An important spiritual effort for me the past few winters has been to maintain my lawnmower or learn better to do so. Patience. I have a gas-powered lawnmower; I don’t water the lawn, I mow every 1-2 weeks, and not at all when the grass has stopped growing. I don’t bag the clippings, I don’t water the lawn. Here west of the cascades the grass seems very happy to grow lush with the rain, grow crackly dry and go dormant for three months, and then green up again after the first good fall rain. That’s my larger pattern of lawn care, which other people taught me, and I probably inherited from my father and his father too, It’s at least carbon neutral, if not better, even with the petrol burner. So, I keep the old gas mower around. But I really didn’t know how engines worked. So, I’ve set about learning to test the starter, and check and spark plug, and change the oil and air filter, clean the gas tank and carburetor. This winter maybe I’ll tackle testing the compression, decarbonizing the cylinder heads, and more. There was not fast download. I’ve patiently learned to do this, puzzling over the old manual, and pulling the mower apart a few pieces at a time. And I see things I wouldn’t see before. The way to prepare a new way, a new way to do things, a new way to be, is a patient one.
The letter to James addresses the need for patience as God leads us each in our own ways, and together in our common life, on the holier way. God’s way is the one on which we learn to do things differently, and beneath that, we learn to be differently. I’ll use some theological shop talk- it’s a road that leads from sin toward salvation, to throw in a few s-words to get your attention. Sin-what gets in our way of seeing and hearing and want God’s loving, gracious energies to shape our lives. Salvation-all the many ways God draws us near, converts, changes, transforms us into the divine likeness. It’s a way that requires some patience. It doesn’t happen overnight, at least not for most of us. There is no rapid download or update. It takes time, and learning, and grace as we go about all the daily efforts of living and being truer to ourselves and with others, with greater forgiveness and openness of heart.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of this way on which God leads his people. It is a way that changes us. As we walk it, our voices rise in joy, our bodies leap like joyful wild creatures. And just like wild creatures, the land itself changes, blooms, transformed from a waste ground, a human-made desert, into a place where streams of clean water run again, and grass and rushes and sedges and various wetland plants grow. It’s the way on which we see the human-made deserts bloom with rain-the crocus, the lily, the rose. It is the way on which the desert yields the lily, an expression of joy, a foretaste of the land to come.
And it’s a way of grace and learning. No one goes astray on it, it guides us. When we get on this holy road with God and Gods people, when the Spirit aids us to choose taking up this new way of doing and new way of being, we learn, and are changed. We walk in the way of salvation. Even the fool, -well that’s for me-could walk here and learn a thing or two on the journey. It is a way on which we make room for one another with our varying needs and abilities, limitations and strengths, a way on which these become gifts. Whether you are raising children, teaching a class, training an employee, or taking care of activities of daily living for ourselves and those we share care with, we do well to ask-how do I shape this task to share it with others? How do I rake the leaves, or mow the grass, so that it’s not a chore, but something satisfying, something my children can learn and feel accomplished about, have fun, and learn about God’s wonderful creation. It’s worth us thinking in a similar way about at church: how we make room for others, younger, older, with abilities different than our own, to take part in our common life and the tradition we have received. Thinking patiently, carefully, in order to prepare the way of the Lord, to have good news, welcome words that strengthen the weak hands and feeble knees of our neighbors and ourselves. How do we extend an invitation that encourages and equips others, that says we want you to be with us? When we see little glimpses of grace, of learning, and forgiveness and new life, we can celebrate all the way.