Sunday, April 04, 2004

An Upper Room

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Luke 19:28-40

To be on the same page you have to be in the same room. So did Joseph’s brothers discover when they met with him in Pharaoh’s court? This is what Moses and Aaron learned as they gathered their people around the ten tablets in the wilderness. It was David dancing before the Ark, and gathering the people of God together that brought a glimpse of the future. Ezra built a whole temple, rebuilt that is an old temple, along these old lines. Jesus sat to teach the people, all gathered in one place. At the day of Pentecost, “they were all gathered together in one place” Jesus rose to feed the 5,000, all gathered in one place. Jesus rode to greet the people, all gathered, with palm branches, gathered in one place. And then they were all together in an upper room…To be on the same page you have to be in the same room. May it be an upper room, a room with a certain height and breadth and depth, something high and holy…

In Nashville we have an Upper Room. It is a prayer room. The little magazine of that name comes from the same place. Prayer can keep us on the same page, as people who know the value of an upper room. I keep Bishop Cushman’s prayer book, so long printed there, as a reminder of him, of you, of prayer. On the same page, in the same room.

You do not neglect your dinner table. You set apart that hour, with a full table, and some tradition, a table grace, a meal. All the laundry, sales calls, algebra, and skating lessons of the day give way for a moment. It is a holy moment. You are together. You see each other’s face. Time hurries on, but you are at rest. For a moment you are on the same page because as a family you are in the same room. Resolve to eat dinner together this week.

A marriage is not much fun without time to be together, alone, on the same page, in the same room. We went to a couple’s shower a while ago. One couple had left their little one behind with grandma. They have taught the child that every now and then, mom and dad need to “go out on a date”. Especially early on in a marriage, a couple needs space for grace.

Every now and then I look up from the endless paper, email, higher apportionments, budget cutting, denominational squabbles and custodial battles that make life complete and I notice things. You are gathering together! Here today. In several koinonia groups, last month—one had almost 50 in attendance. Neighborhood fellowship. Then I overhear the joy of ministry through our older adult council—communion gatherings in nursing homes, with pastors and laity and refreshment. The body needs the body to be the body. Same page, same place.

At lunch we as a church family will gather, to find our place on the same page in the same room. As the 27 present for Taize worship Sunday did hear, resounding the dark silence, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels…it is the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. We will sing together: ‘yet out of all the Lord has brought us by his power, and still he does his help afford, and hide our place above.’ All the on the same page, all in the same room.

We are building an upper room. A room to gather the multitude: from Victor and Spencerport; from the parties of Brooks and Johnson; from Nazareth and Roberts; Rush and Webster; Calvinists and Arminians; young and old, rich and poor, black and white, male and female, to be, in Christ, on the same page and in the same room. For seven years to come, Jan and I are going to give $125/wk to make this happen. Our pastoral colleagues are doing the same or something similar. Most will give for five, but the slower among us will take seven. What is seven years—hardly a moment. Jacob loved Rachel and after seven years was allowed to marry her. He awoke in the bridal tent to fine Leah beside him. He pleaded for Rachel, and was told to work another seven years and then he would have her. And he did. The Scripture then says, “He worked seven years, and they seemed to him but a day, because he loved her so.” For the first time in over 40 years, we will be building something new! Together. On the same page, in the same room. We are a very middle class church. In our time, such a project by necessity will be shared work. No one will do this for us or do this to us. We will do it together. We will be able to look back or look down some years hence and say, “No one did this for us, and no one did this to us, we did it together.” On the same page, for the same room.

Later in April 1,000 Methodists will meet in the same room in Pittsburgh for our General Conference. The breadth of our Christology, the hospitality of our witness, the unity in our diversity, and the overarching need for leadership are the page we need to be on, together. I am going to listen with and speak to our conservative compatibles about Scripture and experience. Since we will all be in the same room, we have a chance to stay on the same page. Spiritual conversion does not happen by legislation, political maneuver, and vote. It happens, if at all, in personal relationship. The changes I desire are still 8 years away. Yet, who knows what the Holy Spirit will do? May the room be an upper room, high and lifted and good.

Then in July 800 Methodists will meet in Syracuse to elect Bishops. I am honored to be endorsed as a candidate for this role, to argue for the need to rebuild the church in the northeast. The chances of election are minimal. But my mother always said, “Do your best, come home with your shield or on it.” At least we will be in the same room, Hendricks chapel, a quarter mile from where I was born, another from where I was married, another from where I learned to preach, another from where our last child was born, another from where I will be buried. It is an honor to be endorsed, and with you I will receive the honor. Sin is not taking what is given. To get to the same page we need to sit in the same room.

Riding the Palm Sunday donkey, Jesus too is headed for a common room, a common table, a common meal. The multitude of his disciples are praising God along the Mount of Olives. He will gather the twelve in an upper room. Along the lake Jesus has taught them about health, height, home, hope, heart, habit, hand. Now the lakeshore is a distant memory and the shadow of the cross covers and hovers. If the issue of the 20th century was race, that of the 21st is space. Here is Jesus leading his people to an upper room, on the same page in the same place.

I grew up in a little church, a chapel really. I believe we have to regularly invade the reaches of our memory, our first naivete, when it comes to spiritual life. I distrust the emotional distance that can come in the later years. We learn too well to dissemble. That is why our children’s moment takes such an appropriate space in our service, to rekindle for all of us the love we had at first. In the church of my childhood—a very plain New England style structure—there was only one stained glass window. Like our rose window it stood above the altar. I see it as clearly as I see much of anything, even today. There is Jesus, lantern in hand, knocking on the door that has no outside handle. “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone will answer I will come in and sup with him and he with me.” To be on the same page, we must be in the same place.

This is why Jesus has come. To make our space his own, and his room our own. To enter the high place, the upper room of your heart. The place of childlike love. The place of joyful laughter. The place of frank talk. The place of fear named and faith received. The place of courage. The place of resolve. The place of risk.

Is there room in your heart for him?

Is there an upper room in your heart for him?

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