homily (1 of 2) prepared and shared at a mennonite central comittee–uganda team meeting, during a time of change and transition–7 of 12 team members are returning to north america in the coming months. this was our last team meeting together as this group…
ecclesiastes 3:1 for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven
jonah 1: 17 but the lord provided a large fish to swallow up jonah; and jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.
matthew 2:12 and having been warned in a dream not to return to herod, they left for their own country by another road.
homily: all we know is we cannot run from nineveh
for everything there is a season: a time to journey to distant lands, and a time to return by another road. a time to be in the belly of a fish, a time to be spat up on the shore. there is a time to be away, and a time to go back. a time to transition, a time to journey on.
we will be living with these texts in today’s and in tomorrow’s worship.
the passage from ecclesiastes tends to be a familiar passage of scripture, with familiar words that follow this superscription: “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; /…/ a time to weep, and a time to laugh” etc. i struggled with using this passage, and almost left it out for some of the cliched and tried uses it this portion of scripture has been subjected to over the years––however the base sentiment still rings true: for everything there is a season. there is also a season of not knowing.
matthew’s gospel tells us that the magi––those wise persons who visited jesus after his birth––were awed by the presence of the christ child, and where warned in a dream not to return to herod. the magi were changed by their visit to christ, their route was changed by their experience, they returned to their country by a different road, a different way–as different people.
the small snippet from jonah comes at a time of great unknowing for him, potentially he does not know which way is even “up” in this great fish…he does not know how long he will be there, if he will ever be outside of this belly again…i suspect that it is dark inside the belly of a great fish, so i also suspect he might not even know what else is inside his floating home with him. ecclesiastes tells us that there is a season for everything, including a season of not knowing––a season of transition and change––of being liminal. we are, but we are not. we have begun the journey, but we have yet to arrive.
this is where we find jonah. he has began a strange journey to a strange place and in a strange way. this time of change for him is enshrouded in darkness–he cannot see where he is going, even if he has a vague idea of where the journey will end.
our journey through times of change and transitions is a lot like jonah’s ––we may not be in the belly of a great fish–but our times of transition and change are shrouded in the darkness of unknowing and that unsettled feeling in the pit of our stomach that is a mixture of excitement and fear.
these times of excitement and fear, of transition are wild-spaces. the wild-spaces, the wilderness’ we journey through are phases that disorient us and test the heart. when we struggle to know which way is up, to know where the right shore or destination is. these wild-spaces stretch every fiber of our being in order that we may be capacitated to learn more of our own self, and of god’s self. these are spaces when we are invited to let go of all images and perceptions of who we are and how things ‘should’ be. without experiences of liminal [or wild] space , there is no truthful perspective on life. without truthful perspective there is no true transformation.
in a time of transition and change we have the opportunity to become aware of a new way of seeing, valuing and believing as persons in relationship with other and the world.
there is therefore both a death and a birth–the death and loss of former ways of being as individuals and as communities. but this is an opportunity for birth as well–birth into new ways of being in the world. a birth into being the new person that we have become through our experiences and our learning.
in the wild-spaces we discover that we do not speak the same way we used to. things are subtly and somehow-ly different than they used to be. of some of these things–we are all most aware. but there are things that we overlook–things that become so ingrained in our lives that we forget that what is now common-place and everyday that we are not able notice them as different until it is pointed out to us:
“you never used to…”
“since when do you care about…”
“you’re different now than you were then…”
we are in unknown times, like jonah, and for now, we do not know what or where the right shore is. all we know is we cannot run from nineveh. we cannot run from the wild-space. the question becomes: what will we do here?