*Picture from Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, by David Bahr, 2013
Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
January 22, 2017
“Crossing the Threshold of a New Era”
Psalm 27: 1, 4-9 – New Revised Standard Version
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in God’s temple.
5 For God will hide me in God’s shelter
in the day of trouble;
God will conceal me under the cover of God’s tent;
God will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in God’s tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek God’s face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
On Friday afternoon we crossed the threshold – from one era to another.
The early Celtic people who lived in the British Isles were fascinated by thresholds; places of meeting. The Celts were transfixed by doorways where the outside and the inside meet. They were fascinated by such places of meeting as shorelines where water rolls in to meet the land. The Celts were captivated by places of meeting like where underground water bubbles up to the surface from deep below. Thresholds. Like the transition from day to night. Did anyone ever ask you to listen very carefully as the setting sun touches the horizon? Listen carefully. Be very still and you will hear it – that’s the sun sizzling the earth where they meet.
The Celts used the imagery of shorelines and doorways to describe the kinds of places where there is a very thin divide between the past, present, and future. They called them “thin places,” “where the veil between this world and the next is so sheer you can almost step through.”
When Christianity was later introduced to the British Isles and spread among the Celts, it mixed with this earlier folklore, and the idea of thin places expanded to moments of meeting between the holy and the ordinary. Thin places became those places where we meet God, where God feels especially close and real.
But what does that mean? Is this a place or an attitude? Are they dwellings or a state of being? Since I first heard of thin places, I’ve appreciated the idea. And it’s ripe with potential for this moment in history.
Eric Weiner wrote an essay about his experiences of traveling to thin places when he was a travel writer for the New York Times. He calls these “locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent,” or as he likes to think of it, the “Infinite Whatever.” He was not the religion writer! Travelling to thin places, he said, does not necessarily lead to anything as grandiose as a “spiritual breakthrough, whatever than means. But it does disorient. It confuses. We lose our bearings, and find new ones.”
That may be the saving grace of the threshold we crossed this week. Lost, disoriented and confused – emotions expressed by many – yet, I believe, this chaos may lead to clarity and new insight. Our country may have lost its bearings (some may say, we’ve lost our mind), but we are now on our way to a breakthrough; to greater understanding about who we really are and the importance of actually pursuing an open, inclusive, just, and compassionate world. It doesn’t just happen on its own. And to me, that’s hopeful. We are in a thin place.
I recognize that thin places are essential to my spiritual life. For me it’s essential that our senses are occasionally caught off guard because the blessing is that our lack of understanding becomes a search for it. I think that’s part of why I am repeatedly drawn to travel to places where I can’t understand everything. In a literally different world, we are open to a whole different set of answers. Any time we let go of certainty, or even have it wrenched away, we gain the ability to receive.
Now, of course, to experience a thin place does not require a remote exotic location. Often it is simply bringing a different attitude to some place very familiar. When you go to work in the morning, what expectations do you carry with you? When you go home at night, what expectations do you carry with you? Does your attitude reinforce negative expectations so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s going to fail, so when it fails, I am proven right.
Sally just knew that at least one of her co-workers would get on her last nerve yesterday. She went in expecting it and when she got annoyed, it just proved her point. They’re all a pain in the neck – but that all of a sudden morphs into “nobody appreciates me.” Which further disintegrates into “I’m doomed to be unhappy forever.” Of course, you can just change out “co-worker” for neglectful spouses or ungrateful children for whom we set the expectation that they don’t appreciate us. Setting ourselves up for disappointment. We can even substitute president and member of Congress and we will succeed at setting ourselves up just to prove a point. It’s going to fail and there is no hope.
But rather, Psalm 27 proclaims: “When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh – my adversaries and foes – they shall stumble and fall.” You didn’t hear that part of Psalm 27. Curiously, the lectionary committee skipped verses two and three. But this is where the conflict is named. Confidence is expressed in opposition to fear. Eugene Peterson helpfully translates evildoers as “vandal hordes and bullies. They shall fall flat on their faces.”
The New Revised Standard Version of Psalm 27 says, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” Or as Peterson put it, “When all hell breaks loose, I’ll remain calm, cool, and collected.”
Psalm 27 is called a triumphant song of confidence. It begins with the familiar refrain, “Whom shall I fear!?” Chest thumping. It starts there. And yet sadly, not many verses later, it says “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn away in anger. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.” But if she is so confident, “Whom shall I fear!?” then why does she so quickly lament that this God, whom she calls her “Stronghold;” why would this God cast her off, walk away, and give her up to her enemies?
I wonder if that isn’t another thin place. A threshold where, like water rolling onto the shore, fear meets confidence. The meeting place of doubt and hope. The threshold; one side despair, the other side faith – often a very thin place. But the place in between, God – not only on one side and not only on the other. In the middle of the doorway. Where we meet. Where, when we are lost, disoriented, and confused, we will find ourselves, each other, and our bearings.
Agnes Norfleet said, “What is significant about sacred places turns out to be not just the places themselves. It’s memories, a piece of music, a special story, a word spoken at the right time – all of them are a thin place where we can remember God seeming to be very close and very real. And not.” Have you ever felt the disappointment of returning to a place that no longer speaks to your soul? Sometimes because we bring too much expectation, wanting it to be the same, only more of it. But instead of being a thin place anymore, it’s already thick with preconceived notions and ideas. I’ve had that happen.
The Psalmist says she wants to live in the house of the Lord all the days of her life. But, I believe, this confirms that the house of the Lord is less of a dwelling than an attitude. And it sounds like one of my favorite lines from UCC pastor Ken Samuels when he says, “Christianity should not be about pie in the sky by and by when we die but something sound on the ground while we’re still around.” I want to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life speaks of LIFE. To recognize God’s presence Now. Here.
Many of us do not want to cross this particular threshold – this place of meeting between now and the next four years. Feeling lost, disoriented and confused. But, rather, I’ve concluded, we can bring to this time an embrace of new insights and possibilities and renewed energy. An openness to “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
I was going to say “Amen” here. And when I finished writing my sermon, I got in the car and drove away feeling satisfied. But by the time I got to King Soopers I realized, what a white privilege thing to say. While I’m looking at this as a threshold for new insights and possibilities, others too will be standing at the threshold – some struggling not to be thrown out the door; others standing at the threshold barred from entering. I mean: We’re looking at the doors of hospitals shut. Doors of women’s health clinics shut. Doors of climate scientists shut. Even the doors of public schools shut.
We must ensure that all these new insights and possibilities and energy are redemptive – not just enlightening. And that calls for our passion, and anger, and that our will to resist not fade after 100 days. We must not forget that things will not be alright for everybody. Yes, we don’t know what’s going to happen. But a lot has been promised.
It’s important that we commit to stand with each other and that we will continue to help another cross this threshold together. And build a chain strong enough to hold and deep enough to protect those exponentially more vulnerable than we, who can ill afford the luxury of a laisse faire attitude to the potential benefits of thin places at this moment in history. Yes?
Even so, remembering that we are people of faith – faith in a God who is stronger than our fear. God is the stronghold of our life; of whom shall we be afraid? Even though all hell break loose, yet, we shall remain confident and seek only one thing: that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord all our days. But that’s not enough. We must also hold open the door for anyone those in power try to shut out. In God’s house, we are all welcomed across the threshold. Let’s make sure no one tries to pass a law against that!
 The Message
 Faith in Public Life: http://www.justice100.org/
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Traveling around the world