Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Leave it to Wikipedia. I actually saw the best description on the meaning of Lent there. But I do take issue with some bits of it. While discussing the reason some denominations fast during Lent, they point out that "This sacrifice is referred to by Christians variously as a substitutionary death, a redemptive death, and a death which satisfied the perfect justice of God, who actually provided the means for that satisfaction by sending Jesus to die in the place of humanity."

That's a pair of powerful phrases, "Substitutionary death" and "Redemptive death." Where I struggle is in what those phrases actually mean. I have always been afraid of how that was defined in the church where I grew up because it was a variant of what the Wiki page had...there was some reason God had to be "satisfied" for the sins of humans. This has always seemed more like the end result of a lynch mob to me than a theological principle. I can remember thinking as a child, "I don't want to worship a God who gets so bent out of shape he kills his own son, even if it is to save humanity." This had too many parallels to child abuse to suit me. God was this demanding guy who wants satisfaction.

I tend to prefer what Julian of Norwich had to say about the matter:

...On the cross God absorbs into himself our falleness and its consequences and offers us a new relationship. God shows he knows what it's like to be the loser; God hurts and weeps and bleeds and dies. It's a mystery we can hardly glimpse, let alone grasp; and if there is an answer to the problem of suffering, perhaps it's one for the heart, not the reason. Because the answer God's given is simply himself; to show that, so far from inflicting suffering as a punishment, he bears our griefs and shares our sorrow. From Good Friday on, God is no longer "God up there", inscrutably allotting rewards and retributions. On the Cross, even more than in the crib, he is Immanuel, God down here, God with us...

He absorbs into himself our fallenness. In other words, God does not demand his tribute, does not exact a price, does not engage in a prisoner exchange. In other words, the redemptive death is not an unpaid debt on our part. The sacrifice of the Lenten season is not penal, but regenerative. Good way to look at it!

Today's sermon at Trinity focused around the Gospel lesson, in Luke 13:1-9, the parable of the fig tree. I thought about a tree of my own out at my farm.

I’ll tell you a story about my plum tree.

In 2001 I put in a nice plum tree sapling. A couple years go by and no fruit at all. Blooms nice, no fruit. At this point I’m thinkin’, “Well gee whiz, you think the stupid little thing could at least make ONE plum. I know it’s little, but it’s a PLUM TREE and it ought to have enough of what it takes to make a plum. This tree is probably going to be a loser.”

Then for a couple years I get a handful of puny little plums on it. I’m thinking, “I dunno. I don’t think this tree is worth squat. Maybe I ought to just rip it out and get a different one.” But I don’t, mostly b/c I’m too lazy to do anything about it.

Then last summer, the thing just BUSTS OUT in fruit. That thing was literally COVERED in plums. I had so many I took a bag of them to the office and gave them to Karen, who makes jam every summer and brings everyone in the office some.

But I was assigning blame to that tree. Not enough sun, not a very good tree, maybe I got an ornamental even though the tag said “bears fruit”, blah blah. But that blame kept me from doing anything with it (like putting some “donkey briquettes” around it, which I certainly have plenty of around here.). Maybe it would have borne fruit faster if I’d taken a little more care with it...ME...not everything else being wrong with it.

There’s definitely a parable in that. Look how long I was skeptical before anything good happened. I gave up on a “reward.” I figured I was just destined to put up with less. But then I get a reward beyond what I imagined. That’s what God does. When you gave up, He hadn’t. And you get a reward, not because you were terribly faithful, per se, but because God just does that kind of stuff. Then what did I do with all that bounty? I took what I needed, then gave the rest away. That’s what God wants us to do with the bounty he gives us. He doesn’t care you gave up, He blesses you anyway. But your job after that is not to hoard it, but to give it away, after filling yourself up.

Part of the message of Lent is to prune, pare down, give up. But there is another message. You have to feed things to get them to grow; when they grow to abundance (even DESPITE anything you've done or the fact you've done nothing), you have to take only your portion and give the rest away.

Pray for my friend A. She and her family have decided to remove the respirator and IV's from her grandmother, who has suffered several strokes and cardiac events. Even though at this point, the decision is not as hard as it could be, it is still difficult because it involves letting go of someone you love and want to keep near you forever, if you could.

I have a notion that comforts me when I have either been a family member or extended family member in the discussion of these situations. I sort of imagine the soul of a terminal person being kept alive by artificial means as sitting in a sort of "nether place of awareness", where they can see both sides. They are aware of, but unable to communicate with those in the world around them, yet can see a bigger glimpse of the world to come than they could when they were conscious and aware. I want to believe that their soul cries out to be released from that spot, to be allowed to go to one world or the other, Perhaps they hear the call of light perpetual bidding them to come, and they WANT to go to that place, but here in this world, our human struggles and desires in making the decision to withdraw care is the only thing keeping them from making that journey. When we decide to let them go, we free them to embrace that Light.

I have always been comforted by the thought at the time we have withdrawn care from my own loved ones that the dying person's soul says "Thank you" and runs toward the light perpetual.

I saw a prayer in the Church of England's Common Worship book that seems fitting for this:

in weakness or in strength
we bear your image.
We pray for those we love
who now live in a land of shadows,
where the light of memory is dimmed,
where the familiar lies unknown,
where the beloved become as strangers.
Hold them in your everlasting arms,
and grant to those who care
a strength to serve,
a patience to persevere,
a love to last
and a peace that passes human understanding.
Hold us in your everlasting arms,
today and for all eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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