Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Pentecost, November 2, 2014 – The Rev. Trudi Shaw

When I was working at Dufferin Care Centre a number of years ago, I used to find the entry-way a bit of a challenge. Here is how it is supposed to work: When one approaches the building, an outer door opens automatically onto a small vestibule where there is a keypad. When the correct number code is entered on the keypad, the inner door opens, allowing access to the inside. Seems simple enough. The problem is, that until the outer door closes fully, the inner door cannot open.

If the code is entered too soon, or if others approach either door before the process is completed, one has to begin again. Often I would find myself ‘stuck’ in between these two doors – catching an image of where I wanted or needed to be through the transparency of the glass, but with nothing to do but wait, and trust that I would get to where I intended to be.

This experience was one for me of being in a “liminal space” – which is defined as a place of transition between the place from where one has come, and the place to where one is going.

In a sense, for Christians, the here and now, is always a liminal experience as we move between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ – between the inauguration of the Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ, and the end time when God’s Kingdom will be fully realized. It can be an uncomfortable place because it is a place of spiritual and emotional growth – where we ‘wrestle with God’; where we find ourselves stretched and challenged; and where we are re-membered as God’s holy people. It is the road to saint-hood.

Richard Rohr describes liminal space for people of faith as, “…a unique spiritual position, where human beings hate to be but where the biblical God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else. It is when you are finally out of the way. It is when you are between your old comfort zone, and any possible new answer. If you are not trained how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…anything to flee this ‘cloud of unknowing’”[1]

Richard’s definition of liminal space, also describes our parish experience as we move between our old identity as individuals, and become the new people – the new community into which God is forming us. God has led each one of us here – from the places we have been, to this place where God wants us to be. But until we let the door close fully on who we used to be, we cannot move forward together into the future God has planned for us. Until we get out of the way by letting go of our egos, or our anxiety, or our fear, we cannot become the people God has called us to be in this place – in this community – in the places we inhabit in the normal course of our lives. We cannot use the gifts God has given us to partner with God in the work of healing and reconciling the world.

God is calling us to the life-long and challenging work of becoming the saints of God: through faith and worship and prayer; through commitment to Christ and to one-another; through a generous sharing of the gifts God has given us, and the hospitality of open hearts, God is building a community of saints. When we enter fully into this place of becoming, when we give ourselves space to be, we are more able to surrender ourselves to God so that “the power of God’s resurrection might work in us”. [2]

But today, as we celebrate the feast of All Saints, we are privileged to stand in a very special kind of place on this road to sainthood – what the Celts would call ‘a thin place’ – where the veil between heaven and earth becomes transparent and we are able to catch a glimpse of the very vision given to John: all those saints – too many to count – from every tribe, and nation, and faith tradition – the great company of faithful people who have lived God’s way of love in the world – who have persevered, despite persecution, despite pain and sorrow, and even despite death. They stand now in the very presence of God, healed from the afflictions of their journey and sheltered within the peace and comfort of God’s arms. This is our destination too.

But for now, it is but a glimpse – a promise that is carried in the words of Jesus: “You are blessed”. The familiar words of the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are not just empty words spoken in a long ago time – they resonate for us in our time as well. And because they find their source in the love of God made known to us in Jesus, they have a power to create the reality they name. They are the catalyst that motivates and animates the Body of Christ, so we can do more than stand in place immobilized by the sorrow and pain of the human condition. They do not stop us from experiencing pain, or loss, or death – these are a reality of this world in which we now live. But when we act in the ways that Jesus teaches us to be in the world – when we feed, and comfort, and strive to live with justice and peace – we can experience some of the joy and fullness that the promise contains. It is not our initiative that brings us to this place, but our response to what God has already initiated in Christ for our sake.[3]

So it is fitting, that on this day we would welcome into this community of faith two new members of the Body of Christ as a sign of God’s continuous activity in renewing the Church. And we would stand with them and support them as they take those first tentative steps toward sainthood. Here today in this “thin place”, when we feel the intimacy of God in this rite of baptism, in this community gathered in prayer, and in this sharing of Christ’s own body and blood, we are given an opportunity to remember those promises made at our own baptism, and to renew our commitment to die to our old selves and be made new in Christ Jesus. And our promise to Nikki and Bennett and their sponsors – and to everyone God puts in our path – is that we will love you and pray for you, and do our best to help you grow into the fullness of your identity in Christ.

Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche said, “Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness. To love someone is to show them their beauty, their worth and their importance.”[4]

It is in these simple acts of love and commitment to one-another that we channel the power of God’s love to transform and renew, so that the whole world may be a ‘thin place’, where the glory of God is manifest in every living creature!

Thanks be to God.

[1] Richard Rohr, “Grieving as Sacred Space”, Sojourners, January – February 2002

[2] Lawrence Hull Stookey writing about the Feast of All Saints; cited by Eric Mathis in his commentary on Rev. 7:9-17

[3] Adapted from: David Lose, “The Sermon I Need to Hear” in Dear Partner

[4] Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, (London: Darton, Longman, and tod, 1979) p. 220.


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