The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (tr.)
Watch the sermon here.
To say that it has been difficult to write this sermon is an understatement. While I am so grateful to my friend and pastor Rev. Julie for the opportunity to be here with you all. There is a part of me that believes this may have been a trick on her part to get out of preaching some difficult texts. While there are few words there is so much content so I offer you two sermons:
Every time a reading from Revelation comes up, I want to get on the soap box about how this is not a predictive text, but a revolutionary one. Oppressed colonized people telling a story where the colonizer is defeated. The evil that Michael overthrows is not merely about individual sin, it is about the communal sin of power over! Revelation is about justice against those who have decided that their power is greater than Gods. And it says that God has the last word through the use of God’s army or God’s posse: Angels. Those beings that seem to live in the celestial plain, but have access to go between. Now that I have proven that I really did graduate from Union, we can go to sermon 2.
Sermon #2 (Just a tad bit longer)
If I might be honest I am overwhelmingly tired. And this exhaustion cannot be cured with more hours of sleep. My day job at Episcopal Relief & Development is in the US Disaster Program and if you haven’t noticed, we have been experiencing a few too many disasters at the same time lately: pandemic, hurricanes, floods, sacadas, fires, border/immigration/refugee crisis, earthquakes, economic crisis, ooh and the racism – can’t forget the racism. Plus as an adult – I am supposed to get up each morning, bath,
cloth and feed myself while caring about humanity. And as I look around at even my most strong, most spiritually grounded, blessed friends, I feel the sadness and grief radiating from all of us. In normal times it would be one or two of us having a bad day and so the community could rise up and help the other out the hole. You know that story about a person in a hole and they can’t get out, a friend comes along and the person screams up and says, help! The friend jumps in the hole and the person says, “now we are both stuck down here.” And the friend replies, “yeah but I have been here before and I know the way out.
Friends – have any of you been here before? and do you know the way out? Where is a good ladder filled with Angels ascending and descending when you need it. How do we survive this time so that we can be the friend of the metaphorical future who knows the way out? In preparation, I read the Presiding Bishop’s sermon on these same texts. He spoke about liminal space. On my regular Sunday Mornings, I listen to Gospel songs that testify to how God got them over because Won’t he do it. This morning as I listened to Marvin Sapp sing, “never would’ve made it without you.” I realized that most testimony is glorification of what God has done or will do. But rarely to do spend much time focusing on that place between, the liminal space. My friend Makeda Pennycooke describes it as the place between what was and what is not yet. And so this is where we will focus our energy today – the in between where little certainty exists. In a recent interview with Nadia Boltz Weber, the public priest for the Evangelical Lutheran church in America or the
ECLA. She said that we are all working from a baseline of grief. And so with the permission to work from a place of grief, we go back to the text.
In our Hebrew scripture reading we hear the story of Jacob going from Beer-sheba to Haran. But he stops in a place with no name and dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth where Angels are going up and down. It is clear that the ladder must mean something because as we know from the TV show Luther Angels have wings for moving about. What the ladder seems to emphasize is that this place is an in-between place, a liminal place. It is between where he was and where he is not yet. And the text says,” he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’” Now I don’t know about you, but my natural response to fear and uncertainty isn’t “How awesome!” It does not make me think that God is there or that it is the gate to heaven. And yet, this is exactly what we are being invited to explore.
In the past couple months as we work our way back to what they call the “new normal,” there has been great grief. Many believed that as soon as the church doors opened, people would flood back, trying to get back to the way things were before. Longing for physical connection with others. And while there are many that have returned, there are far more who have realized that online church ain’t that bad and that there are so many ways they can experience the holy. Even more frightening is that many have realized that perhaps where they worship does not feel like the house of God. Instead of racing back,
they are racing away and realizing why younger generations had given up on Sunday worship. While I feel like I am living in a liminal space personally, it is also clear to me as outlined in Bishop Curry’s sermon that we are in a liminal space institutionally. For some of us, instead of laying down to dream and listen to God’s voice, we are trying to figure out clever ways to get back to a church that existed in a different time and a different place for a different set of people.
