Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Compost, Legos, and Ash

My dad gave me a new composter for Christmas. I’ve been looking at everything with new eyes: everything is potentially something I can throw into the composter.
The tops of strawberries, eggshells, even the dust from my vacuum cleaner. And yes, I’ve checked. Ash can be composted as well.
I’m getting impatient with my compost pile. Unfortunately, a sweetgum ball blew out my yard vacuum mulcher, so I can’t chop up my leaves like I could before I had a composter. See, the smaller the pieces, the faster that stuff can turn into good compost.
But the thing is, once this stuff sits in there for a while, its going to make some great soil for Julianna’s Christmas tree we recently planted.
I’ve started thinking of Lent as a season of soul composting. You take all that junk that you just ignored and threw in the trash or down the garbage disposal before, and you use it. You see that there is value in reflecting on it. You put it in a special place, the soul composter, and you let it sit. I've always been impatient with "seeing results" from the "soul composter" of Lent, as I am with my leaf composter.
We begin Lent by taking a reminder of decay and sinfulness (the palm branches of last year's Palm Sunday--which I am tearing the leaves from and handing to the congregation and inviting them to write something they would like to see "burned away" during Lent.) and burning it down to its smallest form, then we mark our heads as a reminder that God can take all of this—all of this dirt and dust and rotting decay and He can make new life spring out of it.
But we must give it over, and in order to do that we must acknowledge that it exists within us. The ashy cross you will receive on your forehead is a visible reminder of this.
I’ve always been puzzled by the lectionary’s prescription for Ash Wednesday in the Gospel Text. Doesn’t Jesus basically say, when you repent, don’t make it a big show so that everyone will see? And here we are, marking ashes on our foreheads.
Then I began noticing what happened when I’d go home and get the kids in the bath, and see my reflection in the mirror. I’d pause there, and the truth of those ashes would ring in my ears: I am made of dust, and to dust I shall return. There’s something I was created for that would be missing in my reflection if it had not been given to me as a gift.
It reminds me of a story I heard in a children's sermon about his son playing with legos, and being frustrated because his little airplane that he’d made wouldn’t work right. The cockpit wouldn’t raise up.
His son stormed out of the room, and set it down on the dresser. The dad took a look at it, and saw that there was one wrong piece that had been turned the wrong way, and that was keeping the thing from working right. But, the dad had to take it all apart to get to that piece.
The son walked in right as dad had finished taking the whole thing apart, and he was furious! Dad had ruined the whole thing!
But then dad finally got through to the boy and showed him how the thing wasn’t working, and asked him to help put it back together again.
We are dust. We must acknowledge and see how we fall short, we must hold it up to God and ask God to put us back together again. This is the meaning of repentance. We will all experience death. We will all be taken apart. Our frustration and fears and anger about death must be met by the Father’s assurance that he intends to put us back together again.
So, let me suggest that these ashes are more about you seeing them in the mirror and letting them sink into your conciousness than they are about being an emblem for all to see. I wouldn’t wipe them off until you’ve had a chance to look at your reflection.
And those ashes are good news. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Mt 16)
This is what Lent is about. It is about finding the compost materials. It is about taking apart the legos. Something will happen to all the junk we let go of and throw in the pile over these 40 days. They will become fertile soil for the seed of a promise that we will hear about on the day after Lent. The new life will spring out of decay. The resurrection springs out of a tomb. Our eternal life springs out our release of the mortal life.
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Midrash on Luke 4 and 5

I'm going to find some way to use this in the sermon tomorrow. I've enjoyed getting inside the story of Jesus from another perspective before with the Transfiguration account. I haven't decided whose this perspective is yet, but I kind of like the idea of it being the boy who later gives the five loaves and two fish to Jesus to bless and feed the multitude. (Although, I'd need to retool the ending for that.)

A fishing story.
You want to hear a fish story?
I remember that day Simon, the bully of Bethsaida, took that wandering prophet out in his boat to let him preach from it.

