Well, here we are at the beginning of another school year. Another church year begins with new commitments, perhaps a new committee to join, new friends, new schedules! John is back, Robin is back, I’m back, you’re back. The gang is all here!
Today also marks 15 years since 911, although discussion of that horrific event has lessened over the past 5 years in particular. Other world events have taken precedence. Last week Carol began a new church season, the Season of Creation, in which we pray and work for justice for God’s creation!
The fall is always a time of newness and renewal, even more so than January 1st. And even though Advent technically begins the new church year, it seems like the Sunday after Labour Day marks the practical beginning of the church year. Peter Faris, a former minister at St. Paul’s Trinity before amalgamation and who left ministry to become a teacher, used to describe one of the ministers in Nelson saying, “He was like a submarine; he’d dive down in September into the nitty gritty of ministry and then rise to the surface sometime in early June.” Well, even though that sounds a bit like what we do, it also sounds a bit over the top and I hope that’s not what we’re in for this year!
Also, I’ve learned over the years that I feel my losses much more vividly during August and early September as summer slowly, and sometimes quickly, gives way to autumn. The days are getting shorter and the season changes and for some reason my mind and heart feel the transition and the losses of my life more acutely.
It’s kind of appropriate, then, that the scripture reading for this morning is about lost and found. So, let me say something about Jesus’ teachings of lost and found. The cultural background to these two stories is very interesting. It is likely that the 100 sheep belonged to a family of shepherds, shepherds being very low on the social scale. The chief shepherd may have left the other 99 in the care of junior sheepherders. Apparently, sheep separated from the flock will just sit down and bleat incessantly. It won’t move even when the shepherd who knows the sheep comes; so, the shepherd would have had to carry the sheep. No question. And then the family would rejoice that a valuable part of the flock wasn’t lost!
The woman with the lost coin celebrated because she found a denarius, a drachma, the coin that was lost. A denarius was a 10-day’s pay so it was of some value to poor people. The woman turned her house upside down and then called her neighbours to celebrate; it has been suggested that the celebration was twofold: one to celebrate the finding of something of value and secondly to prove that the woman hadn’t made off with the denarius and was hiding behind the fact that it was lost.
Either way, when this whole chapter is considered, Jesus makes the point that time spent in searching for things lost is valuable. The next story in chapter 15 is the story of the prodigal son. All of these stories are set in the context of Jesus eating with Pharisees, tax collectors and sinners. So, maybe these are stories about the fullness of time, or what some have called liminal time.
Liminal time is a term borrowed from science, and it is the time between a chemical reaction starting and completing. It is that in-between time of beginning and completion.
In terms of today’s story from Luke, it is the time in between lost and being found. It is the time of searching in Jesus’ stories. Liminal time as an in-between time isn’t wasted time, as some might think; that maybe was the reaction of the Pharisees and Scribes thinking that Jesus was wasting his time speaking with tax collectors, hated people, and sinners. Or maybe people think that time is wasted looking for something.
But I believe that liminal time is the time in which we are currently living. The KinDom of God has been initiated and we are waiting for its completion. The prophets long before Jesus taught justice and peace; Jesus continued this message of justice, peace and healing, reminding people that we are in that phase of now and not yet. And we still live in that phase.
We experience the injustice perpetrated against God’s creation; but we are trying to make that right. We continue to experience international violence and uncertainty—poignantly demonstrated in 911 15 years ago! And there is still violence and injustice, acts of terrorism and hatred. But we move forward with a sense of justice. To be sure, the plea of many of us who call ourselves peace and justice advocates is, “When, O God? When will justice roll down like a mighty waters and righteousness like a never-failing stream??” It is happening and yet we are still in that in between time.
And personally, I feel this liminal time. You may feel it, too. The promise of healing and hope alongside the challenge of change and loss. As people of faith, we believe that we are not alone, that God is with us, and that with God nothing is impossible. And yet we know that loss exists—we have faced our own losses. We live in this assurance that we are not alone and we face the losses of our lives.
I feel my own losses acutely at this time of year for many reasons. It is transition into fall; the days are shorter and I think about the lost opportunities that I didn’t take over the summer. I think about the loss of innocence that seems to accompany me in this transition to shorter, cooler days. My dad died at the end of July over 30 years ago and that memory sticks. I think of the losses of childhood that comes with the return of school and the loss of fun, summer days. And somehow all of this is front and centre for me at this time of year more than any other; I remember my losses.
And in the midst of loss I have to remind myself that I’m in this liminal time, that God and the community to which I belong seeks me out. I am not truly alone. I am called to live with my losses, to celebrate my findings, and to know that I am part of a continuous community of faithful people over time who have struggled for justice and wholeness in the midst of moments of celebration and hope. This is the liminal time in which we live. It is a rich time of self-discovery and ultimately of hope. It is a time in which we can open ourselves anew, again and again, to love and the promise of love to create a new world in which to live.
This is the fullness of time, this liminal space that is part of our Christian tradition in which we live as people of faith. And we celebrate those moments of finding. We celebrate those moments of healing, those glimpses of God’s KinDom of peace and justice. In can be difficult living in this in-between time if we choose to live in isolation. But rooted in a tradition of faithfulness, aligned with a community of seekers and community-minded folk, and knowing that with God nothing is impossible, we live through our losses to our findings and know new life.
That’s the Good News for today. Amen.