I’ve been on vacation for the last couple of weeks, so I’ve been thinking a bit about vacations. It seems to me that there are basically two kinds of vacations. One type is the exploratory vacation, when you go away from your home to see something you’ve never seen or experience a foreign culture or challenge yourself to do something you’ve never tried. I’ve done a lot of this kind of traveling in my life, ramming around as much of some European country as I can possibly see in a week, or hiking in the Canadian Rockies, or herding groups of teenagers around on mission trips all over the world – although that’s definitely not a vacation.
The other kind of vacation is the reconnection vacation, when you try to get back in touch with some part of yourself that is lost or out of balance, even if it’s just like a reasonable amount of sleep. So you might return to a cherished spot where you’ve been many times, or go lie on a beach where you really don’t have to do anything but let some waiter bring you cold beverages, or you might even just stay home. The “staycation” has become increasingly popular in the last few years, I think because we spend so much of our lives running frantically that the idea of exploring something new is not rejuvenating. So we are learning to stay home on our vacations, to spend some time not doing or going, to reconnect with our emotions and bodies and families and friends and maybe even God.
You might already be able to tell that my vacation was more of the latter sort this time around. I did go somewhere – to Minnesota to visit family – but it was the kind of travel that takes you back into your own history rather than into something new. And then I came back and staycationed, with the great intentions that I would thoroughly clean and organize my apartment, which has gotten a little out of control in the hecticness of the last few months. However, my body steadfastly refused to do things. It turns out, I was really tired. So I slept and laid around with my dog and took long, leisurely walks and ate takeout salads, and just let myself remember that it is possible and even good to stop doing and doing and doing and just be sometimes.
Sermons tend to fall into two similar categories. You might have noticed, I tend to lean toward the exploratory and aspirational sermon type – the kind of sermon that challenges us to do better, to think more deeply and act more intentionally, to create practices that make space for God in our lives so that we can fuel a lively engagement in bringing peace and justice in the world. I am by nature drawn to action, so I don’t preach as many sermons that I would call devotional or purely theological, that are primarily about who we are or who God is. But like a staycation, sometimes we just need to return to a place where we can reconnect with ourselves and with God.
In this week when I’ve been appreciating home and being, the lectionary was kind enough to bless me with this passage from Ephesians, which feels to me like a sort of home. First of all, it reads like the syllabus for a course called Presbyterian Theology 101. It covers pretty much all the basic points: the Trinity, the sovereignty of God, election, redemption, the seal of the Holy Spirit in baptism, salvation by grace alone, the doctrine of creation, the doctrine of providence, eschatology, faith, sanctification, the proclamation of the gospel…if you get all those things down and a little Greek and Hebrew, you’re basically ready to be ordained.
I joke, but these ideas are central to what it means to be a Christian. Paul is writing to the early church in Ephesus and reminding them, this is who you are. And more importantly, this is who God is. Because the funny thing about this passage is that nowhere in it do humans do anything. Not a single thing. God blesses. God chooses. God destines and adopts. God bestows grace. God redeems and forgives and lavishes. God makes known. God gathers. God accomplishes. God marks and pledges and seals.
We simply are. We exist – as blessed, chosen, destined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, known, gathered, marked, pledged, sealed. This doesn’t mean we’re unimportant. On the contrary, everything here says that we are of the utmost importance to God. But we’re not significant to God because of what we do. We’re significant because of who we are, each one of us created intentionally and uniquely with love and grace. There is the implication that because we receive all of this, we then also “live to the praise of God’s glory,” but that’s the result, not the cause of God’s love toward us.
Now, I know that for a lot of people, this kind of theology starts to feel kind of deterministic, and some of you are probably wondering, “What about free will?” Well, obviously humans have free will. Just look at the state of this world. But the Letter to the Ephesians is not interested in a debate about predestination vs. free will. It is interested in communicating the immeasurable and eternal love that God has for us, just as we are, so that we know exactly who we are and whose we are.
If you’re an action-oriented person like me, this kind of thing can sometimes seem a little like, ho-hum, ok, that’s cool, but what are we going to do? But the thing is, most of us have plenty of doing in our lives. And that’s wonderful and necessary. But all the doing, if we don’t stop to remember who we are and whose we are, will literally drive us crazy. Sometimes we need a staycation. To breathe. Collect ourselves. Check in with our emotions, our bodies, our spirits. Stretch. Connect with the people we love and who love us. Sit with God for a moment and just listen. Return to the core of who we are, and whose we are. Know that we are loved, not for what we do or who we will become, but for who we are, exactly as we are.
Can you imagine? – What a remarkable statement of resistance that is against the tyranny of busyness that pulls us from one activity to another to another?
Can you imagine? – What a powerful message that would be to a culture full of people who are so incredibly disconnected from ourselves and each other and the earth and God?
Mr. Rogers once explained his work with children this way: “Knowing we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” He wanted children – all children – to know down to their very core that they were deeply loved and treasured just as they are. In this way he was continuing some of Paul’s best work, reminding people of who they are and whose they are. So today I want to do the same thing for you.
You are blessed. You are chosen. You are holy and blameless in love. You are destined, you are adopted, you are God’s child. You are redeemed. You are forgiven. You are lavished with grace. You are gathered together with all things in heaven and on earth. You are marked with the Holy Spirit. You are God’s own people. You are loved, just as you are.