Text: Exodus 15: 19-27
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself” said Rumi, the 13th century mystic poet. I think we can all relate to that. How many of us tried to change others only to realize that they tried the exact same thing toward us? That’s not going to work. Could any of you ever succeed in persuading your children or your partner in terms of what to wear, what to eat or who they hang out with? To love is to give space in which your loved one can freely explore what his or her soul is searching for. We can be there for each other only if we have the space where we can freely choose what to give not out of obligation but out of love. What Rumi is trying to point out is not our inability to make a difference, but our need for grace which enables us to accept and welcome the challenges our life brings to us.
Grace is one of the words we Christians use so often without thinking about it that we take it for granted. Grace is free but not cheap. It’s a gift of God for God’s beloved creation. It deserves our attention and respect. Grace implies our limits, frailty and vulnerability no matter how strong, powerful or successful we may look or we may perceive others to be. Yet, despite everything, grace supports us, embraces us, and it enables us to embrace one another just as we are. That’s why we long for grace. That’s why it’s amazing. At the end of the day, we all want to be heard, seen and understood. We all want to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Grace brings us to the common ground. What grace does for us is that it invites us to be in the spacious room where we can be nurtured so we can also nurture others. We don’t find grace; it finds us – when we reach our limits, where we feel like we are lost, and when we realize that we are not in charge. You see, those are the moments we begin to understand that we cannot change the world like Rumi said. Nature is our greatest teacher who reminds us of the grace all around us. We can pause to admire the beautiful scenery. We can find healing and comfort in nature. Better yet, it teaches us how to correspond with the life force, the Great Mystery. Think about the four seasons. If we pay attention, we can see how each season bears the next. Even in the midst of the long and harsh winter, a new life is ripening waiting to be burst, like new buds covered with snow. In the never-ending cycle of life, each season gives birth to the next by giving up the control and simply surrendering itself to the power of life.
That’s what we need to learn every time we face a new threshold. We all have crossed thresholds at different stages of our lives. From the time we began our life-long journey to the time when we complete the journey on the earth, we have to cross thresholds over and over again. Nobody is expert when it comes to crossing over a threshold, because it’s always new to us. More often than not, we do not experience a threshold by choice. Usually it has arrived in our midst as an unexpected guest. It takes only a few seconds for us to realize that the life we have known has become strange or distant. The question is how we respond to each new threshold. I think that’s what Rumi pointed out when he said, “Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” We can still change our attitude when we can’t change our circumstances.
John O’Donohue explains the origin of the word, threshold. He said, the word threshold was related to the word thresh, which was the separation of the grain from the husk or straw when oats were flailed. It also includes the notions of entrance, crossing, border, and beginning. To cross a threshold is to leave behind the husk and arrive at the grain.
The challenge is that we can’t see what’s to come, just like we can’t see a new life hidden in the deep snow. Crossing a threshold requires a great deal of courage and trust.
That’s what it takes for the people of God to cross a threshold not just one time but throughout their long journey in the wilderness. Crossing the Red Sea marks the transition between bondage and freedom. The crossing stands out because there is no turning back. But it’s only the beginning of endless crossings. It’s interesting that what saves them becomes the very thing they complain about. As soon as they cross over the sea, they go for three days in the wilderness and find no water. They do find some water but they can’t drink the water because it is bitter. The people complain against Moses, and he cries out to God. God shows him a piece of wood; Moses throws it into the water, and the water becomes sweet. And God says, I am the Lord who heals you.
Here I see how God touches their deepest fear. It’s not the lack of water or food or the long and bumpy roads ahead. It’s not even sickness, pain or dying. Their ultimate fear is whether they are going to find themselves alone facing all those challenges. They desperately need to experience the presence of God to know to whom they belong, who is in charge – someone greater than Pharaoh, bigger than themselves, stronger than Moses, and who loves them relentlessly. There’s gotta be a compelling reason for them to wake up every morning, taking tents down, and taking one step forward day after day and moment by moment. They need the unchangeable God in their ever-changing circumstances. Such assurance is all they need in order to cross a threshold.
We all have crossed thresholds at different stages of our lives. We can’t see what’s to come, or what’s hidden, but we can continue to cross a threshold with the grace of God. Each time we cross a threshold, we leave the husk behind, and arrive at the grain. We say thank you to the husk for fulfilling its destiny, and say welcome to the grain which brings new life, new hope and new possibility. We lift our foot. We cross over. We pause, celebrate, and keep moving forward together. That’s why we are here.