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JourneyJesusMessage for VBS Sunday on Matthew 28:16-20 on June 9, 2024 given at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Have you ever had one of those moments when you experience unity with God and oneness with all things? In Celtic spirituality it’s often called a “thin place,” where the distance between heaven and earth seems to collapse. These moments often happen out in nature, far away from the lights, sounds, and busyness of cities and civilization so as not to distract us from paying attention to the felt spiritual presence of the divine all around us.

I have experienced “thin places” many times in my life. Ghost Ranch—the Presbyterian camp and conference center in the high red rock desert west of Abiquiu, New Mexico is a thin place.

Our family went there almost every summer when our kids were growing up, and each time we arrived and just stepped out of the car in front of the main office, I could feel something different there—like the air was thick with the Holy Spirit, like I could breathe more deeply even though we climbed to an elevation of 6500 feet, and something about being there meant the kids would get along well.

On a clear night, we would sit outside and gaze at an amazing view of the Milky Way, watch for shooting stars, and try to be the first one to spot a satellite moving across the sky. I have been to Ghost Ranch at least a dozen times and each time I had some thin place experience—that we are all connected to one another, the earth, the sky and heaven—it’s all one cosmic fabric wrapping us in God’s love.

Perhaps you, too, have had this experience of a thin place or a peace-filled moment, when heaven and earth come together, and the cosmic fabric and unity of the created universe made sense in your bones; a time when there was no grasping for God because divine presence permeated the air and the earth, the trees and the sky above, or the water you were floating on. And everyone in your family somehow got along, and love and mercy seemed to swim in the air.

It would be nice to have a thin place experience every day, but that feels impossible. Thin places are rare spaces and experiences—an unusual moment that we usually need to leave town for, go on a pilgrimage, drive to the high red rock desert of New Mexico, visit the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or another National Park. Perhaps we need to go see a Norwegian fjord, hit up an Alaskan cruise or find some other natural wonder of the world. With inflation, it may be a staycation this year and where are the thin places in that?

But Jesus just might have something to say about this very human assumption, that staying put in our daily life offers no supernatural moments of peace. In our reading from Matthew, Jesus, risen from the dead, commands his followers, including us, to share his love by making disciples of all nations, and then he says, “and remember I am with you always to the end of the age!”

And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.

This was the theme verse from our Vacation Bible School yesterday. At the closing program for VBS, I asked the children, “if we can’t see Jesus, but he’s always with us, where is he?” And they all knew the answer—and you do, too, right? Jesus dwells within our heart.

When Jesus was a human person, he could only be in one place at one time like us. But now that he is risen from the dead, his Spirit can be everywhere all at once, dwelling within all of our hearts, and all around us, and in all of creation; Jesus’ presence is everywhere.

And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age. Jesus is always with us, so every space is a thin place.

Jesus has made our own heart a thin place!

So, the way we express and share love is a thin place where we can experience God’s love wrapped around us when other’s love us; and we can feel God’s love reaching through us to care for others!

Our home, our dinner table, our daily life, and even how we work, or go to school, or hang out at home in the summer, are all thin places where we can experience God’s presence and the union of all people.

Every day, no matter where we are or what we are doing, we can experience the unconditional mercy of God who made us all, and binds us all together in one cosmic fabric, wrapping us all in Jesus’ love.

When we are running through life, busy with work or cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard care, planning, bills, grocery shopping, and all the duties of daily life, it’s easy to forget that every space, every breath, every heart is full of the presence of God—every space is a thin a place: Every moment, God is available to help us; in every difficulty, Jesus is here to give us strength; through every sadness, Jesus is here to comfort us.

This spiritual truth reminds me of the story of the little fish swimming up to its mother, all in a panic: “Mama, Mama, what’s water? I gotta find water or I’ll die!”

We live immersed in God, surrounded by the Spirit of Jesus, and the reason we miss it, is not because God is far away, or we have to go far away to experience it, but because, amazingly, God in Jesus is so close; God is more intimate to us than we can imagine. We are swimming and breathing in Jesus’ presence and mercy.

In her book Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault says,

The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional—always there, underlying everything. Mercy is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being….Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love.

Being held in the gravitational field of unbreakable love…that’s where we live every day…breathing and swimming in a sea of the Spirit of Christ that permeates our hearts and our whole being.

Jesus’ promise to be with us to the end of the age means that every space is a thin place—we are held in the field of unbreakable love. And we need reminders of this—because life is always happening, and it’s easy to be distracted from God’s presence within us and right in front of us.

The first thing that reminds us that daily life is a thin place is our children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews or children in Luke’s Learners. When my children were growing up, I started writing down all the ways that I saw God in them, and in what they said, and the thin places I experienced with them. In fact I wrote a book a about it: Motherhood Calling: Experiencing God in Everyday Family Life.

Children are the ones who have most recently come from God, so they remember things that we have forgotten: like these truths that my 3 children said to me between the ages of 4 and 8 :

When I asked what happened to the fallen rose petals on the table, one of them said, I threw them outside so they’ll fly away with mercy and joy on the wind.
When we were talking about God being the mommy of everyone and one thought that wouldn't work since God was a boy, another one said, God is a spirit that is both a boy and a girl, like a seahorse or worm!
When Dan took one to visit a church member they knew at a care facility: I know why they have a cross on this hospital. So when people who are really sick and dying will see it, they’ll remember that God is always with them and they won’t be afraid.
During another conversation, one said, The afterlife is right now.
Another day, I heard: I was standing in a spot and the angels took me up to heaven to talk to God. Where were you standing? In front of the elephants at the zoo. How long were you talking to God? 40 days!!

To help us remember that Jesus is always with us, that daily life is thin place where God is always present, we are going to spend the summer taking our Journey Jesus with us. I invite you to take pictures with him wherever you go—both staycation days and vacation days! Have fun with the Son! Journey Jesus a visual reminder that we are always swimming and living and breathing in the sea of God’s unbreakable love and Jesus’ presence, in our hearts and all around us. And Jesus wants us to have joy—joy in his presence, joy in his mercy, joy that he is always with us and available with all we are doing—whether we need strength for hardship or we have our arms raised on the roller coaster at 6 Flags.

We invite you to post your Journey Jesus pictures on St. Luke’s FB page—use the hashtags on the back of Journey Jesus and show us how you are having fun with the Son (S-O-N) this summer! And here on the back are some questions to help you notice your experiences of God—to notice the thin places in your daily life where God already exists and shows up.

Finally, there are a couple of table prayers and a bedtime prayer, so if you are not in the habit of saying these daily prayers at meals or at bedtime with your family, you can start this summer as part of your awareness of swimming and breathing in the gravitational field of God’s mercy.

So pick up the resources from the last couple weeks if you missed them—they are in the Gathering Area. Read your Bible stories, try a Wild Wonder outside, take your Journey Jesus with you and pay attention to the ways you experience the God you’re already swimming and breathing in every moment of your life.

Let’s make the thin places of our daily lives stuffed full of experiences of being held by the cosmic fabric of God’s unbreakable love!

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