Living in Liminality

Sermon Preached at Christ the King on October 12, 2008

Exodus 32:1-14 (Semi-Continuous)
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 (Semi-Continuous)
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14
Lectionary 28
Proper 23
Year A

I.N.I. (In the name of Jesus


It is late at night in the early ’70s. The country is tired of war, experiencing financial uncertainty and weary of anyone in positions of authority or leadership. You are laying in bed listening to your local FM rock station. A song comes on, its crunchy intro mixing some nasty wah-wah guitar with a little Hammond organ. Halfway through, there’s a wicked cool guitar solo. But something resonates deep within you and you focus to really listen to the lyrics…

Golden country your face is so red
With all of your money your poor can be fed
You stall around and you flirt with disaster
Never really carin’ just what comes after

Mortgage people you crawl to your homes
Your security lies in your bed of white foam
You act concerned but then why turn away

The time has come for you my friend
To all this ugliness we must put an end
Before we leave we must make a stand

Whoa. Beyond the awesome rift, and lyrics, you realize this is a protest song!

The prophetic song “Golden Country” from 1972 was written by R.E.O. Speedwagon’s guitarist Gary Richrath who left the band in 1989. “Rich-wrath” an interesting name and wrath is definitely something many are feeling toward the rich mortgage bankers, stock brokers and politicians who have profited without seeming to care about the consequences of their actions. (www.amthenfm.wordpresscom, April 2008)

There is another word that may be used to describe today, this time between the biggest financial crisis in generations less than a month before national elections, and a frighteningly uncertain future. The word is liminal. Defined by Merriam-Webster as that which is of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition: in-between, or transitional. Liminal, a word from the Latin for threshold is a place full of impatience and worry as our “Golden Country” finds itself in outer darkness.

The Israelites are impatient about their often absent leader Moses and worried about their future…

Last week we heard the Ten Commandments in the Hebrew Scripture reading. The giving of the law by God through Moses. And what is commandment number one? God said: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.

The Israelites in their impatient waiting for God are in a liminal place. Their worrying and need to see and worship a tangible god, moves them build a golden calf. At the mountain threshold, their wilderness wandering behind them for the moment, their fears get the better of them. The Exodus project is liminal, in-between the known of Egypt, tired of their wilderness experience and far from the future Promised Land. In their impatience they convince Aaron who having read the latest tracking polls, proposes a bold means of hope for his “Golden Country” a cast calf and festival day.

Well they had to DO something after all, that maverick agent of change Moses kept wandering off to be with this God they couldn’t quite grasp. But a golden calf was a god they could see and touch, and worship on their terms. This golden god seemed to be a change they could believe in and brought some control into the outer darkness of their wilderness experience.

We too are impatient about present financial and political leadership and worried about the future…

This week Wall Street experienced a devastating decline as worried investors, impatient with the credit crisis, sold frantically and propelled the Dow Jones Industrial average to the worst week in history. Frozen credit markets and a loss of confidence in the world’s financial system have caused the Dow to drop 21 percent in just 10 trading days. “Fear has been running rampant all over the Street. Fear and greed, that’s what rules the Street. I think the carcass has been stripped to the bone,” said Dave Henderson, a floor trader on the New York Stock Exchange for Raven Securities Corp. (Tim Paradis, AP Business Writer)

Our outer darkness is full of impatience and worry. What happens when we get impatient and worry? Do we build golden calves and worship other gods? Do we rush to action in anger, long to punish others, or make rash decisions? In our impatience and worry, our relationships and our health suffers. In our selfishness we seek gods we can control and worship idols that we choose. In our anger we speak ill of each other and quickly find scapegoats to direct blame. We seek revenge to feed our blood lust and rush to make changes for change sake.

Worst of all, we reject the most important invitation, or worse yet refuse to accept and put on the gift of grace, the promise of our baptisms. As Thomas Long bluntly says:

…to come into the church in response to the
gracious, altogether unmerited invitation of Christ
and then not conform one’s life to that mercy
is to demonstrate spiritual narcissism so profound,
that one cannot tell the difference between the
wedding feast of the Lamb of God
and happy hour in a bus station bar.

(Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion, John Knox 1997)

God does get impatient—no God gets downright mad with the disobedient Exodus wanderers and wants to literally destroy them…

Barbara Brown Taylor says in her article Tales of Terror, Times of Wonder that “the Bible offers us more than just consolation and encouragement. Its pages are also filled with terror, violence, and the knowledge that we are ultimately in God’s hands.” God in seeing what is going on at the base of the mountain looses all patience with the people. Moses is told about the depth of this terrifying anger and God’s violent plan to wipe them out, and start anew with Moses.

But Moses reminds God of God’s promise to multiply the descendants of Israel like the stars of heaven, and to give the descendants the Promised Land and inherit it forever. And God changed God’s mind about the complete annihilation of the people at the base of the mountain. In this golden story, salvation is not a matter of rich wrath; rather salvation follows the intercession of a single person, Moses.

In that liminal time and place, Moses didn’t sell out the sins of the people for personal glory. Moses didn’t sell out his assistant Aaron under whose leadership the people broke God’s first commandment. Moses didn’t take the easy way out, God’s offer on the table to save him. Rather Moses confronts, reminds, and holds a mirror up to God’s wrath while advocating for the people God called him to lead.

God is patient. God forgives. God keeps God’s promises. For the people who God was ready to rain terror upon, God was patient. For Aaron who not only broke, but led the efforts to cast the idol and organized the celebration, God forgave. And for Jews and Gentiles, the good news is that God sent Jesus to spend time in the outer darkness, on the edges with the marginalized, God kept God’s promise with God’s people.

We too live in a liminal time and place—this lack of completion or finality is the reality of our life’s journey…

As both saints and sinners we live liminal lives between selfish work plans and the Spirit working in us, between brokenness and wholeness, between suffering and joy, between noticing ourselves and noticing God. It is in these in-between times that we can feel uncertain, frustrated, disappointed, or frightened.

You shall have no other God’s before me, what does this mean? It means that we are to fear, love and trust God above all things according to the Small Catechism. In wrestling with Luther’s explanation, we come to understand that life is liminal. We stand always in the presence of God in awe and in fear because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is in and through this awe and fear that we are compelled to confess our sins and humbly ask for God’s forgiveness. And it is in love and trust that we are held in the eternal arms of God’s unconditional grace; and in the promise of God in water, Word and meal.

The good news is that God’s economy does not have a Wall Street address. The address is Golgotha. The good news is that God’s economic machine doesn’t produce fear and greed, but forgiveness and grace. The good news is that God’s time is not measured in financial quarters and fiscal years, but in three days and all eternity. The good news is that God’s currency isn’t found in stock futures and gold, but in the body and blood of Jesus the Christ, God with us.

In our liminal time and place, God is with us… Present in the outer darkness of our lives. Present when we are driven to weeping and gnashing our teeth. Present even when we wander off to false gods and worship idols. Present patiently offering forgiveness and comfort, keeping God’s promise forever.

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