Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tenacious Love

A reflection on the readings for Lent 5B: Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33

What was once a garden in the backyard of the house we moved into had, over the years,  been abandoned. It was now a tangled mass of raspberry brambles, tall weedy grasses, and random herbs. The roots had grown so thick and intertwined that it was impossible to pull them. We tried taking shovels and digging them up, but to no avail. So we hired a landscaping company to come and remove the unsightly mass from the yard.

The first day the landscapers came out with a couple of men and a few shovels. They made the same effort Dan and I had made, trying to pull and dig out the mess. After some time had passed, when these professional dirt diggers had done all they could imagine, they landscaper gave up and left, having removed nothing. I felt a little better – like we were not being lazy in giving up on removing that mass ourselves.

A few days later the landscapers returned, this time with a small tractor with a big shovel on one end. Using that heavy machine they dug into the entangled mess and pulled it up. Then they laid down new soil. It was impressive to see how intensely thick and powerful this mass of weeds had become and what it took to remove it from the yard.

Dan and I planted grass over the new soil, blending that section of the yard in with the rest of the yard.  The grass grew in well and before long it was impossible to tell that there had ever been a garden in the middle of the yard. Summer passed as did fall and winter.

The next Spring I noticed something popping up through the grass where the garden had been. Over time, with the nourishment of rain and sun, this growth became larger. Then one day, tulips bloomed. It was quite astonishing to see – these tulip bulbs had survived the tangled mass of weeds, a tractor digging up everything, and yet somehow missing these bulbs, and then even with new soil and a covering of new grass, these tulip bulbs grew again. And not just tiny scrawny things – they grew tall and healthy – with beautiful red and yellow flowers.  Year after year, every Spring, these tulips would arise from the depths of the soil, in the middle of the grass, and bloom.

Surely a sign of new life, of the tenacity of creation to bring forth beauty against all odds. These tulips will always stand, for me, as a symbol of what God is doing in creation – against all odds God chooses to bring forth new life, hope, and beauty – over and over again.

Our readings today are talking about this very idea – what God is doing in the world. And more specifically for Christians, what God is doing in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We are heading into the climax of the story; Holy Week will be here in a weeks’ time. And so the stories we hear are intensifying. Words are used again and again to signify this. Words like “Covenant” and “Sin,” “Transgression” and “Glorify,” “Salvation” and “Life.” Each of these words is loaded with meaning, entangled with generations of faithful people adding layer upon layer of definition until the words almost collapse. Words that have lost much of their usefulness under the weight of dirt and weeds that have taken over their meaning and deprived us of words to describe the reality we live in.

Many words are like this – not just religious words – but words in our culture. Words like racism and sexism. Words that are loaded and weighted down; full of meaning which cause us to push back or deny the reality these words describe. Thus perpetuating even greater transgression and brokenness.

We live in a world of brokenness. Broken by people living out of fear; like the tragedy that took the life of 17 year old Trayvon in Florida. A brokenness steeped in racism and masked by a hyped up  fear which caused a distorted need for self- protection. A sexism that perpetuates countless legislation all around this country, both state and federal, that would deprive women of the ability to manage reproduction. This legislation never holds men accountable – sexuality and reproduction become the sole burden of women.

Brokenness buried under fear and nurtured by denial giving birth to a rising tide of sexism and racism.

And so the words we use to describe our broken world, words like sin and transgression, are crucial. But they are crucial only when we extract them from the weight of finger pointing. As Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us in “Speaking of Sin” - finger pointing is always locked into some cultural bound set of behaviors deemed “wrong .”  We must open up these words to their true meaning – broken relationship in all its forms.  Broken because of fear-driven motives that prevent us from seeing others as human beings – created by God and loved by God.  Our covenant with God requires us to see all people as God sees, through a lens of love and compassion.

God’s love, like the tulips, blooming each spring despite all odds, manifests in the midst of the chaos of life. Over and over again God lives into the covenant God has made with creation. God is ever present, loves us completely, and comes into our lives for our sake – that we might be transformed into the best version of ourselves.

In response to all the ways we humans are broken, or cause brokenness, the ways we transgress against God, other people,  and even our-selves, God is faithful to us, forgives us, and invites back into relationship with God.

This requires that we, as part of the covenant, strive to live as God desires –  we love God, love others, and love self. That all that we do and all that we are works for the sake of the other – to lift up and uphold all – that all can live with the essentials of life – enough food, clean water, clothing, and medical care.

When we live into the covenant we participate in God’s glory. In the Gospel of John the purpose of Jesus’ life is to glorify God – in other words to make God’s presence known. Jesus manifests in the fullest possible way God’s presence and how we are to live in relationship with God – through love. By participating in the covenant, working for healthy relationships, mending the broken places in our lives and the world, we live life fully.

Looking back through the lens of the Gospel of John, where-in Jesus transforms the law into love and embodies the fullness of God’s love for all people, we can hear anew the covenant God makes in Jeremiah:

“But this is the covenant that I will make with all people, says God: I will put my love within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

God’s love for us, like tulips blooming against all odds, is tenacious.  May God’s tenacious love blossom in our hearts and in our lives.

Portions of this reflection were influenced by the thoughts and writings of: Kathryn Huey  “Weekly Seeds”; Paul Nancarrow “Process and Faith” blog; Barbara Brown Taylor “Speaking of Sin”; and Marianne Meye Thompson, “The God of the Gospel of John, “ 2001 Eerdman Publishing.


kathrynzj said...

I don't often read other sermons before mine has been preached. This one was a blessing, thank you.

As for the illustration - wow.

a pearl downunder said...

wonderful. your idea of untangling words resonated, yet I had never thought of it that way.

Terri said...

Thank you, kzj and pearl. Pearl - I am working on a project called, WordsMatter - Expansive Language Project - so words are always on my mind....

Sharon said...

I am so inspired by this!

I love the gardening story, but I, too, wanted to comment on the words that are "loaded and weighted down" as you connected traditional Bible words with current language and then how that's been messed up.


Thank you.

Diane said...

amen! I love it!

Martha Spong said...

What a gorgeous story, Terri.

Purple said...

I echo the same...

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