Part of the reason I love being your pastor is because you all seem to love me beyond a level of ridiculousness. You pray for me, you care for me, you call and text me, and I really feel the love, I do. You love Chris, you love Ellen, and some of you, who have met him, even love Bailey. But, I think one of the reasons that I love you as much as I do is because I have started to notice the ways that you listen to Jesus and the Holy Spirit and then share those ways with me. I refuse to be a pastor that lies because I can’t keep up the charade, it’s just too tiring. So, you know when I stand up here I am telling what I believe to be the truth. And the truth is these last few weeks have been terrible for me. There are several reasons why and I don’t want to rehash it all, but it’s been terrible. I have been in a great darkness and God has felt further away from me than ever before. I struggled because how am I supposed to convince you about God and God’s love for you when I feel like I am in a time of great wandering and wilderness?
Now, before you start worrying about me too much, please rest assured that while I may not be myself right now, I will be. This is my reminder to all of you that this is a safe place to come and be who you are, even if you’re a little unsure of who you are at this moment. This is a safe place to come and allow others to pray for you and the demons that you are battling. This is a safe place to come, be fed, be nourished, and be loved. And, today, as Andrea will find out, this is a safe place to come and be splashed.
As I struggled this week, I tried to pray, I really did. But, it was difficult. As a person of faith, the fact that it was difficult for me to pray was yet another sign that I wasn’t doing so great. The Holy Spirit began to stir. And again, this is why I love all of you. The Holy Spirit began to stir and you all listened. I got more than one phone call this week inquiring as to my well being. I got more than one text message checking on me. Someone even saw me in the grocery store and stopped me. Sometimes when God answers prayers, he answers them through other people. And you all listened to the Holy Spirit when it gave you that nudge to check on me. It was another reminder that even though I may not feel it, God is still at work on me. And even though you may not feel it, God is still at work on you.
One more year. That’s all the gardener wants. One more year. How many times have we wanted one more something, whatever it is. One more year, one more day (which, we apparently get tomorrow), one more week, or my favorite measure of time (especially because I’m a parent) one more minute (which we all know is more than an actual 60 seconds). The gardener asks, maybe even begs the landowner for one more year. One more year to get the fig tree to bear fruit. And I wondered how this parable might sound if it were God who was the gardener. And it kind of made me chuckle, especially after the last few weeks that I have had. Because then the way I read it is that God wants to cover me with literal crap to see if I grow. Thanks a lot, God. Cover me in manure and see how I do.
Now, enough of you deal with manure that I’m not going to talk about how amazing it is and can be if used properly. My knowledge on manure is slim. I know when most of you are spreading it all over your fields because, well….wind. I know better than to ask “what’s that smell?!?” And I know that if anyone is silly enough to actually ask that question, the answer is always “that’s the smell of money.” I’m still a little unsure about that one, because I’ve smelled money and it doesn’t smell like that. Nonetheless, the idea of being covered in the stuff is anything but appealing.
The man who planted the fig tree was frustrated. This was, after all, supposed to be a fruit-bearing tree. This man didn’t plant the tree for fun, he wasn’t hoping to make a bunch of fig newtons or something, this fig was to bear fruit so that the man could sell the figs and make a living. The tree was preventing him from making money. The tree, for lack of better terms, was broken. I can understand why the man wanted it cut down. I mean, he had given it 3 days. That tree had 1095 days to something and it, instead, had done nothing. In some ways, maybe we are that tree. We’re maybe feeling broken. Perhaps we are struggling to do what we’re supposed to be. Maybe we really want to do whatever we’re supposed to do but for whatever reason we just can’t. The voices around us, much like the man who planted that actual tree, are anything but supportive.
Often in Lent, we talk about repentance. A time and a chance to turn around, turn from sin, and be saved from our sinful ways. But what if instead of thinking of repentance as turning away from sin, we instead thought of it as turning towards love. Maybe Lent is the time of turning to love. Lent is the time to clear room in your heart for God. Lent is the time to be gathered into Jesus’ embrace like a mother hen (as we spoke of last week). Lent could be the time that you finally give into the idea that God really does love you and God really does want to care for you. And sometimes, that means being covered in crap. But, what I really love about this image (after praying about it for a while) is this: that even in the midst of crap, even while you’re covered in whatever you’ve gotten yourself covered in, God is working on you. God is working to make you new, God is working to make you better, God is working to bring you into a better, fuller life. God is working to make you righteous.
My brothers and sisters, I share my struggles with you so that you know you’re not alone. And even though our struggles may not be the same, we all go through them at one time or another. And I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t claim to be an expert. But, what I do know is that God never abandons us, no matter what it may feel like to us. And that yes, sometimes we get covered in crap in order for God to love us. Maybe the next time you’re outside and you smell that ever-so-familiar smell and someone is silly enough to ask “what in the world is that smell” you can respond with the even stranger response of “that’s the smell of God’s love, making all things new. Including me.”