Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fruits, Nuts, and Christ

A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house. . .”
I have to wonder what Abram would have thought of this strange God asking him to leave behind all that was his identity. I have to wonder what conversation was like the evening after Abram made up his mind to go. How he told his wife Sarai that they were about to leave behind everything. . .and I mean everything. . .that they thought they were. So much so, as you might remember, even their names later change to Abraham and Sarah as they are re-made by God’s promises and the strange journey they are about to make. It seems at once a primordial story of our humanity – indeed, much of Genesis is written precisely with that in mind. For even now, countless centuries after the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Lot was told around campfires in the desert, we remain largely a nomadic people.

Even for those of us who have spent all or most of our lives living here in Mill Valley, we only have to look at the changes we see around us to recognize the entire human family remains on the move. The world is changing for good and for ill. People come into our lives and leave them. Many more of us seem to have stopped here as sojourners, visitors.

When I came out to the Bay Area from the Midwest nine years ago this Fall, I was reminded by one disgruntled family friend that I was coming out to be with all the “fruits and nuts.” I was moving to Berkeley, so what can I say? A parishioner in the small-town parish where I was raised up for ordination shrugged his shoulders and said California was going to all slide into the sea, anyway. Well, with the prognostication about Global Warming, maybe we will end up under water anyway – so perhaps Harold was right!

But I came anyway. I couldn’t exactly quantify what called me out here: The draw of a new experience in a diverse environment; a seminary that looked attractive to me; starting afresh in a new place with only my own mettle and a healthy dose of grace. Isn’t that why many people come West, as they have in this country for over a century and a half?

But there was no road map to follow when I got out here. To be sure, a seminary education had a set curriculum, but beyond those three years the future was as opaque and impenetrable to my gaze as a solid brick wall . . . or a completely fogged-in day on the Bay. I didn’t imagine I would meet Hiroko (although the general idea of meeting someone to marry was attractive.) I didn’t imagine working in San Francisco for four years in a small, struggling Asian-American mission. I couldn’t fathom having a son or even what he might look like. But Daniel looks and behaves like Daniel, despite his Dad’s lack of specific vision for the future. . . And I didn’t imagine ending up in Marin County in Mill Valley, with a loving parish like this one. Go figure!

“The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes,” Jesus says to a puzzled Nicodemus today in yet another inscrutable passage from John’s Gospel. I can’t imagine that many of you have a story all that different from mine. Several weeks ago I asked our ten o’clock crowd how many of them imagined they would be living Mill Valley when they grew up. No one out of a hundred raised their hands. Every one of us lives a story that is being written as we live it. We are the “fruits” and “nuts” that grew on far away trees and ended up together in this place for a time, brought here by God into community, being turned inside out regularly by the challenges and joys of a life together shared.

Granted there are times even here in Mill Valley that it seems coming to church itself may be, well, a little bit nutty. And surely, even with our context set aside for a minute, with all that goes on in churches from time to time – Church of Our Saviour being no exception – we wonder why we stick with it.

Even more deeply we ought to feel on occasion why we stick with God in Christ. Jesus in John’s Gospel today speaks almost in riddles about the profound heart of Christian conversion in baptism. It is a mysterious event, buried for many of us in our infancy before we can remember. Even for those of us who can remember our baptisms, we are still left wondering why we did it at times. Why we turned ourselves over to this strange God and the tradition that has grown up in response. The Spirit blew like the wind, where it chose, and we heard the sound of it. . . or our parents and families did. . . but we did not know where it came from or where it was going. Perhaps, more appropriately for the story of Abram and his family: we did not know where it was taking us.

The Christian journey is like that. There are a few road signs, but no map. The path forward is obscured by everything from trees to mountains, cloud, and the fog of our own confusion, and frequently the darkness of our own limited knowledge. All we know much of the time is that we will meet companions along the way. They will walk with us for a time. At other times, we will be swept up by the wind and turned in a completely new direction on our own.

Our faith is built on the same assumptions that Abram’s was. This Abram who pulled up stakes and set off on a wild new adventure into the land of fruits and nuts, where people were strange and different, and the path forward was uncertain. His assumed faith, our faith, the faith of Christ and his disciples across the ages, the faith of a Spirit-filled people as she blows them into uncharted waters. . . it is a faith that assumes God knows what is right for us.

It is not blind allegiance to a set of principles or rules, but an abiding relationship with the One who made us. It will be contentious and difficult at times, much like a marriage. It will be frustrating and strange, like living in a foreign land. But it will remake us . . . for that is what journey is all about.

May you be re-made this Lent, here in the land of the fruits and nuts, where all bets are off, and the joyous task is only to follow where the wind blows, trusting that through it, our Savior is leading us to our true home and re-making us along the way.