Sermon November 15, 2015
I Samuel 1:4-20, 2:1-10, Mark 13:1-8
“Threshold of Peace”
This week I was on retreat with the Southwest Conference Clergy in Tucson. It was a good time of connecting and reflecting. The theme was thresholds and we talked about where we are and where we are going. I always find conversations about where we are going to be challenging. Recently, I found a quote that said, “You must know where you are in order to know where you are going.” I could not find the source of it this week, but it stuck with me. It helped me to confirm that our best energy needs to be focused on where we are. At one point, we were supposed to have a small group conversation about where we are going. Every single person talked about where we are. I really am excited about where God will take us, but I want to be deeply present to the ways God is with us now. It was easy to talk about what we are doing now. The metaphor of thresholds continues to evoke reflection about where we are as a congregation.
John O’Donohue talks about thresholds saying, “a life that continues to remain on the safe side of its own habits and repetitions, that never engages with the risk of its own possibility, remains an unlived life. There is within each heart a hidden voice that calls out for freedom and creativity. We often linger for years in spaces that are too small and shabby for the grandeur of our spirit.” (To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, p. 192)
We are in a threshold time as fall moves toward winter. Despite what it seems, it is a move toward something new. The leaves are changing and falling to the ground. They will leave behind empty limbs that astonish us with their barrenness. The days get shorter and it is dark in the early evenings. Seasons mark threshold time for us. Winter will bring with it gifts of its own, but it often confronts us with a stark emptiness. Spring will astonish us with signs of new life, but for now we enter the fallow time. Thresholds are uncertain, but they hold great potential. We are invited to move through them with an open heart.
“The word threshold was related to the word thresh, which was the separation of the grain from the husk or straw when oats were flailed. It also includes the notions of entrance, crossing, border, and beginning. To cross a threshold is to leave behind the husk and arrive at the grain.” (John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, p. 193)
We stand in a threshold in the church year. In two weeks, we begin a new year with Advent. Next Sunday is the final Sunday of the year. It is the Sunday we talk about Christ as king. That always makes me rather uncomfortable. This becomes the last Sunday in ordinary time. We are preparing to cross a threshold into a new season and a new church year. We have just crossed a threshold in our 135 year history. We are preparing for a threshold in our budget year. Our budgeting process encourages us to look into the future a bit and dream about what we are called to do in the coming year. Rather than taking last year’s budget and adding or subtracting, we are doing a zero based budget and asking what do we need to do our work in the coming year. Each committee is asked to submit a 2016 budget that will fund what they hope to do next year. That is new for us, but I think it is a faithful way to move into the future. So often, we treat funding our ministry as a necessary evil. It really is an exciting privilege. We have the opportunity to be in mission to the community, to broaden and deepen our outreach.
Our first reading today is the story of Hannah. Hannah longed to be a mother more than anything. She was distraught that she could not conceive a child. She promised that if God would give her a son, she would return him to God. I don’t think this text gives us insight into why some cannot get pregnant, nor does it teach us to bargain with God. It does however call us to stay engaged with God and to bring our whole selves honestly to that relationship.
A miracle happens and Hannah becomes pregnant. She sings a song in chapter 2 that sounds very much like the Magnificat. The hymn we just sang is a paraphrase of Hannah’s song. She sings of a God who turns things upside down. The poor and needy are lifted up and given places of honor. Those who are hungry are fed abundantly.
Both readings today hold the paradox of birth in the midst of barrenness and destruction. In the gospel reading, the disciples are awed by the powerful temples. Jesus tells them that the buildings will be destroyed. He describes wars, earthquakes, and famines. He finishes this passage by saying that those things are the beginning of the birth pangs.
As I lived with the passages this week, I began to wonder about what they have to say to us. Being present will require that we do something about the violence in our world. The news from Parish rocked the world. There was news of violence from Beirut and Baghdad. Syria is the focus of attention right now. Jesus talks about destruction of the temple as the beginning of the birth pangs. What does it take to wake us up and call us to action? We are overwhelmed and unsure of our place in this, but we must be sure that we do have a place in it. As people of faith, we must be part of the healing. We must be peacemakers. We cannot wait for someone else to be the solution. We have witnessed violence in our city, our nation, and our world. These are our problems. They require that we show up fully present and ready to step up.
For ten years, I directed an ecumenical program for clergy and congregations. Getting a group of clergy together was never easy. There are good reasons for that and there are excuses. The first time I saw clergy really come together was after several violent incidents with the police department last year. Finally, these leaders realized they were in over their heads and needed others for support. We are there now. We are in over our head. The violence we are witnessing both near and far is completely overwhelming, but we cannot wait for everyone else to take care of it.
Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us that God chose to enter a world that is violent. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-pastor-nadia-bolz-weber-thinks-church-is-for-losers_560afcfee4b0dd850309a31a) God calls us to bring peace to this violent world. You know the words to the song “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” It does begin with each of us. Every day we choose to speak and act in ways that perpetuate peace or not. It requires incredible honesty and humility on our part.
Hannah can teach us how to act with humility and honesty rather than a position of influence. It is her humility and honesty that moves God. Hannah brings her whole self to God including her cultural baggage, her broken dreams, and her audacious hope. Hannah doesn’t have it all, but she will not waver in her faith. She refuses to give up on God. She is transformed in her relationship with God. (Marcia Mount Shoop in Feasting on the Word, p. 294) Hannah believed that having a child would change her and she also believed that having a child would change the world. Walter Brueggemann says, “The birth is not a private wonder but a gift of possibility for all of Israel.” (First and Second Samuel, Interpretation Series, p. 16)
It is powerful to discover that what we long for is often bigger than our own limited vision. What we pray for has implications beyond ourselves. When we allow ourselves to be opened to the power of God in our lives, it changes who we are in the world. That is how we change the world…by changing ourselves one step at a time. World peace is massive, but we cannot ignore it because we are overwhelmed by it. It is all the more reason to pay attention to the violence right in front of us. It is the reason we must begin with ourselves. We are a peace with justice congregation. The threshold of world peace calls to us. It is time for us to step through it.