Rev. Stacy Swain
June 5, 2011
Acts 1:6-14, John 17:1-11
I have been thinking a lot lately about in-between times, transitions, that space that lies between what was and what will be.
A lot of us, now are in that space. Our graduates are in it as they have left school but have not yet entered into that which will come. The Gallegos family stands in this space in the transition of their move. My family stands in this in-between time as we wait to see what life without my father-in –law is going to look like.
We, as a church, soon will enter that space as our program year draws to a close, as we move into summer’s expansiveness, a space in between church years.
Now it is common to think of the space of in-between- time as being rather vacuous. As a something we just need to get through in order to get to what comes next. We tend to think of in between times as not having much substance in and of itself. Summer in our church after all is a time when “When God goes to the Cape,” as it is said, when all of us put down our Bibles and pick up the latest, hot summer read.
But we do ourselves a disservice, I think, if we try to move through transitions too quickly, or, if we simply distract ourselves with other things. For in-between-times hold the potential for some of our most spirit filled growth.
Theologian Benjamin Valentin, in his book Mapping Public Theology, calls this in-betweeness — liminal and he sees that liminal spaces can be embedded with power, that they can be sites of grace. They can function as a kind of Sabbath space, where that has been germinating in us is given space and time to reveal itself, birthing new insights and awareness into our lives, insights and awareness that far too easily could be missed if time and space were not allotted. Liminal spaces function like pregnant pauses in the forward movement of time.
In what I find to be tremendously evocative, Valentin goes on to conceive that it is in this space of liminality, that we encounter Jesus. For he sees that that Jesus in his person, in his flesh and blood, incarnates the potential and power that lies in the space between the divine and the human.
In our text this morning from the Book of Acts, the disciples encounter transition. With Jesus’ ascension, the close of his earthy ministry, the disciples step into a between time. They go to the upper room and devote themselves to prayer. They take time to reflect, time to let all that has been germinate. And it is in what is a liminal space that they will receive the power of the Holy spirit at Pentecost next week.
Simply being in a time of transition, however, does not automatically mean that it will be liminal, that it will be a birthing ground of insights and growth. That it will open to encountering the divine. For the Book of Acts shows us that the disciples first had to set aside two ways of being and thinking before they are able to find their way into the divinely inspired liminality of the upper room.
The first posture they had to set aside is that of wanting to know, of needing clarity. The passage opens with the disciples asking, “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” The disciples want to know how this transition is going to play out. What they can expect. Is the new reality is going be as they want?
This, so very often, is our posture when faced with transition. We want to know with some certainty what is coming and if it going to be to our liking. We want to know that the plan is going to work out as we envision.
But did you catch, did you hear how Jesus responds? He tells them that they do not need to know how things are going to play out. What they need is a spirit that will enable them to engage whatever it is that transpires. It is the qualitative experience of the transition itself that is important, not the particulars of what will or will not be. How they engage what is, will affect how they experience what will come.
Jesus tells them that they do not need to know, what they need is to receive, receive the power of the Holy Spirit, he tells them, and everything else will flow out of that. Whether the kingdom of Israel will be restored is not the point. Your disposition of Spirit, he tells them, is.
The second posture the disciples must release is the slack jawed, cloud gazing stance they fell into after the ascension of Jesus. We hear the two men in white robes call them back to their senses saying “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” Taking up Jesus instruction to adopt a receptive posture does not mean that we are to be immobilized, rendered passive.
If what Valentin postulates is true, and I believe that it is, that the person of Jesus incarnates the power and potentiality of the liminal space between the human and the divine, then as the Gospel of John tells us, as we live into the witness of Jesus we too participate in the power and potentiality of God. This is the eternal life that Jesus speaks of. Like the disciples we do not need to worry about knowing how everything is going to play out, nor do we have to stand passive and dumbfounded by it all. Instead we are to move into a place of receptivity where we can engage the power of the Holy Spirit and act out of that power, witnessing to Jesus, embodying in our living the incarnate presence of the divine in our lives.
These times of transition that we are in help us to practice this new posture. They help us practice setting aside our need to be in control, our need to know how it all will out. They help us practice opening ourselves up to receive and engage the Holy Spirit so that we may step into that liminal space between the divine and humanity where the power and potentiality of Jesus dwells.
So in the transitions of our lives and as we as a church move into the end of our program year, as we step off into the expansiveness of summer, let us practice a disciples’ posture of receptivity. Let us actively engage the Spirit so that we when we emerge from transition, when gather again in the fall, we will be gathered into a life not of our own making but into a life made by the power and potentiality of God, a life animated by the spirit and birthed out of that space of divine liminality. AMEN.