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Are you ready?
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
On Thresholds and Threshing Floors
Make us new today, Lord.
Make Raleigh new.
Make Cary new.
Make Durham new.
Make Garner, Sanford, Fuquay new.
Help us make Houston new. Miami new.
Make all things new, God, and let us play a part.
How many of you listen to Krista Tippett’s podcast “On Being” on NPR? Ok. Everyone get out your devices and download that podcast.
Tippett’s recently aired interview with that mystical marvel of a theologian, the now sainted Irishman John O’Donohue, had me captivated for an hour last week, especially as my Father was sending me pictures of Ireland while he and my mother were there on holiday.
He has this wonderful quote, though most everything that drops from his mouth is a pearl of wisdom, but he said that “Music is what language would love to be if it could.”
Man, I love that. The poet in my loves that. The musician in me loves that. The pastor in me who comes from this musical tradition known as Lutheranism loves that.
He goes on to say that beauty, in and of itself, is one of the things in this world that can remind the soul about God. He claimed that so many people have left the faith, and left God, because the “God question” for them has died for them because the question has been framed in “repetitive, dead language.”
Leave it to humans to take a beautiful God and reduce it down to bland dogma and doctrine…
Which is why, here, we must continue to talk about God in exciting and interesting ways, like music which moves in us and through us and actually moves us to action. Like random bits of beauty, like these banners up here made by one of our own, which speaks to God’s creativity not only in our brains, but also in this harvest time we’re entering.
Pure language just won’t do; we must be inventive in how we introduce and re-introduce the God question for Raleigh and the Triangle because it is still a question worth asking in our times.
O’Donohue finishes this thought by saying that this world today is missing the “thresholds where people can encounter these things that lead them deeper and wider into knowing God and one another,” particularly the God known in the person of Christ.
Think of what a threshold is: it’s the dividing line between one place of being in this world and another.
It comes from that old word “threshing,” where grain was separated from the husk. The threshold was the place of separation.
We are at thresholds all the time, Beloved.
Think of that old ritual of the newly married couple, and one of them picking up the other to walk across the threshold.
You know that old custom was an ancient Roman way of embodying the idea that the couple was becoming something new in their shared home, but still reluctant to leave their old life. Before they were one way and reluctant to leave their families. And now, in this shared home, they are another way. Transformed. Changed.
That’s a threshold: that place where you move from one way of being to another.
Your phone rings at 2am. Someone is in the hospital; time is short. Everything planned for that day changes because we’ve entered a threshold where priorities are adjusted.
The pink slip is on your desk. A threshold.
Your baby moves out of the house. A threshold.
A baby moves out of the house. A threshold.
Your parents move into the house. A threshold.
You move into a new home. A threshold.
You get engaged. A threshold.
You get divorced. A threshold.
A hurricane. A threshold.
There are thresholds all around us, those place where separation happens between the way we used to be and the way we need to be now. And the church, Beloved, when it’s at its best, is the place that helps us all, helps Raleigh, to frame these thresholds, these changes, in the shape of the cross. Because despite what the ancient people used think about thresholds, thresholds are actually the place where God hangs out.
And we see this in Jesus as he pushes the disciples over the threshold of seeing the bleeding woman, the man born blind, the paralyzed friend, as not someone outside of God’s grace but at the center of God’s grace. We see this in Jesus as he pushes us all over the threshold of the cross where sin and shame go to die with God and we are made newly resurrected. We see this in the person of Jesus when, even as a newborn infant, the angels sing about God’s salvation to a bunch of shepherds and the world hasn’t been the same for 2000 years.
Thresholds are experiences that need framing and reframing; they are the God question asked over and over again in our daily lives, “Where is God in all of this?” and we, Beloved, are invited to be a part of helping one another, helping Raleigh to see how God is in their lives at every threshold, good or bad, because every one is life-changing. It is the very concept our cross-generational ministry is based upon: marking different thresholds in our lives, setting them apart, lifting up their sacredness, even though they’re sometimes mixed blessings.
And, when we’re really honest, a lot of thresholds just feel like tragedy. Like curses. Like crosses. And in the Jesus story we hear that God is even there, mysteriously, not causing it but already in the act of healing it as we reach for the hem of the garment of meaning.
You know, Good Shepherd is at a threshold of sorts, too. In the past few years we’ve had total pastoral turn over, new staff members, new mission and vision work. Sometimes I’m sure that all the newness can get pretty old.
But this is part of God’s work, too, Beloved. Making all things new, even this living organism that we call church, here.
If God is indeed making all things new, if we are indeed at thresholds daily, then this place can be the threshing floor, that place where we start to sort it all out together through music and beauty and scriptures and water and meal. God is not found primarily here. I fully believe God is encountered primarily out there. But here is where we take the puzzle pieces that different thresholds have left us in and start to put them together.
And I bet, beloved, that when we put that puzzle together they’ll fit in the shape of a cross, reminding us that no matter what thresholds we encounter in life, God is with us, calling out to us with love and forgiveness, peace and mercy, inviting us to be made new.