Saturday, March 02, 2013

Dealing with Dirty Deaths and Cleaning Gardens - Lent 3C

To start with a confession: I’ve always envied people who can dance well. I’ve even known a few professional dancers who were very serious about their training, practiced stretching and moving much like athletes do, kept themselves fit and limber in their lives, and I’ve always admired that. Now I’ve been working on fitness and stretching in recovering from the shoulder replacement surgery in December and am I am doing regular exercises for range of motion and strength; sitting and standing, on the floor and in the pool too and I am getting better. I can’t quite dance yet, but I am getting there!

This is important to me because for a long time I’ve believed we’re called to dance with life, with each other, and with God. That came back to me when I was reading the lessons we just heard for today: first in Jesus’s response to follower’s questions about folks murdered by Herod,  about people killed by a falling tower;  then in the story that follows about the gardener who pleads for the barren tree to be saved for one more year because it still might bear fruit: and earlier in the prophet Isaiah, the Old Testament lesson, with his proclamation of the heavenly feast, the great Jubilee banquet which turns out to be well worth waiting for. Because both the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel have to do with stretching and balancing and that takes me back to the Lord’s prayer as a kind of dance: so listen and see if this makes sense to you. 

When we say, “Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name,” we stretch out! Even though the word for God in the Greek or Aramaic is close to Papa or Daddy in our language; it is still the God of the whole universe! So we reach out far and then return home when we ask  Abba that: “Your kingdom come, your will be done/ On earth as it is in heaven.” Do you see the start of a dance there? Reaching out to the God who is beyond the universe and call him Papa. and returning to the very particulars of our own life. 

“Give us today our daily bread.”  Even though we’re invited to call God of the universe our Father, we are still asked to acknowledge the fact that we are fragile, flesh and blood, in need of fuel, in danger of starvation. I think most of us have it pretty good nowadays, compared with most of human history, but even today, even now, maybe not here but in countries not too far away, there are people starving to death today. So they might pray this prayer in a different way than we do, and perhaps we might think of them when we pray it.

Then (and I use one translation), “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Again, for most of us indebtedness does not mean slavery or servitude. But I think, for most of the world and over most of our history, debt means the danger of losing your own freedom and that of your family. Again, prayer as the most basic kind of petition for food and for freedom.

The two final petitions focus even closer on the most naked vulnerability: “Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.” God knows we need a prayer there, and in Jesus God sees a lot about trials and about evil: at the beginning of his ministry, right after his baptism, tempted in the wilderness, Jesus knows hunger very well;  and on the last day of his life, when evil is looking at Him face to face, Jesus cries out, “I thirst.”

As God asking to be called Abba, Father, calls us both to reach out and to come close; so God in Christ Jesus comes close to us, lives deep into human life, knows well our troubles and travels, and shares a lively and inspired life with us. For in the center of who he was, and how he lived, there is a moving faith, a deep hope, a spirited love moving towards, ready to turn, to stretch out, even on the wood of the cross, with the belief that acceptance wins over rejection, that life prevails over death, that God’s purpose rises up in a single love that last forever. “For the kingdom the power and the glory are yours.” As Jesus stretches out to live that life, we reach out to pray that prayer, in every day and every way, as we live our lives. 

So let’s look at the lessons for today.

People come to Jesus and say , “There is corruption, there is violence, there are random accidents and death. People are hit by things that seem to make no sense. Why?” And Jesus doesn’t answer directly. Instead he tells them, “Repent, turn around, put on a new mind, understand love anew!”  Jesus doesn’t teach a way or give us an answer that gets us past all the bad stuff; instead he comes with us right through the middle of life, into all the good and bad, into all the life and death with the promise of resurrection at the last. No theory, no insurance plan, no roadmap; but a lively companion on the way, and the great assurance we will make it through at the last.

In his book, The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis,  says, at the end of life (and in the middle of everything, in every moment) there is one conversation. Either we say to God, “Your will be done” or God says to us, “your will be done.” Every moment, every turning, every choice, provides a chance to dance, a place to meet with God (in the immensity of the universe and the smallness and poverty and particularity of our own lives) and move into, and live out this conversation. And in this we are just like Jesus.

It often isn’t easy and our religion doesn’t have easy answers, because it is larger than life!  It’s not like a legal contract, It is more of a dance party, or a relationship, a romance; and it does not take place in an examination room or a court house or a prison. If you want to stay scriptural, you can say it takes place in a garden! So Eden in Genesis is a garden party where wrong choices about whose will will be done seem to break the the party spirit for a long time, and where we look to be lost. But towards the end of his life on earth Jesus goes to another garden, Gesthemane, where with faith and no small sacrifice, he turns round right to brings us home again; where what seemed to be the dead-end of love and hope turns out to be the mystery of a new beginning. And there still no easy answers, for  even when Jesus is put to rest a garden tomb, when, Mary Magdalene, perhaps the first apostle of the resurrection, meets the risen living Christ who has died, she isn’t too sure who he is: she thinks he’s the gardener: and of course he is! Go back to the Gospel for today. In all his dancing with life, death and resurrection Jesus joins us to turn around our ideas, our expectations, our fears, and our hope; turning over the dirt and the ground of our lives with all the weeds and wonder, so that new hope may come to bloom. 

We only get hints and guesses from here: but, both in the Lord’s Prayer and in the prophet Isaiah, we dance with that desire, we are called to stretch out with the hope that the Kingdom is coming, the feast is on the Way, that, with our consent, God’s will will be done. For our Father has given us a garden, Christ joins us in the deepest and closest ground of our life to turn us around, and the spirit will make sure we will never lose our way home.


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