The Seventh Sunday of Easter (B)
May 17, 2015
Ben Fountain was a successful lawyer. He had a position in a fine law firm, and was highly regarded by his colleagues. The author Malcolm Gladwell introduces us to Ben because Ben had a dream to become a writer. Gladwell’s article is entitled “Late Bloomers,” and he explores the fact that many people discover their “purpose” or find greater meaning later in life. Gladwell traces the development of Ben’s dream through the stages when he discusses the plan with his wife, they make shifts in their family and then finally when he launches. Ben says, “I was tremendously apprehensive…I felt like I’d stepped off a cliff and I didn’t know if the parachute was going to open.” We follow Ben as he faces initial successes – articles published, a novel written – and yet so many rejections. His day of success – climbing the mountain – comes 18 years later.
I begin this sermon today noting Ben’s journey because of his tenacity, and his discipline. He takes a dream (that exists inside of him), shapes and plans it with others in his life until it becomes a reality. This sermon is about dreams and discipline and tenacity. But it is also about transition. Transition is letting go of the way things used to be in order to embrace what they will become. Transition is a crucial and dynamic part of life’s experience. There are the transitions that are planned, for example in our education, our training, our work. Retirement is a transition we plan for. And there is transition that happens because life brings changes: in our job, a move to another area, a death or illness, the ending of a relationship. Life is filled with transition. It is what we make of it…what we do with it, that really matters.
For nearly thirty years now I have followed the work of William Bridges. He researches transition and lives it. His books have opened doors for me, and I usually keep enough copies of his first work on my shelf that I can hand it to those who might benefit from his wisdom. Bridges talks about transition in three stages: an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning. He says that endings are going to happen. We need to claim them, and understand their meaning for us. Often we want to skip endings or try to soften them by holding on. When an ending is clear, have an opportunity for it to teach us. William Bridges uses the image of the row boat…and ending being the beginning of our rowing away from shore, we are still looking back at all that has come to a close. But eventually, he says, we row out into the middle of the body of water…sufficiently far enough away from shore that we can no longer see it. However, we are also too far from the other shore to see clearly where we are going. He calls this the neutral zone. It is a place of confusion, even chaos. A place where the normal markers of life are absent and it can be hard to navigate. I think of our Lord in the middle of the 40 days in the wilderness when I think of the neutral zone. It is a time of temptation. But we keep moving ahead, purposefully toward a new beginning. A new enterprise. A new promised land.
Already you can hear how scripture teaches us about transition. So many examples come to mind. Today I want to share with you two important examples that appear right now, here, at the end of the Easter season. The first is the title of this day. It is the 7th Sunday of Easter, and the Sunday after the Ascension. We celebrated Ascension during the week, remembering the day our Lord walked with his disciples out beyond the city and ascended into heaven in their sight. Before he left, he reminded them of their mission. He reminded them of the reason they were called. They were his witnesses in the world. He reminded them that the Holy Spirit would come to lead them into all truth, and to strengthen them in their ministry. And as he ascended beyond their sight, a heavenly messenger stood nearby and said to them, “Why do you stand there looking up into the heavens?” The very tone suggests it is time for the disciples to move on, to do the work he has given them to do.
The second transition is evident in the reading today from the Acts of the Apostles. Judas is dead. He leaves a gap in the leadership circle. The disciples gather intentionally to pray and to discern God’s guidance. Peter speaks and says one who walked with our Lord must become a witness to the Resurrection. In this midst of this transition we see, again, such deliberate purpose and strategy. We see prayer and discernment. We see tremendous trust in God to guide the transition, and to guide the twelve in the days to come. They cast lots – roll the dice – and Matthias is chosen.
Today I am so excited that we will recognize all the children and youth of our Sunday School, as well as the team of caring parishioners who give of their time and talent. I am particularly mindful of the transition coming in the lives of two of our faithful youth: Marisa Soriano and Olivia Garthwaite. They are graduating from High School and this fall, they will begin college. What an exciting transition. You teach us as you make this transition. While you will leave Holy Trinity, we celebrate that you will move on in your life. We look forward to hearing from you along the way.
The great Easter stories we have heard in this season of 50 days often speak of transition. The Passover and Exodus from Egypt. The story of our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. The appearances of the risen Lord. God shapes and forms us in transition. It is not a time to fear, but a time to embrace. Let us be intentional in transitions, looking ahead with hope to a new beginning in life. Let us engage transition with purpose.