Have you noticed that its been a while – a long while – since I last shared a “reflections?” I did. It’s been since…I can’t remember. Sometime in early summer, I think.
So what’s that about? Life has moved forward. We’ve had disasters and tragedies, all sorts of brokenness in the world, and so many things begging to be understood in light of the cross of Jesus. Lots of material to work with. You’d think I would have had something to say, after all, it’s usually tough to keep a preacher quiet!
The easy explanation is some laziness- you know, take some summer time off. Maybe there’s an element of truth in that. But not really. The fact is, the summer was busy, packed, and a bit stressed. Lots of things were happening across the globe, and a few things even in my own little circle of life. Now, don’t jump to any wild conclusions. Nothing with any life and death implications, and nothing that I couldn’t handle. Just enough to divert my attention and wear me down a bit.
And so the weeks wore on and all of a sudden, it was early September, and I hadn’t written anything. The troubles of the world, however, continued. And then it occurred to me, I was really looking forward to the summer coming to an end. Really? The end of summer? Sure. Summer ends, fall begins. And then…winter…and finally, as promised, the new life of spring. So bring it on – bring the change of seasons, even winter upon us. Every day gets us one day closer to better days. And maybe in the midst of troubled times that works for more than just the weather. Maybe just gutting it through the coming months will bring us to new hope and new life. Maybe.
So I had it all figured out. Just write it. Some evening, a bit of free time, a little inspiration. It was already almost done. Simply put it down on paper.
It didn’t happen.
And then…I went apple picking yesterday. The end of the apple picking season (Shefelbine’s closes on Sunday). I figured we’d find at least a few apples left, and it would probably be worth our time. Wrong! There were apples, and apples, and apples. Here, only days before the end of the season, the trees were loaded with apples. Two trees – two trees! That’s all it took, and we had two half bushels. And we left a bunches of apples on those two trees.
The reason, of course, is that it was a really good year for apples. Yet, it was more than just a reminder of a bumper harvest. It was a sign, if you will. A sign of generosity and abundance, even as I have been feeling a bit drained and weary.
But “apples, apples everywhere” is also a reminder of God’s unexpected gifts of grace. I expected new life. I knew that God would act. But God action took me by surprise. I looked forward to new life in the coming of spring in another six months, God, however, wasn’t going to wait that long. Life, new life, life that is full, rich and abundant, is mine right now, even though the earth around us ready to lie dormant.
That’s the twist of God’s unexpected grace. God’s grace is always astounding. Grace is love we do not deserve. Yet, there it is – the love of God, in many ways, in many places, but most of all, God’s love in the crucified and risen Jesus. Love that comes even though we do just about everything we can to push it aside. Love that comes not because we have lived good, squeaky clean lives. Love that comes despite us. Love that comes in our worst moments, in our darkest days, and even when we wouldn’t (and many time don’t) love ourselves. That is grace – and that is an awesome thing to behold – God’s grace breaking into our world and embracing us, filling us with life.
But the twist – the twist is that God’s grace constantly takes us by surprise. We never see it coming. Think about it…God’s grace is an unexpected windfall, almost by definition. After all, if we don’t deserve God’s love, how can we expect it? And so even when we look ahead, thinking that in time, after we wade through difficult days and challenging times, that God will come through for us – eventually – that’s when we need to take a peek at the apples on the tree. To see the abundance of grace, of life, of hope. To see what God unexpectedly brings to us, but also to see that it comes when we aren’t, well, expecting it!
Isn’t that what the cross of Jesus is all about? Unexpected love? The cross – the place of bloody, violent, and shameful execution, becomes transformed into God’s instrument for new life and hope through Jesus. The world looks upon the cross and sees death and defeat. We look upon the cross and see life.
But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)
Yet, even though we proclaim the cross of Jesus, and we know it’s the instrument of life, we are surprised again and again. Or, in other words…”Never saw that coming!”
Perhaps that is the most wondrous aspect of God’s gifts of grace – that when God acts, we usually never see it coming. God acts by bringing into being “grace filled moments” that surprise us, moments born out of the cross of Jesus, moments that renew us just when we thought we that the barrenness of our lives was all that was left.
And so we come to the orchard. Even at the end of the season, on a cold, damp October morning, the trees are full, the apples are there.
Even in our dark, weary, tiring, stressed, and broken days, the cross is full, Jesus is there!