Sunday’s sermon: Empty Spaces

god-shaped hole

Texts used – Psalm 136; John 14:1-14, 27-31a





  • U.S. trash and recycling statistics
    • American = 5% of the world’s population → America = 30% of the world’s trash[1]
      • If all the world lived the way we live, we would need 2 Earths
      • In lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times their bodyweight in trash
      • Enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks daily (which would reach halfway to the moon if we stacked them end-to-end)
    • Although 75% of American waste is recyclable, we only actually recycle about 30% of it[2]
      • Over 11 million TONS (not pounds … TONS – that’s 22 Billion pounds) of recyclable clothing, shoes, and textiles make their way to the landfill every year
      • U.S. throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and packaging every year
      • 18 billion pounds of plastic trash wind up in our oceans each year
        • Enough to cover every foot of coastline around the world with five full trash bags of plastic every year
        • Causes over 100,000 marine animal deaths every year from plastic entanglement and ingestion
    • Stuff that goes to the landfill
      • Takes roughly 50 yrs. for rubber to degrade
      • Takes 200-500 yrs. for aluminum to fully degrade
      • Take roughly 500 yrs. for plastic water bottle to degrade
      • Takes 500+ yrs. for Styrofoam to degrade
      • Take 1,000,000 yrs. for glass to degrade
    • Clearly, y’all, we have a stuff problem in this country.
      • Stuff that fills up our cupboards and closets
      • Stuff that fills up our garages and sheds
      • Never-ending stream of stuff that we can buy in the store, online, at the next garage sale, etc.
      • But what’s the purpose of all that stuff? What empty space are we trying to fill with all that stuff – that stuff that obviously means enough to us to end up in so many garbage heaps in landfill after landfill? With this idea in mind – this thought of how we try to fill empty spaces – let’s listen to our Greatest Showman song for this morning. [PLAY “Never Enough”]

