Sermon: The Crevice

creviceJeremiah 23:23-29
Luke 12:49-56

What do you see when you look at this photo?
What do you notice about
the light, and the shadows?

Fear sweeps over me as I navigate myself
through the jagged fissure in this cliff.
This rock rift is a well-known attraction in the Hudson Valley, known as the Crevice, or the Lemon Squeeze.
I certainly understand from where the name came:
when I approached the Crevice,
I skirted a cliff,
until I came to this slit in the rock face,
just wide enough to fit ladders.
I press my way in,
the walls pressing me in.
Up, up I climbed the ladders.
Up, up I climbed the chasm,
until I approached the tippy top.

Looking back,
I see this view:
the shadows dance on the rocks.
Still, the early morning sun
streams into this damp, narrow space.
Still I can see the beautiful bounty
beyond these stony walls.
I turn my head back to the task at hand:
the final ascent, which lays before me.
I had arrived the final part of this crevice,
where you literally squeeze
your way out to the top.
I assess what is before me:
a sliver of ground to step on,
and two walls coming to a point;
the end to this great crack.
In this shadowed space,
one wall continues to stretch up, up, up,
and the other stands about eight feet high.
Rocks jut out from the walls,
inviting you to climb, crawl and shimmy
your way out,
before finally hefting yourself
up and out of the narrow squeeze.

I hesitate in fear.

Somehow, every time I do this climb,
I always forget about the final portion
that requires me to go
far outside my comfort zone.

I am afraid of heights.
I am afraid of looking down,
because it only enables my mind
to contemplate my possible demise.
I am afraid of looking up,
because I don’t yet know how I will get out.

Here I stand,
deep inside the fissure,
as sunlight from a sun
I cannot yet see,
beckons overhead,
and shadows play by my feet.

As I rest there,
the interplay of light and shadow
seems to be true to life.
Both exist:
in that splintered cliff,
in our splintered world,
in my splintered heart.

The realization surprises me,
because I am so tempted
to write off the abysses of our lives.
I want to hide my shadows
in a secret place,
where no one can find them,
because, it seems,
they are a waste, an embarrassment.

Yet,
what if,
God can use our blemished places?
What if God can use the parts of our lives
that are challenging and shaded
and don’t always see the light of day?
What if light can reach even
the deepest abysses of our heart?

What if ….
I allow my mind to linger on the possibilities
Still I doubt:
Can God really use the struggling
places in my life?

Take for instance my fear.
When I am afraid,
can God use that?
I’ve been wondering.

I’ve been wondering,
because
for the past few months,
I have been taking improv comedy classes.
A fun endeavor, yes,
but also one far outside my comfort zone.
It requires you to act spontaneously,
speak off the top of your head,
and, yet still, remember the rules
and get it right
so that you say something funny.
Eek!

I am currently taking a 201 class,
with some folks who are repeating the class for fun.
My classmates are really good and
I’m in a big class
so I’d rather watch them make-up scenes
than volunteer to make-up my own.
After all,
I prefer to ponder my words,
than speak off the cuff.
After all,
in that moment of pressure,
what if my mind goes blank?
What if everyone discovers I am not funny?
What if I fail spectacularly?

What could be worse than
showing everyone my shortcomings?

I couldn’t think of anything,
and so I hung back.

Then one day,
my teacher observed
that I had been a shrinking violet in class.
You have potential, she said, adding,
Be bold!

Be bold!

Her words amused me,
because, really,
I’d rather be a shrinking violet than a fool.
I’d rather be safe than fail.
I’d rather stay small and quiet than risk learning.

Or would I?

Be bold!

Suddenly,
I began to consider all the ways
that my fear pointed me to
the reality that
my classmates may be afraid,
my friends may be afraid,
my community may be afraid.

We all have inner canyons to scale;
we all have moments
when balk with fear.
Yet, what if we do not need to be afraid of talking
about our fear?

