O G*d, you are my G*d, eagerly I seek you; for you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. AMEN.
Ex 3:1-15; Ps 63: 1-8; 1 Cor 10: 1-13; LUKE 13: 1-9
Good Morning and it is indeed a splendid morning, or as we used to say always at Fischer’s Cove, “it’s a beautiful day at Fischer’s Cove,” and it’s wonderful to be back and most generous of Canon Okunsanya to allow me to be here with you this morning. His theme for the week is reconciliation,” in the context of these Lent 3 readings.
In one of my week’s readings, though, I read this new-to-me thought about the beginning of the Luke reading, the part about the people who’d been killed by the Roman governor Pilate, and the others 18 who’d been crushed to death when a tower had fallen on them. After reminding his hearers of these deaths, Jesus asks whether anyone thought they were worse than other people. Obviously not. Then he says, “Unless you repent, you’ll die as they did.” The commentary I read explained these stories this way. Why were the first group killed? The commentator says, because Pilate thought they were rebel insurgents. He goes on to ask why a tower would have fallen, and answers because of a siege against it, so that the tower fell when again Roman soldiers fought back the siege smashing the tower. Then the passage would mean that Jesus is saying if you participate in armed attacks against the Roman forces, you’ll die like them, so think it over, repent, change your mind.
That reading changes the whole tone of the beginning of today’s Gospel, the emphasis is not on the repenting, but on dying the way they did, fighting the Romans. Indeed, the next big insurrection against the Roman forces at Masada led to the whole group dying before the Romans could take them. Jesus is talking about fighting the Romans, not what we mean by repent or change your mind. This is a specific, pragmatic warning, considering the might of the occupying army.
Then there’s the parable about the gardener and the tree that hasn’t produced good fruit. The owner wants to hack it down, because it’s wasting land and water. The gardener advocates for the tree, “If it bears fruit next year well and good; but if not, you can cut it down. Israel is often referred to as a tree, so presumably this is about G*d’s chosen people seeing the light. Jesus is already predicting his saving act of the cross, and believes that by “next year” his work, the cross, will have allowed the tree, Israel, to flourish again. People will have repented and be reconciled to and with G*d by then.
Then with that understanding of the gardener’s work, repentance and reconciliation make more sense. Repentance as we’ve learned, means turn around, have a change of heart, try again, and we think of it as being an individual’s personal action. The Greek is metanoia, with meta being around or back or even beyond, and the noia means mind or thoughts, so an intentional changing of direction of heart and mind. The goal of such repentance is reconciliation on three levels, with ourselves, with G*d, and with one another.
On Ash Wednesday we’re somewhat bludgeoned with the thought that we’re sinners and we sin. Yup, it’s true, and it’s expected, and if not always OK, at least it is how we are. The Creator is some understanding of perfect, while we the creation, are not. What is hard to learn is that we are going to make mistakes, try again, and make sometimes the same mistakes, and sometimes, shiny new ones. When we recall that the word for sin in Greek is hamartia, an archery word meaning to “miss the mark,” that makes sense. We take aim at what we want to do, and don’t get it just right, by something we do wrong or leave out or try too hard. We aim again. We try again; we try something else. It’s not a deep dark psychological flaw or failure, it’s being human—we miss the mark. It is hard to reconcile ourselves to the idea that we’re just never going to get “it”is—whatever the it we’re working on—as perfect as we want it to be. I’d like to be a more patient person, a better wife, parent, grandparent, sister, in law, friend, employer, employee, priest, cook, writer, and oh so many more human people. I’m not the Creator, so all I can do is the best I can do always working, praying, thinking, striving, resting, imagining, hearing, listening and more to move along in any of those hopes, dreams, and works. Doing better is far easier than reconciling myself to the tiny steps I can in fact make; it’s not enough, but I’m called to that work of reconciliation to myself as much as to the other two levels.
In some ways the easiest work of reconciling is with G*d. As we repeat, whenever we use Rite I and its prayer of Humble Access, “G*d’s property is always to have mercy.” I do the best I can and it’s not enough, but G*d cannot write me off. The Creator loved, loves, and will always love everything he/she created—that’s the reality, the Really Real, the nature of, the concept of G*d. With Jesus as the gardener, surely G*d is working along with water, soil, rain and best of all empowering Jesus to remake, remold, reinvigorate, renew, or re-work that tree. “G*d’s property is always to have mercy,” so with Jesus working away and G*d ever accepting that change of heart, all we can do is what we can do, and the Creator by nature, accepts us. G’d’s reality is to reconcile and accept that effort on our part. While we may not live up to either G*d’s hopes for us, or our own, “G*d’s property is always to have mercy” so G*d will accept the reconciliation.
The hardest reconciling work, I think, is with one another. In Anne Lamott’s fine most recent book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, she writes, “a sober friend from Texas said once that the three things I cannot change are the past, truth, and you.” I can forgive, forget, be eager for reconciliation, and try, try, and try. I cannot change the person, the you, unwilling to be reconciled to me. I can help elucidate the past, become more clear about the truth from more points of view, aim better, clearer, closer, sharper, and on and on, but I cannot change the person who cannot, will not, may not, or whatever is the barrier from the other’s point of view. I cannot. It’s frustrating, because we want to try, push, and clean it up.
In the same fine book, Lamott talks about occasions for what she describes as a God box. Sometimes there are people we just cannot deal with, for whatever or no reason. We cannot. She writes as follows.
I’ve relied on every imaginable container‑from a pillbox, to my car’s glove box, to decorative boxes friends have given me. The container has to exist in time and space, so you can physically put a note into it, so you can see yourself let go, in time and space.
On a note, I write down the name of the person about whom I am so distressed or angry, or describe the situation that is killing me, with which I am so toxically, crazily obsessed, and I fold the note up, stick it in the box and close it. You might have a brief moment of prayer, and it might come out sounding like this: “Here. You think you’re so big? Fine. You deal with it. Although I have a few more excellent ideas on how best to proceed.” Then I agree to keep my sticky mitts off the spaceship until I hear back…
… The response probably won’t be from God, in the sense of hearing a deep grandfatherly voice, or via skywriting, or in the form of an LED-lit airplane aisle at you feet. But the mail will come, or an e-mail, or the phone will ring; unfortunately, it might not be later today, ideally right after lunch, but you will hear back. You will come to know.
That’s what makes reconciling with another person so complicated. With some people, your effort will be matched or bettered with theirs. Age may help, but there are some people with whom you would do anything to be reconciled with but, time, distance, not knowing where they are, death, illness, or something else, just plain makes it not possible for you to reconcile. Try a God box.
Reconciling with Jesus is a complex criss-crossing of all /each and all of these levels. Jesus has lived in our sandals and accepts our work as our humanly best. Jesus has struggled with reconciling with others, and has time, even eternity, to bring that about successfully—think of the rows and rows of God boxes he’s working on. Jesus, G*d’s only begotten Son and our Risen Lord, also has the property of always having mercy. One way or another our attempts to be reconciled with ourselves, our neighbors, and our G*d will always be accepted, always be honored, and will always, always, always be shown mercy. “G*d’s property is always to have mercy”: Good News. AMEN.
© Katharine C. Black St. Mary’s Church, Virgin Gorda, BVI
3 March 2013