“Liminality”

Jul 31, 2022

The Scripture

Romans 8:22-28

22 We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. 23 And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. 24 We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? 25 But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.

26 In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. 27 The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. 28 We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. 

 

 

 

The Sermon

Today we continue to explore Kate Bowler’s book Good Enough. And this Sunday we look at the chapter titled “The In-between”. It seems like no coincidence that this is our chosen topic for today. In-between is where we are right here, right now…we’re in this space of knowing change is coming but we don’t know what that means or what it will look like. We are in this in-between time. Kate writes “the anthropologist Victor Turner wrote about what happens when people go through intense change together, and referred to the in-between times as “liminality.” We are at a threshold—something still becoming—but we don’t know yet what all the factors are, or how to frame them. We yearn for normalcy only to find that liminality has become our “new normal.” Now I know this idea that things are changing for our church has not become a normal reality for us yet. For many of us we are still trying to get our heads around it. But nevertheless, I think Kate Bowler is speaking to us directly today. Hence this sermon is titled: Liminality.

Together we will explore what this means for our church and for us individually as people of faith. I like this image of a crossing with signs pointing in all different directions. It’s like we’re standing right here and not sure what path we will take. We stand at an in-between time!

We like our lives to be consistent, to have a predicable routine to follow. Bob would be the first to tell you I am a solid, routine person. Up at the same time, same exercise schedule. I like to know what is ahead for me in any given day. Kate Bowler says we like to pretend that are lives are marked with consistency. Why? What is she saying here? Now think about this for a minute…I think she is helping us see something very true, that our lives are always changing and have always been changing throughout our life. She reminds us that we have often had a lot of “betweens” in our lives. Between relationships, between seasons of independence and dependence, between jobs, between friends, between diagnosis and cure, between feeling courageous and feeling afraid, between the life we have and the life we want. Change never stops coming our way.

Kate Bowler is right when she says, “In-between can be an awfully lonely place. In transition, exposed, that place of waiting and vulnerability. A place that doesn’t fit anyone’s idea of normal because there aren’t words for it, and it isn’t there yet.” So, I believe our natural tendency at this in-between time is to get out of that space, do anything to fill the void, the uncomfortable place of vulnerability. But Kate says, no, what we must do is “let us settle there for the moment. Knowing and trusting we aren’t alone. We’re in this strange middle place…together”. We are together in the change we are facing right now!

Even as we wait…together, I believe there is some work we can do in the waiting. Some work we can do in the unknowing. Some work we can do at this crossroad we are facing. There are choices we can make right here where we are right now. Joan Chittister in her book “Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope”, expounds about this liminal time we are in this time of struggle. “There is no one who does not have to choose sometime, some way, between giving up and growing stronger as they go along”. I wonder if some of you have already decided where you are with this. Maybe you’ve already told yourself that you’re giving up on our church. And that giving up can come in many ways. One can withdraw from participating in the discussions, turn back from actively supporting the transition, forget to encourage our leaders as they clear a path for us. Maybe you say you don’t care anymore, you’re done with changes. Maybe you decide you don’t want to hang around here anymore. There are many ways to give up.

But Joan Chittister offers us another option, an option that is important for all of us to consider. That is the option to grow stronger. Joan’s life as a Benedictine nun, theologian and author exposed her to people experiencing all kinds of struggles. She, herself has had her own struggle and she says this about what she has learned. “All struggle is not loss. All those who struggle do not give way to depression, to death of the spirit, to death of heart. We not only can survive struggle but, it seems, we are meant to survive in new ways, with new insights, with new heart.”  Think about what she is saying, that the change our church is facing could really open us to new ways, to new insights or to a new heart to serve the living God? Joan normalizes our struggles by saying that “life itself has become a series of life-changing interruptions we are meant to expect and to broach with very little help. But there is another side to these changes and struggle. Life may feel precarious at times, but life is also, made up of a series of miracles. Love happens, relationships form, the job opens, the promotion comes, differences great and small melt into one another, we succeed in becoming just what we wanted to be.” We hold this delicate balance between the struggle, this in-between time and how hard it is to be in this liminal space, and the hope that comes with the possibilities that are before us.

Joan Chittister warns us that “if we give up in the midst of struggle, we never find out what the struggle would have given us in the end. If we decide to endure it to the end, we come out of it changed by the doing of it. It is a risk of mammoth proportions. We dare the development of self.” Are you willing to take the risk? We certainly don’t know what will come at the end but this for sure, we will have found new ways to live as a church, we will learn new insights, and we will all have new hearts. Let’s not forget that Kate Bowler says yes we’re in this strange middle place but at least we are together. Amen