June 29, 2014

Welcoming Christ

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8A
Christ Church, New Bern, NC

What does it look like to welcome Christ into our midst?


If you want to learn more about the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Washington, DC, click here: http://www.saintsophiadc.com/

June 1, 2014

Being in a Liminal Space

Easter 7A – June 1, 2014
(Focus on Acts 1 reading)

So, in today’s reading from Acts, the disciples find themselves in a liminal space
. Now, before you tune me out because I used a high-dollar Scrabble word, let me tell you what it means. “Liminal” (L-I-M-I-N-A-L) comes from the same Latin root (limens) where we get the word “threshold.” A liminal space is a space of waiting, of transition, of knowing that something is about to happen, but not knowing what it is. Being in a liminal space is like being finished with high school, but not yet starting college. It’s wrapping up one project and having a week or two before the next one begins. It’s electing a bishop on May 17, but not ordaining him until November 8. It’s letting go of one trapeze bar without having hold of the next trapeze bar. I can’t imagine anyone here, no matter how young or old, hasn’t been in a liminal space at least once or twice, even if we didn’t know that’s what it is called.

Being in a liminal space, like the followers of Jesus in today’s Acts reading, means you are on the threshold of the next amazing thing God is going to do. Because so much is happening while we are in that space, even though it may seem like nothing is happening. It’s being allowed time for personal reflection, it’s catching up on those things that you’ve been neglecting, it’s spending time with friends, it’s being open to look at how and where God has been active in our lives. It’s knowing something is going to happen, but not knowing how great it can possibly be.

The followers of Jesus find themselves on the threshold today. They have just witnessed Jesus’ last great act on earth. No ropes, no pulleys, no smoke and mirrors. Very simply, a cloud takes him to heaven. In their typical fashion, they start off missing the point: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” In other words, “Are you finally going to give the Romans and all the other heathens the boot??” Jesus, of course, says, in his Jesus way, “No. That’s not the point! Just wait until the Holy Spirit comes. Until then, tell my story in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The angels show up and tell the disciples to snap out of it, and guess what?! THEY DO! Jesus doesn't give them a time certain of when the Holy Spirit is going to come, or what that moment will look or feel like. Jesus just gives them their marching orders, and they follow through! The go back the half-mile from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, maybe even back to the upper room where they celebrated the Last Supper, and the author of Acts tells us they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”

There it is. In black and white, that the eleven remaining disciples, along with Jesus’ mother and some other women, were not just sitting around waiting for whatever it was God was going to do next. Whether we find ourselves in a liminal space or not, we are not called to sit around and wait on God either. The future of Jesus’ message is left to a group of people who may finally be “getting it” now that Jesus isn’t there to hold their hand the whole way. If you read the rest of Acts 1, you’ll find that these same disciples no longer had Jesus with them physically, nor had they received the Holy Spirit, at least according to Luke’s testimony, and yet they move forward with the good news of Jesus. They select someone to take the place of Judas Iscariot. They even gathered 10 days after the Ascension (at least as the church celebrates it) for the Feast of Pentecost, which is 50 days after the Passover, and in Jewish tradition, The Law was given to Moses on that day. They had no idea from one day to the next what God was going to do or how God was going to act in their lives.

Between Ascension and Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were in that “what next” kind of moment. But when we find ourselves in that moment, “what next” is a dangerous question to ask because it assumes there is only one answer and not an endless array of possibilities. This is God we’re talking about, the creator of the universe who never has one answer when we look up says, “so, what next? What do I do now?”

The disciples knew what to do, finally. They continued to be together, to pray, to live, to wait for God, but not sit idly by. Transformation doesn’t happen when we sit by and wait.

There’s a great NPR podcast I listen to called “Radio Lab.” Very science oriented, but they get people on there who can speak science in English and not in academic sciencey language, and it’s enthralling. They had an episode about a year or so ago called “Black Box,” and as they describe the episode, they explore “those peculiar spaces where it’s clear what’s going in, we know what’s coming out, but what happens in-between is a mystery.” They look at the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly and even how our own consciousness and understanding can change. The whole point of the episode is that while it doesn’t look like anything is happening, A LOT IS HAPPENING.

So with regards to the followers of Jesus, and the “what next” question they find themselves facing, it begs the question: Are we in charge of what happens next? Or are we anticipating the Holy Spirit to lead the way? If we think we’re in charge, what room does that leave for God to work? Are we expecting God’s Spirit to come in our midst? Or are we hoping the Spirit will be among us to lead and inspire and open our eyes? Do we want that power? Does it scare us? Hopefully the answer is “yes” to both of those.[
H/T to John McClure in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 2, p. 523 (Westminster John Knox Press)]

If we are simply hoping for God’s power to come among us and act, we end up asking misguided questions like the disciples at the beginning of the Acts reading. But if we fully expect the Holy Spirit to rain down on us in tongues of fire and light us up for sharing the message of Jesus in our own community and the next town over and to the whole world, then we’ll be like the disciples at the end of this same reading: devoted to prayer and community, beginning to understand that this Jesus stuff is so much bigger than us and our own agenda. If we are willing to be comfortable in that liminal space, that in-between, that “what next” we may just see God do better than we could ask or imagine.

With the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus promises a community empowered to bear witness, to love another. We’ll see a faith transformed to what was described in our reading from I Peter 2 a couple of weeks ago, where we were called, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (no matter the color of our skin or the country of our birth), God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The question we need to ask ourselves is “am I going to be a part of the community Jesus promises? Am I going to be both patient and proactive in seeking and expecting the Holy Spirit to act in my life and in the lives of those around me?”  Jesus never promised easy answers, but he promises to be with us and to never leave us without support and comfort. While we are in this liminal space between the Ascension and Pentecost, this prayer by a priest named Kristi Phillip seems most appropriate.

Ever-present God,
You call us on a journey to a place we do not know.
We are not where we started
We have not reached our destination.
We are not sure where we are or who we are.
This is not a comfortable place.
Be among us, we pray.
Calm our fears, save us from discouragement,
And help us stay on course.
Open our hearts to your guidance
So that our journey to this unknown place
Continues as a journey of trust.