The Space Between
The Space Between - Sermon for Advent 2, 2018
(Before you go any further to read this sermon, please google “Border Crossing stories” and educate yourself with what is happening not only at our southern border here in the United States, but all around the world.)
If you have ever traveled internationally, you have crossed a border or two in your adventures. Borders traditionally mark transitions from one culture to another. This is as simple as crossing from one state to another or as complicated as crossing at the southern border of our country. I’ve traveled internationally a few times flying into El Salvador and back, driving over the border from McAllen Texas into Mexico, and driving the shorter route from Michigan to Niagara Falls (rather than driving around). Each of these was a pulse pounding experience. You hear story after story of outdated passports, corrupt officials, and language barriers that make communication almost impossible. Deep in your heart, you know you’ve done nothing wrong, yet there is always that chance that someone is having a bad day or has a negative opinion about the United States. I’m sure your pulse is rising a little just thinking about this experience.
Then, there is this feeling that you get when you leave one country and before you enter into another. If you have ever seen the movie, the Terminal, you know this experience. A man, Tom Hank’s character, is denied entry into the US because his papers are no longer valid due to his home country’s instability. He spends time seeking asylum and is only allowed to be in the international area at the airport, rather than set foot on US soil. I’m reminded of my trip home from El Salvador. When we got off the plane in Texas, and had to make our way through Customs, there was this feeling of uncertainty, for many different reasons. We had to pick up our luggage and recheck it before we got on the next flight. This feeling of uncertainty that we had and that we experience when we see the movie, it is a wilderness feeling.
It is a time when you simply do not know what the next step is going to bring. Yes, we had a sense of security coming home from El Salvador, we were all US citizens. Yet, for many this is not the case. For those who are lucky enough to be heard by heard by an immigration official at our southern border, this wilderness experience… well. I don’t know exactly what they are feeling and experiencing. I have never had to run for my life. I have never had to leave behind my culture, and everything that I knew so that my family could have a better life. The only way to begin to describe this feeling is leaving it as a wilderness.
This is not an unfamiliar term in our faith lives. In fact, this is the Sunday traditionally, when we talk about John the Baptist coming and making a way in the wilderness as we prepare for the Christ child. These words from the Gospel of Luke are quoted from the prophet Isaiah in the 40th chapter. These words emphasize the life-changing, revolutionary character of Jesus and his ministry for all people. These words give life and hope where both seem to be waning. These words give life, especially when we find ourselves in that space between events, transitions, at borders in our own lives, etc.
Many of us will never know the true wilderness that Migrants live on a day to day basis. We will never know what it is like to run for our lives. We will never know barriers such as language differences or meet people who abuse and exploit others just for profit. Yet, we do have the privilege to witness grace at work. We have the honor of knowing, loving and serving a God who works through programs and agencies that are a guiding light in the wilderness, bringing peace in the middle of uncertain times.
This is our message this morning. How do we bring peace in the wilderness for our own lives? For the lives that we are closest to? For the lives of our sisters and brothers that we have yet to meet? For the lives of those running for their lives? How is one child, the Christ child, going to change the world when there is so much that is uncertain?
Luke teaches us that is a matter of personal responsibility, personal discipleship. As Luke taught us that the ministry of Jesus Christ was for all people, he also spoke that all people have a responsibility to prepare for salvation through repentance and participation in the sacraments. John Wesley, our UMC founder, offers that true repentance as it leads to salvation is experienced at every stage in life - every border that we cross.
As I hinted in the beginning, border crossings mark a transition point - a departure from one culture and an entrance into another. These are transitions in life from jobs, ages, communities. These are changes in schools, grades, seasons. As we move along the journey of salvation, we have to evaluate how we respond to these moments in our personal lives, and what is our reaction when others are experiencing these in their own.
After last week, I had a few of you ask, what can I do? How can I help the migrants? I sense that we are feeling a stirring in our hearts that this humanitarian crisis is causing. Friends, we are at a border crossing of our own. We are here in our safe space preparing once again for the birth of the baby, Jesus, who would change the world. How is this going to change us? How is this miraculous event going to change our world?
What if we become more like Jesus? What if we follow in his footsteps and the examples of others who followed him? Look at our Philippians this morning. Paul is writing this from a jail cell. Instead of a woah is me attitude, he is commending the people he is writing to. He offering gratitude for their work and revealing that it is God who is the greatest partner in all of this. He challenges them to offer this holy living as a genuine act of worship to God. Friends, this space between our current world and the day when Christ comes as a baby is a wilderness. We are in an uncertain time. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring politically, theologically, socially, you name it. As we find ourselves in this wilderness, we have a choice to make. We can sit idle, and wait for others to bring the light to us. Or, we can pick up our lives and move towards the guiding light that is Jesus, with confidence that God is always surrounding us in the uncertainty of this space.
As I have been talking about transitions and borders, it hits me that this space between borders, is holy ground. This is one of the most powerful spaces in the world where grace is lived out. Those who receive good news in this sacred space are comforted, and inspired. Those who are deported back to their countries of origin are carried by God back to that uncertain ground. Those who are stuck in the middle, the space between, are never fully abandoned or forgotten, no matter what it feels like. God is there, through fellow travelers, through the work of those seeking justice…
Gavin Rogers, a UM Pastor in Texas recently spent 5 days traveling with the migrant caravan and he documented the entire experience. CNN recently covered it, and concluded 6 things that we can all learn from, when we are caught in this holy space. (Video?) https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/05/us/texas-pastor-migrant-caravan-lessons/index.html 1. They welcomed a stranger with open arms. 2. They wanted to be known and seen. 3. They don’t want more than the essentials. 4. The struggle didn’t end when they got to the border. 5. Christians responded more negatively than he expected. 6. The migrants taught him empathy, and they can teach others.
Friends, this advent season, we are at a border crossing of our own. We have to make a decision to trust Jesus. We have to make a decision to be more like Jesus. Simply, we have to make a decision to not treat another human being as less than equal. This is a decision to bring hope through an avenue of peace. We are called to act, for their lives as well as for our own. We are called to act and share the grace of God through our gifts and witness to all of God’s people.
Let us pray. God, this wilderness that we are journeying through this Advent season is tough. As we countdown to Christmas, we find ourselves wanting to rush through it. Help us to slow down. Help us to educate ourselves with what is happening around us and in our world. Help us to find you, in the space between, as we cross borders sharing your Gospel of peace. In the name of Jesus we pray, amen.