Friday, June 17, 2011
Birds fight over the feeder hanging in the tree. Cardinals, robins, and a host of birds whose names my wife knows, but I do not, are extremely jealous about their time in the bath or at the feeder. They chirp and buzz each other with aerial acrobatics in order to keep others away.
The squirrels make the leap from the tree to the hanging feeder and drive away the birds while the feeder swings like an out of control pendulum. With expert fingers they undo the wire lock I invented to keep the lid on the feeder and go at the sunflower seeds inside. If they worked together they might enjoy a bit more bounty but their chatter and erratic behavior is designed to make feeding a solitary endeavor.
Even the delicate hummingbirds do not cooperate by feeding together. They are some of the fiercest feeders and drive off their mates as well as others -- even though there are more than enough plastic flowers on which they might enjoy the sweet red nectar together.
Not to mention the deer who eat away at the hosta plants we paid good money for. Some terrible stinking stuff made of vomit, dried blood, and a host of other most distasteful stuff might keep them away but there is no guarantee. And the turkeys have found a feeder filled with corn the perfect height for them to feed. I actually enjoy this but the turkeys won't oblige my desire and let me watch.
Occasionally there is a little cooperation, perhaps the better word is tolerance. Life is hard and competition is tough at the feeders outside our kitchen window. Nature is not much different than the world or any congregation, for that matter.
We tend to think of the Church as pristine and idyllic, above the fray of the world and a glimpse of true fraternal, loving, cooperation, concord, and harmony. I wish it were but the trouble is that congregations are filled with sinners -- jealous, competitive, easily offended folk who speak without thinking and think of themselves before others. The heavenly part of the Church is not the perfect harmony and peace of the good folks in the pews but the gifts of God that defy earthly thinking and offer us the surprise of grace in unexpected places.
Now don't get me wrong -- I am not excusing our bad behavior nor am I painting an awful picture of life together as the family of God. What I am saying is that we should not look to the lives of the people as the peepholes to view a glimpse of the heavenly glory of God's promise. We should be looking at the Word and Sacraments. The means of grace are the cracks and crevices in which we see God and His heavenly glory. We can see this in the lives of people but I think most of those glances at glory are hindsight and not live, views of the past and not of the present.
Just as we do not see the footprints of God in our lives until we have those occasional moments of clarity as we look back over time, neither do we see much of God at work in us by looking at a snapshot of today. That is why I like church history. Some see only dirty laundry and earthly foibles but I see God working in and through His Church. I see perfectly ordinary people in whom God's grace shows forth in extraordinary ways. I see plots and twists and turns that seem to defy God's direction become the very means through which He works.
God sets His table among us and delivers to us grace upon grace and mercies new every morning and we tend to act like those birds and squirrels at my feeder. We have our own agendas, our own perspectives, our own desires, our own weaknesses and they sometimes are displayed in a conflicted and broken life together. We are not the Church because we have fully become the saints God has declared us to be but because we are living contradictions, saints and sinners --- one by declaration of God and the other by looking in the mirror. I am constantly amazed that God has chosen to work in us and through us imperfect and inefficient people. But that is one more surprise of grace.
My parish is real and this reality often shows us at our worst or most fearful. We are a flawed people and we do not leave our flaws and failings like shoes at the door when we enter the House of God. But God is among us as He has promised, He visits us with His grace, and He has deigned to work in us and through us the work of His kingdom. Lord knows we get it wrong often enough but we also get it right -- just often enough for us to realize that is not me or us but Christ in me and Christ in us. Far from hiding this from the world in order to portray a plastic picture of fake goodness, this is the Gospel at work!