“Thin Places in Turbulent Times” 04/28/2013 (Click on title for audio)

Rev. Stacy Swain
Revelation 21:1-6
John 13:31-35

I have heard it said — that the bombings of Marathon Monday – ought to be a wake-up call; that it ought to wake us up from the erroneous idea that we can live free from fear, that we can trust each other, that the world is good. I have heard it said that the bombings exposed the truth under the lie we have been living — that the world is actually a very scary place full of very scary people. Turbulence, not goodness, is the mark of our time and a touch of fear and suspicion is necessary for it keeps us vigilant. I have heard it said that it is time we face the fact that we live in a fallen world, full of fallen people, and we are just being naïve if we think compassion, not caution, ought to guide us.
Now we may not be in the habit of bringing our faith claims into the public square. We may be more in the practice of keeping our faith personal. But there are times when the truth claims of our faith need to be spoken. I believe now is such a time. For those terrible, terrible bombings did reveal a truth, but the truth they revealed is that grace and goodness, blessing and peace are the deeper reality, the deeper essence that holds and animates the world – and that hate, violence, vengeance and fear are the aberration, not the confirmation, of the nature of reality.

But, before we step into the audacity of that claim, let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
So, how is it that our faith dares to make the audacious claim that grace and goodness, blessing and peace are deep reality? How is it that we dare live that claim?

First, because such an assertion is our foundational story. “In the beginning, God created all that is and blessed all that is as good. That is how the Bible opens. The first truth that needs to be told.
I had a teacher who said “myth is the history that people forgot.” The opening creation myth holds the truth that people of faith across the millennium have affirmed and that is that God who we know as love creates, and as such all creation therefore has the imprint of love within it. And that the God of love blessed all that is as good and not just a “gold star” kind of good, but deep goodness. The Hebrew word is tov and it is a kind of powerful, connective force, like a gravitational pull of goodness, that holds everything together. The ontological nature of reality therefore is love and the divine physics that holds it all together is a connection of blessed goodness.
And we dare make this claim also because the Bible, (humankind’s attempt to give witness to a lived experience of God), is littered with encounters with this deeper reality of goodness, and what is striking is that many of these encounters occur in the most ordinary of places to the most ordinary of people.

There is Jacob who at least at the start is really more of a scoundrel having just cheated his brother out of his birthright than the hero of faith that he will become. Jacob is on the run when night falls. So he lies down on the ground in the middle of nowhere to sleep, and wraps his arm around a nearby stone to use as a pillow. And as he sleeps he has a vision of a heavenly ladder and of angels going up and coming down from heaven. He is so arrested by his vision of the meeting of heaven and earth, so certain was he that God had to be far away from wherever he was, that he takes his stone pillow, tips it on end as a marker and altar, saying “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!” (Gen. 28: 10-22).

Then of course there Moses who is minding his own business and his father-in –law’s flock when suddenly a bush burns; he is told to take off his sandels for he stands on Holy Ground and in doing so his life is changed forever. (Exodus 3:1-6).

And of course we remember the Samaritan woman at the well where she had gone a thousand times in that back breaking chore of hauling up water. But then he was there, Jesus and in the presence and with the words of this stranger from Galilee, the well becomes for her a font of living water and she finds refreshment and renewal like she never before had known. (John 4: 1-15).

Rocks, bushes, springs of water, the Iona Community in Scotland has a name for such places – places where heaven and earth embrace — where the deeper truth of tov, of goodness is revealed. They call these places—“thin places;” where the thick impenetrable fog of all the muck and mire of living dissolves and where deeper truth of grace and goodness, peace and blessing is revealed.

Have you known such a thin place? Do you know one now? There was a thin place that I visited a lot when I was in my teens. There was a huge boulder in a stream near our house that created a kind of waterfall as the water cascaded around it. I would often go there to sit upon the boulder, watching the flow of that water and as I did a deep peace would come over as I felt the goodness of all things lift the burden of my adolescent anguish from me.

I hear in the scripture from the Book of Revelation today what it is to encounter a thin place. For the new Jerusalem, this beautiful holy space, is not at a distance far way, out of our grasp place. Instead it descends and dwells on earth. And the new thing God is doing turns out is as old as that blessing of Goodness that dawned on that first day of creation. For

“the home of God is among mortals.
God dwells with us as our God and we as God’s people.
God is with us, wiping every tear from our eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

But of course a thin place does not have to be a place at all. And it does not have to be something that one just happens upon. For the ultimate thin place is of course the person of Jesus. In Jesus is the meeting of heaven and earth. Jesus inhabited and inhabits still that liminal space of the co-mingling of heaven and earth. Why do you think ordinary people crowded to be with him? I think it is because to be in his presence was to be awoken to and drawn into the foundational truth of blessing and goodness that is the deeper reality. That is why people found wholeness so profoundly in his presence. Yes, perhaps the blind actually did regain their sight and the lame actually walked again, and perhaps yes the deaf again heard clearly.

