Blank spaces [pregnant pause]. Like this pregnant pause – how do blank spaces make you feel? Perhaps it’s awkward. Perhaps there’s an urgent need to fill it in, or a need to withdraw from it. Perhaps it’s filled with anticipation. Depending on the state of our minds, or more importantly the state of our spirit, we may feel all of the above and then some.
The transitory process of searching for and calling the 10th Bishop of Kansas has – at times – felt like a protracted, 20-month blank space. At times it has been awkward as the Council of Trustees has learned to function in different ways. At times there has seemed to be an urgent need to fill the blank space rather than abide its emptiness. At times there has seemed to be a desire to withdraw from the blank space. But much of the time – especially since the names and faces of possibilities presented themselves – the space has been filled with anticipation.
Thank goodness, today marks the first time in over 20 months that what may have seemed the biggest blank space in the diocese has the very real prospect of being filled, for we have a bishop-elect in the person of The Reverend Cathleen Bascom.
We are gathered here to celebrate and give thanks for the fruits of the blank space of our election process, and to anticipate and reflect upon what the future holds for us under her episcopal leadership. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, allow me to remind you that what the future holds is also blank space to be filled. This space also begs our attention and contemplation.
To help us contemplate the character of this new space, I invite us to reflect upon the nature of other blank spaces in our lives in the light of the excitement and anticipation we feel right now. In this light, I suggest that they are not simply spaces to be filled in so that we can move on to the next thing. Rather, I propose that these spaces are an opportunity to cultivate an entirely new thing. In fact we can gain glimpses of the possibility of such blank spaces in our lectionary today.
In Isaiah we find a people who have been subjected to generations of both: exile from their homeland; and a lack of rights in that exile. And now these people are invited to leave these empty spaces for another seemingly blank space – one in which their history has been nearly expunged by the passage of time and the occupation of others. These blank spaces seem to speak of abandonment, emptiness and hopelessness. Yet, this prophet assures us this space teems with water, wine and milk! And as if that’s not enough, we are told we can buy it all “without money and without price.”
If we allow ourselves to be defined by the emptiness or exile of our blank spaces, we might be inclined to argue that buying anything “without money and without price” is an oxymoron – itself just another blank space. From this perspective the prophet’s promise is absurd.
However, if – in the light of our current experience – we are willing to acknowledge that an aspect of blank spaces is the opportunity to imagine something new, perhaps we can make the leap of reconsidering what “without price” means. Perhaps we can entertain the notion that “without price” means “priceless.” Perhaps we can begin to consider the blank space as a place of possibility where what is being offered is invaluable and precious, or having worth in terms that can’t be defined by material value. Or, perhaps better yet, we can think of it as delightfully amusing, odd, or even absurd.
Through any of these lenses, any blank space has the potential of becoming something radically new – a space filled with unanticipated treasure. A space where the Lord may be found. A space where there is an abundance of pardon. A space where the Lord’s word shall accomplish the thing for which she sent it – the restoration of all things to Adoni, the Creator.
To my ear, this is beginning to sound like the kingdom of God. What do you imagine the kingdom of God is like? Mustard seeds and yeast? If I stand in the blank space of self-infatuation or self-concern, the mustard seed and yeast are absurd similes because they seem so insignificant and mundane. But the fact that these parables are uttered by Jesus in almost identical words in all three synoptic Gospels, suggests that we are to look beyond the absurd and to anticipate something priceless.
So what does the kingdom of God look like through the lens of priceless anticipation? It looks like a blank space in which disciples are absurdly sharing gifts “without price.” These priceless gifts are the simple gifts of love: sowing; baking; praying; story telling; teaching; feeding; listening; and showing up.
What the kingdom of God does not look like is grand gestures, or a trophy room full of counted and catalogued accomplishments, or ASA and pledge in the plate. Rather the kingdom resembles a place where improbable things and acts of love have grown beyond measure and calculation; and in doing so have ensnared all creation and restored it to its Creator.
Through this lens, we and the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas won’t be defined by the apparent emptiness of our blank spaces, but be encouraged by the opportunities and possibilities they present – for these blank space are the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.