Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Butterfly and the Border Guard

Exodus 32:7-14
Psalm 51:1-11
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Having, losing, seeking, finding, rejoicing and making merrie.

Once a friend of mine was a singer in a band. Their tour took them across the top of the country, and of course it meant late nights and then pile into the bus to travel to the next gig. One night long after the show was over, and the bus had been traveling through the night for some hours, one of the musicians looked out the window and asked, why are the highway signs in kilometers instead of miles. And everyone knew. They’d strayed north of the border. They were in Canada. And they would have to cross back to the United States, at a legal port of entry. And there were some things on the bus that would not pass inspection. So out the window it all went. And the singer was a little happier because she knew that for a few weeks the band members would all be healthy. And then they came to the border. And they had some explaining to do. And it wasn’t going well, so my friend jumped up from the back of the bus and offered to explain it all. No, please sit back down, her bandmates said, you are dressed as a butterfly. And the explanations of a nineteen year old girl dressed as a butterfly on a bus in the middle of the night might lack some credibility to a border guard.

Borders were easily crossed back then. They just missed the sign. Or bumped over a change in the pavement. And there they were. Wrong side of the line. Oops sorry officer.

Not any more. Borders are not so humane anymore - though Canada’s still comes close.

Jesus dealt with some inhumane borders himself. Look at the line the experts drew in the law. They were grumbling among themselves, like the people of Israel grumbling about Moses’ absence - but rather than build a golden calf they built an idol out of rules. They said, he seeks them out! He receives them and welcomes them! Sinners! Even tax collectors! And we have to eat with them. For there they were listening to Jesus along with the rest, ready to hear what he had to say. And all were welcome at the Lord’s table. And this is what he said to them:

Ever lose something? Ever lose something and look for it really hard? Ever felt that desperate pang in your gut knowing that you’ve lost something - and may not find it? Ever give up?

God never gives up. God never gives up on you. God never gives up on anybody. God goes on searching.

Like a woman in a little house, no windows, dirt floor, dim light, who lights a lamp and searches and sweeps, until she finds at last the little coin, the glimmer of coin, that was rolled into an unlikely place. Or a shepherd of unusual extravagance - or confidence - who leaves ninety-nine perfectly good sheep standing in the wilderness to go after one - only one - woolly head beast that has got itself lost.

The Maine game wardens have a chaplain. She comes along on search-and-rescue missions. And sometimes they find the one they are looking for. And sometimes they are not in time.

Once a man, whose sister’s body had just been found, sat in the car with the chaplain. His sister had committed suicide. And he was wondering, will my sister go to heaven? Will she be welcome there? Would God give up on her?

I placed my authoritative hand on the console between our bucket seats as if it were a pulpit. “Dan,” I said. “Look around.” Obediently he peered through the rain-washed windshield, up the road toward the blurry outlines of half a dozen green trucks…. I heard my voice take on the sure and certain cadences of preaching: “The game wardens have been walking in the rain all day, walking through the woods in the freezing rain trying to find your sister. They would have walked all day tomorrow, walked in the cold rain the rest of the week, searching for Betsy, so they could bring her home to you. And if there is one thing I am sure of - one thing I am very, very, sure of, Dan - it is that God is not less kind, less committed, or less merciful than a Maine game warden.

(Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me, New York: LIttle, Brown, 2007, 112)

God always searches. God never gives up.

This is what it means to be human, in a way: to be sought by the one who seeks all.

What do the great religions of the world have in common? An elderly Sufi from Pakistan asked me that, one bright afternoon in the Berkeley Rose Garden. And I thought to reply: We are all seeking the same thing - and the same thing is seeking all of us.

Borders are human; what makes a border humane? It is human, all too human, to draw lines - us/them - the tribalism that infects our bones. And yet God crosses borders as blithely as a butterfly.

But knowing full well what he is doing.

Jesus breaks the rules. Jesus crosses the boundaries. He walks through the wilderness - until he finds us.

And then he gathers us in, scribe, Pharisee, tax collector, sinner, disciple: for we are all welcome at the Lord’s table.

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