  • Song = pretty clear → Only one thing will fill the void – the aching emptiness that the singer speaks of: the presence of the Beloved.
    • Song: Take my hand / Will you share this with me? / ‘Cause darling, without you / All the shine of a thousand spotlights / All the stars we steal from the night sky / Will never be enough / Never be enough / Towers of gold are still too little / These hands could hold the world / But it’ll never be enough / Never be enough / For me[3] → Some of the most coveted, most treasured, most far-flung and limitless things in the universe cannot fill the void for the singer. The coveted shine of the spotlight and all the fame and notoriety that it implies isn’t enough. Treasured towers of gold isn’t enough. Even the stars themselves plucked out of the night sky – limitless and far-flung as they are – aren’t enough. The world itself isn’t enough. Only the Beloved will fill the void.
    • Context within the movie: song sung by Swedish opera star Jenny Lind
      • After experiencing some success with his circus, Barnum decides to try to branch out – to continue the fun and fancifulness of his circus acts but also to add a more genteel, sophisticated, upper-class-approved act to his repertoire → enter Jenny Lind → Barnum entices her to travel “across the pond” and go on tour in the states → Barnum ends up all but abandoning his circus (leaving it in the hands of his partner, Phillip Carlyle) to tour the country with Ms. Lind → (without giving too much away) ends up in a bit of a romantically sticky situation because of all this touring and time away from his home and family
        • Said at the beginning of the series that this movie was loosely based on the real life of P.T. Barnum → portions of this part of the storyline are true
          • True: Barnum invited Swedish opera protégé Jenny Lind, nicknamed the “Swedish Nightingale,” to America to tour
          • True: They spent a great deal of time touring together
          • False: no romantic intimations between them during this time → Hollywood … what can I say?
    • Power of the song – both in the lyrics and in the context – is the longing that you hear in it → repetition of that simple phrase “never enough” really drives home the singular longing for that one person – a longing that creates that empty space that nothing and no one else can fill
  • Certainly could have paired today’s song with the Scripture that we read last week → story of the rich young rule who Jesus commanded to sell all his possessions – all his stuff – so he could follow Jesus
    • Definite longing in it
    • Definite empty space in it that the rich young ruler was seeking to fill
    • Definite overabundance of “stuff” in it
    • But I wanted to pair this Scripture reading from John’s gospel with this song this morning because it’s such an interesting juxtaposition that really illustrates both the empty spaces that we feel and the one thing that will fill up our aching hearts and souls to overflowing: the presence and love of God.
      • Jesus begins passage by gently admonishing the disciples
        • Reminding the disciples of God’s presence with them
        • Reminding the disciples of God’s compassion for them and desire to provide for them
        • Reminding the disciples of the abundance and, indeed, overabundance of God
        • Text: “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I to go prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be, too. You know the way to the place I’m going.”[4] → I feel like Jesus said this in a soft, tender voice – like he was trying to comfort the disciples, to reassure them, to quiet their fears and their apprehensions.
          • Context within the scope of John’s gospel → This passage is actually part of a large chunk of the gospel – chapter 14 through chapter 17 – that doesn’t appear in any of the other gospels. Jesus and the disciples are in the upper room sharing the Passover meal together. Jesus knows that he is about to be arrested. He knows what’s coming. He has washed the disciples’ feet. He’s broken the bread and shared the wine. He has made some dire and spot-on predictions – Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.
            • Other gospels leave a good chunk of that last supper blank
            • John’s gospel gives us the table conversation – what Jesus and the disciples talked about after Judas had fled to turn them in
              • Discussion that includes some familiar and favorite passages
                • “I am the vine and you are the branches”[5]
                • “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends”[6]
                • From graveside committal service: “You have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and you will be overjoyed. No one takes away your joy.”[7]
          • And Jesus starts that discussion – of things to come, of the love of God, of prayer and purpose, of grace and hope and joy that cannot be taken away – by gently reassuring the disciples that he is going ahead to make a place for them.
            • Reassurance that even though he will no longer be with them, that God will continue to be with them
            • Reassurance that they already have all that they need to find that place
            • Reassurance that those empty spaces inside them and among them will indeed be filled
      • And yet, what is the disciples’ immediate response to Jesus’ reassurances? – text: Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way.” … Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”[8] → Even in the face of the greatest assurance they will ever receive, the disciples are grasping … panicking … desperate for something more.
        • More concrete
        • More measurable
        • More proveable
        • Jesus is trying to provide them with that ultimate “enough,” but is it enough for the disciples?
          • Jesus even goes so far as to declare peace – text: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.”[9] → “My peace I give to you” … but is it enough?
  • At this same point in the other gospels – in Matthew and Mark, specifically – it mentions that Jesus and the disciples “sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.”[10] In light of this idea of God being enough, I imagine the hymn they sang may have been our psalm for today – Psalm 136.
    • Remember: original purpose/use of the psalms was as an element of Hebrew worship
      • Some personal (“I/me/my”)
      • Some communal (“we/us/our”)
    • Today’s psalm sounds like a call-and-response → each line followed by congregational response “God’s faithful love lasts forever!”
      • Various “leader” lines follow the storyline of the world and the people of Israel
        • Begins with God’s goodness
        • Extols the wonders and majesty of creation
        • Follows through Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their exodus
        • Culminates in the Promised Land and God’s protection of the people
    • After every single line – be it a declaration of God’s goodness, a reminder of the struggles of the people, or a recognition of the beauty of the world around them – there is the same faith-filled, glorious proclamation: “God’s faithful love lasts forever!” It is a statement of faith. It is a statement of hope. And it is a reminder that no matter what is facing us, God’s “enough” is always there – reaching out, holding us up, giving us strength and peace and faithful, steadfast love for the journey ahead. It is a reminder that with God, there is no “never enough.” Thanks be to God. Amen.


C.S. Lewis: The fact that our heart yearns for something earth can’t supply is proof that heaven must be our home.

  • Sure and blessed thing to fill those empty spaces in our hearts, souls, and lives = the faithful love of God, the peace of Christ, and the companionship of the Holy Spirit → our “always enough”



[3] “Never Enough” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Sony/ATV Music

[4] Jn 14:1-4.

[5] Jn 15:5.

[6] Jn 15:13.

[7] Jn 16:22.

[8] Jn 14:5, 8.

[9] Jn 14:27.

[10] Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26.