Sunday, June 1, 2014

Decisions and Destinations in Liminal Time

Call me a weirdo, but I really like this Seventh Sunday in Easter.  We've already had Ascension Day, but we haven't reached Pentecost yet.   This is like the period of suspension between Good Friday and Easter, except without that heartache of knowing that the man we regard as the only begotten Son of God was brutally executed.   

This is a time when we know something big is going to happen, but we're not entirely sure what.  And we aren't entirely sure  if it's a "good" big thing, or a "bad" big thing.  We just know that it is going to be big.  This is where the apostles are in the telling of our story.  The reading assigned from the Book of Acts is the opening, where we learn that Jesus has given what is essentially a final pep talk to his closest friends, and then he's gone.  And they're standing there, staring up into the sky.  And as they're doing this, and likely pondering, "What was that?" two men in white robes appear with them.
They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." (Acts 1:11)

The group trudges off to Jerusalem, where they sit in the upper room amongst other followers of Christ, to devote themselves to prayer.  This is the safe thing to do, and may be the only thing to do at this point.  When Jesus died on the cross, many of his followers were distraught and attempted to go back to their old lives working the nets in the sea.  But the resurrected Christ reminded them that they could not re-trace those steps as he continued to open their minds to their new reality.  Now, he's gone again, but they know they can't go back.  Still, they aren't really sure of how to go forward.  It's a scary world out there, as the First Letter of Peter notes.  "The devil" is like a "roaring lion" prowling and waiting to devour them.  So they must keep alert, and remember that others are in the same boat with them.  The reading from John's Gospel, which is a prayer Jesus is offering as almost a soliloquy, acknowledges that Jesus has prepared his followers to now walk on in his footsteps with God. But again, the apostles are not sure how to take those steps.  So they sit.  They pray.  They think.  They wait. 

In reflecting on this moment in the Biblical story, I see it  as being very similar to how things are here in the Southeast with the Episcopal Church in light of the events that have occured in the past week with regards to the blessing of a same-sex couple at Sewanee's All Saints' chapel.  The bishops, and others who attended the General Convention in Indianapolis in 2012, saw what the larger church was saying about blessing the relationships of lesbian and gay people.  An overwhelming majority voted for it, including some from the South.  The Church, in keeping with allowing bishops to know what is best for their individual dioceses, allowed them to go home, enter their own upper rooms, to consider what and how they might respond to this change.  They were given until the First of Advent to come up with a plan.  Many of them did this.  There were dioceses that accepted in whole the liturgy that had been adopted by the Convention, and some which would only accept a part of it.  And then there were some who returned to their upper room, shut the door, and no longer wanted to speak of this matter again.  Perhaps this was more than they could bear to handle at the time.

But even that huddled group in the upper room in Jerusalem was not going to be allowed to sit there in prayerful discernment forever.  As promised, another is sent, the Holy Spirit, to light that fire in their hearts, and under their butts, to get out there and let people hear the Gospel.  They've wondered, "What's next?" and "How do we do this?"  But the truth is, that Jesus had already given them his all in all and laid out a road map to follow; now they are fueled by the Holy Spirit to step out into the uncertain world and let the Spirit carry them forward both in their words and in their actions. 

Similiarly, the Spirit in this century has been doing the work of bringing people along to greater awareness about the love shared between two people of the same gender.  Nineteen states have realized that it no longer serves them to tell lesbian and gay couples that they cannot be married.  And as those states have come to this new understanding, the bishops in those dioceses have been ready to answer that they, too, will allow blessings to happen.  In fact, some of those bishops had already reached that conclusion before the state arrived at it.  But marriage equality has hit a brick wall in the South; hence, many bishops have been able to get by without having to do anything.  

This is why what has happened at Sewanee is significant.  Sewanee is its own peculiar liminal place in that it is owned by 28 dioceses in the South.  More than half of those bishops with a stake in the school have approved of blessing same-sex unions.  But they are not the ones sitting as the Regent Bishops nor as the Chancellor.  Still, the Holy Spirit doesn't back off or let closed doors or brick walls get in the way of a purpose.  This Voice of the Prophets may be thwarted, or put off, but the Spirit of God will prevail eventually.  Always.  And it happened: a same-sex couple will be blessed at the main chapel on the campus in the fall.

I think the Episcopal Church in the Southeastern United States is experiencing that fiery wind of the Holy Spirit.  Bishops may lock themselves in their upper rooms against this Spirit of Love, but it will keep blowing harder and harder like a hurricane until it breaks open their hearts and minds to see that its time to follow the direction the larger Church has given them.  For some, this may be their moment to be like the rich young man, and turn and walk away.  For others, this will be a moment of stepping out into that world that is fraught with danger, but they will find that they have been given the strength and courage to carry this out.  And they are never alone in their journey.  The inescapable truth is that Pentecost is coming.  They already are ready to lead on this.  And there are many of us eager to follow and bring us another step closer to equality for all.

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