunday instead of worshipping, would that be ministry?

What is it that we most need in order to do ministry?

What if the answer is nothing?

What if there is nothing we need to do or be or achieve for ministry to occur?

This is the lesson that we receive today in the story of Pentecost and the disciples.  If we look closely at the story, we see that the disciples literally have nothing.

These disciples have left their homes and their belongings to follow Jesus and learn about the way of truth and transformation.  They have witnessed their teacher tried and killed for this way of Love that Jesus was bringing to the world.  They grieved his loss as sadness swept over them like a tidal wave, and experienced awe as they unexpectedly stumbled about the Risen Christ at the grave.  Jesus, made new.

They have been through an intense couple of weeks. After the resurrection, Jesus tells them to go and tell the Good News.

Yet, how can they, when they have nothing?

They have no homes, no job, no worship building, no fancy religious titles.  In light of the shocking events, they probably also are struggling even to find words to speak.

Go and tell?

How exactly would they do that?

It would have been convenient, if after giving these instructions, the Risen Christ had come out with a catchy seminar called something like, “Top Ten Ways to Make a Difference.”  Or perhaps Jesus could have filled a Roman colosseum with people and done a nice little lecture on best practices for talking about the Good News.  Or maybe share a nice little leaflet to take home and pursue when you are not quite sure what to do next.

Jesus doesn’t do any of these things. Jesus simply says to the disciples, “I am sending you the Spirit.”  In response, the disciples hole themselves up in a room, waiting, waiting, waiting for the Spirit to come … so at least they would have something.

Then the Spirit comes.  The Hebrew word for the Spirit is Ruah, a feminine noun that means spirit, breath or wind.  The Spirit or Ruah hovers over the deep in the beginning of creation as God prepared to create the entire universe.  In the beginning, the Spirit is present as God creates humankind and calls us good, regardless of what we do or do not do.

Now, this is the same Spirit blows into the room with all the disciples, all these newby Jesus followers who have nothing.  The Spirit blows into the room and they suddenly discover: that they have enough, that they are enough, for God has declared us good.  We have a sacred worth that nothing and nobody can take away.

This is the gift of the Spirit: it blows into our lives and teaches us what has always been true, that we are God’s beloved, that every human being around us is God’s beloved.

The Spirit blows into our lives, inviting us – simply – to rest in God’s love.  Resting in Love is enough.

Resting in Love is all there is.

Do we know that?  Do we believe?

How do we journey closer to that kind of simplicity?

I was pondering that question this week when I remembered a story that I heard about an artist who performed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Marina Abramovic.  For her exhibit, Abramovic sat at a table with two chairs and invited visitors to sit with her and make eye contact with her, without saying anything.  Her exhibit was called, “The artist is present.”  By the thousands, people poured into the museum, sitting with Abramovic and holding her gaze.  As they sat with her, people would often touch their hearts or tear up.

All Abramovic could offer was her presence and it was enough.  People came from all over to sit with her because it made them feel connected; it made them feel seen.

What if we just went around looking people in the eye?

What if that’s all we had?

At the start of the exhibit, Abramovic had a table between her and the visitor, but after doing the exhibit for several weeks, she took it away, because she said that she did not even need that anymore. It was just her and the visitor.

What do we really need in order for ministry to occur?

Time. I used to think one needed time in order to do ministry.  However, author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber tells the story of becoming famous and suddenly not having enough time to respond to all the emails she was receiving.  As a result, Bolz-Weber wrote a blog about the spiritual practice of saying no and stated that she could no longer respond to all the emails that she received.  She expected a backlash because she was no longer responding to all her emails, but instead people thanked her for teaching them the spiritual practice of saying no.  Ministry occurred even though Bolz-Weber did not have time.

What the Holy Spirit says to Bolz-Weber and all of us is: Do not be afraid.  Do not be afraid:

if there is not enough time,

if there is not enough resources,

if there are not enough words.

All God needs is us.  This is the truth borne out by the disciples, who went out into the world with nothing on the day of Pentecost and birthed the entire Jesus movement.

Jesus says to us, “Come to me and I will bring you rest.”  Come to me and I will remind you of what has always been true. You don’t have to have it all figure out; just take a deep breath and inhale the Truth: you have enough; you are enough; for you are a bright, brilliant, beloved children of God who is oh-so beautiful to behold.

Alleluia. Amen.

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