But I also believe that underneath whatever healing there may been, there was also a reclaiming of the goodness and blessing that is our deeper truth. And that brought wholeness.

And that is exactly what Jesus is again doing in the scripture today. The passage is really quite a powerful one. It is situated right after Judas gets up from the table and heads out into the night to betray. It comes, therefore just before Jesus faces his arrest. It ought to be a turbulent time. A time of fear, suspicion and caution. But instead, Jesus speaks these expansive words of dazzling beauty. Jesus says that right now, in this place, God’s glory is shinning forth he says. And that they are called to live in that place of glory and to help bring it about and extend it further by living love.

Why did Jesus tell his disciples to love? So that in the midst of what ever they face, in the midst of even the most turbulent times, the power of love would unveil the deeper reality of goodness and grace that not only will sustain them in trying time, but that will also redeem and heal and transform.

That is exactly what was happening in those moments after the bomb blasts. As those bombers walked away from the devastation with whatever hate filled motivations they had, love came rushing in. Compassion overcame caution as those places of horror were filled up by grace, goodness and healing, as people, ordinary people rushed in to help.
And over this past week, I dare say that stretch of Boylston street, that Copley Square has gotten thinner and thinner, as hundreds of people come to simply stand in that space, to pray, to weep — As altars of remembrance are made, as hearts burn with compassion, as each join their love with the love of all who turn our faces towards that place, to join our love with the love of God. I would not be surprised if there were not more than one of us who felt the urge to take off our shoes so real was the goodness and grace, blessing and peace, so real was the sense of holiness.

I think that fundamentally our purpose as people and role as a community of faith is; to reveal through living love the deeper ontological reality of goodness and grace. It is through living love that we join with God in opening thin places so that the outpouring of that goodness and grace can help bring about the healing and wholeness of the world.

And living love is exactly what we are doing and I even dare say that this corner of Beacon Street and Collins road is a thin place.

It was a thin place surely, that Tuesday at our prayer service when we opened our hearts in love to all who were killed, injured and reeling from those explosions. That chapel was a thin, thin place for as we did, the goodness and glory of God surely rushed in, we all felt it, and I am sure in some small but significant way, the darkness of that terrible Monday was pushed back. In fact I would not have been surprised if a passerby did not stop for a moment to wonder at the radiance coming from this place.

It was a thin place this Wednesday, down in the reception room as some of us meet for our spiritual autobiography class. It was thin as we took time to write and then speak stories of who we are, how we are, where it is we are going. There was healing and wholeness happening. Surely God was in this place.

And I felt it this past Thursday morning when we were at Waban Health Center; we went there to have a worship service as we do every month, but instead we stepped into such a sweet celebration that the residents had planned for us! With cake, poetry, and stories and certificates the residents poured out their love, for us. What a gloriously thin place that activity room became for us all as love pulled back the veil so that glory of goodness and grace, peace could rush in.

I could go on and on. So could you

Today is our stewardship Sunday and during our service of sharing those who have not already sent their pledges in will perhaps be moved to place them in the offering plate; and today, downstairs on the stage after the service you are invited to speak with people serving on the committees of the church; and your insert in the bulletin speaks of many of the ministry opportunities available to you. We do this because yes, we as a community do need our talents and treasure and ideas to keep this church running.

But what this is really about is an invitation to step into a deeper truth. It is an invitation to deepen and widen our love for each other and for God so that we may more fully experience the thinness of this place, so that we may more fully experience the grace and goodness, and sweet shalom of God. And that by experiencing it for ourselves we can extend it out into the world through ever widening reach of love.

So let us live love not just in this place but out into the public square. Let us live love out into the world. Let us live the audacious and truth- filled claim, that that grace and goodness, blessing and peace of God’s creation are the deeper reality, the deeper essence that holds and animates the world – and that hate, violence, vengeance and fear are the aberration, and not the confirmation, of the nature of reality. Let us live this audacious, life giving truth filled claim of our faith. It is who we are, and it is what we are called to do. Thanks be to God, Amen