Damariscotta Baptist Church
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

03/17/13 Sermon - Liminal Space

 

Psalm 126

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

How many of you have ever heard the term “liminal space” before?
The word “liminal” actually comes from the Latin word limens, which means "threshold."
And of course being on the threshold of something is a place where we’re not quite there yet but we’re not where we began either. -----We’re in the in- between.

Being in liminal space is a place of transition, of waiting; a place of not yet knowing or realizing.

And that can often be a difficult place to be. Most of like to know where we are and where we’re going.
And when we don’t, we can be afraid, and anxious in our uncertainty.
A great metaphor for liminal space is the picture on the front of the bulletin; that frightening place in between the trapeze bars.
And all of us have found ourselves or will find ourselves there sooner or later.
When you graduate from school and you’re on the threshold of something else. Or you begin a new job or career,----or when we move to a new city.

Liminal space occurs in our lives when we transition into marriage or into divorce.

It also occurs for those whose health changes leading to a different stage of life.
And ultimately we will all enter liminal space when we go thru the passing of this life into the life up ahead.
So what does liminal space have to do with our scripture today?

Well if we look closely at Psalm 126, we can see the psalmist is describing the liminal space that he and his people are in.

Written while in exile, we can see the transitioning from one place to the next in this psalm.
It occurs between verses 1 thru 3 and verses 4 thru 6.
In fact in some Bibles you might literally see a significant space that was done intentionally in the printing of this psalm.
This space represents a gap in the story of the Israelites exile into Babylon.
Note in verses 1-3 how the psalmist is thinking back to the good ole days. There’s a remembering of good times when everything was dreamy.
But then in verse 4 there is a change in the psalmist’s words that is sandwiched in between words that speak of the return of joy again.
Notice the change in verse 4. The psalmist says:
Restore our fortunes,[c] Lord, like streams in the Negev.
In other words we’re not restored right now….things are not good right now.

But then the psalmist continues:

Those who sow with tears
 
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,

  carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,

  carrying sheaves with them.

Clearly we see the difficult liminal space between when things were good and dreamy and being on the cuff or threshold of when things will be good again.
So what’s the significance of this liminal space? Is it even worth reflecting on?
After all, most of us see the in between time as an unwanted but necessary evil in life.
They’re kind of like commercials we have to sit thru when we’re watching a TV program.
We’d prefer to hit the fast forward button to skip over these transitional times.

But notice that the psalmist doesn’t avoid or skip over the liminal space.

Nor does he get stuck in it either.
And that’s an important point for us to stop and reflect on today.
How do we live our lives while we’re in the liminal spaces?
Do we find ourselves wanting to fast forward thru it and avoid them?-----Or do we find ourselves stuck in it living in despair?
How should we live our lives between the trapeze bars?
Well this Psalm offers us some key insights in how to live our lives during the liminal spaces.
So let’s take a look:

First of all, for many of us, we can find ourselves getting stuck in the liminal spaces of life.

And this happens when we get stuck in the nostalgia of “remembering when”.
Have you ever caught yourself taking strolls down memory lane? Many of us have probably gotten together with family and watched those old 8 millimeter movies or went thru the photograph albums.

And of course these can be fun, but for many it can lead to a deep sense of melancholy as well as a sense of despair.

People see old photographs and they can’t imagine things ever being good again--- nor do they want to believe it.
Their liminal space is a place of darkness and hopelessness.
Now this could have happened to the Israelites as they looked back at their good ole days, when things were dreamy and they were the envy of all the people.
But as we see in this psalm, they don’t stay there. It’s important for us to realize this as well when we’re in the in between liminal places.
Life is a journey. We have wonderful memories, as well as regrets like the Israelites had.

But life is about moving forward; remembering when God has been with us and leaning on the promise that He is in front of us as well.

When we get stuck in the past we get stuck in the present and we fail to live faithful lives trusting in the God of the future.
So how do we move past the past and live properly in the moment of the liminal space?

Well as we see in this psalm when we’re in the in between time we need to do the hard work of grieving.

So many of us can want to avoid the liminal space of grieving. Many church folks believe that in order to be faithful they need to be strong and sweep their grief as well as regrets under the rug.
But again the psalmist doesn’t avoid or skip over the liminal space of grieving.

Instead we see in verse 4 words of grieving and repentance…….Restore our fortunes O Lord…the psalmist continues speaking about tears and sorrows.

Grieving is a necessary part of the journey.
A few years ago I helped a group of lay folks begin a grief support ministry called Life After Loss.
And at the heart of the grief ministry was the understanding that there is no way around grief; no way over it and no way under it.
The only way to get past grief, it is to go thru it.
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of our health, or the loss of a career, grieving is a natural and necessary part of who we are.
The psalmist reminds us that the only way we can find new life again is to go thru the dying process of grieving.
Notice the language of sowing in verse 5---the Israelites understood sowing as dying….
But on the other side of this sowing and dying was a harvest of bringing in the sheaves of resurrection and new life.
The psalmist also uses the metaphor of the dry riverbed of the Negev that is filled by their tears. Thru their tears the river is flowing abundantly again.
Our sorrows and dying lead to healing and new life.
And the comforting part of this grieving is the reality that as we go thru this liminal grieving space, we don’t go alone.

