7 Feb 2016
“‘Every tree is known by its own fruit.’” (Luke 6:44a) In the name …
So last weekend Sharon and I were up at Amanda’s college to watch a couple of her basketball games. Whenever we go to see the youngest daughter, Sharon brings a car-full of stuff. She hits Target for necessities and then on top of all those bags Sharon cooks and bakes for an army. This means that we have a procession from the car and into the dorm. As I was walking through the common area of her dorm on one of those trips from the car upstairs to her room, downstairs to the car, then back again, then over to the defibulator, I noticed a bulletin board covered in paper with pens at the ready. It was geared toward the New Year and the new semester, and it was encouraging the students to write down their goals for all to see and to share. Well I can’t pass up such an opportunity.
When we had gone out to Boston and visited where Kristin now works, one wall in their office was a white board. This was obviously to share work notes among a team of workers, but I saw a little message on there saying “Hi” to somebody’s aunt. So I wanted to write my “Hi” to Kristin, but before I could, she cleared me out of the room lickety-split. Whenever I go to our church in Westfield, I sneak into their Sunday School classrooms and draw a giant heart on the blackboard and write out “I love Fr. Calvo.” I hope that gets Fr. Joe all nervous. So on Amanda’s board dedicated to goals, last Saturday I wrote, “I want to go to church more.” I’m assuming she hasn’t seen it yet because I didn’t get a call or an email, and I’m pretty sure no one else in the dorm would write that as their new semester goal.
This idea of sharing common space in order to share ideas has been around for a while and is growing more popular. Back in 2012 Candy Chang gave a TED Talk entitled Before I die I want to …, and to date over 4 million people have watched her talk on-line. If you go to this sermon on our website later today, you can click the link to her talk and watch it yourself. In it she spoke about common areas that we share, but in which we don’t really interact. We cross paths with others constantly, but seldom know these people. We share hallways and sidewalks with so many other faces, but not with people. Trying to change this pattern, Candy Chang took a vacant, boarded-up house in her New Orleans neighbourhood and covered one wall with black boards. On the board were painted the words: “Before I die I want to …” Then there were lines filling the rest of the black board, and there was chalk. And sure enough people walking by began to share their thoughts immediately. They finished the sentence with all kinds of thoughts, expressions, and hopes. And others stopped to read. Faces were turning into people. Just passing by turned into encounters. The idea took off and now there are these black boards in countries all over the world and in cities and towns all across our country. https://www.ted.com/talks/candy_chang_before_i_die_i_want_to?language=en#
Candy Chang’s Before I die I want to … got people to think not so much about death, but about life. Life is precious, but limited, whether you live a day or a hundred years, life is limited, and that awareness of death ricochets back and makes life precious. In her words, “Thinking about death clarifies life.” When we realize that every day counts, that every day matters, that every day is special because there is not a bottomless cup of life to drink from, then we can better focus on what and who are important to us in life. Maybe we can use this message to help us better prepare for and understand Lent. Just like Candy Chang’s project, Lent is also tied up with an awareness of death, but just as she came to realize, it’s really about life. By thinking about the death of Jesus, we can clarify what His life means. His death wasn’t failure or defeat. Instead, the cross was Jesus’ last statement of life. He died holding true everything that He taught and showed us in life. That’s why as we stand in the shadow of Lent, the cross and Jesus’ death, the church has us read those triumphant words from First Corinthians: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (15:54-55) The cross isn’t defeat; it’s Good Friday.
And Lent also broaches a subject we don’t often like to discuss: not only Jesus’ but our own mortality. The season begins in a few days on Ash Wednesday. I would hope that every one of our parishioners would be in church as the ashes are placed upon our foreheads and as we hear those cautionary words: “Remember O man, remember O woman, that you are dust and to dust you shall return, but your soul belongs to God.” The physical will not last forever, but the soul will. What do we want to carry from this life with us into eternity? What would we want to write on the bulletin board or the black board for all to see to finish the statement, “Before I die I want to …”? It sounds strange, but Lent’s open discussion of death gives us a chance to hope. What is that we hope to accomplish in life now? How do we want to be thought of and remembered? What are our goals, hopes and aspirations, and what are we doing to make them real? This is why the church directs us to read on this last Sunday of Pre-Lent those telling words of Jesus: “Every tree is known by its own fruit.” Ours is not the task of pointing out the mistakes and failures of others, to point out the speck in their eye as Jesus says. Ours is to live life worthily and to give evidence of it.
I’ll leave you with this thought. Last Sunday I was walking down a hallway at Bay State Medical Center when this saying caught my eye. It was painted on the wall, again shared space, and it was once spoken by Louise Brandeis, a reforming Supreme Court Justice of a century ago. He said, “Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.” Let’s give Lent the chance to challenge us to live and to believe in the impossible. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo