Modern day mystics, as well as plenty who wish they were, are fond of using the term “Thin Places” to speak about places on earth where it feels like the boundary between earth and heaven has faded away. The term is often used to describe retreat experiences like those available on the Island of Iona, at Taize, or even at our own Beckwith Camp and Retreat Center. I’m not a fan of the term, per se, but I understand its meaning. There have been several places in my life where I’ve been aware of the boundary between heaven and earth has faded away: in the 1881 Immanuel Chapel at VTS, at my ordination at Saint Thomas’ Church in Lancaster, and standing behind the altar at Saint Paul’s in Foley; to name but a few examples. The truth of the matter is that one need not travel to a far away place to experience a thin place, but rather, one simply needs to be open and receptive to the Spirit of God at work in the world.
This term, “Thin Places” came to mind this morning for a very different reason, however. It came as I read the Propers for the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord in Year B. Talk about a thin place, there seems to be little, if any, real meat in these lessons. They beg for the preacher to thrown caution to the wind and dive headlong into a dense theological treatise on the Trinity (Gen 1:1-5), Baptism by the Spirit (Acts 19:1-7), or the role of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4-11). I beg you, dear reader, please don’t try to make a Thin Place thick this week. Instead, maybe you could engage the thin place, be open and receptive to the Spirit of God at work in you, and preach about that.
Sometimes the process of writing the sermon is the sermon itself. Sometimes the prayerful study, the wrestling with the words, the agonized listening for God is the word our people need to hear the most. The Collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany has us asking for God’s help to “boldly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” Maybe more than any theological ruminations on the nature of baptism, our people need to hear what that looks like in real life: how confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior is about more than paying him lip service, but about every thing we do; how when we live our lives for Christ, everywhere we go becomes a Thin Place, an opportunity to bring heaven to earth; and most especially, about how unbelievably hard it is to live that way, unless we’re tapped into the Spirit and open to God’s grace and favor.
It is a tough preaching week, and thankfully I won’t have to do it, but I am praying for you, dear reader. May your find your sermon prep to be a Thin Place, where the boundary between heaven and earth simply slips away.