That is the revelation that came to mind this week
as I read the two Scriptures.
The words in Jeremiah and Luke
at first came off as harsh and intimidating.
In Jeremiah,
God declares,
“Is not my word like fire
and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”

In Luke,
Jesus declares,
“I came to bring fire to the earth,
and how I wish it were already kindled!
Do you think that
I have come to bring peace to the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division!”

These words describe, rather than prescribe.
What does that mean?
They describe what happens when
we bump up against Jesus’ words of truth:
they can make us uncomfortable, uneasy,
as we press up against
the sandpaper of life,
that shapes our edges
and invites us to grow.
Jesus’ words do not prescribe,
meaning Jesus’ intent is not to bring disruption
but rather are a natural result
of Jesus bringing us to a point of tension
so that we change our living,
and face the truth.

In other words,
Jesus’ disturbing words invite me
to honestly face the chasms
in my life,
so the light may come in,
and I might live from a more
true, integrated and luminous place.

We are all an interplay of shadow and light,
and our chasms connect us
as much as our light.

We are human after all.

It strikes me that,
in Jeremiah,
God questions,
“Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?
Do I not fill heaven and earth?”

There is nowhere, the Holy One tells us,
that light and love cannot reach.
There is no one, the Holy One tells us,
who light and love cannot reach.

No abyss too deep. No mistake too awful.
No life too far gone. No vessel too cracked.

That’s what that day in the Crevice taught me.
It gives me hope on life’s most challenging days.
Sometimes,
when I hear the news of the latest massacre
and the ways that we are harming each other,
I just want to stay curled up on my couch,
perhaps forever,
and hang a sign:
no sermons, only tears.

Sometimes,
when I hear the news of the latest atrocity,
the song “One Day” comes to mind,
which has a line,
“Sometimes in my tears I drown.”
Yes, sometimes in my tears I drown,
and all words seem impossibly inadequate
in face of life’s tragedies.
How can we even possibly start to convey
the jagged edges of our heartbreak or the world’s?

Yes, sometimes in my tears I drown.
Yet, the next line of the song sings,
“but I never let it get me down.”

Yes, sometimes in my tears I drown,
but I never let it get me down, or keep me down,
because when my heart shatters into shards,
I think of you,
I think of this community,
I think of this world,
and all the others who ache too.
I think of how much
each of you have each been through,
the canyons, cracks and chasms
you have traveled through.
I think of how much I love you,
with a love deeper and wider
than any abyss in my heart.
And it keeps me going,
offering all of my humanity to God,
even if sometimes the refinement burns.
As I render myself to God,
I discover this:
when we offer all of us to God,
all of us is blessed…

This I have realized:
Your shadows are needed as much as your light,
because you are not the only one who struggles,
you are not the only who wonders,
How will I make it out of here?

Your truth may bless another,
standing in a similar abyss.
And now my memory is this:
that day inside the cliff,
I took a deep breath,
and looked at my options.
I pressed my hands to a rock,
and pulled myself up,
placing my foot into a grove in the wall,
as the space narrowed.
Bit by bit,
I shimmied my way up,
until my upper half crested the crevice
and daylight shone around me.
I put my hands on the wall edge,
and maneuvered my way out,
propelling myself onto the top.

After I caught my breath,
I looked out:
A heavenly vista of rock ridges, mountains,
lakes and forests spread out before me.
I stood up, and began crossing the bridge
over the chasm, the one that winds back to the main path.
In the middle of the bridge,
I hesitated and looked down.
I felt awe and fear.
I looked down, and then I looked out.
In both places,
I saw: beauty, beauty everywhere.

In astonishment,
I realized that God can use all of it,
every crevice and cranny.
To my relief and terror.
And crevices can be incredibly beautiful.
They have a unique perspective.
Do not be afraid.
If you find yourself face to face
with outer or inner chasms:
do not be afraid.

For you are not alone,
you are never alone,
and your light may be the only one
in that small corner of the world.
Your flickering candle is another’s saving grace.
Your dancing shadow
is a reminder to others
that they do not struggle alone.

The Good News is this:
All of you is blessed.
All of you is a blessing.

Amen.

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