Where Heaven and Earth Meet - Micah 5:2c-5a
Patch Adams encountered a thin place. He had found himself in a difficult place. He and his friends, including his girlfriend, had committed their lives as doctors helping the less fortunate. In the midst of their service, in a tragic situation, his fiancé is murdered by a mentally ill patient. In anger and desperation, he cries out to God…and in a thin place, in a very thin place, God responds, making his presence known.
What is a thin place? The idea of a “thin places” is a Celtic notion. Where often we think of Heaven as being “up there somewhere” the Celts thought of the distance between Earth and Heaven as being “three feet apart.” They felt that there were places on earth where that distance narrowed and where we could experience the meeting of heaven and earth. One of the places they felt this happed was in Iona[i]. While I have never been to Iona, I have a couple of friends who have been there as part of a spiritual retreat. Their response to being in Iona leaves no doubt in my mind that there is something special about Iona…something about that place where, very evidently, Heaven and Earth meet.
Like I said, I have never been to Iona. I really do not think we have to travel to Iona to experience one of those thin places. Like many of you, I have a place where I feel that Heaven and Earth come together. This won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but it is at the beach, particularly at the time of sunrise. When I am able to go out on the beach in the moments before dawn and watch as God brings the sun up, dispelling the darkness, the rays of light reflecting to the heavens off of the water, as a breeze reminiscent of the Breath of God in the Holy Spirit blows across the water and beach, makes me feel like I am at a moment when Heaven and Earth are coming together.
For the Jews of the Old Testament, the Temple was the place where Heaven and Earth were understood to meet. They understood God’s holy presence to enter into the Holy of Holies. It was the place where they understood that God dwelt with His people. The Temple was to be found in Jerusalem, the central place of God’s people. This is what makes this morning’s reading more interesting.
Micah earlier had pronounced judgment on God’s people for their failure to work for social justice. Not only had the people ignored the needs of the widows and orphans, those least in the community and in the greatest of needs, they had actually made their condition worse as those who had, took more. There was a complete lack of justice, and the leaders of Judah were not working for justice---this was not a justice of making sure the bad guys get their just due, but justice in the divine sense of restoration and reconciliation, where all of God’s people would have their needs met. With the leaders of Israel’s Southern Kingdom failing to provide this justice for least of God’s people, Micah pronounced that the Assyrian army that was marching on Jerusalem would be victorious and the people would be killed and/or taken into exile—their lives would be full of conflict and turmoil.
After pronouncing God’s judgment, Micah offers what always comes with God’s words of judgment…the words of hope for God’s people. Micah lets them know that their destruction will not be complete. God will hear the cries of His people as they suffer in exile. Micah lets them know that in the midst of their sorrow and suffering He will make himself known…Heaven and Earth will meet.
God’s people probably expected to hear the promise of God’s meeting them would take place once again in the Temple, or at least in Jerusalem, the center of their lives together. Yet the hope that Micah offers is not centered in Jerusalem, or anywhere else in the land connected to the tribe of Judah. It actually was not to take place in any the large tribes of Israel, but in the smallest, in a small community in the smallest of the twelve tribe lands—in the city of Bethlehem in the land of the tribe Benjamin, a small community, though, known not only for sheep and shepherds, but for being the homeplace of their greatest king ever, Bethlehem was David’s hometown. So while the people of Judah may have had their feathers ruffled momentarily by not being the center—the hope that another king like David would come to the throne was all they needed to hear.
For hundreds of years God’s people began watching for Heaven and Earth to meet. They watched for the one promised by Micah. They watched for a King to rise up in power who would lead God’s people from the oppression of one empire after another. Maybe Heaven and Earth would meet in a leader like Joshua as he led the people in watching God bring down the walls of Jericho …or maybe like Gideon as God drove out the Midianites with 300 through his leadership…maybe it would be a leader like Samson, who though despite his faults, Heaven met Earth in an effort to deliver God’s people from the Philistines…or just maybe, just maybe, the new King would arrive like the mighty David himself.
The people waited and watched, watched and waited. While there may have been brief periods of independence, Assyria was replaced by Babylon, Babylon by Persia, Persia by the Greeks, and eventually the Romans came in….the watched for Heaven and Earth to come together in this new King who would usher in peace…and as they watched and waited, it happened, Heaven met Earth, not in the Temple and not in a mighty warrior king, but like a butterfly lighting upon the chest of Dr. Adams, Heaven met Earth, in the little town of Bethlehem, in a stable, as a tiny baby was born.
God saw the plight of His people, He heard their cries, and Heaven met Earth in the flesh, Emmanuel had arrived, and cried out in the night. God revealed, though it took years later to realize it, that His presence in creation was no longer limited to an “off-limits” room in the Temple, but that He was going to be present with His people wherever they might be…a word offered by this little baby, grown into a man, as He said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[ii] It was this understanding that prompted Paul to write, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[iii]
God sees our struggles. God hears our cries. God continues to respond…and He has made himself known. Those cries have come a lot over the last week and a half, since tragedy struck Sandy Hook Elementary School. I have heard the question asked, I have had it asked of me, “Where was God when this happened?” or “Why does God allow all this violence in school?” The problem is, I have seen one amazingly awful and wrong answer, “Remember, God is not allowed in school.”
I know what the people who say that are trying to get at, but honestly, do you think some manmade law can keep God out of our schools? Do we really think than when there is a need, when there is a cry for help, that congress, the Supreme Court, the ACLU, or anyone else can keep out the God that broke the confines of space, time, and human anatomy to come to the world in that infant in a manger in Bethlehem?
My friends, I believe that God heard the cries of those in the school and responded immediately? Heaven met Earth in the flesh of Victoria Soto, Dawn Hochsprung, Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D’Avino, and Anne Marie Murphy, as they gave their lives seeking to protect and comfort the children in the school. Heaven has met earth in the days since in the way that the nation and the world has responded with acts of love, compassion, and sympathy toward the families and community affected. God was, is, and always will be in that community if we look and recognize it. God entered the world in a whole new way in the little town of Bethlehem and continues to do so. The thin places are everywhere, God making Himself known—His Presence felt. He hears our cries, He responds to our needs. Heaven meets Earth all around us…and sometimes even through us…
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.