To the Church in Exile,
Please note: Pastor Doug has also included a video version of today’s devotional. For some of you, that version may be more accessible – you can find it by clicking here.
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our lectionary reading today is from Matthew 5, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount:
1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In 2008, I had a sabbatical where I was granted a Lilly Foundation Clergy Renewal Grant that paid for a family trip to Great Britain and Paris. Our last four days were in London where Jean and I picked up a horrid seven-day bug. Jean had to fly 16 hours to LA halfway through the sickness while I was going to the center of ancient Celtic spirituality, Iona, Scotland. After a flight to Glasgow, I took a train to Oban and after unpacking in my B & B, felt so refreshed I went on a walk. A block and a half later in the middle of a parking lot it hit me: I was not refreshed. I was worse than ever. I saw a sign on the sidewalk that said, “Pray at the meter.” So, I did, I leaned on the meter and said, “God, just get me to Iona.” Stumbling back to my B & B, I read the sign again without the “r”: “pay at the meter.”
Two days later I wake up at my Catholic retreat house a half mile from the Iona Abbey and turn to the next chapter in my daily practice of lectio Divina (divine reading), Matthew’s gospel in the Message translation. It was the beatitudes of Jesus, the blessings:
You are really blessed when you’re at the end of your rope; with less of you there’s more room for God and his rule.
There are only two or three other sentences of scripture that have ever leapt off the page like that reading. I was at the end of my rope; I had nothing in the tank but was so ready to receive. That’s what poverty of spirit is. You’re open to help. Being at the end of my rope makes me open to the new. This is the blessing of being out of my comfort zone. There’s less of me.
Sometimes I find myself on my knees in prayer. I don’t like it. I pray like this when I got nothing but God. But, as I’ve said before, “on my knees is where I’m supposed to be.” When I’m on my knees, at the end of the rope, I am more open than ever to God and God’s rule or kingdom. And if I wasn’t forced beyond my own narrative, I would never see what God is doing because there’d be no room for it.
Social scientists talk about the liminal or the liminal space: it’s that location we find ourselves in when our story, our normal has been shattered or lost, but the new story, the new narrative hasn’t arrived. It’s the margin between my comfort zone and what God is bringing. And it’s awful.
This is where we are people, all of us, in this slow rolling pandemic that is taking lives, imprisoning our bodies, and decimating our economy. There is no comfort zone anywhere on this planet. And we should lament and weep. But if we can stay with this liminal space, if we can keep our eyes and ears open while clinging to the end of our rope, we’ll hear God’s voice telling a new story and we’ll see God’s rule in a new way. That’s a blessing.
Oh Lord don’t let us run back to our comfort zones. As we hang on to our ropes for our very lives, open our eyes and ears to the sounds and sights of your new reign in the ruins that we live in. Helps us to say goodbye and grieve so that we can say hello and bask in the blessings of Your tomorrow. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Peace in Christ,
Doug Kelly, Senior Pastor
Bethany Presbyterian Church
(206) 284-2222, x11