Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Honeysuckle Sin and Easter

The days leading up to Easter travel directly through the crucifixion of Jesus, even though it's very easy and even tempting (either by omission or commission), to take a detour around that part of the story. Now I'm not talking Mel Gibson "The Passion" sort of reflection (read what the Gospels say about this and notice the emphasis and balance in those stories). I do want to get to Easter after all! It's just that I've become aware that I might too glibly, too quickly jump to the end of the story before experiencing a necessary part of the story that is essential to the drama.

I've realized that I'd prefer to be busy with Easter activities and not reflect on the story. Strange isn't it, how we'd just as soon not deal with THAT part of the story. The pain is too much. The blood is too much. And the sin is too much. But it's a necessary path if we are to enjoy the true power and potential of Easter.

A few years ago I had a problem I'd too long overlooked. The first impression, and general appearance, was that all was well. I'd taken care of everything, attended to business as I needed to, and seemed like everyone else. But by making a small exception, not thinking there would be a consequence, life soon got out of hand. This didn't happen all at once as it was subtle with few perceptible, immediate changes.

Our home landscape sloped toward a creek, and we had a nice variety of southern trees and shrubs. In the front yard, directly in front of the house, we had a few trees and a cluster of azaleas. If you don't know what azaleas are then check out the Masters golf tournament this week and notice the shrubs that are 3-4 feet tall with the show of early spring flowers. Azaleas produce multiple trunks that create a beautiful plant which produces green leaves early, and then surprises with tremendous numbers of pink or red or white flowers which overwhelm the view around late March and early April. It's a southern favorite which gets lots of attention with our local golf tournament.

One year saw a honeysuckle grow up in the azalea planting where we had at least 10 azaleas. I'm not sure where it came from, not sure why it chose that location, but it was there. But this was not a problem since my children enjoyed the honeysuckle. It wasn’t a big deal, just one cute vine, so we let it go through the spring, and then the summer. Before you knew it a year had rolled around.

The problem came the following January with an early Georgia spring week with temperatures in the low 70’s. The honeysuckle thought it was spring, and leafed out after a few days. It proved a stark contrast between everything else that seemed to be "winter dead" and the honeysuckle which appeared to be a huge green monster consuming everything in its path! It was at this point that we realized we had 3 dead azaleas, and a serious problem with the honeysuckle vine that would now be a greater challenge to control.

As we we tried to pry the honeysuckle vines from the azalea trunks we learned far too much of the invasive growth. Its habit is to wrap itself around existing branches so that the old plant offers the framework from which the attacker to create a new kingdom. The twisting, curling, redefining growth uses the old plant as a skeleton and framework which allows one plant, then two, then more to be absorbed. So, at numerous points the honeysuckle had come up in the azalea plants. At the main trunk of the honeysuckle it would separate into 4 trunks which sent out vines all over the azalea. It then choked the life out of the shrub as it invaded the territory, took over with aggressive fast growing vines, and then took complete control.

We don't tend to think of sin that way. We usually think of "sins" as a moral lapse, a breach of socially acceptable behavior, or more likely of someone getting caught doing something we didn't think "they had it in them" to do. As a matter of fact, I'm much more comfortable saying "we" and thinking about "you" than making this a personal matter and confessing that I don't tend to think about my sin.

But like it or not Holy Week asks us to consider our sin. Am I innocent of the blood of Jesus? Is the death of Jesus my responsibility? Do my words or actions betray and mock Jesus? Do I pretend to pay Christ homage, or merely do that in superficial ways? Do I know the forgiveness of God that comes through Jesus Christ?

Still, we desparately need and sometimes confess "I believe... in the forgiveness of sins" even my sins.

We are confronted with God's response to the problem... to our problem... to my problem. This week we consider our part in the ongoing drama of redemption, and wait on the resurrection of Easter. Just beware that innocent looking vine that looks so pretty on a spring day.

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