Archive for July, 2004
The gospel tirade we hear today comes right after a bad night out with a leading Pharisee. It all starts when Jesus cures a man of dropsy and gets the dinner guests upset—it being the Sabbath. Then, as he watches these guests jockeying for the best places at table, he launches into a series of extremely pointed stories about how to behave at banquets. And now, the morning after, here he is, storming down the Jerusalem road, pursued by great crowds who think they want to follow him. And it is like he is sick to his stomach with it all.
So he fires off this barrage of stories about just how serious a thing it is to really follow him, to do more than show him off to your friends at a dinner party, or say you’ve seen him live at one of his open-air gigs.
How serious? “You’d better hate your family”, he says. “You’d better be ready to hang. You’d better be ready to die”.
Maybe on a better day he’d have found a way to say his piece without scaring the hell out of us. But we have to take his anger seriously too. He was sick of spiritual tourists. He was sick of being used. He was sick of being the latest big thing. “You want to follow me”, he says, “then you’d better give up all you own”.
But there are two things, despite the shock tactics, that give me heart. The first is this. There seems to be something about following Jesus that is always like making a beginning—starting to build that tower, or preparing to wage that war. We should give our following all the consideration and care we give to any new beginning. And maybe your mind runs off to thinking you don’t have what it takes—like the builder and the king—and you’d better give up before you start. But I don’t think that Jesus is trying to discourage us. I think he’s saying there are no old hands in the business of discipleship—we are all beginners. Every one of us is just starting fresh. Every one of us should be happy that we really don’t know the slightest thing about how to do it, about how to follow him.
What’s the other heartening thing? I said there were two. The other is what comes next. After this reading, after all the noise and anger directed at phony people, Jesus goes on to tell three parables about the genuine God, the God he loves: the parable about the shepherd who lost a single sheep but found it; the one about the woman who lost a day’s wage but found it; and the one about the father who lost his youngest son but found him again.
We might be perpetual beginners when it comes to finding and following God but God is damned good at finding us.
July 31st, 2004
Soil is funny stuff. After that gospel I feel the desire to be rich, productive soil but soil is funny stuff. Soil is dirt. Soil is muck. How do we get to be soil?
Soil is humble, soil is humus. Humus is what gives real meaning to humility—not self-deprecation but an earthiness that recognises our origins in simple dirt. To be one with the soil is humility. To be one with the soil is to be human. We are called to be soiled, to be soil, to be down-to-earth. Can’t you feel the call?
• without soil the planet would die—between bedrock and sky, the soil is a fragile, thin layer on which everything depends
• soil is alive—a spadeful holds more living things than all the humans ever born
• soil is a community—plants, bacteria, fungus, worms; growing, dying, rotting, feeding, breeding; fixing nitrogen; freeing minerals
• soil grows slowly—it takes 500 years to lay down an inch
Here’s the call—not to be rock, not to be sky, but to be soil, rich, living soil. Not pure. Not lone. Not clean. Not strong. Not hasty. But dirt, and earth and humus. The only place where the gospel can grow.
July 21st, 2004
A divided heart: I’ve been pondering that phrase and what it says to me and about me. A divided heart. For my heart is divided. I long for the moment when passion and hope and intellect unite and leave me whole to want, to desire, to do just the one thing, just the one simple, glorious, noble thing.
… But of course that’s a lie—I don’t long for that, not really. For I know too well where I can find it and that’s not a place I go willingly.
My integrity lies at the bottom of a pit, at the rock bottom where I have nowhere left to hide, and all secrets are out, and all pretence is gone. That’s where my heart is whole and healed and undivided, where I’m honest and alive and with my God.
But getting there is a fall, a plummet, and I have this urge to upward mobility.
“Israel was a luxuriant vine yielding plenty of fruit. The more his fruit increased, the more altars he built; the richer his land became, the richer he made the sacred stones.”
It strikes me as fitting that Israel erected his sacred stones in high places, as though the higher you get the nearer you are to God. That’s the creed I know I live by in my bones—the higher the better, the better the holier.
But on the high places all I have is my own divided heart with its guilty secrets and confused longings and broken dreams.
And I know where God is. God is in the depths. God is down, down, down where my fallen heart is whole in its honesty and my vision clear and my soul simple.
“Break up your fallow ground”, says Hosea, “it is time to go seeking the Lord”.
July 7th, 2004