Hope, is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all.
~ Emily Dickinson
In today’s Gospel at church we hear the story of the Fig Tree. It is a short parable offered to a people who have have seen the murder of Galileans by Pilate, and the disaster of 18 dying when a tower fell on them. They are no doubt a people who may be feeling that God has given up on them. In Luke 13 we read….
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Its a brief but powerful reminder that God is patient and does not give up, and does not surrender to despair as quickly as we might. While I find that some days this journey is harder than others, I am convinced that God has not given up on the tree that is me. I am persuaded by scripture and the community of saints, that while there are periods in life in which I feel less than productive, God has not abandoned me. A work in progress I may be, but God is not willing to give up just yet.
I shared in my sermon this morning the words from La mamma morta(They killed my mother), an aria from act 3 of the 1896 opera Andrea Chénier. It is known to me because of the powerful way it is used in Tom Hanks’ Oscar Award winning performance of Andrew Berkshire in the 1994 film Philadelphia. ‘Andy’ is an accomplished partner in a law firm who is canned when his elder partners discover that he has HIV/AIDS. The movie powerful in that it takes on homophobia and the fear that was rampant in the early 90s, of those living with HIV/AIDS. In the most moving scene of the movie, Andy stands before his lawyer, played by Denzel Washington and translates the words of the beautiful aria. Among the words are these…
My childhood home was on fire!
I was alone!
surrounded by nothingness!
Hunger and misery
I fell ill,…
I bring misfortune to all who care for me!
It was then, in my grief,
that love came to me.
A voice full of harmony says,
“Keep on living, I am life itself!
Your heaven is in my eyes!
You are not alone.
I collect all your tears
I walk with you and support you!
Smile and hope! I am Love!
Are you surrounded by blood and mire?
I am Divine! I am oblivion!
I am the God who saves the World
I descend from Heaven and make this Earth
A heaven! Ah!
I am love, love, love.”
God is not willing to give up! The God of love, here described as one who comes to the suffering, collects tears, is life itself, surrounds the suffering, and comes to earth to make heaven real, is a God who does not abandon. You can view the scene below – it’s very powerful.
This abiding love and unfailing faithfulness of God is a gift to the church and to the world as well. There is much disaster and darkness in the world and it would be understandable to look at it all, throw hands in the air, and say – clearly God just does not give a ‘flying fig!'(sorry – had to do it) When those Galilean people despaired in the same way – Jesus reassured them with the story of the fig tree and the Gardener’s willingness and readiness to till the soil and do the work. Likewise with the Church. The mainline church in north America faces great decline. We could be forgiven for seeing our decline as a sign that God has given up on us. But that would be a grave mistake. God is digging deeper. God is tilling the soil for a church that will bear much fruit. Many have given up on the church – God has not. Hope has nested in the soul of the church and is indeed singing a tune without words and will not stop singing at all. That the tune has no words is a gift. Some things cannot be named – God’s steadfastness and love cannot be measured in words. God still tills the soil and is not ready to quit on us yet.
You can hear the audio of today’s sermon here.
As always – your feedback and comments are most welcomed.