It was an odd thing to say at that particular moment in time. Jesus was in the temple teaching when a group of church leaders brought a woman to him, threw her down on the ground before him and announced that she had been caught committing adultery. They demanded Jesus tell them what he would do, knowing that the law said she should be stoned to death. (This is a story found in John 8.) Jesus responded, while drawing in the dirt, that whoever was without sin could cast the first stone. The story goes on to say that no one was that sinless, so they all left, and the woman was spared. (This is where everyone cheers.)
The odd thing is that right after that story we find these words:
John 8:12 NRSV – Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
From our perspective this many years later we can see that Jesus was saying something that would lead to a revolution, a new way of being in the world. Follow Jesus and you will learn how to walk in the light. You will treat people differently from what the law demanded. We understand that now, but I’m not so sure it was that clear to the group of church leaders. If we step back a bit, we may notice that Jesus’ words were transitional, leading the people from one way of living to a new way of living.
I believe our church is in just such a transitional time, a time between what we have known and what is yet to be known. Rev. Susan Beaumont wrote a book called, “How To Lead When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going.” She refers to the transitional time as liminal experiences. (Liminal means a threshold or transitional moment.) In the opening chapter of her book Rev. Beaumont writes:
Organizational life is full of liminal experiences – season where something has ended, but a new thing has not yet begun. Seasons where watching and waiting can be difficult, over planning can be futile, and it simply isn’t helpful to pretend that we understand what happens next.
Liminal season are challenging, disorienting, and unsettling. We strive to move forward with purpose and certainty. Instead, we feel as though we are trudging through mud, moving away from something comfortable and known, toward something that can’t yet be known.
Liminal seasons are also exciting and innovative. The promise of a new beginning unleashes creative energy, potential and passion. All truly great innovations are incubated in liminality. God’s greatest work occurs in liminal space.
(Chapter one – How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You are Going by Rev. Susan Beaumont © Rowman & Littlefield)
Right now, I hear people wanting to know what is going to happen at the next General Conference, and they are asking for information about how our Churches/Conference/Jurisdiction will respond if a particular plan is adopted or rejected. We are a bit lost in the unknowing all around us. We long for an expert to tell us what to do, even now as we wait for the unknown to reveal itself. I believe liminal seasons call for a different type of leadership in our churches.
Perhaps the type of leadership God is calling us to is not filled with quick solutions, easy answers, resolutions or legislation submitted to GC 2020. We may need, for a time, to be comfortable with not having the answers. We may need, for a time, to focus on our identity as Christ-followers – people of the light, as Matthew 5 challenges us to be. All of our churches are being asked to define that that means for how they live together in this day and age.
In time, what is not known will become evident. Until then all the worry and wondering sidetracks us from what we need to be doing. Here is what I want to encourage you to do if you are not comfortable with not having the answers, the direction you are wanting right now:
- Review the gospels of Matthew and John, make note of things Jesus said or did.
- Make note of the things Jesus taught his followers to do.
- Journal about what it means for you, personally, to live as a person of the light.
- Ask God to reveal how you might be the light for at least one other person during the next 30 days.
- Trust the future to God.
We are living in a liminal time. Let us walk through it with hope, and love, and with one another.
Be the light.