Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Today’s text

Matthew 3:5-10

Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him [John], and as they were baptized by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, 'Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not presume to tell yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father," because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is being laid to the root of the trees, so that any tree failing to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire.


Long ago an image appeared in my prayer, a tree. It stood in the back field behind my aunt’s home, across the street from where I went to grade school. A small yard surrounded her house, and then the land dropped precipitously to a narrow stream that cut across town from the northeast to the southwest, on its way to the Apple River.

In my meditation, I saw that tree, thick at the trunk, tall and strong, an oak or spreading maple. It rose from the grassy field around the creek, limbs stretching wide, its foliage so thick with wide green leaves that the sun could not reach the ground beneath it.

But there was no tree in that field behind my aunt’s home. It appeared only in my prayer. In the inner eye of heart, I saw people coming out of the sun to rest under the tree, finding shelter from the sun’s searing blast.

I did not go there. I was the tree. This was the desire of my heart and the call of God to me. Somehow I was to be that tree, a place of shade and rest from the heat of life. Souls could come and just be there, free from the wearing heat of the day, at home in the calm shade of grace, strong and unwavering as that tree.

That was--is--the good fruit that my Lord commands me to bear. It is written on my soul, and I cannot escape it. The voice of one’s inner purpose can get drowned out amid the noisy distractions of living. We can ignore it. We can pretend God’s call is romantic nonsense.

But (I think) it never goes away. It is always there amid the myriad voices in one’s mind. It stirs feelings of restlessness and longing when we move too far from it, and it calls us home through that nebulous, vague sense that somewhere along the line we have lost something important--ourselves, the core of what the Loving Mystery has written on our hearts. As long as that voice niggles deeply in us we are not totally lost; we can still hear our Lord speaking, calling us to peace.

I don’t know if the Pharisees and Sadducees felt this niggling any longer or if they had ignored the calling of Spirit in their lives for so long that that their ears could no longer hear. They were trees of God’s shelter for the people, and John was calling them back to themselves, calling them to produce the fruit of blessing, help and hope for which they had been fashioned.

As harsh as John’s voice sounded in their ears, I hear also a call of grace from the wounded heart of God, and a promise: God will cut down that which doesn’t bear fruit. There is much too much in me that needs cutting down and clearing away so that this one tree, the one in my aunt’s grassy field, may grow strong again.

John’s harsh message sounds like grace to me.

Pr. David L. Miller

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