The psalmist reminds us all the way thru this psalm that God is with us.

And this is where the psalmist finds hope even in the grief. The hope is not simply in the next trapeze bar up ahead because he’s not there yet.
Instead it’s in the knowledge that the Israelites are not alone. It is because of who God is and has been to them in the past that they have hope.

In our liminal space, we are called to grieve. -------- So ask yourself today:

-What sorrows have you not wept?
-What grief have you not fully journeyed thru?
God is with us in between the trapeze bars. He weeps with us and offers us new life as we weep with him………………………
Now another very important way we are called to live in the liminal space has to do with the anxiousness and fear we can find ourselves when we’re “in between the trapeze bars”
When our future is unknown, when things are uncertain, we can experience a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety.
I know for me and my family as we have stepped out into the uncertainty it has been quite scary.

When I left my secular job in sales for 15 years I found myself in the liminal space of going into full time ministry.

When we stepped out in faith to come to a place in Maine that we couldn’t even pronounce, we found ourselves between the trapeze bars again.
Of course scripture is full of accounts of people finding themselves in liminal spaces.
Abraham leaving his homeland not knowing where he was going, Moses returning to Egypt not knowing what was going to happen, David stepping out in faith to fight a giant.
Peter and Andrew, James and John leaving their fishing nets to follow Jesus, and of course Peter getting out of the boat to walk on water are all liminal moments.
All of these and many more are instances where there was a leap of faith.

And in each of these instances there was that uncertainty and anxiousness and fear.

But it was in these liminal spaces, that an opportunity presented itself for their faith to be strengthened and their authentic true selves to come to fruition.
And the same can happen for you and me.
But that means we have to see the in-between liminal space as not something to avoid but rather an opportunity to grow in our faith and in our trust of God.
The late catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen loved to go to the circus to watch a family trapeze act known as the Flying Rodleighs.
Nouwen got to know the family and actually spent time touring with them in Europe to learn more about their art.
One day, Nouwen asked the leader of the troupe known for his great acrobatic flips in mid-air what the most important thing about flying was.
And he was surprised by the answer.
Rodleigh said 'As a flyer, I must have complete trust in my catcher.
The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher.
'The secret, he said, “is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me safely.'

Nouwen scratched his head and said" 'You do nothing!'

'Nothing,' Rodleigh repeated. 'The worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. I am not supposed to catch Joe. It's Joe's task to catch me.
If I grabbed Joe's wrists, I might break them, or he might break mine, and that would be the end for both of us. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him.'……………………….

The times between the trapeze bars for us are not times to avoid or see as punishment.

Instead they are opportunities for us to grow in our dependence and our trust in God.
When we find ourselves in uncertainty, in times of darkness, in times of anxiousness we are actually being invited to an even deeper relationship with God.

Therefore, liminal space isn’t something to run from; it’s actually something to embrace.

And as we do, we’re in a place of conversation with God, listening to God, in tune with God’s nudgings, reflecting on who we are and what we want and what God wants………………….
Now DBC finds itself as a church in the liminal place----it is a time of transition. 

This church has a rich history and tradition and past. Many of you can reminisce about the good ole days when this church was packed.

And as you do remember, it can be easy to stuck in those days trying to bring them back.
It can also be a time that makes you anxious with lots of wondering of what the future is. Some can fear the worst.

But if the church will see this as a time of listening to God, of being open to God’s leading it can be a time to embrace.

The liminal space of DBC and our Methodist friends worshipping with us is an opportunity to grow in our faith; to grow in our trust.
And as decisions are made, they need not be hasty grabs to try and numb the pain or attempts to go back to the good ole days.

It is an opportunity to be like the psalmist who sees this time of struggle in the light of God’s presence as a holy time; a time to look forward to trusting that God will be with you and that there will be great joy as you bring in the sheaves of the harvest of a new life; a new way, a new path.

Today as we travel toward the cross in this season of Lent, we are being reminded to not travel too fast or to fear what lies ahead.

For our Lord went thru the liminal space himself.

In his walk toward the cross, he found it dark and lonely. But as he let go and flung himself forward he did so with trust.
And as he was sown in the tomb, there was a Catcher waiting to catch him and lift him into the abundant harvest of eternal life.
In closing, it is my prayer that this church will enter into its liminal space with a healthy and honest grieving and with an intentional desire to listen to God patiently and faithfully.
May we trust in the One who has been with us--- is with us now--- and will be with us up ahead.
Let us sow seeds of sorrow and cry riverbeds of tears.
But let us also live in joyful trust for one day we will all be rejoicing as we’re bringing in the sheaves.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen