From the inside out
From the Inside Out August 23, 2020 L. Healy
When I first read through these verses in preparation for today, I emailed our Senior Pastor, Paul Escamilla, and said, “Couldn’t I just read the words over and over again for 15 minutes?” There is so much here, so much packed into these 8 small verses, I really wasn’t sure where to start. And when I don’t know where to start when it comes to the Bible — in a kind of lectio divina sort of way — I start with words, and the word I landed on was “transform”.
In this letter to the Roman church, Paul is calling his readers not to conform to this world but to be transformed instead. Here’s how The Message puts it, God helping you: Take your everyday ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life – and place it before God as an offering… fix your attention on God and you’ll be changed from the inside out.
Changed from the inside out might just be the best definition of transformation I’ve heard in a long time. Paul encourages us to be transformed and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I wonder what that means? I don’t think it means sitting and thinking big thoughts. I don’t even think it’s even something we can rationally figure out. If God is to transform us from the inside out, perhaps our task is to put ourselves in the right place at the right time?
In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes, “I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.” Can we use our minds to put ourselves in the beam of God’s light? Can we step into our everyday life with a purpose, with an eye trained for God’s presence and God’s will for us? I think most of us knew how to do that before COVID-19. I think some of us are learning, bringing new gifts to do that again in this moment; bringing the gifts of God into this awkward place, elegantly. Learning to sing the Lord’s song in this strange land, in this pandemic moment – when I can sing and you can sing, but to raise our voices together is dangerous!
As I think about the gifts we bring to this moment, I am reminded of something from our near past. If you think back, I wonder if you can remember what fellowship time was like here at Laurel Heights in February? Imagine standing with your tiny plate before the table, laden with pigs and blankets and cheese doodles and slices of lemon cake. Imagine getting your coffee and standing with your plate in one hand and your coffee in the other as an enthusiastic toddler sloshes the contents of her cup of punch onto your shoes. Can you see it? I not only can see it, friends, I can smell it. I want that so badly. Every Sunday morning when I wake up, that is exactly what I want – to be standing among you with handshakes and hugs and crumbs on the floor and spilled punch. That way of being together, that commingling of great love and hospitality was, and is, one of our great gifts as this body of Christ.
I wonder how we transform that gift into this moment? How do we offer hospitality now? How do we love each other over Zoom? Have you had this experience in the last few months — sitting in a Zoom meeting and a face pops up, maybe it’s even someone that you don’t know very well. “Ah! There you are!”, and experience joy at the familiarity of another member of this body. Maybe our gifts for this moment look like a wifi hotspot in the Woodlawn parking lot, or ribbons tied to the prayer wall? Maybe it looks like a mosaic of faces lifting the elements for consecration? Maybe it looks like the Wednesday night zoom meetings, prayer meetings, where we lift our prayers with our voices and our hands and our keyboards? Maybe it looks like a delightful jumble of children telling the story of Joseph one word at a time? Or perhaps it looks like this – the empty parking lot on a hot Saturday morning, nothing stirring, until one iridescent bubble floats into view, and then another and another, until the parking lot is alight with a stream of bubbles. Then one car drives up and is met with shouts of “Hello! It’s you! It is so good to see you!” And then another car drives up, and another and another, and for over an hour, car and after car filled with children and parents are regaled with bubbles and blessings for the school year. A new year that we will all begin wearing masks and distanced. But we have been blessed. We have seen each other’s eyes over the top of our masks. We have cried more than a few tears of joy. “It’s you! It’s so good to see you!”
When I think about putting myself into God’s beam of light, this is not what I expected. I never would have thought that God would reveal new work for me in the midst of a global pandemic, in an almost empty sanctuary, but here I am. Here we are. Sometimes you don’t know that you’re stepping into a door until you’re already inside. And we are, friends, we are already inside.
I have a friend who says, the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where you doubt God is. I keep looking for God in places like that. I keep looking for God in what feels like scarcity. I keep looking for God in vaulted ceilings and in these empty pews, for I know that God is at work here, even as we are scattered and wearing masks and standing six feet apart. I know that God is in this hard and holy time. I think we have to look and keep looking, and maybe look harder than we have ever before, for God’s work in us and in this moment and in this community.
Is there a beam of light you are being called into? Are you watching for it? Will you recognize it in a heart that feels lonely, or a landscape that seems empty, or a congregation that’s connected mostly through computer screens? How is God calling you to be changed in this uncertain time? And friends, who will we be when this time has passed?
To paraphrase the late Tony Hoagland:
What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle. What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel. What I thought was a disappointment turned out to be a color of the sky.
And I would add, what I thought was an empty sanctuary can be transformed, can turn out to be something beautiful and holy. I wonder, can you see it too?