Doubling Back on the Road
Third Sunday of Lent – Year C
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Let us pray: God of table and God of open door, thank you for your invitation. You feed the deep places in our spirits and speak the words that evoke turning for the good. Send your Spirit to guide us in turning toward and trusting in you. Amen.
The first reading this morning from the book of the prophet Isaiah in the version I most often read these days, starts out this way: "Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway - buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk. Buy without money - everything's free! Why do you spend your money on junk food, your hard-earned cash on cotton candy? Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best, fill yourself with only the finest.” Of course this is not really an invitation to dinner, but a larger call to feast on deeply nourishing and meaningful spiritual food. However, given the modern day call to consider ever more carefully the things we eat and drink, it strikes home on a multi-leveled front. Add into this the consideration that happened in our household to give up meat for the season of Lent, and the passage takes on even more significance for me. Without going into the discussion and decision in any great detail, let me just say that upon further consideration, the “no-meat” Lenten discipline for many good reasons did not come to pass. I personally replaced it with an added discipline rather than something subtracted or taken away. In other words, instead of giving something up for Lent I added something to my daily routine. Being sixteen days into the practice I can truly say it is just as effective in helping my focus as any giving something up for Lent would have been. Not to leave you in suspense any longer, although there is certainly no requirement to share a Lenten discipline with the wider world, I can tell you that my Lenten discipline is one that is in fact being shared with the whole world. Having felt some guilt around the fact that I have a reasonably well publicised blog with very few entries, I decided that my Lenten practice would be to write an entry in the blog every day of Lent except for Sundays – which have always been regarded as a little Easter and therefore not officially part of the Lenten season.
I'm not going to go into any detail about what I've written there, for you can read it yourself as much or as little as you wish. Just ask me for the web address or put the words northern & light and my name into google and you'll find it pretty quickly. However what I am interested in for merely personal reasons is to see where this Lenten discipline takes me. What sorts of things will I write about? I know when it is all done that it will provide me an opportunity to look back on my own Lenten journey and see where it took me. Already it has provided me some interesting topics for reflection. The whole first week was spent on reflection on the meaning and purpose of Lenten discipline – something I had not spent as much time thinking about any time in the past. Most recently, in part due to my schedule over the past two weeks and the week to come, I've considered the journey motif which is so much a part of our Lenten practice and consideration.
A Lenten discipline is primarily meant to be a personal thing, and certainly I've learned from the one I've taken on this year, and really that's what is important to me, and whether or not anyone else is inspired, angered or confused by my reflections – while that information is of interest to me – I certainly do not aspire to having it discovered in any kind of Julie and Julia situation. One person, myself has been helped and that's enough to make it worthwhile for me.
Therefore all the above is not an ad! However, as I said, my most recent postings have been about the journey motif that is so much of our overall Lenten practice. You may recall a couple of weeks ago I brought my pack in to the worship space and we talked about wilderness adventures. This week as I read the passages the theme that came to mind was one of “seconds”. That obviously needs some explanation, so here is what I mean. My first reading of the passages we just heard left me confused and bewildered. The initial passage from Isaiah, part of which I quoted above, seemed simple enough. God provides, and abundantly, if we can only keep ourselves aware – is pretty clearly the message it gives. A happy theme. But then when I went on to the Corinthians and Luke passages a much different mood seemed apparent. Neither of them were particularly happy passages. In fact there was a not too subtle air of harshness in each of them.
How does that jive with the Isaiah passage I wondered? Obviously these readings require a second look. That's what I mean by “seconds”. Thinking about the journey theme I thought about doubling back. We often think of the Lenten journey as one which may consist of many twists and turns, but the movement is always forward. But journeys are not always that way. Sometimes we have to double back and take a second look at the route we've already travelled. Sometimes we want to go back and see things again – did we really get it right the first time? Did we really see what we saw? I'm sure we are all familiar with the double take – the scene or situation which makes us look twice – just to confirm that we really saw what we thought we saw.
That's what these passages asked of me this week. They invited me to think of doubling back, reconsidering, searching for alternate and different meaning. There is a pretty clear indication in the final passage from Luke's gospel that this is a good thing to do. It's the story of the fig tree. As much as my favourite colour is green, I've discovered over the past couple of summers that when it comes to a vegetable garden, my favourite colour is not necessarily the colour of my thumb. So the story of the fig tree that won't produce certainly resonates with me. I'm not one to deny the importance of a second chance, but that farmer kind of spoke my words – that tree is taking up space in the garden – it's robbing nutrients from the other plants. Let's cut it down. But as we heard the gardener is ready to give it a second chance – actually more like a fourth chance. Fine, one might think, but how long does this go on? Well just as I was thinking that, I read a reference from someone who is obviously more aware of these things than me who suggested that fig trees are plants that require some agitation of the soil in order to thrive and produce. Aha – as usual there may be more to this story than we originally thought! What a wise gardener and see how it is important it is to have an education! And who is this Jesus that even seems to know about the particular characteristics of different kinds of plants, or was this fact about figs a well known fact and thus the passage is a little inside joke being told on the vineyard owner? Well, you see the importance of second looks? Do you see the importance of sometimes doubling back and having a second look at what seemed to be the case the first time you walked, rode or drove by? It just happens that sometimes what we thought we saw is not what was there.
Finally let me close with a story about our own fig tree and second chances. Many years ago I bought a small weeping fig – ficus benjamina. I referred already to my non-green thumb. This weeping fig many times was reduced to one small leaf – tending to leave me as the one doing the weeping! As I discovered, these growing difficulties were partly due to lack of water and as I just found out this morning from Wikipedia partly due to its sensitivity to changing intensity of light. I guess I moved it around too much and it often dropped all its leaves, save but a few or even just one. I brought it home long before Sharon and I were married, but after we were married there were several occasions when our conversation centred on whether it was worth keeping. As a result it probably had at least the same four chances that Jesus' story tells. Long story short – it's now a beautiful, small tree – just starting to take pleasure in the returning light of March by adding another set of new leaves– as it has done for the majority of our married life. It stands as one of the symbols of our relationship and the value of second chances. If you want to see it, take a look at tomorrow's blog entry because even though I don't write on Sunday, I already know what I'm going to talk about tomorrow! Photos included!
Thanks be to God for second looks and second chances. Amen and Amen.A