Donna and I landed Friday after 15 hours of traveling back to Augusta from our pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy. Our travel included planes, trains and automobiles, no kidding. No less than 4 different planes, two trains and a bus ride is what it took to get there and then back again. In spite of being exhausted, we are both filled with so many stories to share, stories of new friendships, of discovery, and of faith.
On our first day of exploration, one of the many churches we visited was the Church of St. Mary Major, where we happened to cross paths with Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo. After watching a video on Assisi’s role in housing and hiding Jews who were fleeing from German persecution, the Monsignor allowed us to visit a most remarkable site being excavated that has not even been open to the public yet. Just discovered three months ago in the wall of the Bishop’s residence, there on the church’s grounds, was the very archway that St. Francis of Assisi walked through… the threshold that Francis crossed, who after hearing God’s voice tell him, “Francis, rebuild my church”, gave up his family wealth for a life of poverty and service. It is a doorway, dating to the Middle Ages, that leads from the old square into the bishop’s residence at which St. Francis stripped himself of his clothes and stood before the Bishop, renouncing all of his earthly possessions to live a life in service to others And to follow God’s call to rebuild the church. And the Monsignor allowed us a private glance at this most transformative place.
Since that first day, this idea of thresholds has presented itself over and over again during my travels… in my readings… in my discussions… and now in my sermon.
Thresholds are an amazing symbol of transformation. A threshold is not simply a boundary, but it is a frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. At this threshold, a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, and hope.
Life transitions are made of a beginning, a middle and an end stage with the threshold being the point between an ending and a new beginning. I bring this up because St. Augustine’s is at a threshold. We are in that liminal space between our past, our past with Rev. Jim, our past with who we were before Covid, or even who we were ten years ago, and our future. Liminal seasons can be challenging, disorienting and unsettling because we may feel that we are in the wilderness, not sure where we are and where we are going. Yet, liminal seasons are also exciting and innovative. The promise of a new beginning unleashes creative energy, potential, and passion.
Author Susan Beaumont says that the Judeo-Christian story is filled with liminal experiences. Our scriptures tell stories of characters who wander in and out of liminal times and spaces, being shaped further into the likeness of God through the power of luminosity (How To Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, 3). And today’s gospel is a continuation of one of those stories.
Our gospel reading is a continuation of the story of Jesus’ baptism by John. This morning we hear of John’s being arrested, and yet, Jesus continues to move forward with his mission. Calling upon simple uneducated men that he encounters. To help spread the Gospel to all who will listen and to teach about God’s love and promise of salvation.
Jesus begins his ministry in liminal or transformative space. Rising out of the baptismal waters, Jesus enters the desert for a period of forty days and nights, a liminal pilgrimage during which his new identity is formed and tested. His return from the wilderness signals entry into a new life as teacher, healer, and savior (Beaumont, 4).
I said in my sermon on the Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord as well as the baptism of Corey Cooper. That Jesus walked in faith, hearing the voice of God and following the call to serve. We too are walking in that same faith, listening for God’s voice, waiting for God’s hand to guide us to transform into what is needed to continue God’s kingdom, to grow in our faith, and to help those who are in need.
God is giving us this opportunity. To be in this uncomfortable and yet holy time of transition, in order to prepare us for what is next for St. Augustine’s. We must and we will discern together what we want to be. We will listen to each other. We will clarify our purpose. We will live in a time where we do not try to recreate our past but use it as a way to guide us to our future.
Think of the life-changing transitions the apostles made when they accepted Jesus’ invitation: He simply says to Simon,
Andrew, James and John, “Follow me and I will make you fisher of men.” We are not told that they asked any questions before putting down their nets. No one said, ok, but how are we going to pay for this trip? No one worried where they were going to have dinner than night, or breakfast the next morning. No one asked to run home and pack an overnight bag. And no one said, “No. I don’t have what it takes. I am not good enough.”
Jesus called twelve rough and tumble men who made a living working hard. He did not require their resumes. He did not need them to be the elite in scripture. He simply said, follow me. And they did. Immediately.
Talk about a transformative moment. One that would change their lives forever. They were willing to embark on a new path of faith. One that was foreign and frightening. One that challenged everything that they had known and been taught. One that took courage and conviction and well faith. And for some, a decision that would cost them their lives.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, and Simon, Andrew, James and John, Jesus is calling us to walk in that faith of the unknowing.
At the end of our service today, we will hold our annual meeting. We will distribute reports on what your clergy and vestry has done this past year to fulfill the mission we have all committed ourselves to: That with God’s help, we will proclaim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we will inspire people through worship, we will know one another by name, we will know and honor our neighbors as children of God and serve them in love, and we will strive for justice and peace respecting the dignity of all people.
During our meeting, we will be presented the budget that our finance committee has created and the Vestry has approved. We will vote for 3 new vestry members to replace the three that are rolling off. We will hear where we are in our search process for a new rector. But most importantly, we will recommit ourselves to our future together as followers of the way, and our mission as a part of that movement. Discerning together what God has in store for us as a congregation, listening for the path that God is asking us to take.
We are in our time of transformation, taking off our old ways and opening ourselves to what is next in the life of this parish. I must tell you, I am excited about what lies ahead. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit that permeates this church and each one of you.
Jesus has said to each one of us in His own way, I want you. You are exactly who I want and who we need. Follow me.