He had come once before, and had been welcomed by Simon. Simon usually gathered the largest men and went out to meet any newcomers in town, in case they were zealots or soldiers. But this man had come alone, and Simon had heard of him. He was a healer and a prophet—so he invited him to stay at his own home, where his mother in law was suffering from a fever. That night, the man rebuked the fever, and it immediately went away.

As soon as word had gotten around about Simon’s mother-in-law, everyone brought their sick and ailing to see the man named Jesus. I remember how everyone crowded around Simon’s house, and his daughters tried to organize everyone into groups small enough not to overwhelm the saint. This went on through the night, and he healed all of them, and then slipped away at dawn to be alone in the wilderness. When a group of us found him, he told us that he was going on to preach in more places.

So when he returned one morning, just as the fishermen were cleaning their nets from an unsuccessful night on the lake, everyone gathered around and wanted to hear what he had to say. Sound echoes well over the water. Every fisherman knows you don’t speak with your partners about things you don’t want to get out while you are fishing. Voices just seem to carry over the water, don’t they?. This day, I didn’t have to listen closely for the words of that man. They danced out over the water, and the lake itself seemed to stop lapping at the shore and listen attentively.

The man spoke for awhile about how the Lord was not some far off and aloof God, but was right there with us. He said that God wanted to be known to all of us a child knows his father, and that God wanted to be trusted. Then he told Simon to row out to the deeper water. Seeing him tell Simon what to do made me chuckle to myself. I’d never seen anyone do that before! Usually, Simon stormed around town telling everyone else what to do! He was larger than all the other men in town, and he was persuasive in ways that go beyond words. But, Simon obeyed the strange man.

Then, even though he had already folded his nets and finished for the day, I saw him throwing out the nets again. I couldn’t believe my eyes when they hauled up a catch so big it seemed as though the nets were about to snap! James and John, who were known as the “sons of thunder” because they were also large and commanding young men whom Simon had chosen as partners and everyone thought as future sons-in-law, since Simon only had daughters, were standing on the shore, dumbstruck by the prophet’s words. When they saw the full net, they leaped into their boat and rowed out to help with the haul.

Two boatfuls of beautiful fish shining in a new day’s sunlight weighed down the two boats so low that water actually started seeping over the tops of them. Waterlogged, it took the boats three times as long to bring the boats to shore as usual. When they got the boats to shore, Simon was weeping. I had never seen him shed a tear! There wasn’t a single stray catfish in the haul. (We would have had to throw the catfish back, as we are prohibited by the Law from eating them.) All of them were beautiful tilapia, which after that day we started calling by the name “Simon’s Fish,” and then when Jesus gave him a new name, “Peter’s Fish.”

Simon stumbled out of the boat, and made a plea to everyone there, “forgive me for how I’ve wronged you. Forgive my impatience and my temper and my haughtiness. At these words, James and John fell to their knees as well and joined in the prayer. Jesus stood in the boat, with the fish flopping around at his feet. He said, “Today these men bring in plentiful fish, but I am going to make them fish for people. Care for their families while they are gone. They will return, and you will have the chance to follow too.” Then, he turned to Simon and his brother Andrew and James and John and said, “Come, follow me.”

And they did! They left the fish and the boats and their homes and followed him. I looked at Simon’s wife Ruth, expecting her to be frantic, but she was peaceful. Ever since he had healed her mother, Ruth had spoken of Jesus with reverence. She looked as serene and joyful that day on the beach as she’d been that night, laughing and darting around the room serving the guests with her newly rejuvenated mother.

I wondered what would become of Simon and our town. I wondered if I would go if Jesus had called me. I wondered all of these things, because later that man who seemed so glorious and powerful in that boat would be nailed up on a cross and left to hang and die. Simon Peter would tell everyone who listened that he had seen him in the flesh after his death, but I never saw him again. And so I wonder, because his voice still echoes in my ears, and he seemed to be speaking to me when he said, “Come, Follow me."