I can even tell stories about the glory days of my childhood church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Village of Flatbush, when there were over 200 children in the Sunday School and acolytes and a youth choir and everything was amazing. And for my faith formation those were glory days. But that is what was and God is inviting us into what is not yet. When Jesus says to Nathaniel you will see greater things than these, we must believe him! But it is hard to believe in liminal space, it’s the valley of the shadow of death and I am fearing all the evil, it is hard to believe in greater things to imagine that you will get to what is not yet. It is hard to battle forward when you have no idea what you are working to achieve and yet! That is what I feel we are being called to, not only as individuals but as Church. We are being called to trust God and know that even in this inbetween frightening space when church building will close, congregations will consolidate, budgets will get tight and disasters will continue to come that God is in this place too, that not only is God in this place, but this very frightening, grief filled, difficult place might be the house of God, might be the gate to heaven. That this liminal place might be Awesome!
As Christians, if we believe that our houses of worship are a house of God, then we must understand it also as a liminal space an in-between space between what was and what is not yet. If you need a good word for today, ponder this with me… What if right now is awesome – it don’t feel good, it sure isn’t comfortable, in fact this liminal space has been anxiety producing, overwhelming and we have all experienced moments that felt like spiritual warfare. In spite of all this our scriptures are asking us to believe that even in this, God has dominion. Even this is awesome and it is from here that we will find the gates of Heaven.
As an educator, it seems unfair to offer theory without tools. And so I want to offer three using a bit of story/metaphor:
1. For several years I worked in Vermont as a student affairs professional. After four years, I was having a hard time discerning priesthood, trying to find a job and answer very big life questions. I wanted to come back home to Brooklyn. One day I laid on my friend’s couch and wept. Her dog Lucia, who recently died, walked over to me, looked me in the face, raised her paw and laid it on my lap. Now maybe she just wanted her armpit scratched, but I have never felt more seen. A dog with no words let me know that I was not alone in this liminal space. She didn’t try to fix me or change me or tell me something about manifestation and gratitude. Lucia merely offered me her loving presence and affirmation that it was ok to grieve.
- IntheearlydaysofthepandemicasIgrievedliveslostandwalkedthrougha silent city, I listened to the song Let Go, Let God. The lyrics go = As soon as I start worrying, worrying how the story ends, I let Go and I Let God, let God have God’s way. I once had a therapist who would always try to get me to engage in mindfulness practice, to let go of outcomes and expectations. Anyone who knows me, knows that this continues to be a large ask. But letting Go and knowing that God is right there trying to help me along the way has continually yielded better results for me than trying to tell God what I think should happen. Because when we let go of what we wish our life to be, God invades our imaginative possibilities and shows us greater things than this.
- In my last semester of seminary, I took a class on Bible and trauma. We would often joke about the Gospel song, We fall down. It goes like this: we fall down, but we get up. However as we dug into the troupe of the “suffering servant” and reflected on the difficulties of being quarantined while studying theology we would change the lyrics: We fall down and take a nap. To rest more is not an invitation to a physical requirement, but an invitation into those things that actually fill up your tank and rejuvenate your life. Or an invitation into doing and caring about absolutely nothing if even for a little while. There is a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, pg. 461 that with modifications goes: this is another day, we know not what it will bring forth, but make us ready for whatever it may be. If we are to stand up, help us to stand bravely. If we are to sit still, help us to sit quietly. If we
are to lie low, help us do it patiently. And if we are to do nothing, let us do it
gallantly. Make these words more than words and give us the spirit of Jesus.
In review, if you want to survive the liminal space try using these three tools: Tool 1: allow space for real grieving to happen perhaps with a dog or another person/group who won’t try to immediately fix it. Tool 2: Let Go and let God. Be present to the now. and Tool 3: Do nothing, gallantly – Take a nap.
Church folks keep trying to figure out the secret to getting people under 50 into pews on Sunday morning. If you lean in real close I will tell you the hack……
Stop asking us to join committees and just hold space for us to navigate the liminal places of life. The space between what was and what is not yet. On this day, your patronal festival, remember that this is a house of God, the gate of heaven, an Awesome place. It is not heaven, it is not a destination, but a place between – a liminal space. Because here is the trick, liminal space as defined as the places between what was and what is not yet, means we are almost always in liminal space. We are never not in the house of God, never not at the gates of heaven. We may have no clue what the right answers are, but we might know the right, next best step (theology of Frozen II). We might be able to ask some really good questions and trust that God is working it out through us together. We might be utterly afraid, and yet God. As grief continues to be our baseline let us allow the water to come out of our eyes and hearts to be broken and rest to come for what was and the longing for what is not yet. Because it just may be
awesome! And it just may be preparing us for a time when we will experience much greater things than this.